I Met Chaim Walder and Almost Became His Partner

Here’s What I Didn’t See

The original, English version of our “Let’s Stay Safe” child safety book was published in the summer of 2011 in partnership with Artscroll/Mesorah, and in 2014 we released “Zai Gezunt,” the Yiddish Version, and began planning for the Hebrew edition.

Publishing a children’s picture book in a different language requires a quality translator, as well as a gifted graphic designer who can modify the characters and all other imagery, to produce a culturally congruent version of the original. More so in a child safety book, where we want the children who read the book to feel that the life-saving lessons taught, apply to their individual lives.

Almost as soon as we started looking to assemble the team that would produce our Hebrew book, people directed me to meet with Chaim Walder and to explore the possibility of collaboration, as we had done previously with Artscroll/Mesorah. At the time, it seemed like a dream arrangement that would have provided us with all the tools to create, print, store and ship the book, as well as to work off Walder’s reputation and network to increase its sales.

I had two one-hour meetings with Walder in his office, and at the conclusion of our second meeting, he expressed interest in working with us. We then set a time for the third meeting to discuss terms and to finalize the business arrangement.

After sleeping on it, I called Walder the next morning and told him politely that we decided against collaboration.

 

Even in hindsight, and even after all we’ve come to know about Walder, I honestly can’t explain why I walked away from what seemed like an excellent opportunity. I just had an inexplicable nagging, negative feeling about Walder that simply wouldn’t go away; and therefore, I decided to follow my better instincts and get out.

We are profoundly grateful to Hashem/God for His kindness and the hashgacha pratis/divine intervention that prevented us from embarking on a different path that would have resulted in tens of thousands of our safety books tossed into dumpsters across Israel.

Nonetheless, I’ve been reflecting a great deal about finding a rational reason why I felt the way I did about Walder, and a take-away lesson from my experience to all of us who are struggling to find meaning in the horrible events of these past weeks.

Here’s what I came up with.

I don’t think it was something that I saw or felt during those two meetings that set me off.

It’s rather what I didn’t see.

I didn’t notice if there were plaques or awards on Walder’s office walls, and I wasn’t concentrating on what he was wearing or which “tribe” he belonged to. My wife Udi jokes lovingly that I am oblivious to these things, and there is a great deal of truth to that. (Can’t make this up — this past summer, Udi asked me to move a cactus plant from the front hallway to the back porch, and she was rewarded with a deer- in-the-headlights look in my eyes that screamed, “what plant?” Udi laughed and responded, “the one that’s been there for 20 years.”)

 

Not remembering or not even noticing things is in some ways a genuine disability of sorts that often causes me problems, like misplacing things (remember; kids lose things, adults misplace them), or having a hard time remembering names of people I met for the first time an hour earlier; it’s my nature and I’ve just learned to embrace it.

In some ways, that disability has been a blessing, and I suspect that it served me well in those two preliminary meetings with Walder. To be sure, I’m no smarter than the next guy, and I’ve made more mistakes than I can count; however, my limitations made me blind to one of the most effective tools well-connected, serial abusers have, the trappings of power and the respectability of being a distinguished member of “The Tribe.” Perhaps, concentrating on Walder, the person, rather than the acclaimed author, made it easier for me to feel that something was very wrong.

Years ago, I did a child safety class in Alpine NJ where I shared the microphone with the Chief of Police, Michael P. Bruno. Chief Bruno shared a profound thought with the audience. He instructed parents to concentrate on the “It” (the action people do) and ignore the “Who” (the person who did it), and he said that we keep getting in trouble when we ignore suspicious actions (the “it”) just because we respect the person (the “who”).

I am not familiar with details of the Walder case, but if past is prologue as it relates to other serial abusers, it is inconceivable that he got away with it on such a grand scale without repeated, flagrant yichud and/or boundary violations. Chief Bruno would advise us all to concentrate more on the “it” and less on the “whom.”

Our broader Jewish community will be a more welcoming, harmonious place when we pay less attention to a person’s external trappings, and a much safer place when we stop allowing well-connected people of our Tribe a “pass” on poor behavior.

About the Author
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, founding dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and director of Bright Beginnings, is an innovative educator, author, and child safety advocate. He is the publisher of two child safety books that are in over 120,000 homes in three languages, as well as the groundbreaking Bright Beginnings Gemara and Chumash workbooks that are in over 100 schools. He received the prestigious 2008 Covenant Award in recognition of his contribution to Jewish education. His most recent project is the Bright Beginnings Under-a-Minute Parenting Clips posting daily videos by Rabbi Horowitz on a wide range of topics on Instagram @brightbeginningsforum, and via WhatsApp by messaging “Sign-Up” to 845-540-2414. Rabbi Horowitz conducts child abuse prevention and parenting workshops in Jewish communities around the world.
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