Walder sex abuse case stirs ultra-Orthodox 'Me Too' movement

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Ultra-Orthodox children's author Chaim Walder books on a shelf at a home of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Jerusalem, December 31, 2021.
Yonatan Sindel/Flash90Ultra-Orthodox children's author Chaim Walder books on a shelf at a home of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish family in Jerusalem, December 31, 2021.

'Women must have the right to speak up and be heard after being silenced for so long'

In the wake of Chaim Walder's death, and the death of one of his victims, the ultra-Orthodox community began to rise against the silencing of sexual abuse victims in the community. 

Walder, a well-known author, committed suicide after it was reported that the Israel Police opened an investigation into him regarding sexual assault allegations. Several days after his death, one of his victims, Shifra Horovitz, committed suicide.

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"Did a young woman sacrifice herself in order to be heard for things to move?" said Esty Shushan, founder of Nivcharot, the first and only ultra-Orthodox feminist organization in Israel.

"All this big talk about feminism and gender equality overrides everything. Women must have the right to speak up and be heard after being silenced for so long, while this criminal blossomed," Shushan continued.

Nivcharot aims to promote the status and rights of ultra-Orthodox women and include them in political processes.

Roughly 320,000 flyers reading "We all believe the victims" were distributed in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods across Israel, a response to community leaders saying that allegations of sexual assault constitute "lashon hara," the Hebrew phrase meaning "gossip." 

"For an ultra-Orthodox man to speak out against a criminal of such stature is tantamount to opposing his own establishment," said Avigayil Heilbronn, founder of the "Don't Be Silent" online campaign, launched six years ago.

"The ultra-Orthodox politicians... talk about the tax on plastic disposables. This is the worst crisis within the ultra-Orthodox community since the inception of the state.

"The immense majority of our rabbis don't know the meaning of 'sexual abuse.' They just don't know. It's not malice or evil, but ignorance. They must learn, and now they are."

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