I needed a day to digest the news about Chaim Walder ending his life yesterday so I could gather my thoughts.
For those of you who don’t know, Chaim Walder was a highly respected Israel children’s author and advocate (who even received a national award for his work as “Protector of Children). It’s safe to say that his children’s books can be found in almost every Jewish home.
A few weeks ago, some intrepid journalists revealed that he has been accused of sexual abuse and inappropriate conduct with minors, as well as a slew of extra marital affairs. Several victims came forward, some alleging abuse as far back as 20 years ago.
Once this came out, in my family and social circles, there was a resounding “OF COURSE!”. My older kids claim his “Kids Speak” books gave them nightmares and real childhood trauma. A week before this news was publicized, his name randomly came up in our house, and my 21 year old daughter said, “For sure a sex offender.” Years ago, he came to speak at my sons’ school when my oldest was in 6th grade, and about a half hour after the event started, my husband and son were home. When I asked what happened, my husband said, “I don’t know why, but that guy REALLY rubs me the wrong way.”
We are a random Israeli-American family who never personally met the guy, and even so, several of my family members were more than uneasy about him.
Yesterday was his trial in a Beis Din in Tzefat, where he was invited to come, but refused. During the hearing, 22 victims came forward and recounted their abuse, rape and emotional manipulations by Walder.
Yesterday, his body was found with a gun shot wound and a suicide note has since been released. More on the note later.
Here’s what I have to get off my chest:
1. Almost immediately after the news of his death became public, the FB posts started: “We have to be careful about language we use regarding suicide. We can’t say someone “committed suicide”, because only criminals “commit” crimes. It is now correct to say a person “died by suicide.”. As someone who has very close family relatives who have had several close calls with suicide, I believe in this, and agree with this whole heartedly.
BUT. NOT. REGARDING. CHAIM. WALDER.
Chaim Walder was found to be guilty.
Rav Shmuel Eliyahu stated: “We checked and questioned and asked extensively, witnesses came before us who testified that he committed adultery with married women for many years until he caused them to divorce and be forbidden to their husbands. We have seen a court action on this and have strengthened things with further unequivocal evidence. We also heard recordings in his voice indicating serious acts of sexual crimes he had committed, and we found him guilty beyond any doubt.”
“Even though it was clear to him that he was destroying homes. And even though it was clear to him that he was tripping and defiling the house of Israel, Walder continued on his way without stopping for a moment. We received testimonies about 22 women and girls he harmed, and there is no doubt that these cases are only a small part of the serious damage he caused.”
This is a criminal. Walder knew what he was doing. He was “sane” enough to present himself to the world as a renowned author, a therapist, a children’s advocate. While at the same time abusing, raping and destroying women and children.
This is not a person that I can give the benefit of the doubt to. This is not a person who didn’t know what they were doing. This was a sneaky, dishonest, monster who played the tzaddik in the public eye. For this person, I have no problem saying he “committed suicide”. Add this to this criminal’s crimes.
If you’re still with me, a few more points:
2. People have different reactions to how Walder’s death must have affected his victims. Many say they must feel relief. Relief that it’s over, relief that he won’t hurt anyone else.
While I can’t speak for them, I would guess that it’s just the opposite. These victims have no closure. They have not been given a chance to see justice play its role. I would guess that some even may feel guilty about coming forward, “Did I kill a person?” This is the most cowardly, dastardly out this person could have taken.
3. The suicide note. You can find it if you google it. As one might hope, it is not, in fact, an admission of guilt, an apology or an ask for forgiveness. This would’ve been one final kindness Walder could’ve done for his victims after destroying their lives. But no.
This letter says he’s “Going to call the Rabbis of the court who found him guilty to a ‘Heavenly Court’, where they will see the truth. He reiterates his innocence, and thanks those people who believed in him and who will continue to share his works.”
For this, I have no words, so I’ll leave you again, with Rav Eliyahu’s:
“It is a pity that he chose this path, we suggested to him that he repair what he damaged. That he apologize to the victims. That he change his ways. That no more women be harmed.”
According to Rabbi Eliyahu, Walder “could have taught many through repentance. It is a pity that he chose the path of suicide. We are strengthening the many victims at this difficult time, their lives take precedence over his life.”
And this, this last line is everything: “We are strengthening the many victims, THEIR LIVES TAKE PRECEDENCE OVER HIS LIFE.”
May the victims be able to heal totally and completely, and may Walder no longer take up our headspace or shelf space.