Rabbis Without Borders
Rabbis Without Borders is a dynamic forum for exploring contemporary issues in the Jewish world and beyond. Written by rabbis of different denominations, viewpoints, and parts of the country, Rabbis Without Borders is a project of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Like many of you, I have both struggled with and been excited by the #metoo movement. I struggle with the amount of abuse that exists within our society; with every growing story, I am horrified, and yet no longer shocked. I have watched and experienced the extreme bias against women, and I am excited at the prospect that my daughter, or perhaps my granddaughter someday, will not be subjected to abuse and misbehaviors that have existed for the prior generations.
So how does this #metoo movement speak to me, as a mom trying to raise a resilient daughter, but also wanting to protect her from the ‘bad’ and the ‘ugly’ that exists in our world? We all think about it, we know about it, but when situations occur, we need to connect the dots.
Recently, my daughter came home from school and told me that she did not like the way one of her teachers was behaving. This was by no means in the category of sexual misconduct or abuse; it was in the category of yelling and other behaviors that made my daughter most uncomfortable. My first inclination (the teacher of resiliency) was to tell her that she only has the teacher for a few more months (actually half the year, but who’s counting), and she needs to not be so sensitive. Then, a week later, my daughter came back to me again and told me she wanted to switch classes and did not want to wait.
My daughter happens to be quite mature in some ways, and so I listened to her voice. I asked her pointed questions about what was happening in the classroom, and we had a discussion about the difference between a teacher you don’t like, or who doesn’t teach well, and a teacher that makes you uncomfortable because of her behaviors. And we also must acknowledge that what makes one child uncomfortable might also be an acceptable situation for another child.
And so, I listened, very carefully, to my daughter’s words. How do we balance making resilient children, and yet making sure we do everything to protect them? I realized quickly that I needed to take action; I realized that people had complained about this teacher for years, and nothing had been done; I realized that it is no longer acceptable to sit back and do nothing, even if we might think of it as just a teacher who screams a lot and isn’t nice. Our children deserve better than this; my daughter deserves better than this.
My friends expect me to speak up in such circumstances – I am the rabbi among us. But I did not speak up because I am a rabbi – I spoke up because I am a mother who wants to teach my daughter that there are times to be resilient and there are times to say – this behavior is simply unacceptable. I realize it is often a blurry line, but I also realize the lesson I teach her now is invaluable, and I hope will impact her for future situations.
And one more step. Perhaps it is easier for us to act on behalf of our own children, but why is it so difficult to speak up on behalf of all children, to make things better for the children we don’t know, who will follow our children in the years to come? Our Jewish heritage teaches us that we must be a voice for ourselves, but we must also be a voice for others, and that there is no time to waste (paraphrased from Pirke Avot 1:14).
I pray that the #metoo movement will awaken in each of us the ability and desire to speak out for our loved ones and for the strangers in our midst, so that good truly will prevail.