A SENIOR educator at the Adass Israel School told the Supreme Court of Victoria today she “felt like I was sitting on a bomb” when she discovered that Malka Leifer, the school’s head of Jewish Studies, might be sexually molesting students.
Sharon Ann (Chana) Bromberg, a teacher and chaplain at the school, told the court she received a phone call in August 2007 from a friend urging her to inquire whether Leifer “may have crossed any boundaries” with her female students.
Bromberg said her personal feeling after that phone call was that somebody was prepared to “stoop so low to get” Leifer. But when she confronted Leifer with this a few days later, Leifer said she had discussed her conduct with rabbis and all was in order.
The caller phoned again around 11 days before Leifer’s hasty departure for Israel, saying there was substance to allegations of sexual abuse based on a former student (the claimant) talking to a counsellor in Israel.
The caller called a third time to give Bromberg a young woman’s name to support the seriousness of the allegations.”I felt like I was sitting on a bomb,” Bromberg said.
Bromberg felt the issue “had to be managed” and phoned the young woman. She told the court that the former student’s response was “bad news … Clearly sexualised behaviour [was] taking place … I sat wondering what to do next.”
Bromberg then arranged to meet Leifer. A conversation took place between the two teachers in Bromberg’s car but Leifer’s assurances now sounded to her like “a few minutes of bla bla”, she said.
Bromberg then tried to report the problem to Adass rabbis and in a phone call related what she had heard to Rabbi Binyomin Wurzburger and Rebbetzin Wurzburger and later in person to Rabbi Avrohom Zvi Beck.
“It took some time to actually believe it … Like having a classy dinner and you pick up the tablecloth and there’s snakes and scorpions underneath,” she told the court.
Asked by plaintiff’s counsel David Seeman SC if she had ever apologised to the claimant, Bromberg said she “didn’t get the vibe that that would necessarily be appreciated…
“I feel deeply that these beautiful girls have been harmed… But I don’t feel personally responsible,” she said.
Another senior Adass school staffer, Esther Spigelman, head of general studies at Adass, rejected a suggestion by the plaintiff’s barrister Dyson Hore Lacy SC that Leifer was the girls school “principal” or had a position of general authority outside her post of head of Jewish studies.
Barrister Christopher Blanden SC, representing Adass, said the school will argue that it is not liable for Leifer as she was not a teacher employed by the school (she was not registered as a teacher in Victoria) but was actually employed by the Adass congregation, not the school.
The trial continues.