Sydney, Australia — Australia’s tight-knit ultra-Orthodox community is being roiled by allegations that the principal of a girls’ high school molested a number of her former students.
Malka Leifer, headmistress of Melbourne’s Adass Israel Girls’ School for the past five years, left the country within 24 hours of board members confronting her with allegations of sexual misconduct March 4, according to school board members.
Her departure is particularly controversial, due to allegations that she left with up to $100,000 borrowed from community members. A teacher at the school told the Forward that Leifer borrowed money from members of the community who were unaware of the impending furor.
Leifer, a mother of eight in her late 40s, denied any wrongdoing to the school’s board, but since she was ordered to step aside pending a full investigation, she believed she “might as well resign,” according the school’s lawyer, Norman Rosenbaum. (Rosenbaum’s younger brother, Yankel, was murdered by an anti-Jewish mob in Brooklyn during the Crown Heights riots in 1991.)
A day after speaking with the school, Leifer left for native Israel.
The allegations and swift departure have traumatized the 1,200 members of Adass Israel, an ultra-Orthodox, non-Zionist community whose lingua franca is Yiddish. Unlike in America, where ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, sects have their own communities, the Adass community here includes Satmar, Vishnitzer, Belz and other Hasidic groupings.
“My friend teaches there,” said Timmy Rubin, who runs the Chaya Moushke Schneerson Mikvah in Melbourne. “She’s been crying the whole time. Everybody’s devastated. It’s like 9/11 for them; it’s their wake-up call.”