When the Jewish ultra-Orthodox community was shaken by allegations of sexual abuse against several of its leaders, a call began to resound among that introverted and deeply devout society.

"Lo Tishtok", which in Hebrew means "you will not shut up", is a phrase that gained strength among ultra-orthodox Jews, or "Haredim", who have been forced to deal with allegations of serious crimes against several of their cultural icons, including the sexual abuse of children.

In December, the writer and rabbi Chaim Walder committed suicide after the Haaretz newspaper published a report accusing him of sexual crimes against some 20 people, including children, which he denied.

Haaretz had reported in March that Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, founder of the Zaka emergency response organization and winner of the Israel Prize, the country’s highest public honor, sexually abused children and women.

Meshi-Zahav, who called the version "lie", also tried to hang himself in April before a new sexual complaint was made on channel N12.

An Israeli police spokesman told AFP that there is an open investigation into the allegations against Meshi-Zahav, but the police did not comment on the status of the criminal investigation against Walder at the time of his death.

Avigayil Heilbronn, who founded the organization "Lo Tishtok" to support victims of haredim sexual abuse, says the ultra-Orthodox community is nervous.

The allegations against Walder marked a "extraordinary blow"said the 33-year-old divorcee and mother of two, who defines herself as Modern Orthodox.

That a "cultural icon" how Walder can be a predator forced the Haredim to consider whether they can "trust in somebody"Heilbronn told AFP.

"I felt guilty"

The ultra-Orthodox community makes up 12% of the Israeli population of 9.3 million.

The Haredim are not a homogeneous group, but each claims to live in strict accordance with Jewish law.

The latest revelation of inappropriate behavior came this month when the Yediot Ahronot newspaper reported that an ultra-Orthodox radio personality assaulted three women, one of them a minor.

Adiel Bar Shaul, a 43-year-old ultra-Orthodox from the city of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, recounted his experience of being abused as a child.

Shaul said he was raped several times when he was 10 years old by a close friend of his family, also an ultra-Orthodox.

The first rape occurred when Shaul’s family received their attacker for Shabbat, a sacred period of rest and prayer for Haredim, he told AFP.

"He started giving me stickers. Then in return I would put my hand in his pants"recalled Shaul, who was silent for most of his life before making his case known.

"I was a child, I didn’t understand… I was alone, I was extremely embarrassed and I felt guilty"said Shaul, who now works with victims of sexual assault.

500 calls per month

Josiane Paris, a volunteer at the Tahel Crisis Center in Jerusalem, which supports children and women in Jewish communities, said victims are generally silent.

"They are afraid of what people and neighbors at school or synagogue will say", commented to AFP.

When the center opened its hotline three decades ago to help victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and rape, the calls weren’t very frequent.

"Today we receive about 500 calls per month", said Paris, proof that the movement "Me too" impacted the Israeli religious communities.

But for Yair Ettinger, an expert on the Haredim at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank and a journalist for the Kan public network, Israel’s rabbinical leaders "remain in denial".

Haredim are part of "an idealistic society that struggles to look at itself in the mirror"Ettinger noted.

But now there is "real attention to the problem, especially after several haredim celebrities fell from grace", he told AFP.



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