To the leaders we don’t see – thank you

Chaim Wilder (Photo: YouTube)
Chaim Wilder (Photo: YouTube)

Despite Charedi news sources great efforts in the past to avoid the issue of sexual abuse even entering Charedi homes via print or online sources, News sources who otherwise would never have published, were ultimately forced into publishing something, anything, in response to the allegations of sexual abuse by one of the biggest authors of children literature. Some even managed to skirt the issue and still not use the words Walder or sex abuse. It did not matter; everyone knew what they were talking about.

The allegations against Chaim Walder first appeared in Haaretz back in November, after months of lengthy investigative work, by Aaron Rabinowitz and Shira Elk. Three women had accused Walder of exploiting their vulnerability, as well as the blind trust of the community, in order to sexually harm them.  These sorts of investigative pieces are never published in any Charedi news source under the guise of lashan hora. An additional argument the community have weaponised is ‘innocent until proven guilty’, a judicial standard that has no standing in a community that behaves as if there is no judicial process available to them.   

In a community where your news is controlled and censored, the only way you will be aware of any sexual abuse cases is if non-charedi papers write about it, through word-of-mouth or if your Rabbi speaks about it. Across the world – literally across the world – there were statements from the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, countless articles of Rabbis in America speaking up – and then there were journalists, Rabbi’s and representative bodies here in the UK saying and doing absolutely nothing.

You’d be forgiven for thinking perhaps these Walder books didn’t make it across the ocean to our bookshops and homes, but they did; they were in Charedi homes and Orthodox schools. So I try to give the benefit of the doubt, maybe they were all on winter break without access to world news, yet, over 1000 delegates from charedi schools found the time to attend a meeting to discuss the battle against government pressure to teach Relationship and Sex Education in all schools, and others were tweeting their opinion on Emma Watson and her alleged antisemitism.

My faith in our communal institutions, professional bodies and religious leadership was quickly disappearing. The change we so desperately need for better safeguarding in our Orthodox Jewish community is not coming from those in leadership roles.

It has been ten years of pleading with our leadership for better safeguarding practices in our shuls, organisations and community. Ten years just asking our leadership to put safeguarding higher up on their list of priorities.

Well clearly, I’ve been looking in the wrong place. Those headteachers who sent out letters to parents about Walder’s book in their libraries, along with tools for how to talk to your children; they didn’t delay for senior leadership to give guidance or permission. They took action.

The change we need is coming from the people working in our schools, or on the ground in face-to-face roles. These men and women understand the urgency more than leadership ever did, they partner with parents for grassroots change, how we talk about it among ourselves and how we raise children in this world. I am humbled and I am thankful to these people that are using their platforms to make this change.

These are the changemakers in our community, these are our leaders. To them I am grateful.




About the Author
Yehudis Goldsobel is the founder of Migdal Emunah and the UK's Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week.