ABC Australia reports:
The time stamp states it is 08:12:13 on December 18, 2017, and the person recording appears to be walking through a small convenience store in Immanuel, Israel.
The picture is unsteady. Shelves stacked with random household items flash past on an angle until a man sitting at the cashier’s till comes into shot along with a number of ultra-orthodox Jewish men.
Slowly, the jerky vision settles on a woman standing in an aisle and chatting to the cashier as she buys a loaf of bread and a container of biscuits.
It is Malka Leifer, the former principal of the ultra-orthodox Jewish Adass Israel Girls School in Melbourne, who is wanted on 74 charges of child sexual abuse in Australia.
The footage, airing nationally for the first time on Australian Story, was captured during a secret surveillance operation to help Melbourne-based Dassi Erlich and her two sisters, Nicole and Elly, bring Ms Leifer to justice.
The siblings say the abuse started when they were teenagers at the Adass Israel Girls School. The sisters allege Ms Leifer sexually abused them between 2003 and 2007.
Ms Leifer fled to Israel in 2008 and Australian authorities have been trying to extradite her for the past four years. She avoided extradition by claiming that severe anxiety and panic attacks left her mentally incapable of facing an Israeli court.
According to Israeli law, hearings cannot proceed if the defendant is not present and, in 2016, the court suspended extradition hearings and ordered Ms Leifer appear before a panel of psychiatrists every six months.
“She was claiming that she wasn’t able to understand what was going on; she wasn’t able to have basic human interactions; she needed a carer for her daily living,” Ms Erlich said.
Ms Leifer’s lawyer, Yehuda Fried, said communication was difficult due to her mental state.
“Throughout this court case, I managed to get two or three sentences from her and those too were unclear at times,” Mr Fried said.
Which is why the more than 200 hours of vision of the mother of eight, leading a rather mundane life going about her daily chores, has led to a critical breakthrough in the case.
At the shop, Ms Leifer is being filmed using a hidden camera.
The filming is part of an undercover investigation organised by the global anti-child abuse organisation Jewish Community Watch (JCW) after Ms Erlich and her sisters met with Israel-based JCW coordinator Shana Aaronson in Jerusalem late last year. They showed her a grainy photo of Ms Leifer attending a public gathering for the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer last May.
“To me, it’s felt like the system has been getting played,” Ms Aaronson told Australian Story.
“Anyone with common sense can see that this is a sham.”
She hired a firm called Amit Investigations to shadow Ms Leifer and prove she was lying about her incapacity.
Knowing it would be impossible to blend into Immanuel, where everyone knows everyone else, Mr Tsahi’s team of investigators disguised themselves as construction workers.
“We decided that we will look like workers, builders, that are working there and they live their life there,” Mr Tsahi said.
“The people in the community of Immanuel never talked to the builders.”
Using zoom lenses and cameras, they recorded Ms Leifer’s every move for two weeks.
She was filmed sitting on her balcony at her home, taking phone calls, waiting for the bus, shopping and buying groceries and toys for her grandchildren.
The footage captured by Mr Tsahi and his team was handed to Israeli police in February and, after a separate investigation, Ms Leifer was arrested.
In its judgment last month, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that Ms Leifer had been obstructing justice by feigning a mental illness and ordered that she be kept in custody. She will be brought before the court on Wednesday as the extradition proceedings resume.
While the sisters are excited by the latest developments, they cannot forget the role played by their former school in helping Ms Leifer flee 10 years ago.
“I think if the school hadn’t spirited Malka Leifer out of the country, we wouldn’t be here where we are today,” Ms Erlich said. “An apology is needed not just for myself, but for the other people that have been affected.”
While the Adass Israel school has expressed sorrow for what Ms Erlich and her sisters have been put through, the board has not apologised for the actions of the two school board members who made the decision to buy Ms Leifer and her family one-way tickets to Tel Aviv within hours of the abuse allegations surfacing.
Former board member Abe Weiszberger said the rest of the school board was not aware of the allegations at the time.
“Whatever happened in the 48 hours of this saga … was a decision made by two people on the board,” he said.
Former premier Ted Baillieu, who has been helping Ms Erlich and her sisters, is not satisfied with the board’s explanation.
“I think the school’s got to understand they need to have 100 per cent accountability for everybody involved,” he said.
Dassi Erlich has been working with the current board in an attempt to obtain a public apology for what has happened, but she has now decided to walk away from what she began last year.
“I feel bitterly disappointed that the process has been so convoluted and lengthy,” she said.
In response, the board provided Australian Story with the following statement: “The board of Adass Israel School wishes Ms Dassi Erlich well. We prioritise the importance of her receiving an apology. We anticipate that this will be forthcoming in the near future.”
Since the scandal surrounding Ms Leifer first broke, the school has taken measures to protect its students, including installing security cameras in every room.
“We have a child safety officer; we are trying our absolute hardest to ensure child safety,” Mr Weiszberger said.
But the Adass Israel school still refuses to teach sex education.
“Communities thrive, people get married, they have children, and obviously they know all about it when it’s necessary to know about it,” Adass Israel community member Shlomo Abelesz said.
Ms Erlich left the Adass community soon after her alleged abuser fled Melbourne.
“I didn’t want my daughter growing up in that environment,” she said.
In leaving the Adass Israel community, Ms Erlich gave up friends, family and everything she knew.
After her own difficulties adjusting to the mainstream world, she is now involved in an organisation called Pathways Melbourne that supports people leaving Orthodoxy.
The campaigner now enjoys simple pleasures like walking barefoot in the sand on camping trips to the Victorian coast, something she was unable to do as a child growing up in a community that discouraged females from exposing any part of their body.
“I’ve had a massive amount of experiences [in] the last year,” she said. “Experiences that I never thought were possible.”
“I’ve gone from being — 10 years ago — a shy, reserved, passive, submissive person that felt very powerless and weak to someone that’s the complete opposite of that now.”