Women have never needed tools for empowerment more than we do now. As America puts an admitted sexual predator into the White House, when the hatefulness of sexism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia have been unleashed and legitimized in one of the most powerful offices in the world, as stories of violence and intimidation are starting to flood in, we need tools to help us maintain our own safety and the safety and that of our communities. In supermarkets, malls, subways and public spaces all around the world, new faces of fear are being unleashed. Just today, a friend posted a story about being attacked at her gym in New York for wearing a Hillary Clinton t-shirt. Now, more than ever, women need tools for dealing with everyday sexism and abuse, to help us ensure safe spaces for ourselves and the people we love.
Enter El Halev. This phenomen organization directed by Sensei Yudit Sidikman, is leading the way in women's empowerment self-defense and safety. El Halev ran an outstanding conference this week for educators and therapists to mark the International Day against Violence Against Women, which falls tomorrow. The conference explored approaches to providing safe spaces and dealing with trauma. People from all around Israel participated in a range of lectures and workshops providing insights and tools for dealing with physical, emotional, and sexual trauma. Sessions included samples of El Halev programs such as Freedom to Choose, Impact, the Young Lionesses, as well as crafts, bibliotherapy, and brick-breaking. Speakers also explored the role of self-defense and "Personal Safety Literacy" as key components of the broader feminist vision of gender equality and creating a world in which women and men can both thrive.
Admittedly, as the Board Chair of the organization I am possibly biased about how amazing the conference was and about the organization generally. But my feeling at the conference was really one of privilege. I felt truly honored to be part of all this. I was so excited to speak to so many people there, all of whom share this vision. The atmosphere was electric. And it is so gratifying to watch the organization -- with its incredible staff and throngs of magnetic students, instructors and parents -- to emerge as a leader in thought and in practice about women's power in the world.
The truth is, I became Chair in 2014 because of my experience with the organization, not the other way around. I decided to join the board because I had taken the self-defense course, Impact, which teaches you to stave off attacks -- physical, emotional, and sexual. The course changed my life in many ways. Before I took it, I thought, I'm a pretty tough and experienced woman. I thought I knew how to say "no". I thought I knew how to set my own boundaries. But I didn't. It was only through the course that I realized how vulnerable I really felt and acted, how I participated in my own disempowerment. I am still learning...
Trump stands above Clinton during the second presidential debate.
One of the creepiest aspects of the second presidential debate was the way Trump seemed, from his body language, almost to be stalking Hillary Clinton. When she moved to one side, he followed. He stood behind her, often with very little distance between them, silent, frowning, looking like he was growling. Body language expert Janine Driver called his movements a pre-assault indicator and said that she was getting “really nervous” for Hillary because he was “like a dog starting to get anxious.” Screenwriter Adrienne Parks wrote in Huffington Post that this was a kind of “upstaging,” where he was trying to seize power and divert attention away from her and back to him. “This was infuriating to all of us who have ever been forced to stand our ground on the rigged white male playing field”, she wrote. “I felt the unfairness of it to the bone. This was live televised assault and battery with intent to maim, politically rape, and kill.”
I was also extremely uneasy watching Hillary speak while this large, menacing creature was behind her, a person who had just promised to dedicate himself to sending her to prison. As a short person – I’m five feet tall – I have spent most of my life dealing with situations in which the men in the room loom over me. Of course most are not dangerous. But in that kind of physical imbalance, even a little ill-will can feel threatening. And in situations where men actually do have more power than women – such as Orthodox synagogues, rabbinic courts, school playgrounds, and many workplaces – the feeling of powerlessness that you get from being surrounded by men hovering over you can be very real.
I asked my Facebook friends if any of them felt triggered by Trump’s body language. The resulting extensive thread offered a resounding “yes”. Here are nine situations that other women and I have been reliving as we watched Trump stand near Clinton in the menacing way he did:
(1) Abusive ex-husbands. Many women I have spoken to have been reliving nightmarish situations of abuse from ex-husbands. One women told me the way her husband used to stand behind her when she stood in front of the mirror, telling her how many of her body parts are “fat”, “ugly” and “disgusting.” She has been happily remarried for many years, but Trump has been dredging up many old, painful memories and fears. “It is the accumulation of my lived abusive assaults, dismissiveness, egotistical mansplaining, sexist, misogynist, ‘women don’t know anything’ experiences as a woman all wrapped into one person,” she said about watching Trump.
(2) Bulldozing coworkers. There is countless research about men bulldozing women in work situations – talking over women, dismissing women, infantilizing women, mansplaining,manterrupting, gaslighting women, and harassing women. Trump triggers many of these situations every time he talks to or about women. During the debate, he looked like every fiber in his being wanted to crush his rival. It...
I wrote a two-part series at Lilith Magazine about Jewish women who do not fast on Yom Kippur because of eating disorders and/or painful scars from abuse. Part 1:
Choosing Not to Fast: Eating Disorders and Yom Kippur
Last year on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Naomi Malka was busy. The High Holiday Coordinator and Mikveh Director at the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, DC, she was preparing for a 6PM service for five thousand people and had no time to eat. For most people who observe this holiday – which, according to the Guttman Center, is the majority of Jews – the 25 hour fast is hard enough. But to start the fast already on an empty stomach and to be running around organizing and working, that is bordering on painful. But for Naomi, the challenge was even more extreme: she is also a recovering bulimic.
“My fast started without thinking about it, but by 4:30 or 5:00 the next day, I was in the room where we set up for the security guards and people not fasting, and I was in there stuffing my face,” she recalled painfully. “Imagine, it was Yom Kippur, and I was so embarrassed and humiliated and I was crying. It was a manifestation of so much stress. And then I went and threw up in the synagogue on Yom Kippur! It was just awful and I was so ashamed about it for weeks after. And that’s when I realized, I can’t fast. I can’t be healing from an eating disorder and fast as a Jew. Those two things just don’t work for me.”
Jews are taught that Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year. It is called in the Torah, “The Sabbath of the Sabbaths,” the day when Israelites connect with their Creator rebirth their souls through fasting and praying. But for some people, the day brings on swarms of difficult feelings – dread, trauma, shame and guilt – along with severe risk of self-harm. The idea of fasting for a whole day triggers symptoms of eating disorders and disordered eating – not necessarily the same thing – and can send people into downward spirals and unraveling.
“Food’s distinct role in Orthodox Judaism makes it a prime vehicle for playing out unspoken conflicts and confusion,” Dr. Caryn Gorden, an expert in eating disorders in the Jewish community, writes in Psychology Today. “The religious regulations that demand strict observance can serve as scaffolding for the rigidity, control and deprivation characterizing restrictive anorectic eating,” as well as other disordered eating such as bulimia and compulsive eating.
Indeed, Naomi Malka is not alone. I spoke with a dozen women from different Jewish communities around the world, many of whom were not ready to go public with their stories, about their decisions not to fast on Yom Kippur. Although a 1995 study found that 1 in 19 Orthodox Jewish women suffer from eating disorders—twice the number as the American community generally—the topic is still...
The Israeli government – currently in the midst of various financial crises like a doctors’ strike and a revolt by municipalities protesting major cuts to education – has miraculously found 10 million NIS for something that until now has never really existed. That is: non-Orthodox mikvehs.
The new initiative to create non-Orthodox ritual baths is the result of a compromise of sorts in which ultra-Orthodox lawmaker Moshe Gafni, who heads the Knesset Finance Committee, pushed through his “Mikveh Law” that gives municipalities the power to ban non-Orthodox Jews from immersing in state-funded mikvehs for their own personal use.
The bill is a disaster, another act of zealot control over who gets to convert to Judaism and over who gets to decide who the gatekeepers of the Jewish people are – only this time the debate takes place over the uncovered bodies of the most vulnerable members of the tribe at their most delicate, intimate moment.
Israeli lawmaker Moshe Gafni
The idea that the state – any state – should be passing bills about any of this is outrageous, a violation of basic rights to privacy and the privacy of spiritual practice, and a huge stain on the State of Israel.
This new jolt of funding for this new thing called non-Orthodox mikvehs, which comes from the Prime Minister’s Office for Diaspora Affairs is meant to be a salve for Jews of the world. After all, it seems to be acknowledging the legitimacy of non-Orthodox conversion. And it is real money for real facilities, which is always nice. But this actually might have the opposite effect. It is a way of marking and denoting non-Orthodox Jews as officially “other”.
There is currently one mikveh in Israel that is considered by the state to be “not Orthodox” – that is, the mikveh in Hannaton run by Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner David. Although she has a doctorate from Bar Ilan University on the Jewish law, or_halakha_, of mikveh practice and has Orthodox ordination as a rabbi, these credentials are not recognized by the state as giving her authority to run a mikveh.
Read the rest at The Forward: http://forward.com/sisterhood/347527/why-israel-funding-non-orthodox-mikvehs-is-a-step-forward-and-backward/...
Some people look at this photo and see the beauty of diversity at the Olympics. Maybe. But I also see something else. I see women in two different cultures trapped in their cultures' demands about women's bodies and appearance. Opposite cultures, same problem of sexual objectification.
On the right we have women athletes who, no matter what their physical and mental accomplishments, are forced to abide by rules intended to maximize their sexual appeal to gazing heterosexual males. The beach volleyball athletes have been among the most objectified, photographed from behind, valued for their cleavage and skin, commented on for sexual appeal of their skin rather than for their athletic prowess. You are more likely to come across a photo of a volleyball player's behind than one of her slamming the ball.
On the left we have a different form of sexual objectification from a radically different culture, one similarly controlled and dominated by men who view women primarily as sex objects. In the culture on the left, the response to this outlook is to maintain extreme, maximum coverage for women. It is the opposite response to the same position of men believing women are primarily objects to look at, the same men controlling their culture by maintaining norms of women's body cover/uncover.
Both of these women have overcome their positions as sexual artifacts to achieve a place in the Olympics. That is incredible. Doubly incredible -- like Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in high heels. Women often have to work within the rules of their cultures in order to achieve their dreams for this life. Sometimes that is doable and sometimes it just isn't. So this is a picture of women choosing to abide by the rules of their cultures, no matter how sexist and misogynistic, and succeeding in overcoming these excessive obstacles in order to great things and to be great.
But it doesn't address the deeper problem. In neither of these cultures are women allowed to prioritize their own comfort or desire. Women in both cultures -- secular and religious cultures -- are molded from the age of zero to be conscious of being watched and gazed upon. In neither secular or religious culture are women and girls allowed to just *be* with their bodies, to dress for *comfort*, to choose based on their own inner feelings and a sense of their own contours rather that on proscriptions of the men dominating their cultures. This is a problem worldwide, the absence of legitimacy for women's comfort and women's desires and women's body autonomy. And so with all the different types of inspiration that this picture generates, it also generates a very strong outrage that women still have to put up with this.
Portrait of women in the world, 2016.