Dedicated to and inspired by Miriam bas Mordechai Moshe Aaron. She died 2 months ago at the age of 20, due to mental and physical health complications, which began years earlier due to sexual trauma. Also dedicated to Shifra Horowitz and all others, of all ages, who died because of sexual abuse. We are trying to do better.
Like Walder, Like Carlebach: (Part 1)
I was very discerning of the books and magazines I allowed in my home when I was raising my daughter. I aimed for our home, as much as possible, to reflect the values I wanted her to absorb. So when I read a volume of Chaim Walder’s “Kids Speak,” I was satisfied. It passed the test. I appreciated that his books exposed children to a broad range of feelings and experiences. Sensitivity to others was a major value I wanted to impart, and having my daughter read stories like these was a wonderful way to support that.
In ways similar to this, based in one manner or another on the trust he engendered, Chaim Walder entered the homes and hearts of thousands of Jewish children, gained direct access to vulnerable children as their therapist (though not licensed-which is its own issue), founded the Family and Child Center, received the Defender of the Child award from the Israel National Council for the Child, was a regular columnist in leading Chareidi newspaper, hosted a popular radio talk show, and more. In the hareidi community especially, he had become a sort of celebrity. All based on the fact that we trusted him.
Then, in November 2021, multiple allegations against Chaim Walder accusing him of sexual assault and rape – including of many minors – became known to the public. His status in the public’s eyes immediately changed. We watched Walder’s public legitimacy revoked as he was canceled by store owners, rabbis, newspapers, a radio show, and those who would have otherwise met with him for personal counsel or sought him for speaking engagements.
Public responses immediately after the revelation, were swift, sharp, and in clear support of victims. Among the first to respond were:
– Mordy Getz CEO of Eichlers, who had Walder’s books removed from the store’s bookshelves and stated “…we cannot ignore the pleas we have received on behalf of the alleged victims.”
– Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Safed, who said, “We must not keep in our homes books which were written by someone who is suspected of sexually abusing so many women. This teaches children and those around us that we are lax when it comes to this horrendous abomination. The fact that a child reads a book by someone suspected of rape turns the author into a legitimate figure, and that is an educational disaster. We must call out, loudly: There is no compromise in the war on this abomination…there are dozens of women who are testifying that he hurt them in a crass way, and we cannot ignore their cries.”
– Rabbi Yehudah Silman and Rabbi Sariel Rosenberg, rabbis of the Bnei Brak Beit Din (rabbinical court) of Nissim Karelitz, wrote a public statement. In it they wrote, “We should not read books by an author who is thought to have committed indecent acts, as reading his books is like supporting these acts.” They added, “Our rabbis taught us not to read books by authors who are not G-d fearing, especially when there is suspicion the writer is an indecent man.”
[After the above statements, on December 27, the Safed Beit Din heard testimony of 22 people stating they were sexually abused by Walder. Walder had been summoned to the hearing but refused to attend. Instead, he committed suicide.]
Never mind the few shocking and mistaken public statements, made since Walder’s death. The vast majority of us continue to agree with and take pride in the properly-directed compassion, as well as the human decency, justice, and righteous leadership the above statements reflect.
But wait, these statements can just as easily be said about Shlomo Carlebach. What’s going on here? Why have rabbis been silent about Carlebach?! Why are we not in an uproar about Carlebach like we are about Walder? For some reason, when it comes to Carlebach, it has been acceptable to ignore the cries and pleas of Shlomo Carlebach victims.
Like Walder, Shlomo Carlebach gained the opportunity to sexually abuse so many girls and young women because of the trust he engendered.
I have personally heard from victims, their stories of sexual abuse from Shlomo Carlebach.
One woman told me, “I was 12 years old when Shlomo visited my Orthodox community to lead a concert. I was part of a group of kids who met on Shabbat. He invited us to meet in advance of the concert so we would learn the songs and know them already at the concert. During dancing he groped my breast. I didn’t know what to think. I didn’t even speak to boys at that age…
And here is an account of his sexual abuse taken from Lilith magazine: “She was in high school in the late 1960’s when she attended a Jewish camp where, for the first time in her life, she felt ‘safe and uncriticized. . . . Every talent that I had was encouraged.” Music was everywhere, and it was to this “safe” environment that Rabbi Carlebach — who spent much of his life traveling to bring his music and prayers to communities worldwide — was invited as a guest singer.
“We had heard that someone fabulous was coming, a star,” she recalled of the visit. “The rabbis [at the camp] really seemed to honor him — like a god.” Rabbi Carlebach, with his warmth and charisma, was like the Pied Piper, she remembered, and his singing was wonderful; Rachel recalled it as, “the first time in a Jewish context that I could feel that I was having a spiritual experience.”
When he asked her to show him around the camp, Rachel said she felt “what an honor [it was] to be alone with this great man.” They walked and talked of philosophy and Israel, of stars and poems, and she remembers being “just enchanted.” He asked her for a hug, and when she agreed, “He wouldn’t let go. I thought the hug was over and I tried to squirm out of it. He started to rub and rock against me.”
So unsuspecting was she, she said, “that at first I thought, ‘Was this some sort of davening?’” She said she tried to push him away, while he “was dry humping me. Until he came.” And though she does not recall the words that he spoke, she remembers his communicating to her that it was something special in her that had caused this to happen. “It felt cheap, but he had said thank you…”
To be continued
The writer can be contacted for comment or collaboration at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a victim of Shlomo Carlebach, I want to hear from you.
Survivors of sexual abuse, if you are feeling triggered or distressed in any way, please reach out to your support system. If you feel alone, know that you are not! There are people and organizations who care deeply about you. Below are two such organizations. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to them.
Magen for Jewish Communities, 02-372-4073, email@example.com
Amudim, 646-517-0222, https://amudim.org/contact/