Celebrated ultra-Orthodox author and therapist Chaim Walder has been accused of sexual abuse by several women, who said they were minors at the time of the alleged abuse, a Haaretz investigation revealed.
A talk show host and columnist with a focus on social and educational issues, Walder is one of the most prominent children’s advocates in the ultra-Orthodox community, the founder of the Bnei Brak-based Center for the Child and Family and is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s “protector of the child” award. He has written 80 books, including numerous volumes of the popular “Kids Speak” series, which are a fixture in ultra-Orthodox households across the country.
Haaretz's investigation, published this weekend in Hebrew, found that the 52-year-old Walder, while maintaining an adored, beloved and accessible image for children and youth, allegedly sexually exploited girls for years. One of them was little more than twelve when the exploitation began, while two others were 15 and 20.
One alleged victim, who asked to be identified by the pseudonym Talia, told Haaretz that Walder initiated a relationship with her at the age of 13, abusing her in a series of sexual encounters around two decades ago.
"He is very smart and manipulative. He did it very slowly so as not to stress me out," Talia, who was referred to Walder for treatment, told Haaretz.
"He would tell me how he got to know his wife. He said he was God - in those words - and that he would help me with what I needed,” she said. "It started with sentences like 'You're very mature’ and 'I like the way you look.’”
It was not long before the indirect statements became direct.
"He asked me if I wanted to touch his penis,” she recalled, adding that “At first I would touch him and he would touch me under my shirt and things like that, but there was no full relationship.”
However, after Talia had her first period at age 13 things changed, with Walder taking her to the Rimonim Hotel in Ramat Gan to “celebrate” her physical maturity with a sexual encounter that left the young girl crying. The sessions continued, with Walder and Talia engaging in sexual intercourse on a weekly basis or more, even when she was menstruating.
Talia says that during the sexual encounters she would try to emotionally detach from the situation. Today, however, she remembers many details of these events, at the time she made an effort to be mentally somewhere else.
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"I was an excellent student,” she recalled, describing how she would “study for exams in my head, wait for it to end and go home. I disconnected.”
During their liaisons, Talia said, Walder would describe an affair he was having with an ultra-Orthodox teacher, describing how she would hang a certain garment in the window of her house to indicate that he could go up to her.
When the relationship ended, Walder allegedly told the now 16-year-old Talia to stay quiet about his actions, telling her that “If I spoke no one would believe me. He said it was my word against his, and that given the choice, it was clear who would be believed.”
More than a decade ago, Dina (a pseudonym), a woman in her twenties, filed a police complaint against Walder, alleging repeated incidents of sexual exploitation which had occurred some seven years earlier, but the case was subsequently closed due to lack of evidence.
She first went to Walder for treatment as a young woman of 20, who would justify his behavior by telling her that he had “a lot of credit with God.” He said that she deserved credit for sleeping with him, because the sexual encounters with her gave him the power to write to the children of Israel.
Acquaintances of Talia and Dina with knowledge of the incidents confirmed the women’s stories to Haaretz.
In a statement, Walder’s attorneys told Haaretz that their client “denies with disgust any allegation of misconduct on his part, let alone what is said in the article. These are false allegations based on a blatant lie that amount to a real blood libel.”
Walder "works to promote, nurture and protect the welfare of children and their rights in general and the ultra-Orthodox community in particular,” the statement said.
"Over the years, Mr. Walder has waged struggles for the benefit of children who have suffered violence and abuse,” opening himself up to attacks by those “whose goal has been to harm him, and we have evidence of some foolish attempts to incriminate our client,” they said.
“Our client is determined not to let himself be harmed in the slightest and will fight for his good name with all the legal means at his disposal.”
The Israel Police have stated that they have opened an investigation into the allegations against Walder.
Earlier this year, a Haaretz investigation found that Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the celebrated ultra-Orthodox Israel Prize winner and founder of the Zaka rescue organization, had for decades allegedly exploited his status, power, money and even the organization he heads to assault teenagers and children, both boys and girls.