Some 320,000 “We all believe the victims” fliers were distributed in Haredi neighborhoods across the country on Friday, in an act of defiance by a group of grassroots activists, in response to the ultra-Orthodox leadership’s response to revelations that author Chaim Walder was a serial sexual abuser.
The fliers featured a young girl with a hand over her mouth and the Hebrew caption “We all believe the victims.” Around the wrist of the hand over the girl’s mouth is a bracelet that reads, “Lashon Hara does not speak to me,” using the Hebrew word for gossip.
The backside of the fliers explains the importance of speaking out about sexual abuse and believing the alleged victims. The pamphlets were plastered on town bulletin boards, stuck in mailboxes and distributed in synagogues.
Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll — one of the roughly 150 volunteers who helped distribute the fliers in cities as far north as Safed and as far south as Dimona — told The Times of Israel that the campaign is a response to the claims by many in the Haredi leadership that the stories of Walder’s alleged victims who have come forward in recent months constitute Lashon Hara and that they are what caused the publisher to take his own life last week.
Keats Jaskoll said it was this reaction by ultra-Orthodox media and rabbinical leadership that led to the subsequent suicide on Thursday of Shifra Horowitz, an alleged victim of Walder’s.
The Haredi activists behind the campaign have preferred to remain anonymous, but Keats Jaskoll, who is modern Orthodox, said “they decided that if the leadership isn’t doing anything [for victims], we have to take action.”
Keats Jaskoll, who co-founded Chochmat Nashim, an organization that advocates for Orthodox women’s rights, said that the response she saw from Haredi community members upon seeing the fliers had been overwhelmingly positive.
“There were mothers who came up to volunteers to thank them and ask for more fliers so they could give to their families,” she said, while also admitting that there were some onlookers who were not as supportive and questioned why such a campaign was necessary.
The campaign organizers have launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to produce another batch of fliers.
In reporting on his death, ultra-Orthodox media largely omitted the sexual assault allegations against Walder — which were first published in the Haaretz daily — and did not mention suicide in obituaries.
The Behadrei Haredim news site described Walder as a “well-known writer and educator,” and highlighted a chain of summer camps he started. The obituary did not mention the abuse allegations or suicide.
Israeli Chief Rabbi David Lau made a public condolence visit to Walder’s family. In response to the uproar that ensued, he issued a statement, expressing his support for Walder’s victims.
“Unfortunately, there were those who interpreted the fact that I made a condolence call to the mourners — widows and orphans who I know personally, and there is no need to exaggerate what they are going through — as if I do not identify with victims,” Lau said in letter released Sunday.
“My heart goes out to the victims who are going through some very difficult days, and we must all stand by them always, and at this time in particular. I believe completely everyone who has been affected,” he added.
Some Orthodox rabbis have taken a more definitive stance against Walder, however. Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu called for removing all of Walder’s books from schools and summoned the author to appear before a rabbinic court days before the latter took his own life.
But Eliyahu has also faced backlash from nationalist Haredi Rabbi Zvi Tau, who spoke in defense of Walder, claiming the accusations against the publisher are baseless. In recordings leaked on Friday, Tau could be heard claiming that Eliyahu is feeding the flames of a leftist media bent on promoting secularism.
When the allegations first came to light in November, a number of ultra-Orthodox entities severed their ties with Walder, a resident of Bnei Brak. Walder was removed from his position at the ultra-Orthodox radio station Radio Kol Chai and the Otiyot children’s magazine said it would stop publishing his stories.