Jewfem Blog

From Weinstein to Trump to the Talmud: Lessons on being a woman in this world, then and now

Don’t embarrass important men. Don’t ruin things – for others, for yourself. And anyway, maybe what you think you experienced didn’t really happen. Maybe you’re just making it up. Let’s move on. There is important work to do, important issues to discuss. Let’s not waste time on these trivial matters. On your personal agenda. Enough with that. The sexual assault allegations against high profile men that have been coming to light – Weinstein, Ailes, Cosby, Trump, etc etc etc – have been shedding light on some of the many ways in which our society uses, silences, and shames women. Women are too frequently seen as sex objects or servile –  no matter how talented, smart or accomplished we are. When we speak up, we are often not believed. We need sixty other women to say the same thing before our stories are taken seriously. And when we do speak, we are often encouraged to stay silent for the sake of the project, the business, the community, the greater good, whatever. Anything but our own needs and our own well-being. But these dynamics are hardly new. I am discovering as I reopen the centuries-old Talmudic tomes that form the basis of Jewish and arguably Judeo-Christian thought, that the subsuming of women’s needs and desires is an old practice. We have been thrown under the bus for a very long time. This week, I read a passage in the Jerusalem Talmud about spirituality that I was keenly interested in. I am a lifelong student of comparative religion, and this passage, which discusses the character traits of the person deemed most fit to communicate with God, addresses topics that are often on my mind. What does it mean to be a spiritual being? What concepts of leading a good life or being a good person are universal? I suppose I am searching for an understanding of humanity that crosses cultural boundaries. This text speaks to that, so I was engaged. And then came the bit about women, and I stopped short. The passage (JT Taanit 1;4) brings a series of anecdotes about practice of fasting for rain. When there was a drought in ancient Israel, the religious leadership would call for fasting in order to speak to God – first individuals would fast, and then if things didn’t improve, the entire public would fast. So the Talmud asks the question: Who are those righteous individuals who can speak to God and get the job done? The answers are given via a series of stories with men who are deemed to have qualities of righteousness, and some of these answers are surprising. The first story is about a man who refused a request for money because the funds in question had been set aside for tithes. The rabbis were so impressed with his commitment to charity that they said, “You should pray for rain.” That is nice and makes sense. It is about generosity, honesty and integrity, considered here to be the basis of a...

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Breaking worlds: Noach, Trump, Meredith Grey, and me

“Sometimes doctors have to break things before they heal them,” Meredith Grey recently said in one of her famous Grey’s Anatomy voiceovers. I wasn’t actually watching the show, but just passing through a room where someone else was watching. The words sort of seeped into my subconscious, the way so much of the Jewish prayer does when you are listening absentmindedly to someone else reading the words. “Sometimes,” she continued (trigger warning: graphic content ahead), “if a broken bone did not set right, we have to break it again and reset it.” Ouch. Seriously, ouch. Once I got over my squeamishness, I realized that this metaphor really speaks to me. Actually, I think it describes me. And perhaps also much of the world. I am broken. I have been broken by flawed ideas that seek to own me, by people who were supposed to love me, by societies and communities that treat people like me as objects rather than as human. I have been broken by words and by deeds, by individuals and by groups, by others and ultimately by myself.  But now, I am the one who has done the breaking. I broke out, I broke free, I broke norms, I broke conventions, I broke expectations, I broke rules established by others, I broke down ideas that are wrong, I broke gender constructs, and I finally broke through. My decision to become a Reform rabbi is about all of this. It is about breaking what was already broken in order to create something that is healthy and healing.   I thought about this around yesterday’s Torah portion as well, Noach. This is a story about a great being (God) who created a great thing (The World) and then broke it all (via flood) in order to start again. Ouch. Reading this, you can’t help but wonder why God thought that this was the only option. Did he really have to break the entire world? Wasn’t there any good in it? I guess God knows, as Meredith Grey knows, that sometimes there is no way to fix something other than to start all over. I think about this regarding the world we are living in now. We are living in such a broken place. The election of Trump was the act of such wanton destruction. His election broke so much. It broke hope, it broke integrity, it broke belief in humanity, it broke compassion, it broke decency, it broke honesty, it broke care, it broke logic, it broke truth, it broke progress, it broke bridges, it broke connections, it broke cooperation, it broke generosity, and it broke the movement towards creating a better world. We are all experiencing the impacts of that breaking on a regular basis. And there is so much that is breaking that he allows to continue to break. Floods. Fires. Hurricanes. Mass shootings. One after another, breaking, breaking, breaking.  And he does this actively and on purpose, not just by neglect or stupidity. Trump seeks to continue breaking everything that he can. He is trying to break health...

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Like a phoenix rising back to life: A special event to help us come to terms with our new world

Like a Phoenix, coming back to life from the ashes: Tomorrow I am hosting my first event since the elections, called "Finding Light Amid Darkness". This will be an online discussion with the wonderful Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman, founder of the Jewish Mindfulness Network and a leading voice calling for compassion, equality, justice, healing and action in this post-election world. READ MORE: It has been quite a difficult time for those of us concerned with issues like social justice, equality, compassion, and the progress of our society and humanity. The American elections, followed by some other terrible events -- from the Dakota Pipeline to the tragedy in Aleppo and the entire wave of hate and prejudice that has been unleashed and empowered in our world -- the enormity of all this has left so many of us stunned, paralyzed and fearful.At The Center for Jewish Feminism, we, too, have been struck by the challenging energies around us and by the realization of how many dangers lurk in our everyday lives. It has taken us some time to recover and regroup. And now, we have decided, it is time for us to begin the hard process of moving forward, reconnecting, and taking action.The first step in this plan is to come together, connect with like-minded people, and talk through the impact of recent events as well as potential next steps as a Jewish feminist community. Towards that aim, we are hosting our first on-line event since the American elections. This Sunday, December 18, 9AM PST in an online panel discussion titled, "Finding Light Amid Darkness", I will be hosting a conversation with one of my favorite people, Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman, founder of the Jewish Mindfulness Network, and a leading voice in the Jewish world for integrating social justice and spirituality.You can read more about the event here, or read more about Rav Jill here. The event will take place online on Sunday, Dec 18, 9AM PST, 12 noon EST, 7PM Israel time, 5PM UK time (and apoligies once again to the Aussies and kiwis in the group who will either wake in the middle of the night or wait for the recording...)You can purchase tickets to the event here .Please note that we are asking for donations of $5-$18, at your own discretion, to help us build the framework for an ongoing conversation. Our plan is to use this time slot to host conversations with other leading Jewish feminists and to create a global Jewish feminist community of spiritual and social-activist warriors who are dedicated to keeping the light of justice and compassion shining. But to do that, we need your help.Thank you for your support and understanding.A few other items to note:* This event, like all our events, are conducted in the spirit of Jewish feminism, and are open to everyone. You don't have to be a woman or Jewish to join. All who want to be part of the community are welcome.* You don't need any special technological abilities to participate. You will receive a simple link for logging on. But if that is too...

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Pantsuits, Petitions, and Politics: Why I am still fighting the fight.....

The depths of anguish, depression and despair over the past two weeks (has it only been two weeks?) are unlike anything I have ever experienced. I think that a lot of people who were rooting for Hillary Clinton are in a similar state. Some have joined or created Facebook groups for support and actions. Others have gone off social media altogether. And many are wandering around in a half-daze, getting through their lives in the way one does after having been unexpectedly punched in the gut.  It is hard to know what to do next. The realization that so many seemingly normal people have put this person in office, a person who is an admitted cheater, racist, and sexual predator, a guy who is a textbook narcissist and demagogue, the one who surrounds himself with the worst of humanity -- white supremacists who believe that white men are literally genetically superior to everyone else -- is really too much to wrap your head around.  How do you walk through your life knowing that these are the beliefs of so many people you have connections with?  And it's not abstract. There is a very real trickle-down trump effect. My feeds are filled with stories of everyday aggression and violence. People are sharing stories of racism and homophobia at check-out counters, in malls, in parking lots, at the gym, and at home. I have read about several divorces that resulted from the election -- that is, from the outing of trumpism in real life. People who like trump because he gives them permission to air their dark sides, their abusiveness, and their hatred, are now let loose on society. Anyone who complains about "pc police" -- basically saying that they are tired of having to consider other people's feelings and experiences -- have been given the legitimacy to now speak without restraint. It is as if all those great lessons from kindergarten -- be nice, be kind, be considerate, don't bully, don't name-call, don't mock others, treat everyone as equals -- are all thrown out the window.  it is a truly frightening time.  And it has been, in many ways, paralyzing.  But I have made a conscious decision to keep on fighting. My words are my tool of choice. I will keep on writing and sharing words. You can read more about this here.    If you want to be part of the discussion, if you want to work together to figure out how to stop the spread of hate in our world,     

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Nine tactics of emotional abuse that Trump’s Sexual Assault Video shows us

[This is a follow-up to my essay on Everyday Feminism: 10 Tactics of Emotional Abuse that Trump blatantly used in the presidential debate] It is hard to listen to the video clip in which Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump talks about grabbing a woman’s “pussy”. For many sexual assault survivors, this clip can be very triggering. What he describes in fun and laughter others have experienced as violent, invasive attacks on their bodies. In fact, within hours of the clip’s release, millions of women were sharing their stories of sexual assault, and the ways that they were triggered by the clip. Katie Dupere, a survivor of sexual assault, described the harsh memories that the recording brought up for her. “My assault began when this boy ‘grabbed me by the pussy’,” she writes, using the exact act that Trump brags about on the clip. “To a sexual assault survivor like me, Trump’s words are not the harmless ‘locker room banter’ he claims they are,” she continues. “They are words that reach into the deepest parts of me, plucking out trauma that gets replayed over and over with each new article and retweet. They are reflective of a culture of men that sees women as available to fulfill their desires, even without their consent.” Another survivor, Chrissa Hardy, who was raped when she was 17, writes that Trump’s bragging “left me frozen in place. These comments are ones that only a sexual predator would make, and they made me relive my rape all over again.” What’s more, on the tape he has an engaged audience. Billy Bush, a media celebrity and cousin of former president George W. Bush, can be heard laughing throughout, giving Trump the boost and legitimacy for his descriptions of sexual assault. And then it gets worse: Bush convinces Arianne Zucker — the object of Trump’s ogling a moment earlier — to give him a hug. She unwittingly becomes the object in Trump’s fantasy. She went from being an object for ogling to an object for touching. “When women watch that interaction between Trump, Bush and Zucker, they’ll think of the countless times they walked up to a group of jovial men in mid-conversation and felt something in the pit of their stomach,” writes feminist commentator Jessica Valenti. “They’ll wonder if their sneaking suspicion was right all along — that they were on the outside, that they were the joke.” There is mounting evidence that Trump was not just bragging, but has also done what he said he did — that he kissed women without consent,grabbed women’s genitals, and even raped women. Trump issued an apology of sorts, but his words were not consoling. That’s because even in his apology, he was still using toxic tactics, still using words to assault women. Like so many other moments of the American presidential election, this episode is replete with examples of toxic abuse. The tape is an example of the connection between verbal abuse and physical abuse. They are often intertwined, with one tactic reinforcing the other. As Gloria Steinem said, “Trump’s rhetoric normalizes dominance and violence, and endangers us all.” It is important to understand...

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