Rabbis Without Borders
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We have seen this filling our news feeds on social media — friends, and family we are close to and those we are not so close to sharing their stories with us. Many of these stories are surprising to us. How did we not know that our friends and family have gone through these awful experiences of sexual harassment and abuse?
I have heard from many colleagues, other rabbis who have been in this situation. Many who have been in uncomfortable and even dangerous situations with other rabbis, colleagues and congregants. While this whole ordeal with Harvey Weinstein is awful, we are finally creating the space for women and men who have been sexually harassed to be open, to support one another, and to hopefully begin the long, challenging, and difficult process of healing.
I, too, have been sexually harassed. Thank God, not physically, but verbally and emotionally.
When I started rabbinical school I was self-conscious about being a female in a predominantly male environment. I know many other female (especially Conservative) rabbis are “Shaking their heads in agreement” right now. It is not easy being a woman in a man’s world. This definitely is not unique to the rabbinate, but other fields as well.
Throughout my first year of school I was told, “Why are you becoming a rabbi?” (after being looked up and down and up again by male students), or “I wish rabbis looked like you when I was in rabbinical school” (from a male rabbi), or “That is the rabbi? Wow, I would have gone to Hebrew school if she was running the place.”
I felt very self-conscious being a female rabbinical student who took pride in what I wore, how I dressed, how I presented myself. I felt I had to hide who I really was in order to “fit in.” If you were too feminine you were almost “setting yourself up” for comments. I started to “dress down” and kind of just plug through it. I have spoken with many female colleagues from many different seminaries who have experienced similar comments.
There have been many posts online that point fingers at the women, blaming them for dressing immodestly or “Asking for it.” This is absolutely disgusting to me. None of this is the woman’s fault. We are living in a world where you can say anything and get away with it, especially if it is behind a computer screen or a smartphone. The problem is not us or how we dress or present ourselves. The problem is that people are not being held accountable for their words and actions. Did I hold the people accountable who have done this to me? No, of course not. I was a young rabbinical student, I just kept my head down and pushed through. I didn’t have #MeToo back then. But now we do, and we can make a difference in the world so that others do not experience what we have experienced. We can change the conversation and continue to create a supportive community space for hope and change.
Two weeks ago we began the Torah again with Bereshit. God creates man and woman in the image of God. Part of maintaining that Godliness, the holiness in ourselves and in our communities is through our actions. I have always believed that the way in which we continue the creation that we are here to cultivate is through our actions – through how we respond to difficult situations. Do we stand up and support all of those who are in pain? Or do we sit back and say, “I have never been there, it is not my problem.” Are we like the raven in last week’s Torah portion Noach who fends only for himself? Or are we the dove, bringing back the olive branch as a sign of hope for a better world?
The #MeToo movement is powerful – it gives me hope that we as rabbis, as colleagues, as friends, as a community are creating the safe or “brave” space for those of us who have been in these situations to find support and comfort. It cannot stop at posting on our Facebook pages or profiles. We as rabbis, community leaders, and as human beings have to take #metoo and turn it into action. We need to mobilize and make #metoo into a living, breathing fight against sexual harassment in our communities. We cannot just post our own experiences and be done. We have to support and fight for all of our brothers and sisters who have been in the “same boat.”
May we each be like the dove and hold the olive branch out to those in our community who are telling us #metoo and do something about it.
Because if you are hurting, we are also hurting with you. It is our responsibility as being created Betzelem Elohim (in the image of God).