The first supervised graffiti project in the Charedi sector, which was held last week in a girls’ high school in northern Israel, raises the fight against abuse in the Charedi community to a new level. Over time, the fight has consistently been gaining exposure and strength.
Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, a Charedi rabbi from Monsey, NY and affiliated with the Chasidic sector, requested from secular graffiti artist and author Judy Kopelman to launch a brand-new project in Israel, which he hopes will be the first of many. For many years, Rabbi Horowitz has been spearheading the battle against pedophilia in the Charedi community in the US.
Throughout the course of the Graffiti Project, many emotions and pains rose to the surface. Fifteen-year old Ella shared: “The truth is that I felt almost rebellious. Graffiti is an art of protest. I draw and protest as if to tell people, ‘Look! There are so many people out there suffering. Stop living in your bubble! The reason the girl in the mural is depicted standing alone is because she is alone, so terribly alone! Yes, there are people out there who are living amongst others but are completely alone. Wake up and see what’s happening!'”
The project took place in Kfar Shirah, a high school for girls from Charedi homes, located in a rural village and under the auspices of Mrs. Tzipora Gutman. The school opens its doors to dozens of adolescent girls between the ages of 14 and 16 who have not found their respective places in mainstream high schools. In the village and away from outside pressures, the girls enjoy beautiful accommodations and a high-level of learning.
Another student, Chana was so deeply inspired by this project that she was determined to report to the police an incident in which she was a victim. “While I was drawing, I couldn’t help but think about the time that I was harassed,” she related. “At the time, I didn’t want to do anything about it, and I told myself that it’s okay and that things can continue the way they are. Now I realize that maybe I really should talk to the police. I’m sure that there are other girls who are being assaulted by the same person, and someone has to put a stop to it."
“I want to tell each and every girl in the world that it’s okay to tell others if you’ve been harassed or abused," she continued. "Even if you can forgive the perpetrator on a personal level, you are not the first and definitely not the last girl he has hurt and will hurt. You have the power to save others!”
Presiding over the project was artist and author Judy Kopleman. “This was a particularly emotional and empowering experience for me,” shared Koppelman. “I met a wonderful group of Charedi young women who were smart, full of life and eager to cooperate. I was especially touched by Chana’s story and how the project inspired her to head to the police and report a case of abuse that she suffered two years ago. I never dreamed that several hours of joint effort creating a wall mural could generate such a profound social and emotional outcome. It was truly amazing.”
Rabbi Horowitz noted that “It was very moving to see this project complete. Slowly but surely, we are bringing the message that we have spread over the past years, across frum communities in the US and Israel. There’s a major gap between the way that Charedi communities in the US and Israel deal with the tragic phenomenon of abuse. In order to get results and expand awareness, we need to operate simultaneously on all fronts and find ways to push our message through every open window while accommodating for the sensitivities and social mores of the haredi sector.”