Speak No Evil - a coronavirus message

The slogan “Lashon Hara: Speak No Evil” has caught on like wildfire in Israel and around the globe, in languages from Arabic to Chinese.

 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)

I drove to the Herzliya Studios on June 28 to record interviews for The Jerusalem Post’s inaugural virtual event, titled “COVID-19 and the Jews: Challenges & Opportunities.” I interviewed some wonderful people doing wonderful things, including:
• Itzhak Mirone, Dan Marom and Karine Bolton, who are spearheading a KKL-JNF program called Israel 2040 to encourage 1.5 million Israelis to move to the Negev and Galilee; • Nissim Alon, the CEO of Leumit Healthcare Services, who believes Israel has one of the best health systems in the world and has tackled COVID-19 admirably despite the recent resurgence;
• Shay Felber, deputy director-general of the Aliyah and Absorption unit of the Jewish Agency, which is providing financial aid to needy Jewish communities in the Diaspora hit by the coronavirus crisis;
• Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, executive director and co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, who says aliyah applications from North America have soared to a new high since the organization’s establishment in 2002; and
• Yael Eckstein, president and CEO of the Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which extends much-needed assistance to the poor and elderly, Holocaust survivors and immigrants across Israel.
As I entered the studios, I was welcomed by a lovely young couple named Asaf and Racheli Vainer, who run the production company that organized the event. I admired Asaf’s black mask adorned with the words, “Lashon Hara Lo Medaber Elai” (Lashon Hara Doesn’t Speak to Me).
Asaf referred me to Tel Aviv-based David Halperin, who launched the nonprofit campaign 14 years ago. He was inspired by his father, Rabbi Rafael Halperin, an Austrian-born wrestler, bodybuilder and diamond cutter who became an Orthodox rabbi and opened a successful chain of 120 optical centers throughout Israel, which he and his wife, Bertie, divided among their five children. I loved Rabbi Halperin, who died in 2011 at the age of 87.
“My father, of blessed memory, taught us all at home, around the Shabbat table and even in his will, not to talk about others, not good things and not bad. And that’s how the slogan, Lashon Hara Lo Medaber Elai, was born,” says David Halperin. “There’s a very powerful sentence that I think we have to remember: Whoever speaks lashon hara to you will also speak lashon hara about you. It’s the worst possible thing for our society for people to say bad things about one another.”
The concept has its roots in Genesis (Adam and Eve were punished for believing in the snake’s evil tongue by being expelled from the Garden of Eden), and the powerful prayer, “Guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile.”
In English, the slogan is, “Lashon Hara: Speak No Evil.” Halperin says the project caught on like wildfire in Israel and around the globe, in languages from Arabic to Chinese. Hassidic singer Shimon Tubul had a hit song titled, “Lashon Hara Lo Medaber Elai,“ written by Yehuda Shukron. “As my friend (Israeli singer) Omer Adam told me, the project succeeded in conveying the message that lashon hara is not cool,” Halperin says. “Children love the message, and really practice the principle.”
Halperin printed 5,000 stickers with the slogan, moved on to a nationwide bus campaign in Israel, and then produced more than two million colored bracelets in dozens of languages and some 300,000 masks to protect against COVID-19. He was honored at the President’s Residence and awarded the prestigious Jerusalem Prize in March.
“The satisfaction I get is that it really causes people to stop speaking evil,” he tells me. “Like the Talmud says, whoever saves one life saves an entire world. You have to start with one person at a time.”