A Walder Survivor Speaks Out

Rena Salomon is the pseudonym of a woman repeatedly raped as a child by Chaim Walder. Her letter was first circulated in the weekly vort email of Rav Ron Yitzchok Eisenman (Congregation Ahavas Israel, Passaic) who translated it from Hebrew.

When Weeping Is Not Enough

by Rena Salomon

Dear Rabbi Eisenman,

My name is Rena Salomon, and I am a victim of cw.

I say this is in the present tense because even though he is dead (may the name of the wicked rot), he still terrorizes and victimizes me. I have never been to Passaic, New Jersey, and I am sure we don’t travel in the same circles.

Why am I writing to you?

I could pander to you and tell you that I am writing because “you get it.” However, that would be a lie. You may want to get it and try to get it, but you can’t, and you will never “get it.” My great grand-parents both did a stint in Hell on Earth. The world knows it as Auschwitz. They passed away when I was a child. My grandmother told me that her parents never spoke about being incarcerated in Hell.

The first time she asked her mother about the strange numbers on her forearm, her mother cried, pulled down her sleeve to the wrist, and through her tears said only, “mein baliebte tochter, vet keinmal nisht farshteyn” (my beloved daughter, you will never understand). Much later, my grandmother understood why her mother never spoke about it. Survivors such as my great-grandmother were embarrassed to speak about Auschwitz for the first few years. They always felt as if the listener blamed them for being in Auschwitz or never fully believed what they endured and how painful and life-changing it was.

Later in life, when the street narrative changed and holocaust survivors became heroic people who you should seek out for Brochus, my great-grandmother still chose to remain silent. When asked by her daughter, who by then was herself a grandmother, “Why, Mama, do you still remain silent?” My great-grandmother answered with a wave of her hand, “ich darf nisht kein rachmonus” (I don’t need anyone’s pity).

So too, Rabbi Eisenman, there are still many people who blame me for being molested. They ask me (or I can tell that they at least want to ask me) the same question as they questioned (or wanted to question) my great-grandmother, “Why didn’t you fight back?” Certainly, those people don’t get it as they persist in their belief that most victims are either lying, exaggerating or loshon hora mongers who have thinly-veiled agendas to destroy Orthodox Jewry. Thankfully, as time has gone on and more people have come forward, and the realization is beginning to take hold that sexual abuse occurs, the reaction of some people towards the victims has changed. Just as people began to change in their reaction to Holocaust survivors, people are also changing in their response to abuse survivors.

The reaction varies from disbelief at worst to pity and compassion at best. As much as compassion is better than feeling repulsed, rejected, tainted, and not believed, I say to you Rabbi Eisenman as my alter-bubbe told my grandmother, “ich darf nisht kein rachmonus.” I, and survivors like me, are not interested in being looked at as pitiful, stained misfits who now deserve your “deepest sympathies.” Rather, we need people to believe us and in us. And we need people to treat us as true survivors who have withstood the horrors of abuse and molestation and are still functioning human beings.

You want to commiserate and validate my pain. However, you have never done a stint in Hell on Earth on the folding cot in cw’s warehouse while being raped between stacks and stacks of books whose themes were helping, protecting, and empowering children. You have never lived a day in Hell where the daily schedule consisted of being violated and humiliated by the man (whose horrid breath I smell every day of my life) who was regarded by hundreds of thousands of admirers- as the ultimate protector of children. I appreciate your compassion, but never think Rabbi Eisenman (or any other rabbi) that you “really get it.” Unless you too were incarcerated, battered, humiliated, and wounded for life by the recipient of the 2003 Magen LeYeled (Defender of the Child) award from the Israel National Council for the Child- you don’t get it.

Would you ever tell someone who was in Auschwitz, “Yes, yes, I understand your pain? I, too, went through hard times.” That statement would be laughable cruel, and insensitive. Just as you can never understand imprisonment at Auschwitz, you can never understand being a caged twelve-year-old girl enslaved and subjugated by an evil, pernicious pedophile.

This pedophile is the embodiment of brutality and heartlessness. For me and hundreds of others, he was the most demonic creature to walk the face of this Earth. Therefore, you can never fully understand as sympathetic as you are, although I appreciate your sincere desire to understand.

There is something; I, too, will never understand. I will never understand how any sane individual, much less a rabbi, could allow cw’s books to remain part of a home or school library. If your grandmother was medically experimented on by Josef Mengele Yimach Shemo, would you ever think to allow his medical books in a Jewish home?

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Why I Dislike the False Accusations Meme

The endless invocation of false accusations in many of the Haredi responses to the Walder serial rape scandal is being used as an excuse for rabbinical vetting before going to the police. I don’t deny that individuals can be falsely accused. It can happen. But they are rare while most abuse complaints are true. What is common is falsely accusing victims of lying or of some other shortcoming to justify ignoring their report. In practice writing or talking about false accusations becomes an obstacle to reporting many valid allegations of sex abuse and instead diverting the complainant to skeptical rabbonim for permission to proceed with a criminal complaint. This is because:

1. Most rabbonim are incompetent to evaluate the truthfulness of a complaint,

2. Most rabbonim are biased towards not believing allegations because they tend to be more concerned about reputations and community image than about facing the difficult implications of an abuse scandal

3. Many rabbonim are nogeiah b’davar, have a conflict of interests because they have some personal, organizational or familial connection to the alleged abuser or to others with such a connection to the abuser.

4. Rabbonim and other respected frum Jews are so averse to seeing a fellow frum Jew be convicted that a number of them have lied on the witness stand, contradicting things they knew and said in private about the guilt of the defendant.

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Evaluating the RCA Livecast Q&A on Child Sex Abuse in Response to the Walder Scandal

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) should be commended for convening the panel “Jewish Community in Crisis: Responding to the Walder Abuse Case.” It happened Monday evening (1/3/22) As the organization with the most orthodox rabbis in America this was an opportunity to educate their members and the laity of their congregations. 

The leaders of the organization, President Benyamin Blau and Exec VP Rabbi Mark Dratch are well  informed about the issue of sex abuse. Before becoming EVP, R. Dratch formed an organization, JSafe, which offered consultation to organizations on the issue. His website was a font of useful material informed by state of the art knowledge from criminology, education, psychology and an extensive review of the rabbinic literature. It laid to rest the many absurd claims that halachah prevents using the police and courts to deal with abusers or that the prohibition on loshon horah precludes talking about abusers. I am sorry he has taken that site down. It had a depth of detail that has not since been duplicated elsewhere, at least not altogether in one site. Rabbi Binyamin Blau (not to be confused with his father, Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at Yeshiva University) is also someone with a good personal track record on dealing with issues of abuse.

But the fly in the ointment was their invited guest, Dr. Norman Blumenthal, a psychologist who directs Trauma, Bereavement and Crisis Intervention at OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services. Ohel has a long sordid history of abuse in its facilities and kowtowing to its largely haredi constituency and funders with their retrograde positions on abuse. They are quite rightly the defendant in multiple lawsuits about child sex abuse and their negligent conduct. . 

Rabbis Blau and Dratch asked the right questions and offered the right answers. But Blumenthal, oiy! Among his many bad takes there are the following

  • Focusing on kids being the ones who could prevent abuse rather than focusing on the larger context of communal policy.
  • Discussing steps to take in response to the Walder scandal without even thinking to mention removing his books (Something with R. Dratch had to fill in).
  • Focusing on molesting as being sexual in the mind of a child rather than assault. Again, R. Dratch had to make the point.
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