U.S. Senator Al Franken buries his head in his hands after an exchange with Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch as he testifies before a Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee hearing on how Russia allegedly used their services to try to sway the 2016 U.S. elections, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Sen. Al Franken Accused of Kissing, Groping Woman Without Consent


Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is the latest public figure to face accusations of sexual misconduct, as a woman is now accusing Franken of kissing and groping her without her consent.

Leeann Tweeden, a radio host at KABC 790, wrote that in 2006, she was on a United Services Organization (USO) tour and Franken was the main act. Backstage, Franken repeatedly insisted that he and Tweeden needed to rehearse part of the act that involved them kissing. Tweeden resisted, but eventually said “ok” to get Franken to stop his insisting.

“We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” wrote Tweeden. “I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.”

Tweeden went on to say that she “felt disgusted and violated.”

When the tour had ended, Tweeden discovered a photo of Franken groping her while she was sleeping:

Tweeden was furious, but she was initially afraid to speak out and jeopardize her broadcasting aspirations. That fear is now gone.

“Senator Franken, you wrote the script,” wrote Tweeden. “But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault.”

Franken issued a statement offering his “sincerest apologies” to Tweeden.

“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” said Franken. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is now advocating for an ethics investigation into Franken.

“Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable—in the workplace or anywhere else,” said McConnell.

Screenshot from YouTube

What Became of Due Process in Campus Assault Cases?


The nightmare: You are a male undergraduate. A female friend accuses you of violently raping her on a bed in your living room. Your university charges you with sexual assault. You acknowledge that you slept for less than an hour on the bed where the woman was already sleeping.

You figure the matter will be easily resolved, since your girlfriend and another friend were sitting nearby the entire time, and both will testify that there was no rape, no physical contact and you were both asleep the whole time.

You figured wrong.

The bedrock of individual liberty in this country is that the government cannot deprive us of life, liberty or property without “due process of law.” If we’re charged with a crime, the government must provide us with notice of the charges and with a fair trial in which we are presumed innocent.

Since the law applies to all government entities, students at public universities enjoy due-process protections in disciplinary procedures. Several years ago, rumors of a “rape culture” on American campuses gained momentum. Terms such as “rape” and “sexual assault” were used interchangeably, often without concrete definitions. Unreliable statistics purported to demonstrate that a female college student had about a 1 in 5 likelihood (or greater) of being sexually assaulted at school.

Enter the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which enforces Title IX and has over the years aggressively tried to address this alleged epidemic of sexual assault. On April 4, 2011, it issued a “Dear Colleague Letter,” which created a new scheme for adjudicating accusations of campus sexual assault. It said schools would lose federal funding if they didn’t prosecute such accusations aggressively.

OCR also required schools to adjudicate these cases using the standard of “preponderance of the evidence” for finding guilt — the most minimal evidentiary standard in use, in contrast with the standard of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Faced with these requirements, schools had every incentive to impose a presumption of guilt upon male students accused of sexual misconduct. Many schools came to regard accused male students as collateral damage in their efforts to prove to OCR their toughness in prosecuting such accusations.

In 2014, the White House further pressured campuses by creating a task force on the issue. Its first report noted that schools were testing new adjudicative protocols in order to hold “offenders accountable.” The report also accorded students making accusations of sexual assault the status of “survivors” and labeled the accused as “offenders.” This introduced a presumption of guilt fundamentally at odds with basic notions of due process.

Not surprisingly, the change led to litigation by male students whose reputations and futures were irreparably damaged by campus kangaroo courts that discarded basic features of a fair hearing in order to achieve convictions.

“Rape” and “sexual assault” began to be used interchangeably, often without concrete definitions.

Back to the nightmare — a real case I’m handling. At the accused student’s disciplinary hearing the university withheld critical evidence from him until the night before his hearing but let a campus police officer testify about the withheld evidence. In doing so, and in other crucial respects, it dispensed with the formal rules of evidence to support the accuser’s claim, while applying them to hamper the defense. Finally, it reached findings that contradicted the evidence and disregarded the testimony from the two eyewitnesses that no assault had occurred. The student was found guilty and suspended for two years. His case currently is in litigation.

OCR, under the Trump administration, recently rescinded the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter, saying it had placed “improper pressure upon universities to adopt procedures that do not afford fundamental fairness,” and that many schools had adopted procedures that “lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process,” which “led to the deprivation of rights for many students.”

The important goals of eliminating campus sexual assaults and protecting the due process rights of accused students are not mutually exclusive. Both the victims of such crimes and the accused benefit when due process is guaranteed. Hopefully, the new OCR rules will restore due process to hearings that have lacked the fundamental fairness to which students are entitled.


Arthur I. Willner is a civil trial attorney and a partner in the L.A.  office of Leader & Berkon LLP.

Harvey Weinstein attending the 'Can A Song Save Your Life?' premiere at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival on September 07, 2013 | usage worldwide (Newscom TagID: dpaphotosthree087710.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

Change? Not So Fast


There is great excitement among feminists in America that our culture finally is heeding the voices of women.

Over the last several weeks, hundreds of women — millions, if you count Twitter — have come forward with their tales of alleged sexual harassment, assault and rape, mostly against men who have wielded their power to extort sexual acts. Throughout the media, this was heralded as a watershed moment, and we have since been inundated with grandiose declarations that a “sea change” has occurred in the way we understand and acknowledge sexual predation in the workplace and elsewhere.

The only sea change I detected at this gathering was the fish of the day.

A handful of accused men even faced consequences, albeit not legal ones: Harvey Weinstein was fired from his own company, expelled from the motion picture academy and abandoned by his wife. Journalist Mark Halperin was dismissed by NBC News. Leon Wieseltier, weeks from launching a new publication, was dumped by his financial backer, Laurene Powell Jobs. All this after Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly already had been fired from Fox News, though not without multimillion-dollar compensation packages.

“Our consciousness has been raised,” declared journalist Rebecca Traister.

But I say: Not so fast.

Last week, I had dinner with two high-level film producers, both male, and two women who worked for one of them. The only thing we discussed for three hours was Harvey Weinstein and the sexual politics of the entertainment industry.

And let me tell you something: The only sea change I detected at this gathering was the fish of the day.

Both male producers agreed that Harvey Weinstein is an “ugly, pock-marked, smelly bully.” But a rapist? Not so much.

“Most of the women accusing Harvey made a deal with the devil,” one of them said. “If you go to a man’s room at 11 at night, you know what you’re in for. And believe me, I stayed down the hall from him at the Hotel du Cap in Cannes, so I saw the processional of actresses who knocked on his door at all hours.”

So, I guess sexual assault is permissible if it occurs after 11 p.m.?

Next, I was told “the vast majority” of women accusing Weinstein of sexual impropriety really were trading sex for career advancement.

If that’s true, I asked, shouldn’t more of his accusers be movie stars?

When I puzzled over the fact that so many women would claim abuse if they had made “deals” with Weinstein, I was told their confessionals were born of shame for having prostituted themselves early on.

I brought up the actress Annabella Sciorra, who told The New Yorker that Weinstein violently raped her in the early 1990s.

“I’ve known Annabella Sciorra for many years,” one of the producers said, going on to offer a preposterous claim intended to disparage her.

“If you don’t want sex,” the other admonished, “why would you open the door to a man in the middle of the night?”

Actually, “It wasn’t that late,” Sciorra told The New Yorker. “Like, it wasn’t the middle of the night, so I opened the door a crack to see who it was. And [Weinstein] pushed the door open.”

I also asked about Rose McGowan, who suggested Weinstein raped her in 1997. She, too, was callously dismissed.

And when the subject turned to other infamous Hollywood abusers, I was lectured on how “each year, 2,000 young actresses come to L.A. and they will do anything — anything — to be famous.”

I got the feeling these producers feel like victims themselves, since so many young women must use them for parts.

“It’s called ambition,” one of them said.

“Decades ago, I was desperate to sell a TV show and I slept with the female executive who could give it the green light. So I closed my eyes during the act and fantasized about someone else. We do what we must.”

Consensual sex is the sort of ordeal that afflicts men in power.

But when it comes to women, any objections I made about gender inequity, discrimination, intimidation, subjugation, threats, lawyers and hush money were batted away. Even the women at the table referred to one known Hollywood predator as “sweet.” When I suggested he, too, soon would be outed, one producer got so “sad” he skipped his appetizer.

“It’s a witch hunt,” one of them declared.

And he is scared. Because, just like Weinstein, these two are old guard “dinosaurs” whose era serving as gatekeepers to the entertainment industry, with its attendant sexual perks, will soon become extinct.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

FILE PHOTO - 71st Tony Awards Arrivals New York City, U.S., 11/06/2017 - Actor Kevin Spacey. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/File Photo

Netflix cancels ‘House of Cards’ amid Spacey sex allegations


The Netflix series “House of Cards” has been canceled amid sexual allegations against its star, actor Kevin Spacey. Spacey is the latest celebrity to face allegations of sexual misconduct, as actor Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of sexually assaulting him at the age of 14.

Rapp, who is well-known for his role in “Rent”, told Buzzfeed that he attended a party at Spacey’s apartment in 1986. Later in the evening, Spacey and Rapp were the only ones left in the apartment. Rapp claimed that Spacey, who seemed to be inebriated at the time, “picked me up like a groom picks up the bride over the threshold” and placed him on a bed.

Rapp said he was eventually able to escape from Spacey’s sexual advancement, but his “stomach churns” every time he sees Spacey.

Rapp decided to speak out after the allegations against Harvey Weinstein came to light in order “to shine another light on the decades of behavior that have been allowed to continue because many people, including myself, being silent.”

“I’m feeling really awake to the moment that we’re living in, and I’m hopeful that this can make a difference,” said Rapp.

Spacey addressed Rapp’s allegation on Twitter, stating he had no memory of the alleged sexual assault.

“If I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all those years,” Spacey wrote.

“I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior,” Spacey concluded.

Journalist Yashar Ali tweeted that more allegations against Spacey would be forthcoming.

Harvey Weinstein attending the 'Can A Song Save Your Life?' premiere at the 38th Toronto International Film Festival on September 07, 2013 | usage worldwide (Newscom TagID: dpaphotosthree087710.jpg) [Photo via Newscom]

What Should Our Community Do After Weinstein?


For a crime as pervasive as sexual assault, the general response to Harvey Weinstein’s alleged misdeeds was appropriately uniform: Nobody was surprised. Or at least, in hindsight, they realized they shouldn’t have been. Men abusing their power is perhaps the world’s oldest professional hazard, and it goes without saying that no culture is immune — certainly not our own.

If the Jewish community hopes to adhere to our golden rule of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, we must articulate a strategy to address the sexual assault and gender inequity in our midst. Among Jewish female leaders, there appears to be a resounding consensus on the form this remedy should take: In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, the burden falls on Jewish men to rectify the injustices of sexual assault.

“I think what this whole Weinstein thing uncovered is the need for male colleagues to speak up about these things, as well,” said Rabbi Laura Geller, rabbi emerita of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and the first woman ordained on the West Coast. “What the Jewish community could be doing, which it’s not doing, is really encouraging male colleagues to call out behaviors that they know are wrong.”

Rabbi Sarah Bassin, associate rabbi at Temple Emanuel, attended a rabbinic fellowship conference the week after the Weinstein allegations became public. There, she spoke to colleagues about preventing sexual harassment and assault. She said she focused on the way our desire to be part of the in-group recalibrates our moral compasses, and she implored men in particular to push past the fear of upsetting a friend and rebuke those who make off-color jokes about women.

Bassin, who delivered a sermon about her own sexual harassment in 2014, said she was gratified when a male colleague asked for her advice on how to write a responsible sermon about sexual assault that doesn’t exacerbate the problem.

“The greatest challenge [to addressing sexual harassment and assault] I’ve witnessed over the last week is a proclivity for men to turn toward a defensive posture, to say, ‘Well, I haven’t done it,’ ” Bassin said.

“The greatest challenge [to addressing sexual assault] I’ve witnessed over the last week is a proclivity for men to turn toward a defensive posture, to say, ‘Well, I haven’t done it.’” – Rabbi Sarah Basin

Rabbi Jonathan Sarna, professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, said the Jewish community has made immense progress in eliminating the gentlemen’s agreement-like silence surrounding sexual assault among our own. When he began his career as a rabbinical school professor in the early 1980s, he said, it was common to hear about certain rabbis who had a “zipper problem” and were simply moved to another congregation after a slap on the wrist.

In 2000, journalist Gary Rosenblatt wrote a cover story for The New York Jewish Week that revealed three decades of alleged teen sexual abuse by prominent New Jersey Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who later was sentenced to seven years in prison, and accused the Orthodox Union of turning a blind eye.

“At least for the Jewish press, that was a major turning point,” Sarna said. “Earlier, reporters wouldn’t touch a story like that.”

More recently, in October 2016, Danielle Berrin wrote a story in this paper detailing her sexual assault by a renowned Israeli journalist. Ari Shavit, who subsequently named himself as the perpetrator, was forced by media scrutiny to resign from his post at Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

“It’s nothing new that there are predatory men, but what’s changed is the response,” Sarna said. “Punishment has generally been swift and unforgiving.”

Geller agreed that there’s been a profound cultural shift in how we hold men accountable in the Jewish community, and attributes much of the change to institutionalized sexual harassment policies and formalized complaint processes. For example, in 1991, the Central Conference of American Rabbis established an ethics code addressing sexual harassment by its members.

Beyond sexual assault policies, however, is the imperative that employees and staff at Jewish institutions are thoroughly trained, both in the expectations of workplace conduct and their options for reporting violations.

Eli Veitzer, incoming president and CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, said his organization has a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and holds annual mandatory trainings for supervisors and staff, where they review complaint procedures and whistleblower policies.

“The challenge is to make sure the issue [of sexual harassment] remains in the forefront,” Veitzer said. “In order to address that, we don’t just train a new hire once and then forget about it. The way to do that is frequency of training.”

Maya Paley, director of advocacy and community engagement at the National Council for Jewish Women L.A. (NCJW/LA), said sexual harassment education is important in the workplace but also needs to start at a much earlier age.

Paley directs NCJW/LA’s program “The Talk Project,” which enables teenagers to conduct workshops at local schools about sexual assault and rape culture. Through her work, Paley said she’s heard many stories about sexual assault among teenagers at Jewish high schools and summer camps.

Paley said she thinks the Jewish community too often is shocked when a sexual predator happens to be a Jew, as is the case with Weinstein and Leon Wieseltier, the former editor of The New Republic, who apologized Oct. 24 after several women accused him of sexual harassment.

Leon Wieseltier.

 

“The worst thing that the Jewish community could do after a story like Harvey Weinstein’s is to say that this is an isolated case and it doesn’t reflect our community,” Paley said. “[Our community] needs to take a hard look in the mirror.”

Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America and creator of the anti-domestic violence website JSafe, said one challenge the Jewish community faces in addressing sexual violence is its minority status, which engenders a fear of tarnishing its reputation in the public eye. Further, the tight-knit nature of the Jewish community creates a reluctance to ruin the names or risk losing the financial support of prominent families.

Moreover, it’s important to note that the vast majority of institutional stakeholders with the power to hold predators accountable ultimately are men.

“We’re still living in a male-dominated Jewish community,” said Jay Sanderson, president and CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “We can talk around it and make excuses for it, but that is what it is. The way that Judaism is constructed and the way institutions have been led are built around that.”

Sanderson said Federation prioritizes empowering women and creating a clear path for women, LGBTQ individuals and other marginalized groups to achieve leadership positions at Jewish organizations.

By and large, though, it is Jewish women who hold up the mantle of supporting fellow Jewish women who face sexual harassment.

“When it comes to sexual assault, there’s been so much burden on women forever,” Paley said. “Let’s take the burden off of women. We are tired. We are exhausted.”

An earlier version of this post incorrectly indicated Rabbi Sarah Bassin spoke about being  a victim of sexual assault.

Las Vegas - April 7. 2017

Rape, Recovery & Celine Dion


When I was in my 20’s I was the victim of a violent crime while living in Toronto. I spent a year in and out of the hospital, followed by a year in and out of court. My attacker was convicted of kidnapping, forcible confinement, aggravated assault, and rape. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, never received parole, and when he served his sentence, was found to be a continuing danger to society and deported to his country of birth.

I have never written in detail about what happened, and never will. It was violent and continues to haunt me. It changed who I was, and while the scars will physically and emotionally never go away, I was not broken and have managed to not only survive, but do things I thought would be impossible, including getting married and having a son. I invested in myself, and years of therapy, to build a life blessed beyond measure.

Important to note what I went through is not the subject here. I share it only to give context. I do not share the details because they don’t matter, not because I am ashamed. I fought hard to recover from my attack and my advice to anyone with a similar experience, is to get help. There are people who will support and believe you. Do not carry it on your own. Be brave and get the help and justice you deserve.

When I was taken to the hospital, going in and out of consciousness, I was aware of what had happened and was trying to get as much information to the police as possible. I remember being naked on a table, having a rape kit done, and crying. It is the moment I remember most vividly. The nurse was trying so hard to make the situation manageable. She put music on to bring calmness to the room. That choice changed my life.

I heard what can only be described as the voice of an angel. She was singing in French and even though I did not understand anything she was saying, it felt as if she were singing directly to me. As I floated above my own body, watching it being violated again, I listed to the singer and felt embraced. I didn’t know what she was saying, yet felt like she was there to help me. It was the exact moment Celine Dion became a part of my life.

When I was in the hospital she was all I listened to. I learned all the words, to all her songs, in French. I don’t speak French, but I can sing in French! I made up the translations of what she was saying. Sometimes the songs were loving and encouraging, other times they were about revenge and killing my attacker. It was quite fabulous. Without any hesitation, and with complete certainty, I can say Celine Dion saved my life.

Since that fateful day, she has been a constant companion. Every milestone since then has included Celine. I danced to Celine Dion with my father at my wedding, and I listened to her when my son was born. She sang the mother-son dance at my son’s Bar Mitzvah, and is the background music on his montage video. She sat up with me the day my son got his driver’s license and I waited for him to get home. She walks with me every day.

I listen to Celine Dion when I am happy, sad, worried, tired, energized, strong, and weak. I have literally not spent one single day in the past 28 years without her being a part of it. Sometimes for just a minute, and other times for hours, she is always with me and I listen every day. I love her in ways only I can really understand. She was the light on my darkest day and I will love her for the rest of my life. She matters to me.

When I was first married my husband took me to see her in concert. She was opening for Michael Bolton and it was the first time I was going to see her in person. I cried throughout her show and found it difficult to breathe. Being so close made me happy, but sad. I don’t remember much of the show, other than the fact I knew every word, to every song, and looked like a creepy super fan who was certain nobody loved her like me.

I never saw her in concert again. It made me nervous to be near her, and ultimately gave me flashbacks that were very difficult. I loved her privately and continued to share my life with her. I sent her gifts to mark the birth of her children, and sent a birth announcement for my son. I wrote her when she married her beloved Renee, and again when he passed away. I wrote her when my attacker went to prison, and again when he was released.

It never bothered me that it might be weird or stalker-ish. I was simply reaching out to the person who brought me back to life. When I was diagnosed with cancer I decided to go and see her in Las Vegas. I was certain if I saw her she’d help heal me again. Ridiculous to be sure, but I knew it would make me feel better. My cancer was a beast, and I never made it that year. I turned 50, and again planned to go to Vegas to celebrate.

The ultimate gift to myself after surviving cancer would be to see Celine, but cancer returned and I was sidelined. I felt everything would be okay if I could get to her. Months ago I told my son I was finally going to see her, on my 51st birthday, and he wanted to come with me. He knows how much she means to me, and why, and wanted to be there for what would be an important moment in my history, so we made plans.

I bought airplane tickets, booked a room at Caesar’s Palace, and counted down the days until my birthday. I had waited years for this moment, and to share it with my son, the most important person in my life and the reason my heart beats, was everything. The day finally came and I was so excited I could hardly stand it. I was working in London and flew back just for 3 days so I could make the trip to Vegas with my boy. I was tired, but thrilled.

When we walked to the theater and I saw the first glimpse of a picture of her, I started to cry. I cried walking in, I cried when I sat down, and I cried continuously for the next 5 hours. Long after the show was over, I was still crying. Celine was remarkable and I would go back and see it every day for the rest of my life. Celine has an incredible voice and my son and me sat in awe of how wonderful she looked and sounded. Amazing.

I sang along with Celine and at the end of the show the woman next to me said it was impressive I knew all the words as there were songs she wasn’t familiar with. I sat holding my son’s hand, taking in the powerful moment. I had waited so long to see her, and wasn’t disappointed. She was everything I knew she would be and felt proud when my son told me she was insanely talented and he was blown away by her. It was a magical night.

At one point in her show members of the audience were able to go up by the stage. She shook hands and engaged with the crowd, but my legs were frozen and I couldn’t do it. I somehow felt I could not be that close to her or I might faint, or perhaps vomit. It was hilarious. All these years later, being close to her was overwhelming on some levels, and beautiful on others. It left me feeling thankful and excited for many things.

I’m not sure why I shared this today. Perhaps it is just as simple as wanting to say thank you. Thank you to Celine Dion for everything she did for me. I have always had the ability to count blessings and pride myself on being a compassionate and empathetic human being. I feel proud of the life I have built for myself, and my son, and now look at life with a new perspective having seen Celine.  I am better for having loved this woman.

If my sharing today helps one person, that squashes the fear of writing it. I am listening to Celine’s Falling into You album and feeling brave and free. It feels good.  I will probably regret writing it at some point, and want to delete it, but I will try to remain brave because I hope this inspires someone else to be brave. Trauma can be debilitating, but only if we allow it to be. It is important to let others know that blessings will come.

Thank you Celine. You saved me and I am grateful. It was an honor to see you in person, am blessed my son was by my side, and thrilled he is now a fan not only because of what you did for me, but your amazing talent.  I wish for you and your children all that you wish for yourselves, and more.  I still think I probably love you more than anyone else, but am happy so many love you. With love, admiration, and thanks, I am keeping the faith.

Fallout from Journal sexual assault story ripples worldwide


For prominent Israeli journalist and author Ari Shavit, admitting that he was the subject of a

After scandal, a silver lining


On the morning after Yom Kippur, when one of my editors called and asked if I would consider writing a story about sexual assault, I could not have imagined the outcome and impact that would follow.

For a week, my story of assault at the hands of an Israeli journalist I did not name slowly percolated on the internet — a retweet here, a Facebook share there — and then suddenly, it exploded onto the front page of Israeli newspapers.

Due to mounting pressure in Israel, the person to whom I referred in my story outed himself, offering a not-quite-good-enough apology at first, which many — myself included — rejected. More headlines ensued.

By the time Shabbat was over, another woman had come forward, anonymously, with a story about the same person, compelling him to release a second, more contrite statement, admitting to his “blindness” and “privilege” as a powerful man. He announced his resignation from both the newspaper and news station he worked for.

A story that began in the Jewish media — not a courtroom — and gained steam in the Israeli media eventually leaped into international headlines: the Guardian, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald, Spain’s El Mundo and Italian Vanity Fair reported on the story. The conversation that began in my article was taking place in a serious and deep way around the world.

But there is another, untold story in all of this: It is a story that involves all the same characters and all the same events, but it’s about the Jews. It’s about the dignity and grace with which the Jewish world handled a very difficult subject.

This whole event could have gone down very differently. History has shown us that society tends to be unkind to women who accuse powerful men of sexual misconduct. From the lack of justice shown to Anita Hill to the cruel treatment America meted out to Monica Lewinsky, to the pathetic sentence given to Brock Turner, the Stanford student who sexually assaulted a young woman in 2015. “Blaming the victim” is not just a meme, it’s business-as-usual.

“Not uncommonly, when a woman says something that impugns a man, particularly one at the heart of the status quo, especially if it has to do with sex, the response will question not just the facts of her assertion but her capacity to speak and her right to do so,” Rebecca Solnit writes in her book “Men Explain Things to Me.”

“Generations of women have been told they are delusional, confused, manipulative, malicious, conspiratorial, congenitally dishonest, often all at once.”

But not here. Not this time.

“Is anyone writing the story: Ari Shavit/Donald Trump — Two Very Different Responses from the Same Unacceptable Behavior: Taking Responsibility?” an attorney from L.A. texted me.

Ari Shavit, the man who stepped forward to acknowledge he was my subject, could have easily taken a page from the Donald Trump playbook and called me a liar and disputed my report. He didn’t. While his first statement was not entirely honest, he admitted an encounter took place and apologized for a “misunderstanding.” After further reflection, he said he was “ashamed” and took full responsibility for his actions. This is admirable.

Readers could have challenged my account as well. They could have insulted me for speaking out or blamed me for what happened. They didn’t. The media also could have debased the conversation by peddling tired tropes about sexual assault; certainly, the Jewish and Israeli media had every reason to want to defend one of our most esteemed writers and thinkers about Israel, a country we all love.

But it didn’t. It reported the truth; it took the stories of two far less famous and powerful women seriously.

Throughout this experience, I was overwhelmed, not just by Ari Shavit’s admission, but by the outpouring of encouragement and support that I received from every corner of the Jewish world and beyond. My inbox, Facebook and Twitter feed have overflowed with hundreds of encouraging messages from readers, friends and members of our community. So many women — and a handful of men — have written to me to share their own stories.

“I was thinking of writing a story very much like yours. … Donald Trump’s behavior also catapulted me into the past. I remember having to fend off the advances of a young man when I was but 13 years old. What I recall most was his sense of entitlement!”

“I was repeatedly date raped as a 14-year- old.”

“There are so many women who carry these wounds. I was 17. He was a chaperone at a conference I was attending. So often it’s a young woman and a man in a position of authority.”

“Maybe one day I will also have the guts to tell my story; it happens to both sexes, and scars many people for life.”

“By standing up to these harassing ‘vilde chayas’ (wild beasts), you have stood up for all of us who have had to go through humiliating experiences like these for many, many years … ”

As Eetta Prince-Gibson wrote in her insightful piece for the Forward, “Finally, society is beginning to fight against rape culture and to impress upon men that there are real consequences for treating women like sex objects. The question of whether the perpetrator’s behavior was illegal has become less important as the discussion moves from the criminal arena to the public moral arena, where social values are made and where they can be changed.”

For me, the last two weeks have been intense, exhausting and challenging; but also, amazing and inspiring.

As one man wrote to me on Facebook, “I believe that this story and how it has been handled by both you and Shavit will have a powerful effect on how these incidents are seen in Israeli society by both men and women.”

I’d like to take that one step further.  The Jewish ability — indeed, responsibility — to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh, accounting of the soul, and teshuvah, repentance and return, is a model for the world.

Fighting sexual assault: An idea for Mark Zuckerberg


Dear Mark,

It’s been an ugly year. The recent release of a “hot mic” recording of presidential candidate Donald Trump, in which he bragged about forcing himself on women, was disgusting, although not shocking. It was in keeping with the coarseness we’ve come to expect from this election season. But it did signify a tipping point, a sense that we’ve reached a rock bottom of ugliness, with much of the country asking, “How much more of this can we take?”

In the Jewish tradition, we are called upon to repair the world as best we can. Regardless of how ugly or dark things get, it is our duty to confront squarely the ills of our world and try to make things better.

The national firestorm that has been lit on the issue of sexual abuse gives us a unique opportunity to address this societal plague. Every 109 seconds in the United States, someone gets sexually assaulted, according to the Department of Justice. The majority of victims are women 18 to 34 years old.

As horrible as these statistics sound, this is hardly a new phenomenon. It’s been with us since time immemorial. What’s different now is the mass awareness that comes from the digital universe. Any enterprising activist who wants to highlight a cause can now do so and reach millions of people virtually overnight.

Take the case of Canadian author Kelly Oxford. A week ago, in the wake of the Trump revelations, she tweeted, “Women: tweet me your first assaults.” Well, within a few days, nearly 27 million people had responded or visited her Twitter page.

Twenty-seven million! That’s almost the total population of Canada. Here were millions of women who were given a chance to finally come out of the shadows and share their dark, lingering trauma of sexual abuse. They were given a chance to share their stories with the world.

The glare of social media is the modern-day silver lining for society’s dark ills. It can take ugly causes we’d rather not deal with and force us to look at them. But this glare can come and go. What we’re seeing now with sexual abuse is only a spark. We must seize this moment of awareness before the spark dies.

Which is why I’m writing to you to share an idea. What this cause needs right now is to enter the mainstream in a big way. It needs to connect with 100 million people simultaneously and cement its core message permanently in the country’s consciousness.

The most efficient way to do that is with a memorable commercial during the Super Bowl.

Can you think of a better vehicle than the Super Bowl to convey the message that boasting about sexual assault is not locker room banter? Can you think of a better way to unify the country than with such an emotional and bipartisan cause? And can you think of a better time to do this than this coming February — as we all try to heal from a horrible and divisive 18 months?

If you agree that this is a good idea, I can offer to put together a “dream team” to produce the commercial. I have a background in advertising, so I’ve seen the power of good commercials to shake people up. One simple and strong concept I heard recently to fight sexual assault is, “Imagine if this was your daughter.” There are plenty of others. 

The point is, just like the famous commercials in history that still resonate to this day — such as Apple’s “1984” and “This is your brain on drugs” — this commercial must do the same.

After making a splash on the Super Bowl, the message can then spread on social media, beginning, I would imagine, with your billion Facebook friends. This would make it a movement. For a call to action, we could include the website for RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

So, why am I addressing this idea to you? It’s not just because you obviously have the financial means and media clout to make it happen, but because of something you and your wife wrote in a letter to your newborn daughter last December.

“Your mother and I don’t have the words to describe the hope you give us for the future,” you wrote. “Like all parents, we want you to grow up in a world better than ours today.”

One way to create this better world would be to dramatically reduce the incidence of sexual assaults against women. That’s the kind of future all daughters of the world deserve, including yours and mine.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

My sexual assault, and yours: Every woman’s story


I remember staring at his scotch glass.

The swirling, caramel-colored liquid caught the dim light of the hotel lobby, reflected it back to me. The light was a relief from the glare of his dark eyes, his black hair, the lecherous look on his face.

I’d agreed to meet him, an accomplished journalist from Israel, at his hotel around 10 p.m. He was in the United States only for 48 hours, and told me he was completely booked during the daytime. I believed him. Back then, the book he’d written was among several titles having an impact on the Jewish conversation, and many local community leaders wanted to meet with him. If I was going to be a part of this conversation, this was my opportunity.

But almost as soon as I arrived and placed my recorder on the table between us, he put our interview on hold.

“First,” he said, “I want to get to know you better.” He asked me a series of personal questions — about my Jewish background, my family, my personal life; he wanted to know if the man with whom I’d attended his book event the night before was my boyfriend. His questions made me uncomfortable, but they weren’t all that surprising, actually — I’ve learned that if you’re Jewish and younger than 35, your relationship status is typically the first thing another Jew will ask about. Besides, the man was married, with children, and a public figure. I figured I was safe. But after I answered one of his questions in a way that moved him, he lurched at me like a barnyard animal, grabbing the back of my head, pulling me toward him.

I turned my face to the left and bowed my head to avoid his mouth. “I don’t understand,” I told him. “Last night, in front of everybody, you spoke so lovingly about your wife.”

“We have an arrangement,” he responded.

“Don’t you have children?” I asked, trying to wedge conversation in front of contact.

He looked at me with a sly smile. “Yes,” he said, “and I’m not done yet. … ”

Even in the midst of such a profoundly awkward situation, I remember thinking that this was the first time any man had made a pass at me by suggesting we procreate.

“Let’s go up to my room,” he suggested. “Just for a minute.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said.

“We don’t have to have sex,” he countered. “I just want to give you a hug.”

The fact that the suggestion we’d have “sex” was even uttered during a professional meeting — by another journalist, no less — is insane. I remember how ridiculous his pickup line sounded, even as it filled me with dread. Even as he continued to pull and paw at me.

Confused, I found myself feeling paralyzed. Earlier that day, this man had been someone I deeply respected. I’d read his book voraciously and underlined passages; I’d even read every review, and recommended the book to friends. And this was supposed to have been a really important interview — one I was lucky to get. My editors were expecting something good. Could I just walk away? From someone so prominent?

Today, it would be an easy choice. But at the time, several years ago, I felt beholden to the man in power.

[MORE: Trump video should be a call to action]

Once he suggested his hotel room, though, my decision was clear: I had to get out of there. Still trying to respect his distinguished reputation, I was — unbelievably, in hindsight — concerned about making a polite exit. And there was still the matter of the interview, which he continued to dangle in front of me — if I really wanted it, I’d have to come back again the next night.

I remember putting my jacket back on, because I wanted a barrier between him and me. I felt naked, though I was fully, conservatively clothed — a white blouse and black pants. And even though I was in a hotel lobby surrounded by other people, I felt unsafe. I excused myself to use the restroom.

Once I was alone, I considered running. I knew that if I stayed, there would be more come-ons, more pawing, more propositions. (He was going to be spending a lot of time in the States, he’d told me, and wouldn’t it be fun if I met him in New York as his mistress?) If I left, I would forfeit the interview, and I worried about explaining to my editors why I couldn’t deliver.

But the restroom gave me respite to think. And the space from his physical domination emboldened me.

I walked back to the bar, jacket zipped to my neck, purse in hand and announced that I had to leave.

“Let me walk you to your car,” he said.

“No, that’s OK. Thank you,” I said, stopping at the hotel entrance.

He asked if he could hug me goodbye. And I let him, hoping that a farewell would signal him to go. I’ll spare you the details of that hug, but suffice it to say, he was undeterred.

“I’ll wait with you at the valet,” he said.

Only, I hadn’t used the valet. I’d parked on the street, around the corner, and it was dark out. He insisted on walking me to my car, despite my protestations. I have traveled the world alone without fear, yet this, not far from home, was one of a few moments in my life that I’ve felt both threatened and powerless. The irony was overwhelming: walking alone to my car at night seemed safer than walking with this escort. But what should I have done? All I could think was: “Get away from me, get away from me, get away from me.” I also thought: “Don’t insult him. Don’t embarrass him. He’s important.”

In the end, I guess, I consider myself “lucky.” Very, very “lucky.” Because although I was groped and grabbed and pulled — sexually assaulted — I was not raped or otherwise harmed. Many women do not emerge from such situations still whole. Nevertheless, none of this feels like a gift.

This also wasn’t the first time a man I went to interview has treated me like I was a loaf of warm bread. In fact, my first notable article described another instance of sexual assault on the job — when film director Brett Ratner molested me during my first big Hollywood interview.

In my nearly 10 years in Jewish journalism, I have felt physically vulnerable in professional situations a handful of times. I’ve been demeaned, objectified and infantilized more times than I can count — because I am a woman.

But my story is not unique. Every woman — probably every single woman in this world — knows the feeling I felt walking to my car at night with a man who couldn’t keep his hands to himself. Most women — and even some men — have stories of sexual harassment, abuse or exploitation over the course of their lifetime. Sometimes it happens in private, sometimes in the light of day. But almost always, these stories remain secret because the consequences of coming forward to expose them often far outweigh the benefits.

Thanks to Donald Trump, that appears to be changing.

The public exposure of the Republican presidential nominee’s lewd comments to Billy Bush of “Access Hollywood” awoke a sleeping giant in our culture and put sexual assault at the forefront of the national conversation.

“I think it’s crazy fantastic,” Oscar-nominated filmmaker and activist Amy Ziering told me in an interview.

Ziering and her partner, Kirby Dick, were nominated for an Academy Award for their 2012 documentary, “The Invisible War,” about sexual assault in the U.S. military. Because of the overwhelming response to that film, which screened at the highest levels of the U.S. government, they followed up with the 2015 doc “The Hunting Ground,” about the scourge of sexual violence on college campuses. Despite some criticism of the second film, Ziering and Dick’s work has been widely credited for bringing sexual assault into the national spotlight. But even Ziering is stunned that this topic would become so central in a presidential campaign.

“Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that the essential talking point on the national platform for both parties would be sexual assault,” she told me. “And that the two [campaigns would be] duking it out over which team harbors the worse predator. That’s ironically an odd gift that Donald has given the conversation. ‘Make America talk rape again’ should be his slogan.”

Though Trump has dismissed his comments as “locker room talk,” Ziering said such “talk” is still harmful.

“Studies show that actually words lead to incidents of violence,” she said. “When you have cultures that turn a blind eye to derogatory discourse about any kind of ‘other,’ you definitely see a remarkable uptick in violent crimes against the people being disparaged.

“Why are we so offended about using certain terms to describe Black people? Because they correlated to violent acts. We shouldn’t look at these words as so innocent.”

The daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Ziering noted that Hitler’s rhetoric — in his writings and speeches — paved the way for policies of extermination.

“We saw this all through Nazi Germany,” Ziering said. “Hitler was very clever in rhetorically renaming Jewish people. It was a campaign over several years, but when you did that, and equated Jews with rats and vermin over and over again, then starting to do things against them was normalized.”

Seth Meyers, the host of “Late Night” on NBC, has astutely connected Trump’s comments with the behavior his alleged victims describe.

“There’s very good reason to believe [Trump] did what he’s accused of,” Meyers said during the Oct. 13 episode of his signature segment, “A Closer Look.” “Why? Because an irrefutable, inside source told us so: Donald Trump.”

Meyers played the now-legendary recording of Trump saying, “You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women. I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”

“Donald Trump is his own Deep Throat,” Meyers joked, recalling the secret source behind the Nixon Watergate scandal. Except, Meyers said, “He’s Creep Throat.”

Trump’s vile comments came during a campaign full of insults and invective aimed at pretty much everyone: Muslims, Mexicans, Latinos, women, Jews and African-Americans. Trump’s so-called “locker room talk” could very well destroy his bid for the presidency. But what Trump has unleashed is much bigger than one leaked tape. If we’re honest with ourselves, this moment may be a cultural watershed: Trump stands for millions of people — male and female — who think it’s normal to treat women like “a piece of a–,” which is what Trump told radio host Howard Stern was OK to call Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. What’s worse: He meant it as a compliment.

More than a dozen women have now come forward accusing Trump of “inappropriate touching.” But he is hardly alone in perpetrating these everyday, casual attacks on women. With his behavior in the public spotlight, many more women have cause to talk about our experiences with other equally presumptuous, aggressive and invasive men. It is finally possible for us to fully recognize, as a nation, just how much sexual assault is a normalized behavior in our culture.

Violence against women is an endemic social problem worldwide, especially in developing nations, but it also is present in post-feminist Western culture, which is far from truly “liberated.” Women may have won far more civil rights in the Western world than in most developing countries, and especially the Middle East, but insidious and deeply ingrained ideas about women and their bodies persist even in enlightened 21st-century democracies. So much so that some have gone so far as to declare ours a “rape culture.”

Rape culture “is a society where women are objectified and belong to men, and their bodies belong to men,” Canadian author Kelly Oxford told CBS news. “And it’s ingrained in all of us.”

Oxford made headlines when, after hearing Trump’s comments, she invited women to share their stories of sexual assault on her Twitter feed, launching the conversation with her own experiences. Within days, she was receiving up to 50 responses per minute, many of them explicit, under the hashtag #notokay. An early estimate by The New York Times said some 27 million people had participated or visited her page.

Such aggressive attacks also occur in the Jewish community. But we tend not to hear about them because it’s risky for women to come forward — and not just because they may lose jobs, social standing or even the opportunity to convert.

“I was waiting on a big gift of a million dollars or more from a top adviser to a major Jewish philanthropist,” a Los Angeles communal professional who once ran a nonprofit told me. She asked for anonymity for professional reasons. “I couldn’t nail the guy down to send the money, so finally I had to have an in-person meeting with him.”

This seasoned leader traveled from Los Angeles to New York to have dinner with the adviser, and she invited along another female colleague. While they waited at the restaurant, “we got a call that he’s not coming; he didn’t feel well, and could we please meet with him at his apartment?”

They obliged, and after some time, the adviser asked the woman to stay a while longer, to go over some business. “Then he asked me if I would sleep over, because he wasn’t feeling well. And I said, ‘No.’ Then he said, if I didn’t sleep over, he would not give me the million dollars — he threatened the gift.”

This woman also found refuge in a bathroom. “I sat on the toilet seat, thinking, ‘Can this possibly be happening to me?’ I couldn’t believe it. I was so stunned. My face was white. I was shaking. I was spinning. In the 21st century, how is this happening to me? I thought these things only happened in the movies.”

As I write this story, it is infuriating to me that I still feel I can’t “name” the man who did this to her. Nor the one who helped himself to my body. It is infuriating — and deeply unfair — that women cannot tell their full stories publicly without fear of reprisal. We not only know the abuse, we also know the subsequent blame that would be sure to follow outing the perpetrators.

When I was asked to write this story, I called a trusted friend. “Don’t out the perpetrator,” was the first thing my friend advised me. “It will probably damage him, but it will definitely damage you.”

Some people will read this story and find fault in me: I shouldn’t have gone to meet him at night; I was naïve; I must have dressed provocatively; I must have flirted. And indeed, when I shared this story with friends and colleagues after it happened, only the women understood the experience right away. Several good, educated men required deeper explanation before they really got it.

My story is not unique. It is every woman’s story. It shouldn’t matter that I take pride in my appearance, that I sometimes wear makeup and high heels. I know how often women are blamed and shamed for how they dress, even by other women — her skirt is too short, her blouse too sheer, her body too visible.

But I’ve got news: When it comes to sexual assault or general misogyny, it doesn’t matter what a woman looks like or what she wears. Trump’s excuse that the women accusing him are not attractive enough is, frankly, bullshit.

Every woman is a potential victim in a culture that tolerates “locker room talk.”

“This is not something we can ignore,” first lady Michelle Obama told a New Hampshire crowd in a speech that has since gone viral. “This was a powerful individual speaking freely and openly about sexually predatory behavior, and actually bragging about groping and kissing women[.] I listened to all of this, and I feel it so personally … the shameful comments about our bodies, the disrespect of our ambitions and intellect, the belief that you can do anything you want to a woman …

“It’s like that sick, sinking feeling you get walking down the street, minding your own business, and some guy yells out vulgar words about your body; or when you see that guy at work who stands just a little too close, stares a little too long and makes you feel uncomfortable in your own skin. It’s that feeling of terror and violation that too many women have felt when someone has grabbed them or forced himself on them and they’ve said no, but he didn’t listen.”

If a candidate for president of the United States feels no compunction whatsoever about speaking and behaving this way … if the top executive of a major American news channel can get away with this kind of behavior for more than 20 years … if a young man convicted of rape gets only a slap on the wrist from our justice system — we’re not as sophisticated a society as we think we are.

Now that we’re finally having a conversation about this, many are going to wonder what we can do about it.

When someone alleges to have been sexually assaulted, we can give that person the benefit of the doubt and take their allegation seriously. According to a 2014 report by the FBI, a rape occurs every 4 1/2 minutes in this country. That should put to rest the idea that false allegations are rampant.

We also can enact harsher sentencing for crimes of sexual violence.

And we can stop protecting and excusing the perpetrators of these sins over and over again.

Just because someone is accomplished and acclaimed — whether quarterback or journalist or president — doesn’t mean they can’t also be predatory and cruel.

Donald Trump’s lewd comments about women have done this country a great favor: Finally, women’s stories of sexual assault and harassment have claimed the national conversation. Female exploitation and abuse at the hands of those in power is a condition that too many of us have had to live with for too long. My hope is that the more we share our stories, the more it will prompt a collective soul-searching for the kind of society we want to live in. As First Lady Michelle Obama reminded us last week, “The measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls.” Here’s my story of on-the-job assault at the hands of another journalist. I invite you to share yours. #reclaimpower

Trump video should be a call to action


Something is unfolding that has the possibility of changing things forever. This is a tipping point. It’s the moment when we get real about growing up female in our country and the stories we have hidden. 

It’s not just the pure shock of the “Access Hollywood” recording from 2005, in which Donald Trump, now the Republican presidential nominee, spoke about grabbing women’s private parts or kissing women without consent, just because he could get away with it. 

It’s about what came after.

[My sexual assault, and yours: Every woman’s story]

As if we couldn’t hold it in any longer, an entire nation of women let out a collective gasp that continues to reverberate throughout our conversations, privately and publicly.

We felt his comments. Many of us had visceral reactions that recalled past personal traumas of our own sexual assaults, and being targets of degradation by words and actions.

And so after our “gasp,” we did what we usually do as women: We began to talk to one another and to seek comfort in sharing.

It was during one viewing of the “Access Hollywood” video that I turned to my husband of 36 years and began to recount experiences I’ve had in my life when I was sexually harassed, shamed and taken advantage of. These stories reached all the way back to elementary school.

My husband and I talk about everything. How is it that I had not shared this part of my life with him?

The only answer I can come up with is that these experiences are part and parcel of being female in this culture. It’s the water in which we swim. 

But something remarkable is happening.

Women across this country have been awakened. We are starting to tell the truth about what it’s like growing up female. It’s happening on social media, where comments run into the hundreds on posts in which women are sharing their personal nightmares — about the job they loved but left because of sexual harassment, or when they were raped on a date in college or even in their marriage.

In the Jewish community, the floodgates have opened.

Some of the stories would horrify you: Too many of my rabbinic colleagues experienced sexual harassment at their student pulpits or in one of their congregations, or from male students in seminary or a few by professors.

Friends, look around the room. Among us are women who have been violated in the most horrible ways, and nearly all of us have been belittled, body-shamed or demeaned simply because we were born female. 

This is shameful. 

It’s a woman’s issue. 

It’s a man’s issue.

It’s a religious issue.

It’s a Jewish issue.

This is an issue about human dignity.

In the first chapter of Torah, we are taught that all human beings are made in the Divine image (b’tzelem Elohim). This idea, that every human being deserves basic respect, has guided us to stand up for the fallen and for those who sleep in the dust.

What is the way forward? What other Jewish principles can guide our path?

First and foremost: Shema, listen. Our foundational statement (Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad) is about listening and recognizing our oneness and interconnectedness. (Listen Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.) 

Our stories must be heard. We are not yet nearly done with the truth-telling that will launch our healing.

Bear witness. Listen with your heart. Be a safe place where stories can be shared. And be prepared to keep listening as more is revealed.

Secondly, let’s begin a conversation in the Jewish community about dignity as it relates to women and girls. Let’s talk about how to make sure our synagogues and Jewish communal spaces are based on respect for all and where harassment and minimizing will not be tolerated. Let’s look at our camps, our boardrooms and our committees.

My teacher Rabbi Richard Levy taught about dignity in this way: The high priest wore a headpiece during ancient times. Engraved on his forehead were the words “Holy to Adonai/God” (Exodus 28:36).

Levy suggested that we imagine every single person we encounter has the words “Holy to God” etched on their foreheads. In this way, we see the sacredness of each human being right in front of us. After all, we are told, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

Here’s another “truth” about Jewish women (and men, too). After we open up and talk, we see that we are not alone. 

Then, we act.

And that is why I deeply believe that 2016 is a watershed moment in our country and in our community. We are a people who believe that out of darkness comes light, and out of chaos comes order.

Let this be the year that out of silence and shame come openness and sharing. And action.

Nothing less than seeing one another as “holy to Adonai” will suffice.


Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman is the founder of The Jewish Mindfulness Network (ravjill.com). She can be reached at RabbiJillZ@gmail.com.

Lessons from a summer of sexual assault


I remember driving home from a high school party one night during junior year while my best friend vomited in the back seat. In so many ways, it was a quintessential portrait of youth: one lanky 17-year-old sprawled over the back seat, throwing up alcohol into a bucket, while another tried not to get pulled over by the police for driving after curfew. 

When we got back to my house, my mother was waiting up to help me with Caroline (not her real name), who was so sick we considered taking her to the hospital to have her stomach pumped. She was totally out of it: eyes closed, mumbling incoherently, unable to walk on her own or dial a phone number. My mother, being the tireless caretaker that she was, insisted I get a good night’s sleep while she stayed up until 4 a.m. holding Caroline’s head over my bathtub.  

By late morning, Caroline was awake and had climbed into bed with me. She had a very distressed look on her face. “I need to talk to you,” she said. “I don’t remember what happened to me last night. Did I hook up with someone?”

The only clue Caroline had that some sort of sexual activity occurred was the fact that when she woke, her underwear was on inside-out. She remembered making out with someone early in the night, but not much else. When she called that person, he said, “Yes, we had sex.” But she knew it was rape. 

Before a single word of this was repeated to anyone, the guy enlisted a squadron of friends to intimidate her into silence. Besides, his friends said, he was a really bright student and “a good guy.” He “never meant any harm.” 

The drama of the episode died down pretty quickly and was never reported. But I imagine the trauma of having been violated while passed out never entirely faded for Caroline, whom I lost touch with after college. 

I thought about this episode countless times in recent months, because the summer of 2016 will be remembered, at least in part, as a time when the national conversation focused on sexual assault and may have even shifted in the direction of redemption for some of its victims.

For far too long, perpetrators of sexual assault have gotten all the attention, all the benefit of the doubt, and all the best lawyers, so to honor this summer’s awakening, I want to instead focus on four examples of women who have reclaimed their voices and helped redirect America’s culture of impunity toward a culture of accountability.

1. On June 3, a female reporter for BuzzFeed posted the wrenching letter to the court written by the 23-year-old woman sexually brutalized by Stanford University freshman Brock Turner. When her message went viral, a woman who had found herself beaten down and betrayed by the system was empowered to realize her strength as an engine of moral conscience. 

“Nobody wins,” she read aloud in the courtroom the day the judge sentenced her attacker to a measly six months in prison (in the end, he was released after serving only three). “We have all been devastated; we have all been trying to find some meaning in all of this suffering.” 

“Your damage was concrete,” she said to her attacker, “stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen. … You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”

Her voice, full of outrage and humanity, articulated a story so vivid it read like poetry, and so truthful it held all perpetrators of sexual assault and their enablers to account where the U.S. justice system had failed.

2. A month later, on July 6, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson announced she had filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against then-Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes. This triggered a volcanic eruption at Rupert Murdoch’s media company, with scores of women coming forward to tell their stories of having been harassed, exploited, manipulated and belittled by Ailes, who had presided over the network with an iron first and silver spoon for two decades.

Laurie Luhn, Marsha Callahan, Kellie Boyle and Shelley Ross are just a handful of the women who took their stories to the press and refused to be cowed into silence any longer. After being pressured by Murdoch and sons, Ailes resigned in disgrace (but with a reported $40 million in severance) on July 21.

3. In August, as Hollywood multi-hyphenate Nate Parker stood to gain increased status and acclaim ahead of the October release of his film “The Birth of a Nation,” about the Nat Turner-led slave rebellion that took place in Virginia in 1831, the writer and activist Roxane Gay took to the pages of The New York Times with an op-ed on “The Limits of Empathy” — especially when it comes to Hollywood stars (think: Woody Allen and Bill Cosby).

In 1999, Parker and his roommate at Penn State University, Jean McGianni Celestin (who would become a writing partner on “The Birth of a Nation”), were accused of raping a young woman. The details are ugly and too complicated to list here, but it’s worth noting that the victim attempted suicide twice before finally ending her suffering in 2012. She left behind a son.

“I have my own history with sexual violence, so I cannot consider such stories with impartiality, though I do try,” Gay wrote in the Times. “It is my gut instinct to believe the victim because there is nothing at all to be gained by going public with a rape accusation except the humiliations of the justice system and public scorn.

“I want to have empathy for [Nate Parker], but everything he says and does troubles me,” she continued. “We’ve long had to face that bad men can create good art. Some people have no problem separating the creation from the creator. I am not one of those people, nor do I want to be. … I can no longer watch ‘The Cosby Show,’ for example, without thinking of the numerous sexual assault accusations against Bill Cosby. Suddenly, his jokes are far less funny.”

4. This new openness hit closest to home, however, when a friend and leader in our community came out as a sexual assault survivor at a public gathering in May. The event was organized by California State Sen. Ben Allen, who chose to honor Oscar-winning filmmaker Amy Ziering with a “Woman of the Year” award for her change-making documentary films “The Invisible War” and “The Hunting Ground,” both of which focus on the scourge of sexual assault — in the military and on college campuses. Ziering had invited her friend, Samara Hutman, executive director of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust at Pan Pacific Park, to introduce her, and for the first time, Hutman told her story publicly of having been molested by a neighbor as an 8-year-old girl. 

“For somebody who has had an experience of sexual assault, violence, abuse, I have a very thin sensitivity to people being wronged and it not being talked about,” Hutman told me when I called her afterward to talk.

She decided to speak out because she was inspired by the courage of all the women in Ziering’s films who shared their stories at great personal risk. 

“Her movies are literally doing the thing that we talk about with students in our [Righteous Conversations] workshops, which are about using media and film to shine a light on things that are hidden and broken,” Hutman said. “We teach them that if you can use your camera and your voice to shine a light, you can change the culture. And Amy was a pinnacle example of somebody who had done exactly that — she kind of shattered the silence.”

There is almost never an upside to a woman telling her story — whether to the world or to the police. As Gay points out in her op-ed, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, “out of every 1,000 rapes, 344 will be reported to the police, 63 of those reports will lead to an arrest, 13 cases will be referred to a prosecutor, seven of those cases will lead to a felony conviction and six of those perpetrators will serve prison time.”

It is nothing less than an act of spiritual resistance and moral courage for a woman to come forward with her truth about sexual assault. And so I celebrate all the brave women of the summer of 2016 and beyond, who speak out in the face of great peril; I also celebrate the women who have been unfairly bullied into silence, including my high school best friend who suffered greatly and never saw justice.

“You’re never going to have a world in which there is not brutality,” Hutman said. “We’ve never seen a time in history where it is a utopian, cruel-free world. So if you take that as a given, that there’s going to be trouble between people, it seems like the best thing we can do is be vigilant against the possibility.”

And let us say, Amen.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Woman arrested for sexual abuse of teenagers at a bar mitzvah


A 32-year-old woman was arrested for alleged sex crimes at a bar mitzvah in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Lindsey Ann Radomski reportedly exposed her breasts to several guests at a bar mitzvah party before engaging in oral sex with a 15-year-old boy, Azcentral.com reported.

Radomski, who was charged with sexual abuse and sexual conduct with a minor, told authorities that she was intoxicated and did not remember the encounter with the boy.

Police said that after the 80 to 100 guests had left the party at a private home, Radomski invited several boys into a private room and let them fondle her breasts. After the other boys left the room, she performed oral sex on a 15-year-old boy.

She had previously exposed herself to adults and children at a backyard pool.

Radomski is a yoga instructor and had recently undergone breast augmentation surgery.

Voyeurism is a form of sexual assault


With all the conversations surrounding the allegations against my congregation’s former rabbi, Barry Freundel, no one is saying what desperately needs to be said — that voyeurism is sexual assault and that eliminating sexual assault in our communities should be the direction of our next steps.

In emails, blogs and articles, the reaction to allegations that Freundel installed hidden cameras in order to view women in the mikvah has focused repeatedly on the specific location of the crime, the importance of making mikvahs safer and the abuse of rabbinic authority. But deciding to change who controls the mikvah is a narrow perspective on the wider issue of violence against women, and addressing this as an isolated incident would be a mistake. Although considering policies to make our religious spaces safer is certainly worthwhile, it is important that we recognize voyeurism as a form of sexual assault, with its own place on the spectrum of violence against women.

Sexual assault is often thought to be synonymous with rape. But according to the National Institute of Justice, sexual assault encompasses a range of unwanted sexual behaviors, including voyeurism. Whether the perpetrator is peeping through a window, hiding video cameras in locker rooms, posting illegally obtained intimate photographs or forwarding explicit private photographs intended for one viewer only, he is committing sexual assault.

The true nature of the crime is masked by the use of the word “voyeurism,” which makes it seem as if there were no victim. This is an issue of substance and not merely semantics.

Think about it. When a robbery occurs, there is a victim — someone is robbed. When a murder occurs, someone is killed. But voyeurism? Someone is “voyeured”? It’s as if there is no victim, only a perpetrator. The victim is the object — the thing that is watched. But women are not objects. This is not a victimless crime. And that’s the point.

Women know, whether consciously or not, that voyeurism is part of the continuum of violence against women, a continuum with catcalling on the less severe end and violent rape on the most severe end. Hypersexualization and objectification of women devalues women. When we see women as objects — when we dehumanize women — we enable violence.

With this understanding, our response to a high school student who forwards explicit pictures of his girlfriend to his teammates should not be “boys will be boys.” Nor should we dismiss concerns about websites that publish private, naked photos of celebrities as “the cost of fame.” Actress Jennifer Lawrence named it correctly when hackers stole and posted her images online. This wasn’t about theft or pirating; this was a “sex crime.”

Only when we place voyeurism in the mikvah in this larger context — not as a one off, but as one more example of what is becoming normalized behavior in our society — can we ask and begin to find answers to how to end gender-based violence.

To accomplish this, I suggest that we start by asking three questions in each of our communities:

* Does the environment allow all community members, even and especially the most vulnerable, to feel respected and valued?

* Is there a way for any individual who feels devalued to communicate that safely to the leadership, and is the communication taken seriously?

* Are checks and balances in place to assure that authority figures (both clergy and lay leaders) are held accountable for their words, their time and their actions?

Let’s use this opportunity to minimize the possibility of sexual assault, and then let’s turn to questions about rabbinic authority and women.

(Deborah Rosenbloom is a member of Kesher Israel and vice president of programs and new initiatives for Jewish Women International, a Jewish organization working to end violence against women and girls.)

 

Orthodox educator Rabbi Elimelech Meisels sued for sexual assault


Rabbi Elimelech Meisels, who runs four religious seminaries in Israel for young Orthodox women, is being sued for sexual assault and fraud.

The civil suit was filed Monday with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of four parents with daughters signed up for Meisels’ haredi Orthodox seminaries for the 2014-2015 school year. The parents are seeking to recover their tuition deposits.

The suit alleges that Meisels would lure girls under his charge “into late night coffee meetings and other private settings and then sexually assault them.” It says he threatened to ruin girls’ marriage prospects if they told and would “intimidate his victims by telling them that no one would believe that a rabbi and author with his reputation would have done such a thing.”

Meisels denies the allegations.

“The allegations are completely false,” Meisels told JTA in a phone interview from Israel. “My attorney has advised me to pursue legal action against all those who are wronging myself and the seminaries.”

The seminaries named in the suit are Peninim, Binas Bais Yaakov, Chedvas Bais Yaakov and Keser Chaya.

The complaint said that seminary attendance has had negative impacts on the marriage prospects of the Orthodox women who have gone there. The parents involved in the lawsuit allege that Meisels is committing fraud by misrepresenting the seminaries as institutions that help Orthodox girls become upstanding Jewish women. Aside from Meisels, other administrators at the seminaries are named in the suit.

The matter was initially brought to the attention of the Chicago Beit Din, a Jewish religious court, which concluded that “students in these seminaries are at risk of harm and it does not recommend that prospective students attend these seminaries at this time,” according to the lawsuit. Following the Beit Din determination, two institutions that offered college credits to students attending Meisels’ seminaries suspended their affiliation with them.

Though Meisels claimed to have sold his seminaries following the Beit Din ruling, the Beit Din did not accept the sales as legitimate, according to the complaint.

Though the schools are based in Israel, Meisels and the other defendants named in the suit are U.S. citizens, and the non-profit organization that processes funds for the seminaries — Peninim of America — is a nonprofit charity in the United States, according to the complaint.

Hooters to Bob Filner: Respect women


Hooters restaurants all around San Diego have banned disgraced mayor Bob Filner from their premises.

Apparently Filner’s alleged tendency to invite his female subordinates to work without their panties was too much for the restaurant chain that invites (requires?) its waitresses to flaunt other assets. But evidently, the chain wants to judge women not by the length of their booty shorts, but by the content of their character.

A sign posted in four different Hooters locations around the city announces that Filner will not be served in those establishments. “We believe women should be treated with respect,” the sign reads.

Hooters is hardly a natural bearer of the feminist mantle. Their uniforms consist of a tight tank top and a pair of electric orange booty shorts, and their logo is an owl with a lewd stare. But San Diego Hooters locations consider the move a stand for the “beautiful, talented” women in their franchise, according to Melissa Fry, director of marketing for HootWinc, the West Coast Hooters franchise.

Amazingly, the sign was created by Glenn Beck and publicized on his Monday night show. Fry noted that posting the signs is “not a political move.”

Filner, 70, is fighting to keep his job amid allegations by 14 women that he sexually harassed them. Shrugging off calls that he step down, Filner checked himself in for two weeks of “intensive therapy,” which he completed last week and returned to office.

Rabbi Motti Elon found guilty of sexual misconduct


Rabbi Mordechai “Motti” Elon, an Israeli Modern Orthodox leader, was convicted on two charges of sexually assaulting a minor.

Elon, the former rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem, was found guilty Wednesday in Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court of indecent acts against a minor for incidents that took place in 2003 and 2005. The students had come to Elon for advice.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in October, though he is likely to appeal the verdict.

Elon was acquitted on to other sexual assault and sexual harassment charges. One of the complainants refused to testify against him in court.

Accusations of sexual misconduct against Elon were first investigated by a Modern Orthodox forum, Takana, which deals with complaints of sexual harassment in the religious school system. The forum in 2006 ordered that Elon no longer have contact with students. Shortly after, Elon left his teaching positions and moved from Jerusalem to Migdal, a moshav in the North, citing health reasons.

The public investigation against Elon began in February 2010 after Takana went to police with the sexual harassment complaints, saying Elon had violated the restrictions on contact with students that had been imposed on him.

Elon denied the charges and rejected a plea bargain under which he would have pleaded guilty but not served jail time.

Elon is the founder of the MiBereshit educational program, which is distributed throughout the world in Hebrew and English. He is the son of former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Menachem Elon and the brother of former Knesset member Benny Elon.

Six more ex-students at Y.U. high school allege sexual abuse


Another six former students at the Yeshiva University High School for Boys have come forward alleging that they were sexually assaulted there.

The six join 19 former students who have filed a lawsuit against Yeshiva University charging that the allegations of abuse at the New York City high school were covered up for decades, the Jewish Daily Forward reported.

Some of the six are alleging that Rabbi George Finkelstein, a former principal of the school, abused them between 1969 and the 1980s. One is a woman alleging that Finkelstein abused her while the principal of the Samuel Scheck Hillel Community Day School in North Miami Beach, Fla.

Sixteen of the former students who filed the lawsuit said Finkelstein abused them. Former Talmud teacher Macy Gordon also has been accused of sexual abuse.

According to the Forward, an attorney representing the six most recent accusers said they are prepared to file a lawsuit if a settlement is not reached.

Yeshiva teacher admits to sexually abusing boy


A former counselor at a summer camp run by a yeshiva in Lakewood, N.J., admitted three days into his trial to sexually abusing a boy.

Yosef Kolko, 39, made the admission on Monday after two more victims, a male and a female, came forward, the Asbury Park Press reported.

Kolko pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual assault, attempted aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and child endangerment. His bail was revoked.

He admitted to committing the sexual assaults on the boy while he was a counselor at a camp run by the Yeshiva Bais Hatorah School.

Kolko was accused of sexually abusing the boy when he was 11 and 12 in 2008 and 2009. The boy and his family have since moved to Michigan.

Kolko’s attorney, Michael Bachner, said his client was “extremely remorseful,” apologizes to the victim and hopes after treatment “to return to society as a benefit to it,” The Associated Press reported.

Kolko, also a teacher at Yeshiva Orchos Chaim in Lakewood, could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison, but state Superior Court Judge Francis Hodgson has said he would consider no more than 15 years, according to the Asbury Park Press.

Before sentencing, Kolko will be evaluated at the state Corrections Department’s Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in the Avenel section of Woodbridge to determine if he is a repetitive and compulsive sexual offender, according to the newspaper.

Brooklyn man charged in attack on rabbi who advocates for sex abuse victims


A Brooklyn fishmonger was arrested for throwing a cup of bleach in the face of a Chasidic rabbi who advocates for victims of sexual abuse in the haredi Orthodox community.

Meilech Schnitzler, 36, of Williamsburg, turned himself in to police on Wednesday afternoon, the New York Times reported. He was charged with felony assault, misdemeanor assault, menacing, criminal mischief and criminal possession of a weapon.

Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg on Tuesday was walking down the street in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he lives, when a man approached him from behind, tapped him on his shoulder and then threw a chemical believed to be bleach in his face, according to reports.

Rosenberg, 62, was treated for burns on his face, around his eyes and in his left eye. He is expected to make a full recovery.

The rabbi runs a website and blog for sex-abuse victims, as well as a telephone hot line.

Rosenberg reportedly had recognized his assailant, who comes from the Satmar Hasidic community, as does Rosenberg. He had accused Schnitzler's father on his blog of being a sexual predator, according to the New York Times. The man has not been arrested or charged with a crime. 

French rabbi questioned in rape of minor females


A founder of the French Liberal Jewish movement was questioned on suspicion that he raped several female minors.

French media reported Tuesday that Rabbi Daniel Farhi, 70, was questioned the same day at a police station in Paris. He has denied the accusations.

The Liberal movement is associated with Reform Judaism.

Farhi is known for his outreach to the French Muslim community.

Israeli rabbi charged with sexual assault


Modern Orthodox leader Rabbi Mordechai “Motti” Elon was indicted for the sexual assault of a minor.

The Jerusalem prosecutors’ office filed the indictment Wednesday with the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.

The alleged assault took place in 2005 against a student who had come to Elon for advice, according to the indictment. Another offense reportedly took place in 2003.

Elon has denied the charges, saying that his actions were misunderstood. He reportedly turned down a plea bargain offered by prosecutors.

Accusations of sexual misconduct against Elon were first investigated by a Modern Orthodox forum that deals with complaints of sexual harassment in the religious school system. The forum in 2006 ordered that Elon no longer have contact with students. Shortly after, Elon left his teaching positions and moved from Jerusalem to the northern moshav Migdal, citing health reasons.

The rabbi is the brother of former Knesset member Benny Elon and the son of former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Menachem Elon. The former rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat HaKotel in Jerusalem, Elon is the founder of the MiBereshit educational program, which is distributed throughout the world in Hebrew and English.

Police question Strauss-Kahn in French assault case


UPDATE: [1:10 p.m.] Strauss-Kahn was immune from civil suit under international law when suit was filed, his lawyers say.

Monday, Sept. 12
Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn was questioned by French police on Monday over a complaint of attempted rape, filed after his May arrest in New York in a separate sex assault case that forced him to resign but was later dropped.

Tristane Banon, a journalist and writer some 30 years his junior, says Strauss-Kahn assaulted her in 2003 in a Paris apartment where he had invited her to interview him for a book she was writing.

The former IMF chief, once seen as a favorite to challenge Nicolas Sarkozy for the French presidency, returned to France after U.S. prosecutors dropped charges last month that he tried to rape a hotel maid.

He was questioned by Paris police for about three hours before leaving the station around 0900 (GMT) in a car without making any comment to journalists.

His French lawyers said in a statement that Strauss-Kahn, who has yet to make any public comment since returning to his Paris home, had asked to be heard by police as soon as scheduling allowed.

Other high profile witnesses, including Socialist presidential candidate Francois Hollande, have been questioned by police in the case to determine whether they had any knowledge of Banon’s allegations.

One issue is whether her allegations against Strauss-Kahn amount to attempted rape or sexual assault. In France the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases is three years, versus ten years for attempted rape.

Reporting by Nicolas Bertin and Thierry Leveque; Writing by Nick Vinocur; Editing by Peter Graff

Katsav cops plea in sex charges


His reputation in shambles from a sex scandal that broke a year ago and swelled in subsequent months, Israel’s outgoing president, Moshe Katsav, put an end to the sordid chapter by agreeing to a plea bargain after months of insisting he was innocent.

His reputation in shambles from a sex scandal that broke a year ago and swelled in subsequent months, Katsav put an end to the sordid chapter by agreeing to a plea bargain after months of insisting he was innocent.

Under the deal announced Thursday, President Moshe Katsav will plead guilty to sexually harassing and molesting female staff in exchange for prosecutors’ agreement not to pursue rape charges against him. He will resign early, receive a suspended prison sentence and pay compensation to the complainants.

This marks the first time an Israeli head of state has been convicted of sexual misconduct – — a legacy many hope soon will be forgotten after Shimon Peres takes over the presidency July 15.

For much of this year, Katsav was on a leave of absence and Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik served as acting president.

“Israel’s ‘No. 1 citizen’ has become a convicted sexual offender,” Attorney General Menachem Mazuz told reporters. “The shame will accompany him forever.”

The deal was deplored by women’s rights groups and others who saw the plea bargain as an easy pass for a member of Israel’s political elite, the latest in a long string of lenient convictions and sentences for a corrupt Israeli leadership.

The attorney for the employee of the president’s residence who had accused Katsav of rape, known as Complainant A, petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice on Thursday in an effort to block the plea deal, but her request was denied.

“The attorney general gave in to pressure, and the prosecutor forfeited the doing of justice because we’re talking about the president,” attorney Kinneret Barashi told reporters. “This is a black day. At issue is a complainant who told her truth, in which she believes. Along with her I will fight by all means in order to change this decision and bring justice to light. I have a great deal to say, and the last word has yet to be said.”

Mazuz said the State Attorney’s Office entered the plea bargain because it saw difficulties in proving the toughest allegations, some of them dating back years.

“A confession by the president is no trivial matter,” Mazuz said, defending the agreement.

But the Association of Rape Crisis Centers said in a statement in response, “The plea bargain sends a clear message to sexual assault victims: Better to stay quiet, better not to tell. In the State of Israel, there is no one to safeguard the victims of sexual assault.”

When Mazuz’s office first said in January that it was considering a rape indictment, Katsav took a leave of absence but angrily denied wrongdoing. In a raucous speech in which the president clearly lost his temper, Katsav spoke of himself as the victim of a “witch hunt” targeting successful members of Israel’s Sephardi underclass.

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