August 9, 2019
MRFF Intervention Leads to Resignation of Rabbi Accused of Sexual Harassment of Active Duty Soldier’s Wife
On July 29, 2019, the Seattle Times reported that Traci Moran, an observant Jewish woman married to an enlisted soldier stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord had approached Army Chaplain Capt. Michael Harari for spiritual guidance regarding an incidence of off-base sexual harassment in August of 2018. The Times reported:
A Tacoma rabbi, Zalman Heber, had been sending her sexually explicit text and voice messages for almost a month despite Moran asking more than once that he stop, the messages showed.
Harari was her husband’s unit chaplain — meaning he was responsible for the spiritual well-being of the unit’s families — and the only rabbi on base. And he and Heber were part of the same Hasidic organization, Chabad, that runs synagogues and cultural centers around the world.
All of that meant, Moran said, that Harari was “in an incredibly unique position to take my report and tailor counseling to my specific religious views.”
Instead, an Army investigation obtained by The Seattle Times found that Harari violated her confidence by sharing her allegations with Heber. Then, Heber and Harari worked in parallel to “harass and attempt to intimidate and ostracize the Morans from the civilian communities surrounding JBLM [Joint Base Lewis-McChord],” according to the investigation, which examined whether Harari violated the Army’s Equal Opportunity policy.
The Moran’s approached MRFF President/Founder Mikey Weinstein for assistance in July 2019 after the U.S. Army’s investigation dragged on and failed to result in appropriate disciplinary action against military chaplains involved in clear retributions taken against the Morans both on and off base. MRFF’s client emailed the following explanation of why they approached MRFF for assistance:
Coming to MRFF was the only way to seek justice for my family. The Army systems have failed us. What is perhaps the most frustrating, is that I have made the same case to the relevant offices/commands over and over since December 2018, but it took MRFFs connections and efforts to advocate on our behalf as well as to facilitate viral news articles in order for those same entities to even hear our concerns.
Soon after MRFF’s involvement, the Moran’s case received significant domestic and international press coverage:
- The Times of Israel
- The Jewish Telegraphic Agency
- The Forward
- Stars and Stripes
- Popular Military
- Task & Purpose
- The Tacoma News Tribune
- The Seattle Times
Early on August 9, 2019, the Tacoma News Tribune reported:
Kim Shomer, 50, a Tacoma attorney, said she suffered a year of harassing text messages from Heber, the leader of the Chabad of Pierce County. The harassment culminated in the rabbi requesting a hug, which was a violation of the tenets of her faith, she said. Shomer and her husband, Spencer Freeman, 49, were both members of the Chabad until they formally split from the Orthodox Jewish center in December when they learned of similar behavior Heber allegedly inflicted upon the Jewish wife of a soldier at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Traci Moran.
On the evening of August 9, 2019, the Tacoma News Tribune updated their report of another accuser to note that Rabbi Zalman Heber has resigned his position as rabbi of the Chabad of Pierce County. MRFF will continue working with the Morans in their effort to seek appropriate disciplinary action in regards to the illicit actions taken by JBLM chaplains in regards to Rabbi Heber’s actions.