Much has been written and said about Chaim Walder in the past few weeks.
He was the celebrated, haredi author of children’s books who was seen as having revolutionized ultra-Orthodox literature for children.
Walder recently took his own life after a number of serious allegations of child abuse, and rape of women and children were made against him.
He died by his own hand without facing trial, thereby denying his many victims any answers and the chance of closure. Instead, they are left to live with the horrors which he brought to bear upon them, as he took no responsibility for his criminal behavior and the lives he destroyed.
One of his victims, Shifra Yocheved Horovitz, aged 24, tragically committed suicide after seeing Walder eulogized and mourned in the haredi press after his death.
Not only did he leave his reputation and his legacy as the author of a popular series of children’s books called Kids Speak in tatters, he also left behind thousands of his books, which have innocently found their way onto the bookshelves of many Jewish homes. Disturbingly, even though some larger booksellers have stopped selling his books, they are still available to buy.
For example, they can be found on Amazon alongside the following description: “In Kids Speak, kids open up, tell their own stories, express their feelings, and share unusual experiences, as well as their reactions to them.”
“In the caring hands of noted educator and prize-winning author Chaim Walder, these thirty-four true episodes in the lives of boys and girls between the ages of eight and twelve become sparkling gems of insight into the enchanting world of the young, of how they view life and the world.”
“These entertaining stories take place within a uniquely Jewish setting, yet their spirit, content, and concerns are universal in nature.”
“Young readers of all backgrounds will find they have much in common with these inquisitive boys and girls.”
“Uplifting, insightful, and filled with important life lessons, these are valuable stories not just for the young but for parents and teachers too.”
The books were widely held to have therapeutic value, giving kids a voice by allowing them to express their inner thoughts and feelings.
Until recently, Walder duped everyone into believing he was a caring, noted, prize-winning educator, whose mission in life was to help children and young adults suffering from trauma and abuse.
However, as more of his victims come forward, the myths surrounding the man have been dispelled, leaving not just the victims themselves, but those who engaged with him by reading his books or buying them for their own children feeling utterly revolted, shocked and betrayed.
In an even more shocking twist, it is now widely believed that many of his stories are based on information gleaned from his victims – children and young people he systematically groomed, abused and raped. Perversely, it would appear that his victims provided the material for those same books that were intended to help them. Consequently, many believe that any therapeutic value which they may have experienced has been expunged.
Unsurprisingly, people no longer wish to have these tainted books in their homes and are calling for their universal destruction. Leading figures in the haredi world have also spoken out, posted online videos and distributed pamphlets in letterboxes encouraging the destruction of the books.
However, some argue that the books should not be destroyed, in case they are needed as reference to help provide answers to many of the questions now being asked. Others feal uncomfortable with the destruction and burning of books due to the painful memories it evokes.
Originally from Manchester, Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Lieberman and his wife, Elisheva, a counseling psychologist, worked closely with victims of abuse from the haredi community before making aliyah some years ago.
Although both have been profoundly affected by the horrific revelations about Walder, they have diametrically opposed views about what should be done with their own collection of Walder’s books and his books in general.
During my recent conversation with the couple, Rabbi Dr. Lieberman expressed his reservations about their destruction.
Although he advocates for the removal of Walder’s books from all bookshelves, including his own, to a safe place where they will not be seen or found by anyone, he does not think that they should be destroyed. To do so smacks of “cancel culture,” he says, something with which makes him feel very uncomfortable.
He also floated the idea that, as the books had therapeutic value and have helped many children over the years, they could be refashioned and republished anonymously or under a pseudonym, in order to enable other children to benefit from them too, with all proceeds of sales going to suitable charities.
On the other hand, his wife strongly disagrees with him. She describes the books as treif and, as such, refuses to have them anywhere in her home, even hidden away. Accordingly, she took a unilateral decision to destroy them and posted a live video of herself doing that on Facebook in order to “give credibility to the victims who will never have justice.”
Both agree that the alleged actions of Walder have forever ruined the lives of many and that those who have come forward are merely the tip of the iceberg – they say in all probability there are many more victims who are too scared to come forward.
Although discussions are taking place about what to do with Walder’s books, there is general consensus that they have no place on the shelves of our homes and under no circumstances should they find their way into the hands of our children.
With this in mind, we must put pressure on all booksellers, including Amazon, to withdraw these books for sale. We owe it to the victims, our children, society at large and the memory of Shifra Yocheved Horovitz.
The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Netanya, where she spends most of her time writing and enjoying her new life in Israel.