#MeToo Mural helps Haredi Girls Open to their Traumatic Pasts

By Maayan Hoffman
eJewish Philanthropy

A group of 30 ultra-Orthodox young women and a secular graffiti artist recently worked together to complete a unique mural that serves both as a work of art and as an effort to raise the fight against sexual abuse in the haredi community.

The project was spearheaded by Tzipora Gutman, head of the Kfar Shira high school – a new school for haredi girls who are struggling in the mainstream haredi framework – and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, a haredi rabbi from Monsey. For many years, Horowitz, who is Hasidic, has been at the forefront of the battle against pedophilia in the haredi community in the US and Israel.

Kfar Shira is focused on tikkun olam, according to Gutman, and the idea of making the world a better place. The girls, she said, are passionate about the idea of bringing #MeToo into the haredi world.

Many of the girls who participated in the project, which launched in November but was only completed earlier this year, had suffered from the trauma of sexual misconduct or abuse, according to artist and author Judy Kopelman. During the months of painting, many emotions and pains rose to the surface.

“The truth is that I felt almost rebellious,” said 15-year-old Ella. “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 mural is of a girl standing alone looking at a haredi community, but all the windows and doors are shut. A sign reads, “You are not alone.”

“The reason the girl in the mural is depicted standing alone is because she is alone, so terribly alone,” said Ella. “Yes, there are people out there who are living amongst others but are completely alone.”

Kopelman came up with the concept for the mural. She said that she has worked with all types of interesting demographics, including Arab-Jewish groups, secular-religious and those with special needs. This was her first project in the haredi community.

“When I got there, they were extremely friendly, open-minded and open-hearted, and they were helpful and enthusiastic,” Kopelman said.

She chose the sketch because she said, “one of the most destructive aspects of being assaulted is having to be so alone and silent and having to deal with this trauma on your own.” She noted that in the haredi community, if parents find out about sexual abuse, they are often unsupportive.

She said art is very therapeutic because sometimes nonverbal communication is an easier way to express oneself.

“You don’t have to be very explicit or provide any specific information,” she continued. “You can just connect to your feelings and express them with paint and color and brush.”

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 haredi communities in the US and Israel deal with the tragic phenomenon of sexual abuse,” he continued. “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.”

Ella said she has a message, too: “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 said. “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!”