By Timna Jacks (The Age, Australia)
July 4, 2017
The most powerful rabbi in Australia's most secretive ultra-Orthodox Jewish community has taken the extraordinary step of intervening in the appointment of controversial rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant as principal of Adass Israel School.
In a rare move from the leader who scarcely weighs in on high-profile issues, Rabbi Avrohom Zvi Beck has released a letter to community members calling for more consultation on the appointment.
"I think it appropriate that we should consult with the members of our community on this matter," wrote the rabbi in a letter sent out days after Rabbi Kluwgant was given the role.
"Let a general meeting be arranged, and may the Lord bring us success in the endeavour."
Rabbi Beck is the most senior figure in the deeply hierarchical community, with oversight over every element of the community, including the school.
His intervention follows calls from child abuse victims to reconsider the appointment, after Rabbi Kluwgant was exposed in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse last year for calling the father of Yeshivah College abuse victim Manny Waks a "lunatic" who neglected his children.
Another victim told the commission that Rabbi Kluwgant discouraged him from reporting abuse to police. (Rabbi Kluwgant claims he did not know the person was a victim at the time.)
The school first courted controversy in 2008 after former principal Malka Leifer flew to Israel in the middle of the night after she was accused of abusing students. She is now in Israel fighting her extradition to Australia, where she is wanted on 74 charges of child sexual abuse.
It can also be revealed that teachers at the school are preparing to write a letter to the school council opposing the decision.
One staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: "Everyone is really angry, in disbelief, shocked, sad, it's a big blow."
"We don't want to stand by, we want to do something but teachers are fearing that they will lose their jobs, there is a culture of quiet."
The extradition of Ms Leifer has been the most high-profile scandal to engulf the community.
One of the former principal's alleged victims, Dassi Erlich, was awarded more than $1 million in damages for the sexual abuse she suffered.
In the landmark Supreme Court decision, Justice Jack Rush found the school helped Ms Leifer leave the country and "was likely motivated by a desire to conceal her wrongdoing".
In a Facebook post addressed to the members of the Adass school board, Ms Erlich wrote: "In 2000 you hired Malka Leifer. It was a mistake, although you could not have known it then. I implore you, please do not make the mistake of hiring Rabbi Kluwgant.
"It's my hope you will reconsider this decision for the sake of the survivors and all the students at your school."
Manny Waks called the decision "outrageous and offensive" and said it "reinforces the perception that Adass does not take the issue of child sexual abuse seriously".
On Thursday last week, school board secretary Abe Weiszberger notified the community that Rabbi Kluwgant would be taking the role.
"Rabbi Kluwgant comes to us with a wealth of experience in leadership and education," he wrote in a letter.
"After a global recruitment process, we have found him to be the most suitable candidate for the job. We have every confidence that Rabbi Kluwgant will be an immense asset."
Fairfax Media has approached the school board for comment.
Rabbi Kluwgant declined to respond to Fairfax Media's questions.