It was a typical evening. The kids were settled and I finally sat down to relax. Then the phone rang. It was a familiar number from Israel and I thought the call would be nothing more than a quick hello. But within 30 seconds, my life sharply tilted off-kilter.
“Malka Leifer has been arrested.”
“What?” was all I managed to articulate, my body flooding with adrenalin and my mind with a multitude of scrambled thoughts. My fingers shook as I messaged my sisters. Within minutes, they were at my door and we all spoke at once. Could this long journey to justice finally have arrived? Would Leifer finally return to Australia to face her alleged crimes or would she again evade extradition? Five television channels were already clamoring for our reaction to this huge news.
Leifer, the 54-year-old former principal of Adass Israel Jewish School in Melbourne, fled Australia for Israel in March 2008 after allegations of sexual abuse of numerous female students came to light. My sisters and I never thought we would tell anyone of the abuse. But then in early 2011, my sister Elly was the first to make a police statement, followed by my other sister, Dassi. Finally, I made my statement, too.
It was the start of a journey we never imagined would last this long. In May 2014, Leifer was arrested in Israel for the first time and before long was released on bail, albeit with an ankle bracelet. For the next two years, every time a court date was set for extradition proceedings to begin, she checked herself into a psychiatric hospital.
Would Leifer finally return to Australia to face her alleged crimes or would she again evade extradition?
Those two years were filled with anguished waiting as dates were adjourned and rescheduled, and still she did not appear in court. I can recall every single conversation that I had with people in Israel directly after the court hearings from which she was absent. I can recall the pain, the dashed hopes, the sense of giving up and the acute sense of unfairness over how she could remain free while I was still shackled by the demons of her abuse.
The final nail in my emotional coffin came when the judge handed down his ruling at the end of those two years: Leifer was to remove the ankle bracelet, live freely and attend a few psychiatric sessions every six months. Only then would she be brought before a psychiatric panel, whose members would decide whether she was fit to stand trial.
We were pretty much broken at this point. We didn’t know where to turn or what to do. After six months, it was decreed there was no change in Leifer’s mental capacity. The panel issued the same ruling six months after that.
Throughout 2017, my sister Dassi had been actively campaigning in Melbourne to bring Leifer back to Australia for trial. Then in May 2017, Leifer was spotted in Meron on Lag B’Omer, appearing perfectly healthy. In late October, we all traveled to Israel and had the most amazingly intense but empowering two weeks of campaigning. We left on a high, with incredible messages of support. We were confident we had raised the issue and increased awareness in the highest places of Israeli government, as well as with many prominent advocates for child abuse organizations.
One of the people we met was Shana Aronson, the Chief Operating Officer of Jewish Community Watch (JCW). She was very moved by our story and hired a private investigator to follow Leifer. JCW uncovered evidence that Leifer was mentally stable and handed over its findings to police. Within a few weeks, Leifer was arrested.
When I look at the recent pictures of Leifer with chains around her ankles and her head bowed, I struggle to reconcile this image with the powerful monster in my head. Images of her hands triggered memories of the things those hands did to me. Yet somehow, there is no big whoop of inner excitement or a need for revenge. There is some empathy, which may be misplaced, but I’m sure other survivors of abuse can understand this.
I see Leifer as the woman she was, and I see her as the submissive woman she is now. I hope she will be extradited to Australia so perhaps I may feel closure by facing her in court. But most importantly, I hope she will be put away so those hands cannot wreak havoc and everlasting damage on another young female.
Nicole Meyer lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is a sexual abuse survivor and mother of four children.