Jewfem Blog

The pretty face of the Jewish boys' club

  I was ambushed yesterday. And it left me shuddering. And it gave me a deeply distressing glimpse into the workings of the Jewish boys’ club. The ambush had a very pretty mask. And it is terrifying. A guy asked me for a meeting for networking. He had all the trappings of being a Nice Guy – he had an easy smile, gentle voice, clean cut appearance, beard and knitted kippah, and a generous use of flattery. I should have recognized this. He did all the classic, effective getting-to-know-you stuff: He said he knows my work, he has read my research, he is a Reform rabbi and studied at HUC and is interested in my current experiences there, he knows my husband, his wife knows my husband, and wouldn’t it be great to connect. It all sounded so normal. I said I don’t have a lot of time these days, so he suggested coming to my school and meeting me during my tight one-hour lunch break. I said okay. After ten minutes of smiling and chatting, he uttered a sentence that began, “The real reason I wanted to meet you with such urgency.....” That should have been a red flag. If I have an agenda for a meeting, I put that agenda up front. If someone asks to meet for one reason but actually has a totally different reason, that could be a sign of manipulation. It isn’t always. After all, if someone wants to ask me for  something easy and innocuous like a recommendation or an introduction, then it is fine to bring that up at the meeting and not in advance. But if you want something big from another person and want to take their much-needed one free hour for that request, you had better be honest about that. So what was the urgency? “I got a call from a colleague I know,” he began, “a man who is concerned because his name appears on a list of men in the Jewish community who are accused of sexual abuse.” The backstory is this: In one of the groups online dealing with sexual abuse since the #MeToo movement, some people decided to create an anonymous sheet for collecting women’s experiences with sexual abuse in the Jewish community. This initiative came out of the realization that the only reason why the Harvey Weinstein story came out at all was because of a sheet like this in which women were able to post anonymously about their experiences of sexual abuse. Within a matter of days, certain names came up frequently, and then some reporters decided to dig further into those names, which eventually led to the New York Times story. The reason why this was so crucial in that movement is victims are very reluctant to come forward. Their lives were ruined once by their abusers, and coming forward means that they may have their lives ruined once again. Think Anita Hill.  This is not speculation or an exceptional incident. This is...

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#MeToo Israel Round-up #GamAni

Here is a quick round-up of the #MeToo movement in Israel from the past few days:* Alex Giladi, the head of Keshet, has been accused of rape by at least two women. In a very Harvey Weinstein-esque description, women were apparently told that if they want to get a meeting, they have to speak to "it" -- he would say this while standing naked in front of them. So we know what "it" is. Anyway, Giladi hasn't denied this, and has "stepped aside" from his current role but has not suffered any consequences of these revelations. * Haim Yavin, the famous news anchor, has been accused of making similar propositions to Neri Livneh. Haim Yavin has that same "clean cut" image that we have seen in other alleged sexual predators, the Bill-Cosby type of father-figure style that makes people reluctant to believe he would do such a thing. * Ehud Barak apparently helped Weinstein cover up -- not literally, but figuratively -- his actions by connecting him with the Mossad. What does it tell us that Israeli security agents were being used to help a rich rapist, with zero interest in the victims? There are layers of patriarchy here and we have only begun scratching the surface of what this means. * Gabi Gazit has been accused by Dana Weis of sexual harassment, where he would kiss her on the lips without permission. He has not denied these allegations and in fact sort of bragged that "One day, people will be telling stories about me from 45 years ago." This was actually just 15 years ago.  * Yoram Zak of Big Brother (a Keshet production....) would routinely send the women on his staff explicit sexual notes and comments, like an entire email all about the erection he had because he thought about how beautiful they all are. The emails don't lie. As opposed to the others here, he has apologized and said that he is embarassed by what he wrote then and has changed. He says he understands now what he didn't understand then, that this is wrong.  * MK Yael German has joined the ranks of the testimonies by sharing that she was sexually assaulted by her gynecologist.  * The late Tommy Lapid, who everyone knows was crass and gross -- though some considered those qualities endearing in the man -- has been posthumously accused of attempted rape of journalist Sylvie Keshet in London in 1063. His son Yair points out that we can't ask the father what really happened. True. So we'll just leave this there.  * An unnamed senior executive in the tax authority sexually harassed his colleagues and was fired for "medical reasons" rather than face the consequences.   If I missed a story on this, please share so I can add it.  To stay up to date on these stories, follow the Gender-in-Israel-List on Facebook#GamAni

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So, will you be watching any more Harvey Weinstein movies?

This is a dilemma. I loved Good Will Hunting, the Harvey Weinstein-produced movie that made the very young and then-unknown Ben Affleck and Matt Damon instant stars and Oscar winners. (Of course, watching it again not too long ago, the sexist tropes bothered me more than they did back then. Perhaps the topic for a different post… or maybe it is the same topic. Not sure.) Now that we know the truth about Weinstein – that he is likely a serial rapist, among other things – does that mean we can’t watch his movies anymore? Or The Cosby Show? Or anything by Dustin Hoffman?  Or House of Cards? Or Woody Allen (whose latest flick actually idealizes a pedophiliac relationship?!) Or Ben Affleck by the way? (When did he stop being cute?) I think of this as the Wagner dilemma. It’s the question of whether we can still appreciate great art even if it comes out of terrible people. Wagner was a Nazi-precursor, beloved by Hitler himself, whose music is apparently brilliant despite his unapologetic anti-Semitism. (I’m not much of a judge of classical music,  but I did take a few course in music appreciation over the years, and I can recall a class at Barnard where the lecturer likened a particular Wagner opera to an orgasm. I am not making this up.) Anyway, this is the dilemma. Is there a way to still hang on to the art even if the person who made it was a big, big creep? This question came up in synagogue this morning in a discussion about the Torah portion. The rabbi, Philip Nadel, asked us whether, despite everything that we know about Abraham’s life, we can still appreciate that he might have been a great leader? His question was met with boos and hisses – well maybe not literally, but that was the sense of it. To remind you, as Osnat Eldar mentioned in the sermon that I posted here last week, Abraham did some pretty awful things in his life. He pimped out his wife in order to acquire material goods and maybe influence. More than once. He was willing to sacrifice his son because God said so. He never seemed to apologize for any of it. And we call him “Abraham Our Father.” It’s a little nauseating. We do this often in our tradition. Think about David, Father of the Messiah. He raped Batsheba after pulling a Freundel by secretly watching her immerse in the ritual bath, thus impregnating her; then had her husband, Uriah, killed to cover it up by creating a battle out of nothing and placing the husband on the front line. Yes, he really did that. At least David, as opposed to Abraham, apologized, and was punished. Although he at least one son who was also a rapist. So there’s that. But, come on, Messiah! Like that.   So what do we do with our misogynistic tradition? It seems like our rabbis were very willing to so easily forgive...

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Dear Mayim: You are a victim too, #MeToo #YouToo

Dear Mayim, Let me start by saying that I’m a fan. I think you’re a fine actress and a powerful activist for issues that I care strongly about – women’s lives, parenting, and Judaism, among others. I’ve been following your social media work (more than Big Bang Theory, to be honest), and I know that you have some important ideas to share with the world, and I deeply admire your courage, your intelligence and your willingness to use your platform to make a difference in the world. So please take my comments in that context. As someone who has written hundreds of articles and three books on hot-button topics, I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a lot of hate. But I also know that every once in a while, there are lessons in there. Not all pushback is vicious. Some of it helps us examine our own ideas and find where we can do better. Like many other people, I read your New York Times editorial on Harvey Weinstein with great interest, which quickly turned to dismay. I wanted to learn more about your experiences with body commentary in Hollywood. But the way you conflated issues did not work. It sounded like you were saying that since you were always so cruelly typecast as the “ugly” and therefore asexual one, that this somehow protected you from sexual assault. It sounded like you concluded that since you embraced that “ugly asexual geek” label, that you are outside this whole dynamic of sexual abuse. I have a feeling, though, as someone who sometimes says things that come out wrong, that maybe you didn’t mean to say it that way. From your online response, I think I understood that you weren’t trying to say that women who dress a certain way deserve to be sexually assaulted. I think maybe you were trying to offer another angle on how sexual abuse works in Hollywood. Maybe you were trying to paint a different picture of the way women’s lives, careers and self-concept are so often molded by powerful men or dumb commentators with a following. You did not say it in these words, but I would like to suggest that you are a victim of Hollywood’s sexual abuse problem, too. You were a girl with an acting career who was told she was ugly. You were, I might add, a smart, talented, and very cute girl (I loved you in Blossom, by the way) whose face was nitpicked by every jo-shmo in the industry. And that left you with many scars. You still carry them with you. You still think that the only part you can safely play is ugly geek, even though you are still smart, talented and, by the way, beautiful. That is also a story of sexual abuse, and it is one that we need to hear. Many women and girls have every minutia of their appearance commented on, mocked, or gossiped about ad nauseum. I...

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