An open letter to sisters Nicole, Dassi and Elly, alleged Malka Leifer victims

epa07416674 Three of the alleged abuse victims, Australian Citizens from Melbourne Elly Sapir (L), Dassi Ehrlich (C) and Nicole Meyers (R), all former students of Malka Leifer, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman, attend the evidence stage of the Malka Leifer trial at the District court of Jerusalem, 06 March 2019. Israeli media reports that former Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman was questioned by the police on suspicion of breach of trust and obstruction of justice on suspicion of attempting to prevent the extradition of ultra-Orthodox Jewish citizen of Australia Malka Leifer, a former Melbourne school principal wanted in Australia on suspicion of sexually abusing students.  EPA/ABIR SULTAN
L-R: Sister Elly Sapper, Dassi-Erlich & Nicole-Meyer (credit: AAP)

An open letter to sisters Nicole, Dassi and Elly, former students at Adass Israel’s school for girls in Melbourne, Australia, who were allegedly abused by its principal, Malka Leifer. 

Dear Nicole, Dassi & Elly,

After 66 hearings to date, today’s much anticipated decision at the Jerusalem District Court is by far the most important one.

Many Jews and non-Jews around the world — Australians, Israelis and others — stand with you in hoping that Judge Chana Lomp will finally do the right thing and rule that Malka Leifer is feigning mental illness, and is indeed fit to face an extradition hearing, and, ultimately, full justice. While certain words cannot legally be used yet, we all say to the three of you, “We believe you!”

From my perspective, having attended and closely followed the vast majority of the hearings, there can simply be no alternative outcome.

While the court hearing is expected to be open, due to the coronavirus restrictions, only people directly associated with the case will be allowed to attend. I’m pleased and also humbled that you three courageous sisters have entrusted me with the task of reporting directly from the courtroom as your representative. Thank you.

This means that I’ll be able to liveblog on my Facebook account from inside the courtroom, so that the three of you, and thousands of others across the world, will be able to follow proceedings in real time. We’ll then continue to ensure the world continues to hear of this case, and the ongoing injustices associated with it, by holding a live media conference in Hebrew and English outside the courtroom. Like so many times before, despite the many challenges, you will generously and selflessly continue to share your powerful messages with us live by video call to that conference. We never take your participation for granted – some of us know the strength it takes to face the world after witnessing yet another spectacle that is meant to be addressing a life-altering, traumatic experience. Your experience.

While I sit in suspense awaiting the appointed hour – 2 pm, Jerusalem time (GMT+3) – I reminisce on the history of this long running and eventful case, and on my involvement in it and perceptions of it.

I recall working with you behind the scenes before you went public and your great longing for justice, including through the anonymous blogpost by one of you, which we published in early 2016. It’s been amazing to see your journey since then through an extradition case fraught with challenges and hurdles, throughout which the three of you have stood tall, with dignity, determination and much more.

The case seemed to have been subverted from the very beginning and now we are still awaiting the outcome of the police recommendation to indict former Israeli Health Minister, Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, for a range of offences, including attempting to protect Leifer. Still, it seems like we are now approaching the finish line.

In the early days, Leifer used to be escorted from the court’s basement cells into the courtroom in handcuffs and leg chains. I locked eyes with her often enough to know she was fully aware of the proceedings. As I shared with you at the time, on one such occasion, while waiting for the Judge to enter, I asked her what she wanted to say to the three of you now. She quickly averted her face, hiding it in shame. She knew exactly what was happening.

Then came a new defense strategy – to feign mental illness. At first, Leifer would start shaking her legs, causing her leg chains to rattle noisily. The Judge would often ask her to stop it, and mostly she complied.

Then she collapsed in the courtroom and later in the court cells. At first, the Judge tried to compel Leifer to attend the courtroom but later that was abandoned.

In yet another defence strategy, Leifer would check into a psychiatric facility shortly before a hearing date and discharge herself shortly after the hearing ended.

Yes, somehow she managed to play an entire system. For years.

Bottom line: at present, after many hiccups, hurdles and legal manouverings, the latest psychiatric panel unanimously and unequivocally supports what many of us have long known – that Malka Leifer is fit to face justice.

Even if justice is finally served, it is never the full and final panacea for victims and survivors that some people think it is. It cannot fully set right past wrongs, erase past hurt and damage, and restore past victims’ lives to what they should have been. Meanwhile, in the noble and hard fought quest for justice, there are new injustices and re-traumatisations to be endured, which are inexcusable and for which there is no restitution. Your awful experience is a case in point.

My expectation for this hearing is that Judge Lomp will accept the findings of the psychiatric panel and will rule that Leifer is fit to face justice. But, as you well know, this hearing is far from the final stage. Firstly, whichever way it goes, there will likely be a prompt appeal in the Jerusalem High Court – by the defence if the Judge rules that way or, alternatively, by the prosecution.

Then, assuming the District Court rules that Leifer is mentally fit and that decision is upheld on appeal, the case moves on to the extradition hearing proper. All of the proceedings up to now have been to determine a prerequisite to the extradition hearing – i.e. the subject’s mental competence to defend an extradition case. Still, I believe, the extradition proper should be largely procedural, due to the compelling nature of the case against Leifer – like the number of complainants and the number and seriousness of the charges, which include rape.

As I’ve repeatedly stated in this case, always expect the unexpected. But I seriously hope there are no further surprises.

The wheels of justice in this case could not have turned any slower, but hopefully justice will ultimately prevail.

In the meantime, stay strong.

We stand with you, we support you and our thoughts continue to be with you during these difficult times.

About the Author
Manny Waks is an author, consultant, advocate and public speaker. He is the founder and CEO of Kol v'Oz, an Israel-based international organisation which addresses the issue of child sexual abuse in the global Jewish community. He is also an abuse survivor in an Australian Chabad-run institution. His published memoir is titled ‘Who Gave You Permission?’.
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