Controversial Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant To Head Adass Israel School

A disgraced rabbi who admitted to criticising victims of sexual abuse has been appointed principal of a school which allegedly covered up sex crimes.

Meir Shlomo Kluwgant resigned as Australia’s most senior rabbi in 2015 after admitting to calling the father of a child abuse victim a ‘lunatic’ who ‘neglected his own children’.

Kluwgant will now head Melbourne’s Adass Israel School, which has been previously accused of helping a former principal flee to Israel amid allegations she sexually assaulted students, a letter allegedly distributed to staff and published online shows.

‘We are pleased to advise that we have appointed Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant to assume Dr Herszberg’s role.

They will be working together collaboratively for the remainder of the year, to ensure a smooth transition,’ the letter reads.

It tells staff the controversial Rabbi was chosen after a ‘global recruitment process’, and with ‘the full support of the Board and Executive’.

Former principal Malka Leifer allegedly abused at least eight girls while she was principal of the Elsternwick school between 2003 and 2008.

When the allegations came to light, Leifer fled Australia with her family in the middle of the night, allegedly with the help of school officials.

She remains in Israel and has refused to return to Victoria were she would face prosecution for 74 sexual abuse offences against former students.

In 2015, former student Dassi Erlich, now 30, brought a civil case against the school – which was ordered to pay her $1,024,428 in damages.

On Sunday, Ms Erlich penned an emotional open letter urging Adass Israel to reconsider the appointment of the controversial rabbi.

‘A letter I never thought I would have to write,’ Ms Erlich began the letter, addressed to the members of the Adass school board.

‘I implore you, please do not make the mistake of hiring Rabbi Kluwgant. When you hire a principal it is not merely an administrative matter, it is a statement of your moral code as a community.

‘I was hoping my case encouraged change in your culture of silence. This new appointment tells me nothing has changed.

‘Is it your intention to make it that much harder for the already terrified victims to come forward, with this additional hurdle to overcome?’

Once the president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, Kluwgant resigned just days after appearing in the witness box at the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

1 reply
  1. Joe Levin
    Joe Levin says:

    The former most senior rabbi in Australia, who resigned after appearing at the royal commission, has been appointed principal of a Melbourne school at the centre of abuse allegations in 2008.

    Abuse survivors and their advocates are outraged at the announcement of Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant as the new head of the Adass Israel school, and have called for the school to reconsider.

    The Victorian education minister, James Merlino, also weighed in, telling Guardian Australia: “I understand the concern of many in the community about this appointment and it’s incumbent on the school to fully explain this decision.”

    In a letter to staff, the secretary of the Adass board, Abe Weiszberger, said Kluwgant would “work collaboratively” with the current principal, Dr Israel Herszberg, before taking over next year.

    It said Kluwgant was appointed after a global recruitment process, and came to the school with a “wealth of experience in leadership and education”.

    Kluwgant resigned from his position as president of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia after his appearance at the royal commission into the institutional responses to child sexual abuse in February 2015.

    The hearing was examining the failures of Jewish Yeshivah centres in New South Wales and Victoria to adequately respond to allegations of child sexual abuse.

    During the hearing it was revealed Kluwgant had a sent a message to the editor of the Australian Jewish News while watching Zephaniah Waks – the father of abuse victim Manny Waks – testify that his family was ostracised and targeted by religious leaders after they went public with allegations.

    “Zephaniah is killing us,” he said in the message. “Zephaniah is attacking Chabad. He is a lunatic on the fringe, guilty of neglect of his own children. Where was he when all this was happening?”

    He also stepped down from other roles including Victoria police chaplain, and member of the Victoria police multifaith council.

    A former principal of the school, Malka Leifer, fled to Israel in 2008 and is avoiding extradition. Leifer was wanted by Victorian police on more than 70 child sex charges.

    In 2015 a judge awarded $1.27m to a woman for sexual abuse she suffered at the school. The court heard the woman was abused at the school, at a camp, and at her home by Leifer. It also heard the school arranged for Leifer to be flown out of the country within hours of learning the woman and a number of others had made allegations against her, the ABC reported at the time.

    In response to Kluwgant’s new role, Manny Waks said, “It reinforces the perception that Adass does not take the issue of child sexual abuse seriously.”

    Waks said he would be taking the matter to the Department of Education, Department of Human Services and the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority.

    The appointment of principals at independent schools such as Adass is a matter for the school and its board.

    Rabbi Avrohom Zvi Beck, the head of Adass Israel, has reportedly stepped in and called for more consultation with the ultra-orthodox community.

    In a letter to members, Beck called for a general meeting to be arranged to discuss the appointment, Fairfax reported.

    The Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand referred questions to its Victorian counterpart.

    The Rabbinical Council of Victoria told Guardian Australia it understood “appropriate bodies are working on this matter with the Adass school and if requested we are ready to offer any assistance we might be able to provide”.

    The Adass Israel school has been contacted for comment.

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