Jewfem Blog

On Freundel, Amanda Todd, Erin Andrews and the real trauma of video voyeurism

A few months ago, a fifteen-year-old girl named Lee was taking a shower, she thought alone. When she went to school the next day and found her classmates laughing at her, she learned that a boy in her school in Beersheba had installed a camera in the stall. Now, thanks to Whatsapp, her naked body was on everyone’s phone. She was mortified. Although the school expelled the boy and her family filed charges, the boy was returned shortly thereafter, following a debate of the Education Committee of the Knesset. And to add salt to her wounds, last week, the Israel police announced that they are closing the case. “The situation does not warrant a criminal investigation,” they told Lee’s parents. Although Lee’s lawyer says the family plans to appeal since “the boy’s actions are clearly against the law,” for Lee it is almost irrelevant. She has not returned to school.   The story, which barely made any headlines in Israel or elsewhere, is part of a phenomenon known as “video voyeurism”, a psychopathic set of behaviors the impact of which has multiplied a result of technological advances. What was once a problem of so-called “peeping toms” hiding in bushes is now a worldwide epidemic of men who use microscopic video cameras and both the regular and “dark” internet to shame victims for perpetuity. Victims can have their intimate photos or videos taken and shared with the entire world without their knowledge.   We do not yet have an effective name for the type of trauma that a girl or woman experiences when the entire world sees her naked. It is a type of trauma that did not exist in the world before the past decade. And it includes a magnitude of shame that we do not yet, as a society, fully comprehend.   Imagine going to a job interview or on a date, only to discover that the first thing Google has shown the person sitting across from you is a photo of you naked. There is a shame in this experience that, according to experts in sexual assault, can be even worse than rape. As sportscaster Erin Andrews said this week about her own experience of falling victim to video voyeurism, “Oh my God ….. I was naked all over the Internet”. She says that "every single day, either I get a tweet or somebody makes a comment in the paper or somebody sends me a still of the video to my Twitter or someone screams it at me in the stands and I’m right back to this…I feel so embarrassed and I am so ashamed.” Even with the perpetrator in prison for stalking, the impact on the victim will never be erased because, well, the internet. It is like being forced to walk around in public naked every single day.   Take for example the story of Amanda Todd, the Canadian girl who fell victim to an online pedophile. As most 12-year-olds, she enjoyed hanging out with her friends, listening to music and playing...

Continue reading
  4589 Hits

What I Posted on Facebook About the Freundel Case

From Lilith: October 15 at 8:21amIf this is true — IF, of course — the implications here are enormous. Women in Orthodoxy have been complaining about rabbis who carry all kinds of patriarchal and misogynistic ideas with them into the community and into their work. If this story is true, it confirms women’s deepest pains in dealing with certain orthodox rabbis. Layers and layers of practices that hurt women…. - See more at:   Read the rest here:

  3556 Hits

Voyeurism and the Yeshiva Girl

Madonna has got me thinking about Barry Freundel. To be honest, Madonna often gets me thinking about body, sexuality, and women’s power. I consider Madonna one of the most body-empowered women out there. She has full command of her body, and uses it as her artistic canvas. She can do anything she wants with it, put on any item of clothing and pose in any position, and the effect is one of power and ownership. I frequently find myself wondering whether she represents an ideal of body empowerment, whether on some level I should be teaching my daughters to admire and emulate her for her complete ownership of her life and seeming ability to do anything she wants. (Of course, then the Orthodox voice in my brain usually kicks in and reminds me of how far Madonna is from anything familiar to me in my own relationships with my body.) Anyway, knowing this about Madonna, I was surprised to discover a few months ago that she took to twitter to express her anger that a photo of her was leaked without her permission. The photo was an unpolished image of her in bra and underwear, apparently in a dressing room. “This is a fitting photo I did not release,” she wrote. “I am asking my true fans and supporters who respect me as an artist and a human to not get involved with the purchasing trading or posting of unreleased images or music.” The reason I was surprised at her reaction was because the week before, she had done a topless photo shoot for a French magazine. It was a strange juxtaposition to me, that she would upset about this photo of her in her underwear when just days before the entire world just saw her undressed. But then I realized, it’s all about control, about power. The French shoot was her choice and with her direction. The leaked photo, despite everything Madonna had done, was still an invasion of her privacy. I have been thinking about this the past few days since posting a blog about the impact of Freundel’s actions on his victims and on other practicing Jewish women. What I argued in this post is that there is a such thing as sexual abuse that does not involve physical contact, and that we should not dismiss the impact of this kind of abuse on its victims just because there was no sexual penetration. In fact, I wrote, that the recovery from this so-called non-violent abuse can be just as emotionally challenging as violent sexual abuse because of the way it plays with the victim’s mind. - See more at:

  3784 Hits

Barry Freundel's crimes

Convicted of recording 52 women naked in the mikveh, with another 100 women who are past the statute of limitations.... Untold emotional, psychological and spiritual damage to the women..... victims who can no longer step foot in synagogue, who can no longer trust rabbis, who no longer want to be Jewish, who are reliving nightmares of abuse, who do not want to go the mikveh, whose marriages are strained, whose identities are in question...... Below is a detailed description of the crimes of Barry Freundel. Read it and tremble.   SUPERIOR COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CRIMINAL DIVISION - MISDEMEANOR BRANCHUNITED STATES OF AMERICACase No. 2014-CMD-18262 Hon. Geoffrey AlprinSentencing Date: May 15, 2015V.BERNARD FREUNDELUNITED STATES' MEMORANDUM IN AID OF SENTENCING The United States of America, by and through its attorney, the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, respectfully submits this memorandum in aid of sentencing. The defendant, Bernard Freundel, is before the Court for sentencing after pleading guilty to 52 counts of Voyeurism, in violation of 22 D.C. Code §§ 3531(6) and (c), involving surreptitiously videotaping 52 separate women. In light of the extraordinary scope of the defendant's crimes, the premeditation and planning involved, the substantial abuse of the defendant's position of exceptional trust, and the severe impact on the victims, the United States submits that a sentence of 208 months of incarceration would serve the interests of justice in this case. In support of its recommendation, the government relies on the following information. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORYBetween approximately 1989 and October 2014, the defendant, Bernard Freundel, was the sole rabbi of Kesher Israel Congregation, located at 2801 N Street, NW, Washington, D.C. The defendant also taught courses on ethics at Towson University for approximately five years, and seminars on Jewish law at Georgetown Law Center since the early 1990s. The defendant's influence was felt not only within Washington D.C., but around the world. For years, the defendant was a leader in an effort to establish uniform standards for conversions to Orthodox Judaism in the United States, and to ensure that many American conversions would be accepted by Israel. At one time, his reputation was that only his conversions would be guaranteed to be deemed valid by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. As a result, people came from all over the region and the globe to study with the defendant and convert with him as their sponsor. In 2005, a Jewish ritual bath (known as a "mikvah") opened at 1308 28th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. Known as the National Capital Mikvah, the building is located across a courtyard from Kesher Israel.' A mikvah is used primarily by Orthodox Jewish women for monthly spiritual purification and by individuals as the final step in the Orthodox Jewish conversion process. The use of the mikvah and many of its attendant rituals and blessings are prescribed by Jewish text and tradition. As an initial matter, immersion in a mikvah is regarded as an intensely private and spiritual experience. As noted in a community...

Continue reading
  7926 Hits

Thank you for a great 2014

I'm honored to be included on the Forward's list of top ten women worth reading (Thank you Batya Ungar-Sargon!)   It's been an amazing 2014, full of intense writing, debate and community building. Some of the highlights for me were:   * Creating the Facebook group for people who are FEDDD UPPPP with the status of women in Orthodoxy (FEDDD UPPPPP: Feminist Forum For Empowerment and Exchange to Discuss, Debate, Defuse and Unpack Unfair and Uncompassionate Patriarchal Practices and Paradigms in Positive and Proactive ways...) that now has nearly 1800 members and has become an amazing place of support and collegiality (a virtual conscious-raising group)   *Covering the awful Freundel scandal ("the pervert with the pulpit") and helping be a part of a community-wide conversation to change power structures and control of wommen's intimate lives in the religious Jewish world    * Launching my new book, The War on Women in Israel, and going on a great book tour (two actually) around the United States to talk to people about this important topic   * Doing an interview on the Brian Lehrer show on NPR :-)  (And thanks to all the other interviews as well -- NPR Chicago Jerome MacDonnell, Voice of Israel, TLV, The Jewish Channel, etc)   * Weighing in on the terrible war in Israel, and coming out with my own story of political evolution, from yeshivah girl to feminist peace activist at Lilith  (expect more on this in 2015)   * Winning the National Jewish Book Council for my previous book, Educating in the Divine Image, with my colleague and co-author Dr Chaya Gorsetman (my SECOND JBC award.... wow)   * My El Al experience with haredi men on Tablet that went viral (who would have thought.....)   * My commentary on Kallah Teachers that also went viral   * Joining the board of the amazing El Halev with Yudit Sidikman (more on this in 2015 too)   * Helping my husband, Jacob Sztokman, provide 275,000 hot nutritious meals to children in the slums of Mumbai, 1000 each day prepared by 140 women in a women's empowerment cooperative. Read more about Gabriel Project Mumbai here   Thanks everyone for the great conversation and for all the important work in trying to make the world a better place for women (and MEN!)   Have a great 2015!  

  3963 Hits

Is Orthodox culture responsible for creating the Freundels of the world?

[Published on JTA] MODIIN, Israel (JTA) — With the news that Rabbi Barry Freundel, a prominent Orthodox rabbi, has been arrested for peeping at the naked bodies of his female congregants through a secret camera in the mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath, many disturbing questions are being raised about the implications of his suspected transgressions: Does it matter that Freundel is an Orthodox rabbi? Is he just a regular (alleged) creepy pervert? Or did his position of power — and the culture surrounding it — contribute to the acts of which he stands accused? Did Rabbi Barry Freundel’s position of power — and the culture surrounding it — contribute to the acts of which he stands accused? On the one hand, there are some really lovely and good-hearted Orthodox rabbis who have nothing to do with Freundel and abhor the entire story; they do not deserve to be demonized by association. One bad apple — or rabbi, as it may be –  shouldn’t spoil the whole basket. Furthermore, there are sex offenders in pretty much every culture, religion, ethnic group and social class. Violence against women is ubiquitous, unfortunately, so perhaps the particulars of the offender’s social context are not relevant. On the other hand, one cannot help but notice the multiple layers of power, authority and gender hierarchy involved in this story. After all, the scene of the alleged crimes was a mikvah, where women are naked, exposed and reliant on a system of intricate rules about their bodies that have been determined by men. Jewish women traditionally use the mikvah to immerse — fully nude — following menstruation or during conversion, and in some cases to mark significant life events. The practice of ritual immersion is usually overseen by female attendants, except in the case of Orthodox conversion, when three male rabbis also must be present to give approval. If the allegations against Freundel are true, they confirm the worst suspicions about the status of women in Orthodoxy: that the all-male rabbinical clubs support their own members in their efforts to control women’s bodies all the time. Freundel, after all, is suspected of using his authority to grab what he wanted from unsuspecting women. Moreover, Freundel may have targeted female converts — the subset of mikvah-goers who are most at risk of abuse. These very women often do not have enough security in their social position or Jewish knowledge to question the strange demands made by rabbis in the shower room. Thus the scandal raises disturbing questions about the social structures that give men like Freundel unfettered power over Orthodox conversion. (Freudel himself has been extremely active on the conversion issue in recent years, maintaining control of the Rabbinical Council of America’s Conversion Committee and speaking widely as an expert on conversion.) Read more:

  4296 Hits

Interview with Elanit Rothschild Jakabovics

I've spent the past few days on Facebook (yeah, that's pretty much it), writing and chatting about the Freundel scandal. Feel free to friend me there and engage with me. I will upload some of my posts here as well. In the meantime, I am sharing an interview I did with Elanit Jakabovics, the Kesher Israel president and hero of this whole episode. I interviewed her in 2012 shortly after she became the first female president of the shul. Here is the interview, which was originally posted on the JOFA blog:   Interview with Elanit Z Rothschild Jakabovics Elanit Z Rothschild Jakabovics was recently elected as the first woman president of Kesher Israel Synagogue in Washington, DC. Elanit, a 33-year old management consultant with Grant Thornton and a mother of two originally from Staten Island, is not only the first woman but also the youngest president in the shul, whose rabbi is Rabbi Barry Freundel. JOFA Executive Director Elana Sztokman sat down with Elanit to hear about her new position, and to hear about ways that other women can be inspired to follow suit in their own shuls: WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME SHUL PRESIDENT? The technical answer to this question is that a slate was proposed to the shulmembership in early June 2012 and was voted on at the annual membership meeting at the end of June. My term began on July 1, 2012. Coincidentally enough, I was placed on modified bed rest the last week in June and didn’t make it back to shul for Shabbat until my son’s brit on August 11. I was able to attend some meetings between July 1 and August 4 (when my son was born) during the week, since I drove and stayed off my feet for the most part, but I didn’t really go out on Shabbat, nervous my water would break during my walk. to/from. I think the answer you’re looking for, however, is that I was on the Kesher Board since 2004 and shul president was never a role that many ran towards. So, just based on experience at the shul and a few other variables, it sort of fell in my lap. In 2011, the Board revised its by-laws to explicitly allow for female presidents. See here for a copy of the by-laws and the psak halakha by Rabbi Freundel about it:  WAS THIS SOMETHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO DO? Yes and no. I was intrigued by the possibilities but was nervous about the implications and responsibilities that it entailed. Remember, Kesher Israel is a small synagogue, with only two paid employees, so almost everything that is done is by volunteer. The role of president at Kesher isn’t just a role where you get to sit and think about the long term vision of the shul. There are a lot of day-to-day operational/programmatic issues to take care of. Not one day goes by where I’m not taking care of something else that is shul-related. HOW DO YOU LIKE YOUR JOB? It’s better than anticipated. I enjoy the relationships and connections I am making with people I did...

Continue reading
  7350 Hits