Tag : #MeToo

The Lilith Blog

August 20, 2018 by

#MeToo, The Supreme Court, and Immigration Cruelty: Connected by Misogyny

At this summer’s ESPY, Excellence in Sports Performance Yearly, awards, the 141 survivors of sexual abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar (one of them was Olympian Aly Raisman) received a standing ovation. These women athletes had suffered for decades in silence, shamed into believing that they were at fault, or that what the doctor was doing was all right. They weren’t, and it wasn’t.

As the future of Roe v. Wade seems to waver, I thought about how, in this day and age, these young women weren’t even sure they had the right to determine when and by whom they could be touched. Only in the months since #MeToo did that change.

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The Lilith Blog

August 7, 2018 by

When an Accused Sexual Harasser is an Academic Superstar

The news report that Steven M. Cohen, a luminary in Jewish sociology, is an alleged serial sexual harasser sickened me. New York Jewish Week broke this story that brought the #metoo movement to the heart of Jewish Studies. Cohen is currently a professor at Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and has just voluntarily resigned his position as the director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at Stanford University; his work on contemporary Jews is widely known and supported not only by prestigious academic institutions but also by well-regarded Jewish communal networks.

Cohen’s sexual misconduct has apparently been part of his professional modus operandi for decades. He has not denied the multiple charges against him, which include touching women’s breasts in public, propositioning mentees for sex, and using sociological research as a screen for homophobic conduct.

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April 17, 2018 by

#MeToo in High School

I vividly recall the school-wide assembly my high school held to discuss date rape. Our friendly and peppy presenters reminded us that sex with a too-drunk-to-consent person was against the law even if both parties were inebriated, whereupon dozens of male students, in the throes of a tidal wave of shock, got up to decry the unfairness of it all—the brutal cruelty to men.

That day in about 2000 came back to me this winter when I read an essay by an 11th-grader named Abigail Fisher in her (Jewish) high school newspaper, describing the way her classroom conversation recently devolved after a discussion about #MeToo. “I worry that because my male classmates could more easily imagine being falsely accused of rape, they were more empathetic towards the perpetrators than towards the victims,” she wrote. “They were thus unreceptive to the female voices in the room who spoke strongly, though some on the verge of tears, about their feelings and fears surrounding the unstoppable wave of sexual assault allegations.”

Outraged teenage boys. Tearful teen-age girls. It’s all too familiar.

Today, there is an alarming national trend of abstinence-only sex education (which tends to position women as gate-keepers and men as aggressors). In the last decade, the federal government has invested over $1.5 billion dollars into abstinence-only education, despite statistics that show it to be ineffective.

These kinds of messes can still happen even at the schools that supposedly care about sex ed. And that’s partly because messages about consent—whether they come from porn, pop culture, or parents—are imbued early and often. “High school is too late to start talking about consent,” says Jaclyn Friedman, sex educator, activist and author of Unscrewed: Women, Sex, Power, and How to Stop Letting the System Screw Us All. “If you’re getting resistance at that age, it’s because it feels like a shift in everything kids have learned from the culture up until now.”

In secondary education, where the gendered power imbalance and prevalence of disturbing (and often hetero-normative) social hierarchies may be even worse than in the “real” world, it can be hard to fight the tide and instill new values: affirmative consent, for instance, in which an enthusiastic signal of “yes” is required, rather than the absences of a “no.” Yet there is hope, say a handful of Jewish educators and national experts. There are models that work, and that are worth trying. But they caution that a true emphasis on consent can’t be checked off in a single class period, or a day. There are no tips and tricks, no “magic bullets” says Debra L. Hauser, president of the youth sexual health organization Advocates for Youth. Instead, it requires a commitment from every level of education, starting with lessons from the earliest age about not touching others’ bodies or things without an OK—along with emotional education about love, healthy relationships and respect.

“It starts in kindergarten when a kid grabs something from someone and a teacher says ‘you have to ask permission’,” says Hauser. “So by the time you get to puberty education you’ve laid the foundation of how you ask for consent.” Starting early also lays the groundwork in another crucial way. “If language (around sexuality) is introduced early, it is less ‘magical’ and taboo,” says Kate Greenfield of Rodeph Sholom School, a K–8 day school in New York. It’s the same principle behind teaching toddlers to name their body parts with correct anatomical terms rather than slang; the goal is demystification.

I emailed a healthy assortment of Jewish schools to ask how they approach this topic, and only a few got back to me—but those that did respond were eager to share their approach to the curriculum. Consent-based sex ed can and should be done Jewishly, they say. For instance, before students at Solomon Schechter Westchester start sex ed, they read a passage from the Talmud in which a student hides under his teacher’s bed while the teacher is having sex with his wife. When his teacher discovers him, the student explains his action thus: “This is also Torah [that is, how you treat your wife in bed] and I need to learn it.”

“One of the lessons here is that the teacher should have taught this!” says Rabbi Harry Pell, the Associate Head of School for Jewish Life and Learning. “Also, the piece makes it clear that while the student’s presence is inappropriate, what’s going on is mutually consensual. And that the bedrock principle [of sex] is understanding and consent.”

At Schechter Westchester, a K–12 school, “We’ve been talking about consent for years,” according to Sami Mazo, the school’s 11th grade dean and 10th grade health teacher. “It’s the staple of our health education. We talk about consent, and we do so explicitly. We talk about what it means in non-sexual situations, and we talk about what it means to have a healthy relationship.”

Rabbi Pell points out that whether they’re Jewish or not, schools that have a point person or a unifying curriculum through the years have a major advantage in being able to teach consent effectively. And everyone I spoke to suggested that if schools are willing or able to commit to peer education and teacher education programs, they’re in a much better spot.

At Jewish Community High School of the Bay in San Francisco, Roni Ben-David is that point person, serving as the Director of Social Justice & Inclusion. She works with teachers to provide the solid grounding they need when tough moments crop up. “I’ve been working with faculty and staff,” says Ben-David. “We’re talking about how to turn uncomfortable moments—which are happening more and more… into those teachable moments.” At Schechter, the staff tell me that the moment when a talented or charismatic young man feels discriminated against might be a good time to back up and talk to him about the advantages he brings into the world—including his very comfort in speaking up when others can’t.

Yet before those moments happen, a lot of that work must be done outside the classroom, Ben David notes. “When I’m reacting to something I see in the news, I have to process and learn with my colleagues, and do some of my own emotional work too, so I don’t get in their way. So in preparation to talk about #MeToo, for instance, I’ve been reading lots of articles and listening to interviews online.” Experts emphasize that it can be difficult without real institutional support and training for teachers, who have their own blind spots or discomforts, or even traumatic personal histories, to venture into the territory of #MeToo on a random Tuesday when a kid wants to talk about Aziz Ansari or Harvey Weinstein. And that puts schools burdened by budget issues or controlled by a top-down hierarchy (like a religious denomination, potentially) at a disadvantage. “Planned Parenthood and other organizations do trainings for people who teach sex ed,” says Jaclyn Friedman, author of Unscrewed. “But who’s going to pay for that? As a teacher, do you have to do it during your time off? Part of the reason sex ed is such a mess is not just about prudery,” she notes, but about red tape and budgetary priorities.

The impact teachers have, beyond the health classroom or special assembly, can be lifelong. I recall watching videos about consent and harassment in my 10th grade health class at the end of the last millennium—dated videos in which women with big permed hair and shoulder pads, relics of another sartorial era, contended with all the same issues we’re now talking about as #MeToo continues to roil the world.

Yet my first #MeToo conversation was the very same year, at which point any lessons about consent and respectful sexual environments our school had attempted to deliver had been obliterated by a social world where sexual rumors were printed in the school paper, boys dominated every extracurricular activity, and homecoming parties offered an opportunity for older boys to prey on drunk freshmen teen girls (who themselves would have been outraged if you called them victims).

To be honest, I don’t really remember drawing any clear line between the staged discussions we had in class and the nascent horrors that were beginning to crop up all around me. It actually took a faculty member to explain to my friends and me that some of what we were describing was, in fact, sexual harassment—that the term didn’t apply just to the besuited businesswoman in a popular legal advertisement shouting at her boss, “This is sexual harassment… and I don’t have to take it!” a line that was treated as a big joke. We were amazed that it could actually apply to us.

That’s why any discussion of consent has to go into deeper issues of power and control, and maybe interrogate the social hierarchy of high school itself, including issues like race, class and gender. “You have to ask, ‘What does power do? How does power cause people to get what they want? How does power silence people?’” asks Sami Mazo, of Schechter Westchester. “When you start to hear that one person or one opinion dominating the room, you have to shut it down and unpack it. I’ve had kids push back many times, but we want to develop an atmosphere where we’re teaching kids to have empathy for each other.”

Debra Hauser of Advocates for Youth notes that that instilling that kind of empathy means addressing students’ needs on all areas of the gender and privilege spectrum. “Because the world is imperfect, we still need to educate girls to stand up for themselves, and we still need to focus on educating boys about respect and consent,” she says. “The pie is big enough for us to do both—while remembering that LGBT kids are more likely to experience dating violence. So for all kids, the idea of communicating boundaries, wants and desires go hand and hand.”

By starting with the younger members of society, schools actually have a huge role to play. Because as most of us know, there’s never going to be a real sea-change unless something fundamentally shifts in society. As that high school student wrote, after her classroom erupted in misogyny: “We can write until our hands are bloody, speak until our voices are hoarse, but unless our school, our community, and our country decide to believe women who come forward, my friends and I might have to say ‘me too’.

Sarah Seltzer is a writer and editor in NYC. She tweets at @sarahmseltzer.

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April 17, 2018 by

Ditching “Boys Will Be Boys”

The stories in the media have left me wondering about all the men in my life. “Am I safe with you—not just physically, but existentially? Do you see me as fully human, created in the image of God, like you?”

The fact that teenage girls are sitting in class wondering the same thing breaks my heart.

Here are some further excerpts from the student newspaper article by Abby Fischer that Sarah Seltzer mentions:

  • “Other highlights of the conversation include multiple statements that began, ‘Rape is bad, but’ and ‘you can overcome abuse, but you can’t overcome having your reputation squashed.’ Now, before you jump to conclusions about the boys who made the aforementioned comments—before you call them insensitive or sexist—let me say something in their defense.
  • Our culture fosters a world in which women are afraid to come  forward when attacked, and men are afraid to believe the few who  do. The unfortunate reality is that we can’t expect all boys and men to empathize with victims of sexual assault because they aren’t taught from the get-go that women are their equals.”

Abby goes on to describe how futile she and her female friends thought the discussion had been—“They’ll never believe us and they’ll never  understand”— while the boys, talking among themselves, described the class discussion as “ridiculous.”

What experiences and messages do young boys need so that they can grow into 16-year olds who think the experience of being raped is worse than the reputational consequences of being accurately accused of rape?

Girls and women are instructed protect ourselves from assault by “making smart choices”—about clothing, drinking, walking. But boys’ behavior is not girls’ responsibility. What will it take to put the onus on boys and men to stop assaulting?

Here are some challenges to the language we use:

Boys Will Be Boys.” Parents, educators and caregivers need to stop giving boys a pass. Don’t accept behavior from little boys that you would not accept from little girls.

Stop Crying. Man Up.” With this instruction, we confiscate an important part of a boy’s humanity and give him clear messages about masculinity.  Boys —and men— need full access to tender emotions.

Boys Won’t Read Books about Girls.” One way that we learn empathy is by hearing stories of “the other”–people different from ourselves. Books with girl protagonists give boys a chance to see girls in their full humanity, particularly important in a culture where media images all around us portray women as objects.

Julie Sissman is an organization and leadership consultant.

 

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April 17, 2018 by

Women Who Are Rabbis Experience Their Own Brand of Harassment

“I’ve been harassed. It’s happened to every female rabbi I know,” Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu said. “People have an overwhelming sense of discomfort with women rabbis, because they’re women.”And female rabbis face an additional burden of harassment because they are occupying a powerful position once permitted only to men. “People have to start seeing women as religious leaders and thinking about what that means,” Sirbu, director of Rabbi’s Without Borders, told me.

Even rabbinical students don’t escape sexist workplace offenses. One, we’ll call her H., emailed family and friends to describe, wearily, three incidents she’d experienced within a single 72-hour period. There was the man who told her that the service she’d just facilitated had a “distinctly feminine energy.” The man who announced to his buddy that she was “cuter” than the other (male) rabbi. And the man who told her that she made horizontal stripes “work,” which his wife, apparently, could not do.

“I am used to restraining myself,” she wrote in her email, “because everybody knows that nobody likes an angry woman, because my congregants like that I am often smiling, because an abrasive interaction will rebound negatively to me.”The experience of sexual harassment is one that women everywhere share—in all workplaces, learning environments, and religions. But a particular paradox plays out in the work lives of women rabbis, who are supposed to be powerful leaders yet are at the same time often viewed as amusing stand-ins for the real thing: a man in the pulpit. Where male rabbis command immediate respect from those they serve, too often women in these roles are made to feel unworthy—for no other reason than their being female. How, then, do we disrupt what seems like—but need not be—an inevitability for women on the bima?

Over the past few weeks I’ve spoken with dozens of women serving as clergy; some are rabbinical students, others have been working as rabbis for decades. They all emphasized their reverence for the rabbinate, their feelings of privilege at being able to be part of this calling. Then they told me about being called a “sexy rabbi” when they wore heels when leading services, about being touched on the legs, and being asked out by congregants. They revealed their frustration when men calling themselves feminists acted surprised when they heard about women’s experiences, men who were then rewarded by positive attention when they later confessed their own inaction in the face of such misogyny.

Some of my respondents talked to other women—classmates or fellow rabbis—about these incidents. Others, for fear of angering congregants and losing their jobs, didn’t. For reasons that resembled (if not duplicated) those articulated by H., restraint characterized their responses to the men insulting them.

If you search the course catalogs  of U.S. rabbinical schools (Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist) for “sexual harassment,” you won’t find anything. A more productive tactic is to search for the word “boundaries,” and then you’ll turn up a number of seminars and other teachings on how to establish ground rules, including sexual boundaries, with congregants. These are the kind of seminars soon-to-be-rabbis take to learn how to manage expectations, conserve their energy, and adapt to their new role as clergy. “We talked about how to protect our sanity, how to maintain private space,” a 2007 Reconstructionist Rabbinical College graduate told me. “But one of the main messages was also ‘Don’t sleep with your congregants’.”

Although it has been more than 45 years since Rabbi Sally Priesand became the first woman rabbi ordained in North America, there’s not yet an obvious cure for the misogyny that still greets her successors. What’s happening to women rabbis will not be solved with a mandatory seminar on why it’s unethical to date congregants. It’s more complicated than that, and far more treacherous. What’s needed is to uproot the culture that allows for sexism to persist. We—and it is a “we” and not a “they”—have let misogyny become so ingrained that it has become difficult to filter out sexism from what we consider acceptable interactions between women and men. (And, as Elsie Stern, vice president for academic affairs at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, pointed out, “This conversation has been framed in deeply heteronormative terms.”)

“I feel lucky that I haven’t experienced sexual harassment,” some female rabbinical students told me when describing their encounters. They all, however, know women who have been harassed, and they themselves describe consistent experiences with “microaggressions”—verbal and nonverbal messages that marginalize people. These subtler insults often leave women stunned and uncomfortable, feeling like something has just happened, yet we’re not necessarily able to articulate what. We might even feel we’re being paranoid.

What are some of these less obvious assaults? Zoe McCoon is a second-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Last year, before the advent of the MeToo hashtag, she was part of a group of HUC students and faculty who convened a campus gathering to talk about sexual harassment. The entire campus was encouraged to come, including, McCoon emphasized, administrators and non-rabbinic academics. The event included examples of microaggressions, and participants were asked to respond to what they saw in the dramatizations based on real events. “People directing all their questions or comments to the male rabbi, when the female rabbis is standing right there. Or a man saying the same thing as a woman in class, but it’s the man’s opinion that catches the traction… People want to think they’re not being harmful,” said McCoon, “but are they listening?”

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the part in a rabbi’s job description that says she has to preserve relationships with congregants at all costs.

“My congregants don’t necessarily perceive their behaviors or comments as insulting,” a congregational rabbi who asked to be anonymous told me. “It would be nice if they did, because that might stop them from making comments about being surprised that I’m willing to do hagbah (lifting of the Torah), for example. A rabbi’s job is to change the culture, though, and also to maintain relationships, so I’m always thinking about how to keep relationships while changing someone’s mind.”

“When people realize they can get away with those,” Kohenet Sarah Chandler, Hebrew Priestess and Jewish Educator said about such comments, “they feel more comfortable with more directly aggressive behavior.”

Often, I was told, the men making misogynistic comments and physical advances were from “a certain generation, a certain time,” when such behavior was deemed acceptable. Some respondents believe it’s hard to convince men that times have indeed changed. But since the women’s movement is about to turn 50, ignorance seems a weak excuse for misogyny. Similarly, there’s the stereotype of the awkward Jewish man who just doesn’t know how to act around women, and so we let his offenses go. His inappropriate and discomfiting actions—lingering, standing too close—are deemed acceptable because he’s probably a mensch, maybe even a Torah scholar.

The responsibility for changing minds, and learning to adapt your own behavior to a potentially (or already) toxic situation, is prevalent among all women, and this includes women rabbis and rabbinical students. “Creating healthy boundaries and enforcing them, that’s on me,” said a third-year rabbinical student, who described the gender dynamics in her class as “problematic. There are always comments from male students who just do not get it.”“Rabbis have a lot of power.” This was one of the assertions I heard again and again. Yes, of course. But should the person who’s experiencing the harassment—the one who might doubt herself because she can’t put her finger on exactly why she’s uncomfortable and who’s trying to do a good job despite these circumstances—be the one to take men aside to explain to them why they can’t make comments about her skirt length?

Perhaps it’s time to revisit the part in a rabbi’s job description that says she has to preserve relationships with congregants at all costs.

Rabbis have power, but sexual harassment is specifically about taking that power away from the person being harassed. Creating healthy boundaries isn’t just about not dating your congregants or not sharing your cell phone number, it’s also about not doing certain kinds of exhausting emotional labor, like explaining to someone why dehumanizing you is not acceptable. If men want to be part of effecting change, they might be the ones to take that congregant aside and help him understand and change his behavior.

Undoing cultural norms is complicated. Rabbi Joanna Samuels, speaking at “Revealing #MeToo as #WeToo in Jewish Communal Life,” an event sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York this past January in New York City, reminded the attendees that the Jewish community—even progressive organizations within it—are still creating all-male panels of “experts,” managing not to see women (and queer folks, and people of color) as thought leaders. If we’re interested in changing what women rabbis experience, then we must truly invest, and demand that others invest, in undoing this reality.

“Your policy is less important than your culture, which sends implicit messages about your priorities,” Human Resources Consultant Fran Sepler told an audience of more than 100 rabbis who joined a recent webinar on “#MeToo from the Pulpit: A Rabbi’s Role in Creating Safe, Respectful Synagogue Communities.” It’s time that we begin consciously tearing down the misogynist culture that has been left untouched for far too long—and build a new, feminist  culture instead.

“I am a powerful and sacred vessel unwilling to perpetuate your comfort-able narratives of ‘how the world works’ that are breaking wide open,” emailed the rabbinical student H. “I will not stand by as you try to plug your ears and hush the discomfiting sound that is the roaring tide rolling in.” 

Chanel Dubofsky is a journalist and fiction writer living in Brooklyn.

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April 17, 2018 by

Clues to Making Change

  • Listen when people talk about their experiences. Believe them.
  • Use the power of the bima. Make your dvar torah/newsletter/sermon about #MeToo, sexual harassment, supporting women. “Is it sad to me that women have to use men’s voices to promote their own? Yes, but that’s going to be effective,” said Rabbi Rachel Ain of New York’s Sutton Place Synagogue, during the webinar “#MeToo From the Pulpit: A Rabbi’s Role in Creating Safe, Respectful Synagogue Communities.”
  • Talk about—and model—proper behavior. “We need to openly talk about gender dynamics on the bima, in newsletters and in board meetings,” said Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu. “Comments about a woman rabbi’s body and clothing are never appropriate. Rabbis on the bima or officiating at a lifecycle event are not there to be objectified. They are there to do their job and offhand comments like these, though they are often meant as compliments, only serve to undermine the stature of the rabbi. It causes women to feel diminished.”
  • Find and use liturgy that emphasizes the sacredness of speaking out. “We need to look at how our tradition perpetuates imbalances of power,” said Rabbi Mira Beth Wasserman of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, a panelist at “Revealing #MeToo As #WeToo in Jewish Communal Life.” “We don’t talk about the language of upstanding and rebuke that exists in the text. People need to hear their rabbis talking about speaking out.”
  • Use money to make change. Don’t ask people to do the work of change for free, said Wasserman. All Jewish organizations should also be investing in sexual harassment trainings, as well as follow-up, and, Wasserman suggested, creating a fund to support those who are pursuing cases against their abusers.
  • Place affected people at the center of change-making. “It’s those who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse who should be deciding how resources get allocated,” said Shifra Bronznick, founder of Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, at the “WeToo” event. 

— C.D.

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April 12, 2018 by

You’ve Come a Long Way, Sister: 20 Years After Carlebach Allegations, His Daughter Hears #MeToo

Lilith’s editor in chief Susan Weidman Schneider sent out an email, subject line “and now, Neshama Carlebach weighs in.” She was writing to Managing Editor Naomi Danis and to Sarah Blustain, who reported for Lilith in 1998 about allegations of sexual harassment against famed rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, and the response from his daughter—20 years later. “Want to respond?” Susan wrote.

The daughter’s belated response brought up a slew of memories about what it was like to report on sexual harassment before #MeToo, in a community that only now is beginning to reckon with the dark side of its spiritual leader.

FROM SARAH:

I cannot tell you how this brings me  back, Susan.

In 1997 a few women—I mean a very few; were there three or four of us?—who mostly worked around a dark wooden table in a small office in New York, started to hear from women talking about Shlomo Carlebach’s unwanted sexual advances. We sat with this information for days, weeks, and with the fact of his beloved-ness in the Jewish community. I remember it as a physical weight, knowing and resisting knowing, and being afraid. At some point, I remember someone saying, maybe it was me, “but how can we not tell this story?” So we did.

The reporting was slow, the writing painful, every word weighing his spiritual legacy against a less rosy one. There was a sentence we reported that seemed an admission. Carlebach to a woman who confronted him: “Oy, this needs such a fixing.” This was told to us by a woman, not by Carlebach himself, who by then was long gone. I remember my own nausea as we considered that sentence, sourced it, knowing what it would mean to have this (almost) in his own voice. The family opposed us. They would not comment.

On the eve of publication, word went out in the Carlebach community: This must be stopped. I cannot describe fully what it was like in that office, four rooms, a pro-bono lawyer blessedly taking our calls, as the phone started to ring, all day and night. Beseeching us against lashon hara, speaking ill of the dead. Telling us this couldn’t be, or shouldn’t be. We stopped answering the phone and listened to the messages pile up on the answering machine. Hours and hours of calls, and we few in the office, listening and working both. I remember the sun went down. Eventually we shut off the phone and finished.

And now I read it again, this time written by his own daughter, who 20 years later describes the scene we worked so hard to pin down. “Oy this needs such a fixing.” This time not denied. Did she hear it herself? It’s not clear. It is vindicating but also crushing to see how easily this becomes truth, when I remember how hard it was, and how many said it was false, both before and after publication.

We were doing then what so many have done now—finding truth in multiple voices when a single voice would not be enough. But that was before #MeToo made the job of speaking up — and of reporting on such accusations—a bit easier. And it was before Noreen Malone and New York Magazine breathtakingly put 35 women on the cover talking about a different powerful man and calling out “The Culture That Wouldn’t Listen.” Neshama Carlebach writes ”My sisters, I hear you.” Keep listening.

FROM SARAH, LATER:

What I want to add is implied: that the way #MeToo has made it easier does not take away from how hard it was, and is, to go up against power and culture. Although I am relieved that the way is smoother now, that does not erase the silencing, of us as feminists and journalists least of all, and of the victims the most.

FROM SUSAN:

Thank you so much for this, Sarah. I don’t think we’ve ever gone public with all those details, have we?

It’s surprising to me how easily we can re-enter the mood of those weeks before Lilith published your brave account.

The threats and the phone calls from those who would stop the publication were frightening. We monitored all incoming calls. But we did still answer knocks at the door to our small office, and Naomi remembers opening the door to a man in a wheelchair, a Carlebach partisan, who had come to the office to beg us not to publish. I stood by, horrified to realize that people were still held in thrall to his memory.

Lori Alhadeff, mother of slain Parkland student Alyssa Alhadef

Lori Alhadeff, mother of slain Parkland student Alyssa Alhadeff, 14, pleaded with President Trump to take action against gun violence while interviewed on CNN before her daughter’s funeral. “The gunman, a crazy person, just walks into the school, breaks down the window of my child’s door and starts shooting, shooting her, and killing her… President Trump, you say what can you do? You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands.”

And then there was the phone call I did pick up—from a Carlebach family member—urging us not to publish and telling me not to believe the accusations; that the women speaking out were unreliable; that the rabbi attracted “garbage people” who were unstable; that their stories should not be heeded. And from another source, threats of a lawsuit against Lilith for impeding the ability of people to earn money from his music.

One man reached me on my home line in Washington late in the evening to threaten that Shlomo Carlebach would punish me from “up there” in the heavens if the magazine went ahead with the story. I began to feel queasy. My husband, seeing me blanch, had to remind me that “Lilith’s mission is not just to publish Rosh Hodesh rituals.”

Sarah, when I came into the office the next day and shared this, you were the one who said “How can we not tell this story?” And then you added, I remember vividly, “We told the women who came forward that we would publish their experiences. We have an obligation to them” not to turn away.

The aftermath of publication was hard as we struggled against more attacks, but it also bought more stories forward, and with each one we felt justified in our decision to publish, also grimly aware of the even greater scope of the misconduct. There were myriad phone calls and (sometimes) anonymous letters. One stands out in my mind, from a woman who had been a 12-year old girl at a Jewish summer camp where Carlebach was invited for Shabbat. Her group was told that a famous and wonderful rabbi would be visiting — and that the girls must be careful not to find themselves alone with him. The woman contacting Lilith was outraged on behalf of her younger self. Can you imagine asking us to make sure we avoided being alone with him? Why did the camp directors invite him if they knew this?

The most recent direct communication we had about Carlebach came this fall. A man who said he’s now in his 80s phoned Lilith’s office to say he has been feeling guilty all these years, that he’d known about Carlebach’s behavior toward women and had been a bystander, enabling the misconduct because he’d never, til now, spoken out against it.

FROM SARAH:

Yes, Susan, I still get Facebook messages from people sometimes. Someone wrote me in 2013, 15 years after the piece, saying that she wanted to add her name to the list of people he had called and touched. Like others, she said she hadn’t felt she could call him out on his behavior — a dynamic that persisted well past his death.

AND FROM NAOMI:

I remember approaching people I respected, my rabbi, my sisters, to ask what they thought of the ethical dilemma in reporting allegations of misdeeds by a dead person who couldn’t respond or defend himself.

To me, a compelling reason for Lilith to cover the story was that the women who were coming to us were ready to go to the secular press with the story if it was not going to be covered in the Jewish media. I felt sure Lilith could handle the story with more nuance, complexity and, perhaps most importantly, more compassion than anyone else. Sure enough, Sarah’s expose in Lilith made news. I remember the disapproval of some in the Jewish world that we had written ill of a dead person. And I remember a letter to the editor of New York’s Jewish Week excoriating, in the writer’s words, the “lesbian, man-hating” editors of the Lilith magazine—which kind of made us giggle. We were sorely in need of a smile in those heavy-hearted days. In the quarterly issue that followed Sarah’s article, we ran five pages of letters; this was most unusual for us, but much in keeping with Lilith’s mission of publishing voices that too often are not allowed to be heard.

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April 12, 2018 by

My Summer in Hollywood

“Truth even unto its innermost parts.”
—BRANDEIS UNIVERSITY MOTTO

I was a student at Brandeis University when Anita Hill gave her groundbreaking testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the fall of 1991. This single courageous act sparked a national decades-long conversation on sexual harassment in the workplace, a conversation which, with allegations of abusive behavior by Harvey Weinstein and now countless others, has exploded in a seemingly end-less stream of #MeToo narratives.

Me, too.

My original career ambition was film-making. While at Brandeis, I started a film club on campus. I collected signatures, petitioning the administration to establish a film studies program. As the student liaison, I met with the provost, who shared a similar vision. He put the wheels in motion, and he also contacted a Brandeis alumnus, a director in Hollywood, who offered me an intern-ship for the summer as his assistant. I was over the moon!

Once in Los Angeles, though, I felt like an East Coast fish out of water. At 20, I was the youngest adult on set. I wanted to make a good impression, to be taken seriously, but there was not a lot for me to do. I spent a lot of time “gophering” and observing. As an unpaid intern, nobody seemed to mind, particularly not the famous lead actor; then in his mid-40s.

Each day, the actor would direct sexual comments at me. My surname was then Inspector. “Inspect-her? I don’t even know her!” was his favorite. It seemed that, to him, my role was to be his personal pre-performance-mojo-maker. I felt exposed, yet invis-ible. Humiliated, I lacked the words or self-possession to stop him. My only reprieve came when his wife was on set.

I had hopes that the director would intervene, but he didn’t. Maybe because he was getting the performance he needed, he turned a blind eye.

And then, one Friday, the director invited me to his home in Beverly Hills for a Saturday barbecue and a swim with his family, saying another cast member would be coming. I knew hardly anyone in L.A., and meeting the director’s family sounded appealing, so I took two city buses and then walked to his house.

When he opened the door, I was surprised to find I was the only one there. Everyone else had “other plans.” His wife and kids were on vacation. We chatted awkwardly for a short while then he nonchalantly suggested that we go into the pool. I felt slightly queasy. My intuition flashed a small red flag, but I told myself it is fine, this man is my father’s age, and he was from Brandeis, after all! And he has never acted inappropriately with me at the studio.

Saying no to the pool felt just as uncomfortable as saying yes.

In the water, the director lunged at me, put his hands around me, and tried to kiss me. I pulled away and said a firm no. He backed away sheepishly. I was stunned, confused, and crushed. I don’t remember getting out of the pool, or any further conversations, or leaving his house. I don’t remember if I he drove me home or if I took the bus. I just remember, vividly, my shock and sense of betrayal.

Monday, back on set, we both pretended that nothing had happened. I continued to endure the lead actor’s taunting. I finished the internship, flew back East, and decided never to work in the industry again.

The following year, I confided in the teaching assistant in my Women’s Studies class, a graduate student who was kind and with whom I felt safe. She encouraged me to report the pool incident to the provost. I thought she was crazy. Who would believe me? Who would find fault with this “distinguished alum.” I knew that he’d misused his power, violated an unspoken trust, but I also felt ashamed, and blamed myself. Was it my naiveté that let this happen? Was it my hope to ingratiate that let the boundaries slide? Embarrassment eclipsed my anger, and it was years before I spoke about the episode again. Even a friend to whom I spoke about this experience years later asked, “What were you wearing? Did you have a bathing suit?”

Almost 20 years later, in 2009, the Film, TV, and Interactive Media Program became a reality at Brandeis.

I never did become a filmmaker, though when I was a senior facing graduation, the pressure of finding gainful employment caused me to waver in my decision to avoid the film world. I contacted the director, and he offered me a job at the Hollywood studio, a position much coveted by my film-aspiring peers at Brandeis. Perhaps I should have accepted the job and learned to navigate the precarious waters of Hollywood. But fearing its reputed quid-pro-quo culture (who slept with whom to get where they were), I never called him back. Instead, I spent the next two years shuffling together part-time work in a bookstore, a restaurant and a glass blower’s shop, feeling befuddled about my future.

Much of my youthful energy, and many college credits, had been spent on my filmmaking aspirations. As I crossed the threshold into the “real world,” I felt the typical soup of emotions—anticipation, trepidation, enthusiasm—but also defeat, knowing that my goal had gone off the rails before I even got it moving.

Decades passed before that long-ago internship experience resurfaced. It was 2012 when some midlife self-reflection unearthed from memory my summer in Hollywood. Anita Hill had joined the Brandeis faculty in 1998, and I sought closure by writing to her, giving my own “testimony” of sorts. Professor Hill graciously replied, saying that her basement is filled with thousands of such letters and that she keeps them all filed neatly. She asked me if she could share my letter with her students, to help “validate their own feelings and give them hope.”

Monday, back on set, we both pretended that nothing had  happened. I finished the internship, flew back East, and decided never  to work in the industry again. 

I thought then that I’d found the resolution I was looking for. But a couple of months ago, reading the scores of accounts by women and men about the widespread tolerance of the culture of harassment and abuse of power in Hollywood and beyond, I began reflecting again. In those other women’s stories I could see the complexity of my own experience. Like many of them, I had internalized the warped cultural message that it was my own fault. In their honesty, I am now finding my own truth.

I eventually did find a new passion, a career in homeopathic medicine. I took comfort in the “earthy-crunchy” nature of homeopathy, diametrically opposed to the glitzy, superficial culture of Hollywood. Surely a profession as altruistic as natural remedy healing would be immune to the behavior I found in Hollywood. (Unfortunately, my naiveté accompanied me to my new career, and I soon found out that sexual harassment does indeed cross the boundaries of humanitarianism. But that’s another story.)

Until now, I have wanted to give the director, my Brandeis kinsman, the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps his family had made last minute plans. Perhaps I was the only one. Some people to whom I’ve recently revealed my experience have suggested I should feel fortunate “Well, at least he backed off, he didn’t rape you.” True, he was not the monster that Harvey Weinstein turned out to be. However, the stories of the “Weinstein entrapment”—Come to my house, my office, my hotel room, for a surprising one-man show—sound eerily familiar.

Hearing these other stories has forced me to re-examine the details of what happened during my Hollywood summer, and how I felt. And to decide whether to say anything more about it. A quick Google search revealed that the director has gone on to have a notable, influential, and very lucrative career. My desire for truth, justice, and protection of others has seesawed with my fear of repercussions. So I still feel vulnerable.

Writing this account has felt like diving to touch the bottom of a dark pool of water, only to find the bottom so deep that I lose my breath on the way up. One thing is clear, the message that I gleaned as a young woman: The men, who are in power, are not interested in my brains, my creativity, my acumen; I am valued for what I can provide sexually. My summer internship left me feeling low and cheap, not the person I knew myself to be. And for that reason, I did not go back to Hollywood.

My daughter is now a college freshman. During Thanksgiving break, I told her about my experience, and we watched a recording of Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony. With the passion of a first-year student, my daughter exclaimed that no one should have to choose between livelihood and safety! I concurred. I explained to her that unpaid interns are particularly vulnerable, that while a handful of states have now passed laws to protect interns under state law, federal law, unfortunately, does not protect them. Human rights laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 give only employees protection from workplace discrimination and harassment, not unpaid interns. She was outraged, and rightly so. She asked me if I thought that anything would have been done back then if I had reported back to the university provost. Given the times, it’s hard to say. Universities had no institutional system of reporting and recording harassment. Though the incident did not happen on campus, and the director did not work for the university, an incident such as mine could still be recorded, so that, if prior or later reports were ever made, a pattern would be revealed.

I also recently spoke to the former provost, the one who had arranged my internship, and (finally) told him what had happened back then. He was “very, very sorry to hear that [my] experience in Hollywood was not what it should have been. Very sorry.” Understanding his dismay, and concern about my well-being, I affirmed to him that he himself had had no way of knowing and, of course, had only tried to help me realize my aspiration. The experience had nothing to do with him. I felt the need to reassure him that I was ok, and that my life had turned out just fine.

Amy I. Rozen works as a classical homeopath and registered nurse at The Remedy Center in Morristown, N.J.

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