Featured Post

The Malka Leifer Court Gang

I know how hard Shana and her organization Magen work on behalf of victims of sexual abuse because I know much it took to help put just one perpetrator away
Live feed from Melbourne to Jerusalem
(Photo: Courtesy of author)
Looking for justice: live feed from Melbourne to Jerusalem District Court. (courtesy)

As a kid, I always dreamed about being part of a gang. I still know all the words to the Famous Five theme song, read all the Secret Seven books, and loved the Scooby-Doo cartoons. Being part of a group of like-minded, but diverse individuals who worked together to solve a mystery, fix a problem, or seek justice, was right up my alley.

I never imagined that in my 40s, I would finally become part of a gang.

We called it the Malka Leifer Court Gang and it became an important and meaningful part of my life for several years.

I don’t actually recall how it all started. Probably a Facebook post asking Australians living in Israel to come and support the three brave victim-survivors who were trying to ensure that Malka Leifer would be extradited to Australia to face justice for her alleged crimes.

I was available, and was very familiar with the District Court house in east Jerusalem, which was only a 10-minute drive from my home, so I went.

Meeting the amazing sisters involved in the trial and seeing them fight for justice against incredible odds immediately had me hooked. I wanted to be part of this battle.

The sisters were not in Israel on a regular basis., but someone needed to be there in the courtroom in Israel to stand in their place, to update them, to make sure the victims were not forgotten when they weren’t physically present.

I wasn’t the only one inspired by their mission, and after a few court sessions, I realized that we had created a gang.

In these modern times, the first sign of a gang is, of course, a WhatsApp group, and that was our main tool of communication. We did live translations of the court sessions to the sisters in Australia, we coordinated court times, organized ride-sharing, shared newspaper articles and contacts, communicated ideas and positions.

The gang didn’t really have a leader, each member naturally contributed what they were good at to the group. I translated from Hebrew to English, schmoozed journalists and court employees and made sure other, more important, gang members remembered to eat and drink.

One of the central gang members was Shana.

Shana was the one who “found” Malka Leifer after she had been released feigning mental incapacity, brought the police back in to the picture and got Leifer back in to court and on her way to extradition to Australia.

As much as I never imagined that I would be part of a “gang,” I also never thought that I would be friends with a real-life super hero.

For us, the Malka Leifer case was an exceptional situation. For Shana, it is something she does almost every week as part of her role as executive director of Magen for Jewish Communities, an Israel based non-profit providing education, awareness, mental health support, advocacy, and investigations around sexual abuse and its effect on individuals, families and communities.

That’s the official blurb on what the organization does, but I have seen Shana in action up close.

Not only does she hunt down pedophiles and bring about their arrest, she also accompanies cases, sometimes over many, long years; assists and counsels victims and their families at all hours of the day and night; she speaks to law-enforcement organizations, to legislators, to schools, to religious groups and more. She writes, she educates, she listens and she is one hell of a fighter. I doubt she actually has time to sleep.

I am in awe of all Shana does, day in, day out. It must require immense mental and emotional strength and courage, characteristics of superheroes.

Just over a year ago, after six years of legal proceedings in Israel, Malka Leifer was put on a plane back to Australia. It was a day that sometimes we had thought would never happen. Between us all, we attended 74 court sessions, in both the District and High Courts.

I had secretly dreamed of hiring a limousine, traveling around the country, picking up the court gang members one by one, sipping champagne and going to Ben Gurion Airport to wave goodbye to the plane, but in the end, the extradition procedure was completed, amazingly, in a few short hours, enabling the police to get her on one of the last planes out of the country before yet another lockdown.

A few months later, the gang had a more modest gathering at my house, to process and reminisce about what we had been involved in together for so many years.

Despite not seeing each other on the regular basis that we did when we met up at court, we have all stayed in contact, catching up for a beer and a chat every now and again. Each gang member is exceptional in their own right and we help each other when needed and still regularly message about updates from Australia and keep in touch with the sisters.

Which brings me back to Shana. Shana now needs our help and as part of the gang, I will rally to the cause.

The issue of sexual abuse in the religious communities in Israel has reached a boiling point in recent months with a number of high profile cases in the press, such as the former head of ZAKA, Yehuda Meshi-Zahav and more recently, a well-respected, mainstream ultra-Orthodox author, Chaim Walder, who took his own life before facing justice.

Shana and the Magen organization have been at the forefront of many of these cases, and the floodgates which have been opened have brought about a dramatic increase in complaints, investigations and victims.

I understood just how much work there is and how critical the situation has become when I saw, a few weeks ago, that Shana, a Shabbat-observing, ultra-Orthodox Jew, posted that she was leaving her phone open on the Shabbat, so if victims needed her, they could call. The saving of a life is a commandment in Judaism that supersedes almost all others, even keeping the holy Sabbath.

Shana and her colleagues at Magen, literally save lives. They want to be able to keep doing this and need more staff and more resources. Urgently.

We are running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for them.

Now we need more than a gang, we need a crowd.

If you can be part of my crowd, and want to contribute, even just a small amount, to the amazing work that Shana and the Magen organization do, please go to this link and make a donation.

About the Author
Rachael Risby-Raz is the International Relations Manager of the Tisch Family Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem and a former Diaspora Affairs Advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel.
Related Topics
Related Posts