FILE PHOTO: Director Brett Ratner seen at the 89th Academy Awards, Oscars Vanity Fair Party in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo

Ellen Page Alleges Brett Ratner Subjected Her to Homophobic Comments


Actress Ellen Page is accusing director Brett Ratner of subjecting her to homophobic comments while on set.

In a lengthy Facebook post, Page claimed that when she was 18 years old and working attending a “meet and greet” for an upcoming film, Ratner told a woman who was 10 years older than Page, “You should f*ck her [Page] to make her realize she’s gay.”

Page went on to say in the post that she “felt violated when this happened.”

“This man, who had cast me in the film, started our months of filming at a work event with this horrific, unchallenged plea,” wrote Page. “He ‘outed’ me with no regard for my well-being, an act we all recognize as homophobic.”

Page added that Ratner made several degrading comments to the women on set and that she eventually got into an “altercation” with Ratner.

“He was pressuring me, in front of many people, to don a t-shirt with ‘Team Ratner’ on it,” wrote Page. “I said no and he insisted. I responded, ‘I am not on your team.’”

She was later “reprimanded” for how she spoke to him.

Page went on to detail how on she was sexually assaulted by someone else in the industry and how someone else made an unwanted sexual advance on her.

“My safety was not guaranteed at work,” wrote Page. “An adult authority figure for whom I worked intended to exploit me, physically.”

Page encouraged women to speak out against those who have sexually abused them.

“We’ve learned that the status quo perpetuates unfair, victimizing behavior to protect and perpetuate itself,” wrote Page. “Don’t allow this behavior to be normalized. Don’t compare wrongs or criminal acts by their degrees of severity. Don’t allow yourselves to be numb to the voices of victims coming forward. Don’t stop demanding our civil rights.”

Prior to Page’s Facebook post, Ratner had been accused by six women of sexual harassment. The Journal’s Danielle Berrin has claimed that Ratner has behaved inappropriate toward her.

Leon Wieseltier.

My Story with Leon Wieseltier


“Are you waiting for Shmuel?”

“I’ve been waiting all my life for Shmuel,” I said.

He laughed. “You’re funny.”

We’re at the fax machine; it was my first interaction with Leon Wieseltier. I was in my twenties; he was roughly 10 years older. A bit shy, I couldn’t believe I actually said that, but out it came and so began a literary friendship that lasted for the nearly four years that I was at The New Republic.

We talked a lot. About everything. He loved to talk. He found intelligence sexy before it was cool to find intelligence sexy. He also encouraged me a great deal. With Leon’s guidance, I wrote three major essays on feminism for The New Republic, one a major cover story that led to a book contract. As an editor and a writer, he brought a fierce, distinctive intelligence to his work and never shied from an intellectual fight.

Were our conversations tinged with sexual innuendo? Sometimes. But for me they fell into the realm of flirtation. Other men in the office flirted, too. Only once did something “happen.” He asked me if I wanted to watch a movie in his apartment. I said yes. He tried to kiss me; I said no. He stopped immediately. That moment never came up again, and never affected our relationship.

We talked a lot about Judaism. I told him that right before my Bat Mitzvah, my family had moved to a big, sterile synagogue, which I hated. I hated it so much that I literally didn’t set foot in a synagogue again for a decade. When he heard this story, he said, “We’re going to synagogue this Shabbat.” And we did. At one point during the services, I cried. Tears of sadness, joy, reconnection. Leon said nothing, just offered quiet support by sitting next to me. He let me reconnect privately and never took credit for it.

Because of an email chain that I was not a part of, Wieseltier has now been Weinsteined. Shamed and disgraced. As far as I can tell, the worst he is being accused of is trying to plant an unwanted kiss and boorish behavior; perhaps there is more that we don’t know.

I respect—in fact, insist on—a woman’s right to speak up. If someone finds something offensive, it’s not for me to judge. But speaking out works both ways. I also have a story to tell, and part of that story is that I did experience harassment in the offices of TNR, but it didn’t come from Leon, and it wasn’t sexual.

It was verbal bullying. One editor in particular would look for reasons to scream at me and at the other young women. His bullying was well known. We put up with it, but it wasn’t pleasant.

With Leon, there was a lot of laughter. No matter what was going on in the world, we laughed. And he listened. He listened to my ideas, to my thoughts about men, women, sex, anything and everything. There was no quid pro quo; there was no manipulation. Wieseltier was nothing like Weinstein.

My purpose here is not to defend Wieseltier against the charges of other women. I have no special interest in defending him. We haven’t worked together in years. I bumped into him last year; it was the first time I had seen or spoken to him in ages.

I’m writing not to negate anyone else’s story, but simply to tell my own. I want to say that this particular man inspired me to be my best self, made me into a thinker, and helped me reconnect to my Judaism.

I’m telling my story also because we’ve reached a very sensitive point. I’m tremendously grateful that Harvey Weinstein’s monstrous behavior has come out—it should have come out decades ago. And the #MeToo campaign has enabled women, and men, to talk about inappropriate behavior from many others.

At the same time, we have to resist the temptation to turn every incident into a Harvey Weinstein scandal. Not all stories are similar. Not all sexual innuendo in the office is harassment. Not all women are victims.

Some, like me, have been empowered by men who came into our lives at a particular moment, took no for an answer, and then raised us up and let us go.

Me Too Versus Not Me


I’ve never been much for crowds. I remember once at a music festival pushing through a mass of people waiting to see Thom Yorke. As my friend and I tried to get closer to the stage, I felt my chest tighten as bodies closed around mine. After a brief but awkward explanation of my discomfort, we moved back out of the crowd, away from the center and toward the edge.

Some people like the energy of being part of something larger than them — being surrounded by bodies and voices into which they can disappear, becoming one of many. But I prefer the margins, where I can be both inside and outside of something.

The crowding that happens on social media is no exception.

In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, countless people have taken to social media with the hashtag #MeToo. In fact, my entire Facebook newsfeed has been dominated by the hashtag and by women’s stories of being sexually harassed or assaulted.

Some of the confessions have moved me to tears. Some have shocked me, and I recognize the bravery behind such admissions. But as a crowd of confessors began to converge, I also saw posts lamenting that some women who could say #MeToo are choosing not to — the implication being that refraining from doing so makes one an accomplice to all sorts of nefarious behaviors.

Well, I chose not to.

It felt intuitively wrong for me. Not for others, but for me. It goes back to being part of crowds and mass movements. In the midst of a crowd, I discover that I can’t see everything. My vantage point has changed. I become caught up in something that has the potential to turn back on itself and become counterproductive if not nurtured in the right way.

In fact, when I first saw the hashtag, I thought to myself: If I were going to create a hashtag, it would be #NotMe. Not me, I would say to potential abusers and harassers. Not me, I would say to everyone.

It’s not because I haven’t experienced what many of the #MeToo movement have experienced. I have. But I think I must have been saying all along, instead, on some level: Not me. I will not be your victim. I am no one’s victim.

I remember, nearly 20 years ago, standing near the wall of a nightclub, watching my friends dance. Even then, I preferred the safety of the perimeter to the chaos and energy of the center. A man walked by and slapped my rear end and made a crude comment that he thought I would appreciate. He hit me hard. And I was enraged. I turned around and pushed him with all of my strength without thinking about it. He was inebriated, and so he fell easily.

He was terrified. And I felt powerful. I was vindicated.

I share this not to criticize those who have shared their stories of victimhood or to suggest that they should have fought back, but to raise the question of what happens next.

What happens after #MeToo?

What happens after scores of women make themselves vulnerable as they prove how normal it is to be harassed or assaulted? What effect does highlighting the apparent pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault have if it becomes a movement that demands that every woman identify herself as a victim?

My fear is that we will begin to see ourselves as powerless. That we will begin to see ourselves as victims first, and women second. And that in doing so, we will turn on those women who resist the #MeToo crowd, who opt for a response of a different nature.

As for me, I’m not sure I owe anyone a confession of victimhood right now.

In most cases, fighting back physically is not an option, but we can all fight back in a way that feels right to us. For many, #MeToo is the beginning of fighting back. Words create worlds, and stories string those worlds together into a meaningful chain.

But not everyone needs to be part of every movement.

We need people willing to stay on the margins as much as we need people who are willing to be the crowd that moves things along, makes things happen and makes them happen better. Crowds can carry with them the possibility of change, but let’s not forget that one voice, from the margins, can also be powerful.


Monica Osborne is a writer and scholar of Jewish literature and culture. Her book, “The Midrashic Impulse and the Contemporary Literary Response to Trauma,” will be published later this year.

Screenshot from YouTube.

Leon Wieseltier apologizes for inappropriate behavior toward women


Leon Wieseltier, a former editor for The New Republic and a fellow for the Brookings Institute, has admitted to engaging in inappropriate behavior toward women.

“For my offenses against some of my colleagues in the past I offer a shaken apology and ask for their forgiveness,” Wieseltier wrote in an email to the New York Times. “The women with whom I worked are smart and good people. I am ashamed to know that I made any of them feel demeaned and disrespected. I assure them I will not waste this reckoning.”

Wieseltier was set to start to a new magazine after he left The New Republic three years ago, but the recent allegations have killed the magazine. Emerson Collective, a for-profit philanthropy organization headed by Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of the late Steve Jobs, announced that they were ending with their partnership with Wieseltier.

“Upon receiving information related to past inappropriate workplace conduct, Emerson Collective ended its business relationship with Leon Wieseltier, including a journal planned for publication under his editorial direction,” Emerson Collective said in a statement. “The production and distribution of the journal has been suspended.”

According to the Times, Wieseltier is alleged to have “sloppily kissed” female workers on the mouth and would frequently provide lurid details of his sexual escapades. He is also accused of criticizing women for wearing dresses that weren’t “tight enough” and forced a woman “to look at a photograph of a nude sculpture in an art book, asking her if she had ever seen a more erotic picture.”

The women also alleged that men in the workplace knew of Wieseltier’s behavior, yet did nothing about it.

Additionally, The Atlantic reports that some women had what they called “Leon stories” involving “everything from being called ‘sweetie’ in the workplace to unwanted touching, kissing, groping, and other sexual advances” and that there were rumors at The New Republic that Wieseltier frequently “bragged graphically about sexual encounters the way a teenaged boy might.” Former New Republic editor Michelle Cottle told The Atlantic that Wieseltier “delights in making women sexually uncomfortable.”

Wieseltier has a lengthy resume in the field of writing and commentating, having spent 30 years as the literary editor of The New Republic and is a current contributor to The Atlantic. He is now the latest person to be hit by the #MeToo movement of women sharing their stories of sexual harassment in the workplace.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Canadian entertainment leader resigns in face of sexual assault allegations


Gilbert Rozon, a household name in Canada through his work in the field of entertainment, is stepping down from his programs after facing several accusations of sexual assault and harassment.

Rozon was the founding president of the Just For Laughs comedy festival and a co-host of the France’s Got Talent TV show until nine women accused him of sexual assault and harassment in a span of over 30 years. Rozon has since resigned from the comedy festival. France’s Got Talent has been suspended, although M6, the channel that runs the show, announced that the show would eventually be back on the air.

In a statement on Facebook, Rozon wrote, “Shaken by the allegations against me, I want to dedicate all my time to review the matter. To all those I may have offended in the course of my life, I’m sincerely sorry.”

One of the women that came forward, actress Salomé Corbo, claimed that Rozon sexually assaulted her at a party when she was only 14 years of age. Corbo alleges that Rozon used his finger to penetrate her, prompting her to loudly exclaim that she was only 14.

“I spoke loudly and hoped that witnesses around me would react, but nobody reacted,” Corbo told the Montreal newspaper Le Devoir. “Gilbert let me go and I left.”

Another one of the women, Penelope McQuade, claimed that Rozon made a move on her in the bathroom during one of the Just For Laughs festivals and she had to beg nonstop for a minute until Rozon ceased his behavior.

Photographer Lyne Charlebois is alleging that Rozon brought her back to his place to review her portfolio, where he proceeded to jump “on me and pulled down my pants.”

“I was afraid I was going to die,” said Charlebois. “I let him do his thing, waited until he finished, and left.”

Charlebois added that the incident caused “tremendous damage to me.”

Rozon had previously pled guilty to sexual harassment in 1998, although he only received a slap on the wrist because the judge thought that a criminal record would prevent Rozon from traveling internationally and thus harm Montreal’s economy.

In 2011, Rozon said in an interview, “I looked at politicians here and abroad, like Bill Clinton, and I asked myself, ‘Does power go with the obligation to seduce and conquer?’”

The accusations against Rozon come at a time when Harvey Weinstein is facing a wave of sexual harassment and rape allegations in the United States. It appears that the #MeToo movement has reached Canada as well.

Photo from Pixabay.

An Ocean of Tears


There are moments when everything changes. In my lifetime, one of these was seeing the picture of our planet Earth from space. With that photo of our home, ​I, along with everyone else ​was able to see for the first time that we were one whole, living, breathing, connected planet. This is the image I hold in my head saying the Shema because, for me, this represents that God is One.

After seeing that photo, our consciousness shifted.

​As human beings, we could no longer justify our separateness. Being confronted with the reality that we were connected, we knew that we needed to act differently. We couldn’t “un-see” the Earth as a shining marble, fragile and precious, because it is right in front of us as truth.

Right now, we are experiencing another paradigm-shifting moment.

The Harvey Weinstein sex abuse scandal has unleashed a spontaneous response of #MeToo posts on social media. Thousands upon thousands of women and some men ​are speaking out on Facebook and Twitter, sharing their personal experiences of sexual harassment and assault from childhood up to now. It’s raw. It’s true. It’s painful.

My entire social media timeline on Facebook and Twitter is overflowing with #MeToo reports. A river of stories and a flood of tears in the Jewish community. Real stories from women I know:

We can’t unsee these stories. And we can’t pretend these wounds don’t damage souls.

“The boys on the playground snapping our bras and shaming us for being flat chested or too developed.”

“The time when I was a student rabbi and the temple president insisted on walking me to my hotel room despite my saying no thanks. I felt so threatened that I put a chair against the door after he left.”

“My 7th grade religious school teacher sexually molested me and my rabbi didn’t believe me.”

“The nice Jewish guy who raped me on my first date while I was sleeping and then said — oh I thought you were fake sleeping and wanted it (I didn’t).”

“The unwanted hand on my knee and up my skirt. The catcalls and the feels on the subway.”

“My husband’s friend slipped a Playboy magazine under the table on my son’s 21st birthday, while winking at me. That man told dirty [stories] throughout dinner.”​

Over the past few days, as I read these stories, I could hardly move. Post after post brought up my childhood of constant comments by boys about my body and the accompanying shame that I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough or filled out enough. Other stories reminded me of incidents I had brushed aside as “no big deal” — but upon reflection, were formative and painful.

We can’t “un-see” these stories. And we can’t pretend these wounds don’t damage souls.

This ocean of tears needs to evoke a sea change. Each precious human is a world we need to learn to protect and help flourish, just like planet Earth.

We have texts in our holy books about treating others with dignity. They are simple, but not easy. We are holy because are made in the image of the Divine, b’tzelem Elohim, as we just read in the beginning verses of the Torah.

We also need new texts: stories that include the voices of the vulnerable and those hurt by sexual abuse and a culture of degradation.

We need these new texts to make sure that this moment in time becomes a moment in eternity; that a new consciousness honoring human dignity becomes the default position of humanity.

In embracing the reality that we are all connected, we must pray for the strength and wisdom to live up to our Divine image.


Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman is the founder of The Jewish Mindfulness Network.

People play instruments during a Tashlich ceremony, a Rosh Hashanah ritual to symbolically cast away sins, during the Nashuva Spiritual Community Jewish New Year celebration on Venice Beach. Sept. 21. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS.

Sexual Harassment: Is There a Jewish Answer?


When Harvey Weinstein’s long and horrible history was made public, women spanning several continents were disgusted and outraged — but not surprised. We’ve known for eons that this pattern of male brutality repeats itself in any professional setting, no matter the political or social context. But will it ever change?

It’s easy to despair. Tablet’s notorious article — calling Weinstein “a deeply Jewish kind of pervert” — is laughable: Men do it everywhere, to everyone. (The author of the Tablet piece has since apologized.)

In Israel, the scandals have spanned so many social and institutional arenas, that I have questioned whether there might be an Israeli angle. Israel comes to sexual harassment through its specific blend of military-machoism, high social aggression, and history of cover-ups among the tight male military cadres, Indeed, 1 in 6 female soldiers say they have been sexually harassed during their military service, according to a survey by the Israel Defense Forces.

But for those on the receiving end, it’s all the same sleaze. The reaction of women everywhere is similar: With each new revelation, a fresh geyser of awful stories erupts, experiences that many couldn’t summon the strength to reveal at the time. We are in a phase of releasing pressure that has festered inside us for decades.

But there must be a different phase ahead. It will be a stage of evolution in which workplace norms foster positive and healthy relationships, normal human tension notwithstanding.

No one should buy the whining about a dystopian, sterilized work environment. In fact, the foundations of the future already exist.

Dozens of countries have a legal basis for preventing and apprehending sexual harassment at work. Laws can be preventive and punitive. Just as important, they provide symbolic social legitimization of women’s experiences.

In Israel, robust laws against sexual harassment in 1998 led to a stream of accusations and due process that have toppled men from a range of powerful positions, including a president. With all the emotional pain the women endure in the telling, that’s progress.

But sexual-power dynamics are so complex, the risks, shame, rage and trauma so fearsome, that it will take more than laws to make a real change. Many women never even complain, and manipulative men just keep going, feigning shock when exposed. Those men need to change the deep foundations of their interaction with women.

Impossible, antithetical to human nature, utopian? Nonsense.

Great models of constructive, vibrant and supportive male-female relations at work already exist. Let’s talk about those, too.

My first professional mentor hired me when I was too young to believe in my own skills. In addition to working together in an intense environment where I had a huge learning curve, we also went for dinner and drank wine — as adults who appreciated and respected each other. The experience helped me build a professional confidence that, in those early years, I never imagined I could muster.

Over the years, in addition to the jerks I’ll never forgive, there have been excellent relations with creative, collaborative men that I’ll never forget. We can work, joke and drink coffee — or even beer — together without me feeling threatened, without them fearing accusations. 

Why? I believe genuinely supportive, honest men (and women) think differently from manipulative predators. Upright men view women — and hopefully everyone — as individuals, professionals, and most of all as people to be heard. They are in a dialogue, not a monologue.

People in dialogue listen to one another when building a platonic professional relationship, no matter how powerful one of them is. If an attraction happens — and it’s natural — they are much less likely to have “misunderstandings” of the kind that drove Israeli journalist Ari Shavit to maul a reporter from this paper during a professional meeting — which she exposed and which led to his downfall. They look at a woman and believe she desires them, because they see only their own lie. She doesn’t exist.

While the problem certainly isn’t a Jewish one, there is a Jewish voice that can help. Martin Buber taught the value of seeing the other clear through to the soul, as the basis for the art of dialogue. That’s a big, spiritual change from rapacious egotism. We can do it. 


Dahlia Scheindlin is a writer at +972 magazine and a policy fellow at Mitvim — The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. She lives in Israel.

FILE PHOTO: Film producer Harvey Weinstein attends the 2016 amfAR New York Gala at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan, New York February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

How the Weinstein Sex Scandal Began a Movement Against Silence


‘You Need to Decide’

I used to consider it a badge of honor that Harvey Weinstein once threatened me. By some twisted Hollywood calculus, it sort of meant you had made it.

It was during the awards season of 2012, after I had written a profile of Michel Hazanavicius, the director and screenwriter of the silent film “The Artist,” which Weinstein was peddling for the Academy Awards (it later won for best picture). Not long after the story appeared, I was surprised to receive a note from Weinstein.

“You are a poet of prose,” it read.

It struck me as an absurdly hyperbolic compliment for a 1,200-word newspaper story. But I was delighted that one of the most powerful producers in Hollywood seemed to like my work.

But then came another email, this one from his publicist: “Saw the piece! It’s great,” she wrote, adding, “One smallish thing … can you call me?”

It turned out Weinstein was bothered by one of the quotes I used from Hazanavicius, and he wanted me to take it out of the story. I explained to the publicist — repeatedly — that I couldn’t change the piece.

Then my phone rang. It was Weinstein.

“Danielle,” he said firmly, “this is the first time we’ve worked together. You need to decide if you want Harvey Weinstein to be friend — or foe.”

For 20 minutes, he enumerated the reasons why this one quote would be ruinous to the film, the filmmaker and its chances at the Oscars. I reiterated what I had told his publicist — that I wouldn’t change the quote or take it out. If Hazanavicius wanted to clarify the comment, I said, I could add an editor’s note.

Weinstein became angry.

“Danielle,” he said firmly, “this is the first time we’ve worked together. You need to decide if you want Harvey Weinstein to be friend — or foe.”

I held my ground, citing the demands of journalistic ethics. But that incensed him even more. “You’re a stubborn Jewish girl,” he finally said, “just like all the other Jewish girls I’ve dated.”

Then he hung up.

That mild episode came to mind earlier this month when allegations were made public that Hollywood’s notorious, Oscar-decorated mogul reportedly had spent three decades abusing his power to sexually harass and assault women — most of them colleagues and employees. It surprised no one in Hollywood that Weinstein was a bully — he’s been using his power to intimidate and coerce industry colleagues, from reporters to studio executives, since he first started in the business. Not even Michael Eisner, the former CEO of the Walt Disney Co., was spared Weinstein’s legendary wrath. The reported lengths to which Weinstein would go to get what he wanted were illimitable. No one was immune.

But the revelations of alleged extreme sexual misconduct over decades revealed the extent to which Weinstein’s expectation of complicity and compliance had subsumed an entire industry. Either you were one of his many alleged victims, sexual or otherwise, or you were indifferent to the machinations of a tyrant. It’s only Hollywood, many thought. Anything goes.

Not anymore. The public response to the stunning accusations against Weinstein was swift and nearly unequivocal.

Through the media, long pent-up rage and outrage exploded into cultural consciousness, and a suffocating silence around the oppression of women in the film industry turned into a symphony of comeuppance.

Within days of the initial report published by The New York Times, the Weinstein Co. suspended him indefinitely, and half of the company’s all-male board resigned. When The New Yorker published a second, more detailed and damning report, Weinstein was fired.

In the days that followed, the floodgates burst open, as more and more women — including famous and powerful celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie — stepped forward with their allegations of abuse. An industry whose constitution depended on an “open secret” policy of ignoring and condoning the exploitation of women had finally reached a crescendo: Would it regress into defensiveness or start pulling out its rotted root system?

The reason Harvey Weinstein allegedly was able to get away with his abhorrent behavior for so long is because the perception of his power cowed others into submission and silence. His mythic status in an industry that prides itself on pandering to human fantasy further reinforced the powerlessness of his reported victims. Everyone wanted what Weinstein was selling: dreams, access, wealth, fame. His power was individual, but it also was industrial, supported by the belief that Hollywood’s prevailing patriarchal system would protect the engines of its own existence. And so for too long, his alleged victims and collaborators internalized a sense of helplessness in the face of crassness and corruption. They chose to preserve a poisonous status quo, whether out of ambition, resigned complacency or fear.

Now we can see that Weinstein’s accusers weren’t the only ones “crushed” under the weight of transgression: An entire industry acquiesced to an unspoken rule that what matters is human achievement, not human dignity. Not everyone committed a crime, but everyone sinned. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself; in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Weinstein, through a spokesperson, issued a statement “unequivocally” denying “[A]ny allegations of non-consensual sex … ”

From Complicity to #MeToo

“I know that everybody — I mean everybody — in Hollywood knows that it’s happening. He’s not even really hiding. I mean, the way he does it, so many people are involved and see what’s happening. But everyone’s too scared to say anything.” — actress Emma de Caunes, accuser

“Everything was designed to make me feel comfortable before it happened. And then the shame in what happened was also designed to keep me quiet.” — Lucia Evans, accuser

“I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have stopped it.”  — executive at the Weinstein Co.

When it comes to encapsulating the most appalling part of the Weinstein debacle, New York Times columnist Bret Stephens put it best: “Of all of the dismaying and disgusting details of the Harvey Weinstein saga,” he wrote, “none is more depressing than this: It has so few heroes.” And maybe none.

In an age of social media self-aggrandizement, it is astonishing how many consciences shrank from the courage to intervene. For three decades, Weinstein’s reported bad behavior ensnared everyone — from his accusers, to his boardroom, to the famous actors, directors and film executives with whom he worked, to reporters who were eager to do his will in exchange for access to his world.

It is a fitting irony that in an industry where everyone tries so hard to look good, so few had the guts to do good.

Weinstein’s reported behavior has been described as “an open secret”: the subject of an Oscar joke, red-carpet interviews, even late night TV. Everyone knew, we’re told. It was “a conspiracy of silence,” as actress Glenn Close put it. So it seems even more unseemly that an industry associated with championing causes and giving charity would abet systemic corruption and then play dumb.

Yet here’s George Clooney on the subject: “I’ve known Harvey for 20 years. He gave me my first big break as an actor.  … He gave me my first big break as a director. … We’ve had dinners, we’ve been on location together, we’ve had arguments. But I can tell you that I’ve never seen any of this behavior — ever.”

Perhaps in a horror story without heroes, the least you can do is act clueless. But with no one to save the day, the burden of truth telling falls to the damsels in distress. Although it is too much to ask to flout fear, trauma, helplessness — someone has to go first.

The reason Harvey Weinstein allegedly was able to get away with his abhorrent behavior for so long is because the perception of his power cowed others into submission and silence.

It took 30 years for enough brave women to break their silence about Weinstein and share their stories with The New York Times and The New Yorker. Our country has a history of brave, lone voices erupting from time to time — from Anita Hill to the women who accused Donald Trump of sexual misconduct while he was on his way to the White House. Now the long-sleeping giant is awake. And for the first time, it isn’t one or two or a dozen women accusing one individual, but a rising chorus of women’s voices determined to end the “conspiracy of silence” around sexual assault.    

What the “MeToo” hashtag phenomenon reveals is just how commonplace the experience of assault and harassment is for women in the United States. By press time, the #MeToo campaign spilled over from Twitter to Facebook, where it was tagged 12 million times. Countless people shared their stories of alleged rape, assault and harassment, whether it occurred at work, school or home, during childhood or adulthood, among the famous or not-so-famous. Celebrities America Ferrera, Debra Messing, Lady Gaga and Anna Paquin used the hashtag, as did some men in a show of solidarity.

The outpouring was intergenerational. Even women who came of age in earlier eras finally felt this was the moment to speak up. The Forward’s editor-in-chief, Jane Eisner, told a story of alleged sexual harassment that took place early in her career and the toll silence took on her conscience.

“What if that editor preyed on someone else after me? What if my silence translated into complicity, and what if that enabled harm to continue? What if I’m somehow guilty, too?” Eisner wrote. “That’s the insidious aspect of sexual harassment. The victim becomes isolated in a prison of her own making and unwittingly allows the exploitation to continue.”

Now that so many of these stories are meeting the hot glare of the spotlight, will anything really change?

Philosopher Edmund Burke famously said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” But it is a failure of imagination to imbue only men with moral will. To right the wrongs in our society and in our world, women also must be elevated and empowered to live in accordance with their conscience.

From Trauma to Teshuvah

I felt trapped. … I was very afraid of him. … I opened the door terrified. …

The most excruciating and uncomfortable hour of my life. … I was so horrified. … He overpowered me. … I was disgusted with myself. … I had eating problems for years. … I have nightmares about him. … Just talking to you about it, my whole body is shaking. … I’ve been damaged.  — statements from Weinstein’s accusers, cited in The New Yorker

“I think now is the right time, in this current climate, for the truth.” — former executive, the Weinstein Co.

The reign of Harvey the Great is over. And to the others just like him: Beware. Hell hath no fury like millions of women scorned.

As Hollywood stories go, the Weinstein saga is by every measure a tragedy.

Today, tomorrow, the next day will bring another news cycle, perhaps a new alleged predator unmasked, but this story will never be over for the women who lived it; their suffering is irreparable. The feelings of pain, violation and helplessness inflicted upon them is something they must live with. It is no small triumph that an alleged abuser of power has been brought low, but Weinstein is one accused perpetrator in a world of many. Just because he finally was outed doesn’t mean the trauma ends for his reported victims, or change the fact that the world these women inhabited was unsafe and unfair.

What the public revelation of Weinstein’s reported pestiferous behavior brought into harsh relief is that he is not alone.

“Mr. Weinstein may be the most powerful man in Hollywood to be revealed as a predator, but he’s certainly not the only one who has been allowed to run wild,” writer and actress Lena Dunham wrote in The New York Times. “His behavior, silently co-signed for decades by employees and collaborators, is a microcosm of what has been happening in Hollywood since always and of what workplace harassment looks like for women everywhere.”

Actress and director Sarah Polley wrote that she gave up acting nearly 10 years ago because she grew tired of feeling “humiliated, violated, [and] dismissed” on set.

“It wasn’t worth it to me,” she wrote in the Times, “to open my heart and make myself so vulnerable in an industry that makes its disdain for women evident everywhere I turn.”

Hollywood, as an industry, is culpable. But so are we. And it on us to ensure that Weinstein and Hollywood do not become the sole scapegoats for a more pervasive problem, one that cuts across industries, communities and political aisles. If our whole society is sick, then our whole society must atone and reform.

Calls for institutional change are beginning. Some are urging Hollywood’s talent agencies to institute policies forbidding professional meetings in hotel rooms; others are calling on the guilds to defend and protect industry workers who come forward with accusations of harassment.

Most notably, however, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board of governors voted to expel Weinstein from the academy, citing a new no-tolerance policy.

“[T]he era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over,” read the academy’s statement.

It is now up to those who averted their eyes from this problem to end the dark legacy of “the casting couch” in all of its ugly iterations. There should be no impunity for those who flout the rules of basic human decency. The epidemic of bullying and intimidating women; of using sexual violence to diminish or suppress them; of extracting sexual favors in exchange for career advancement needs to end not only in Hollywood, but in all halls of power.

It is time for a cultural cheshbon ha-nefesh (accounting of the soul) to account for the state of our soullessness.

“We need to look at ourselves,” Polley wrote. “What have we been willing to accept, out of fear, helplessness, a sense that things can’t be changed? What else are we turning a blind eye to, in all aspects of our lives? What else have we accepted that, somewhere within us, we know is deeply unacceptable? And what, now, will we do about it?”

The reign of Harvey the Great is over. And to the others just like him: Beware. Hell hath no fury like millions of women scorned. 

Women of the World Say: Enough


One of the quirks of publishing a weekly paper is that the news moves so fast that by the time you’re on the newsstand, everything can shift.  For this issue, we were preparing a cover story on “the complicity of silence” around the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal.

And then Sunday happened.

Actress Alyssa Milano posted on Twitter the words “Me too” and suggested that women who have faced sexual assault and harassment post “Me too” as a status. Well, within 24 hours, the words were repeated millions of times. Her tweet had more than 40,000 comments. On Facebook, more than 8.7 million users were posting or “talking” about it.

By the time we arrived at the office on Monday, the floodgates had opened. Instead of a complicity of silence, we were seeing the reverse — millions of women rising up and saying, Enough. No more silence. No more abuse. No more complicity.

A movement was unfolding before our eyes.

Our coverage shifted to reflect this fast-moving development. The story became larger than Harvey Weinstein and even larger than Hollywood. And it’s not new. Women are sharing incidents from their high school years, from college, from jobs. Women rabbis wrote about being harassed by colleagues and by congregants.

A movement was unfolding before our eyes.

First, we had to cover the event that precipitated these floodgates and explain how we got here. Senior writer Danielle Berrin does just that in her cover story on the Weinstein sex scandal and its many repercussions. We also asked Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman to share her thoughts on the #MeToo movement that has exploded across social media.

“The ocean of tears needs to evoke a sea change,” Zimmerman writes.

Will a sea change happen? Or will this movement evaporate until the next scandal or hurricane or terrorist attack comes along? In the coming weeks and months, the Journal will continue to keep an eye on this story and examine the role of our own community.

From Israel, one of our new contributors, Dahlia Scheindlin, asks if there’s a “Jewish answer” to the disease of sexual harassment. Her answer may surprise you.

While the Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement were reverberating last week, the news kept churning.

Senior writer Eitan Arom reports on the devastating wildfires in Northern California and how the Jewish community is responding to the destruction at URJ Camp Newman. On our debate page, two experts argue the merits of President Donald Trump’s changes to the Affordable Care Act.

On a more uplifting note, Kelly Hartog covers a synagogue in Pico-Robertson that invites homeless people to engage with one another over a meal. They’ve been doing it every month for the past 13 years.

From Portland, Ore., Alicia Jo Rabins writes about how teaching the Hebrew alphabet connects her to her ancestors, while from Washington, D.C., Joshua Horwitz tells us why he’s not letting cynicism get in the way of his gun control activism.

Can Judaism help us regain our balance in a crazy world that is moving too fast? Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson writes about the special energy that greets us after a long month of Jewish holidays, and how that energy can help us attain that balance. Arianna Huffington shares her own ideas on the subject in our back-page Q-and-A.

And speaking of balance, this week we are trying something new — an exchange between denominations. Orthodox Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn and Reform Rabbi Laura Geller engage in an email discussion around the “true meaning of tikkun olam.” The idea for this page came when someone said, “Instead of preaching civility, why don’t we give an example?”

Can Judaism help us regain our balance in a crazy world that is moving too fast?

Of course, we can’t forget food. In addition to a full serving of the arts, we have Yamit’s Table. Just as she was passionate last week about egg salad, this week Yamit Behar Wood devotes her culinary passion to the miracle of the phyllo dough. It seems as if every culinary tradition in the world has its own version of phyllo dough stuffed with unique flavors and ingredients. In this issue, Yamit shares a Bulgarian recipe from her childhood, the Spinach Banitsa.

In her own words: “Nothing beats a fresh, hot, crisp banitsa right out of the oven. NOTHING!”

Yes, even in a world where darkness strikes, there’s still room to emote over a good banitsa.

Shabbat shalom.

Screenshot from YouTube.

Harvey Weinstein’s brother accused of sexual harassment


Bob Weinstein, the brother of Harvey Weinstein, is now facing a sexual harassment allegation from a TV producer.

Variety reports that Amanda Segel, the executive producer of “The Mist”, is claiming that Weinstein kept harassing her for three months in 2016 until she threatened to leave the show. According to the report, Segel had dinner with Weinstein to establish a working relationship with him, but Weinstein kept making suggestive remarks. He asked her to drive him to his hotel, where Segel rebuffed his request to join him in his hotel room.

After that, Segel alleges that Weinstein kept trying to establish a romantic relationship with her, which Segel continually declined. Segel eventually threatened to leave the show if Weinstein didn’t cease his actions, prompting Weinstein to launch into a tirade against Segel on a conference call over “a production issue that she says was out of her control.”

An agreement was worked between the Weinstein Co. and Segel that she would never have to be around Weinstein or talk to him over the phone and that she could leave the show after the second season.

Segel told Variety, “After ‘no,’ anybody who has asked you out should just move on. Bob kept referring to me that he wanted to have a friendship. He didn’t want a friendship. He wanted more than that. My hope is that ‘no’ is enough from now on.”

A Weinstein representative issued a statement to Variety that read, “Bob Weinstein had dinner with Ms. Segel in LA in June 2016. He denies any claims that he behaved inappropriately at or after the dinner. It is most unfortunate that any such claim has been made.”

Weinstein recently told The Hollywood Reporter that his brother Harvey at times subjected him to “physical abuse” and “avoided getting the help” he needed despite Bob Weinstein’s repeated pleas, although Weinstein claimed he didn’t know about his brother’s sordid behavior.

Television star Mayim Bialik questioned the timing of the March for Racial Justice on her Facebook page. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mayim Bialik under fire for suggesting women should dress modestly to avoid sexual harassment


Actress Mayim Bialik has faced criticism for writing in a column that women should dress modestly to avoid sexual harassment in Hollywood.

In a New York Times op-ed published on Saturday, the Big Bang Theory star wrote that she began her career in Hollywood “as a prominent-nosed, awkward, geeky, Jewish 11-year-old” and that while she was “shocked and disgusted” by the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, she was not necessarily surprised.

“I have always had an uncomfortable relationship with being employed in an industry that profits on the objectification of women,” wrote Bialik. “Though pressure to ‘be like the pretty girls’ started long before I entered Hollywood, I quickly learned even as a preteen actress that young girls with doe eyes and pouty lips who spoke in a high register were favored for roles by the powerful men who made those decisions.”

Bialik proceeded to recall how she was the butt of jokes over her looks when she was younger, yet she’s had a successful career in Hollywood. She noted that she takes precautionary measures to avoid scenarios of sexual harassment in Hollywood.

“I have decided that my sexual self is best reserved for private situations with those I am most intimate with,” wrote Bialik. “I dress modestly. I don’t act flirtatiously with men as a policy.”

She acknowledged that engaging in that kind of behavior “might feel oppressive to many young feminists” but it’s the best course of action.

“In a perfect world, women should be free to act however they want. But our world isn’t perfect,” wrote Bialik. “Nothing — absolutely nothing — excuses men for assaulting or abusing women. But we can’t be naïve about the culture we live in.”

Bialik concluded her column with a note of encouragement to women who are “not a perfect 10.”

“There are people out there who will find you stunning, irresistible and worthy of attention, respect and love,” wrote Bialik. “The best part is you don’t have to go to a hotel room or a casting couch to find them.”

Bialik was criticized for her op-ed:

Others were less critical:

Bialik addressed the outrage on Facebook Live with New York Times editor Bari Weiss.

“I really do regret that this became what it became, because literally I was trying to speak about a very specific experience I had in a very specific industry,” said Bialik. “I was not looking to speak about assault and rape in general.”

She then said she was “deeply hurt” if anyone thought she was “victim-blaming.”

(Reuters)

Jewish women share #MeToo stories


Twitter has been trending with the #MeToo hashtag in response to Harvey Weinstein being expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The hashtag began with actress Alyssa Milano tweeting on Sunday that if all women who experienced sexual assault, shared the hashtag, “we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” Numerous women began issuing #MeToo tweets to share their stories of sexual harassment or assault, including many prominent Jewish women.

Here were some examples:

Danielle Berrin, a senior writer for the Journal, has written several times about inappropriate conduct she experienced while on-the-job: in 2008, when Berrin interviewed Hollywood director Brett Ratner, and in 2016, when she interviewed Israeli journalist Ari Shavit.

Weinstein has faced an outpouring of sexual harassment and rape allegations that stretch as far as the United Kingdom. His alleged behavior has been an “open secret” in Hollywood for years, and yet his behavior was generally kept under wraps, until The New York Times and The New Yorker broke the story.

HBO mum on status of Ari Shavit book documentary


HBO is not discussing the status of a documentary project based on a book by Ari Shavit, the Israeli journalist who in the past two weeks has been accused twice of sexual harassment.

Asked by Variety whether the documentary project will go forward in the wake of the accusations, HBO declined to clarify. A representative for the cable network’s chairman, Richard Plepler, told Variety in an email that “there is nothing more to say at this time except that this project is in the post-production/editing stage.”

HBO announced in 2014 that it was developing “My Promised Land,” a 2013 best-seller, as a documentary.

The book, which carries a full title of “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel,” is part memoir and part a tracing of the history of Israel and the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Shavit acknowledged that he was the unnamed Israeli journalist accused of sexual assault by a Jewish-American journalist Danielle Berrin in a column published Oct. 19 in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. Berrin had not not named Shavit, but her descriptions of the “accomplished journalist from Israel” who allegedly assaulted her led some to speculate that she was referring to the Haaretz columnist.

Shavit on Sunday resigned from his positions at Haaretz and Channel 10 after a second unnamed woman formerly associated with J Street also leveled sexual harassment accusations against him.

In a statement released Sunday, Shavit wrote: “I am ashamed of the mistakes I made with regards to people in general and women in particular. I am embarrassed that I did not behave correctly to my wife and children. I am embarrassed about the consequences of what I did.

He said he would “devote more time to being with my wife and children, who are most valuable to me, and to make personal amends.”

Meanwhile, critics of J Street criticized the group for not alerting other groups to Shavit’s alleged behavior. In addition, a  group of academics and rabbis called the Committee on Ethics in Jewish Leadership also issued a statement criticized J Street for keeping quiet about Shavit.

“We are deeply disappointed that J Street reportedly failed to alert any other Jewish groups about [Shavit’s] behavior,” the group wrote. “Keeping quiet is not the way to combat sexual harassment.”

Egypt ranks last in Arab world’s women’s rights


This story originally ran on themedialine.org.

Just about every woman in Egypt has experienced some form of sexual harassment. The country also has high rates of violence and genital mutilation, according to a new study on women in the Arab world by the Thomson-Reuters Foundation. All of that makes Egypt the worst place for women among the 22 member-nations of the Arab League.

“Women who fought during the revolution (against autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak) shoulder-to-shoulder with men, have then been put back in their home and often subjected to violence to shut them up,” Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson-Reuters Foundation told The Media Line.

The report was based on a survey of more than 330 experts on gender issues in all Arab League countries. It asked detailed questions on violence against women, reproductive rights, and attitudes towards women’s roles in the economy and society.

The experts found a pervasive climate of violence and instability in Egypt, along with rates of over 90 percent for genital mutilation.

Women living in Egypt today say almost everyone has a story about sexual harassment.

“Sexual harassment, a struggling economy, and the ongoing political instability are making life particularly hard for women here,” Kimberly Adams, a freelance journalist based in Egypt told The Media Line. “Even those not active in the political sphere feel the impact of the often violent protests, curfews, and the sharp rise in prices, especially for food and fuel, that especially impact the poor.”

Women also have little say in the Egyptian political system. In 2010, there were 65 women elected and one appointed to the parliament, bringing the total of women in parliament to 13 percent. The following year the percentage of women in parliament shrunk to nine.

“A lot of people blame the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists who came into power,” Safaa Abdoun, an Egyptian journalist told The Media Line. “But actually the liberal parties are equally to blame. In parliamentary elections in 2011, the liberal parties did not have many women candidates, while the Muslim Brotherhood actually had more women candidates.”

Villa points to the global problem of women who are assaulted and afraid to come forward. “You have a problem because women don't report crime. Only 15% of women in the UK who are raped go to the police, so imagine in Egypt how difficult because this brings dishonor to the family. We try to compare situations between countries but there is no data on the scale of violence against women in the world,” Villa said.

Egypt was the only Arab country to rank below Iraq.

“Since the American led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the situation of women has deteriorated to a point which is really alarming,” Villa said.

Next is the country that has become famous for not allowing women to drive, go to the gym, or do almost anything without a male guardian – Saudi Arabia; closely followed by Syria, where a civil war has left some 120,000 people dead, and more than a million have fled the country. Then comes Yemen, where reports of child marriages have recently gained international attention.

“Of the top five worst countries, three of went through the Arab spring,” Villa said. “There was a lot of terror after the revolutions there.”

The good news came from the Comoros, an island nation off the coast of Africa. The experts said that not only do women there have access to birth control, but in the case of divorce, women are often awarded the property.

Also good places for women are Oman, Kuwait, Jordan, Qatar and Tunisia.

Villa said she hopes the fact that women participated in the revolution in Egypt will pave the way for a change in Egyptian attitudes toward women.

“The fact that women have participated in the revolution and have found their voice, especially in the most disadvantaged circles, is very important because it plants seeds for the future,” she said. “But nevertheless today, they are reduced to quasi-silence by the violence around them.”

San Diego mayor has signed letter of resignation, report says


The mayor of San Diego, facing a sexual harassment lawsuit and a slew of allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women, has signed a letter of resignation, the Los Angeles Times reported on Friday.

The resignation of Mayor Bob Filner could not immediately be confirmed by Reuters.

City Clerk Elizabeth Maland said her office had not received any such letter, and a spokesman for the city attorney declined to comment. A representative for Filner could not immediately be reached for comment.

The City Council was to meet Friday to consider a proposed settlement between Filner and the city amid controversy over how to handle the lawsuit and any liability arising from it.

Reporting by Marty Graham, Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and John Wallace

The Torah and child sexual abuse


Everything we build and teach our children, all our investments and dedication to good, all our moral standards, our entire education system, can be wiped out in one fell swoop when we or our children are violated.

The first of all ethical and Torah axioms must be stated at the outset: No one has a right to in any way violate in any way the body or soul of another human being. Indeed, we don’t even have the right to mutilate our own bodies, because your body does not belong to you; it is “Divine property.” 

No crime is worse that assaulting another’s dignity — which is compared to the dignity of G-d Himself, being that every person was created in the Divine Image. Even a hanged murderer must not be defiled and his body not left to hang overnight because it reflects the Divine Image. How much more so — infinitely more so — regarding a live person and innocent child.

Abuse, in any form or shape, physical, psychological, verbal, emotional or sexual, is above all a violent crime — a terrible crime. Abusing another (even if it’s intangible) is no different than taking a weapon and beating someone to a pulp. And because of its terrible long-term effects, the crime is that much worse.

The next question is this: What are our obligations as parents, teachers, writers, Web site editors or just plain adult citizens when it comes to abuse?

On one hand, we are talking about protecting innocent people from criminal predators, which clearly is a major obligation and a priority concern. On the other hand, we do have laws prohibiting embarrassing people (even criminals) in public, always hopeful, allowing people to correct their ways. We have laws about avoiding gossip and speaking ill about others (lashon harah), and not feeding into the base instinct of “talking about others” or “mob mentality” witch-hunting expeditions.

We have several obligations when we see or know about a crime, as well as obligations to prevent further crimes:

1) A witness to a crime who does not testify “must bear his guilt” (Leviticus 5:1). 

2) “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14), which includes the obligation to warn someone from a danger we are aware of. If you see someone walking down the street and you know that farther down the block there is an uncovered pit in the ground or a man with a gun, you are obligated to warn him. If we are aware of a predator, we must do everything possible to protect people from him.

3) “Do not stand still over your neighbor’s blood (when your neighbor’s life is in danger)” (Leviticus 19:16). It’s interesting to note that this commandment follows (in the same verse) “do not go around as a gossiper among your people,” suggesting that gossip is an issue only when no life is in danger. But if a life is in danger, then “do not stand still” even if means speaking about it in public.

4) “You must admonish your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17). If one does not admonish, then he is responsible for the other’s sin (Sefer HaMitzvot, Positive 205; see Shabbat 54b. 119b). Although at the outset rebuke must be done “in private, kindly and gently,” not to embarrass him publicly (Arkhin 16b; Sefer HaMitzvot, Negative 305), but if it doesn’t help, the obligation is to admonish him in public (Rambam Deos 6:8. Shulchan Aruch HaRav Hilchos Onaah v’Gneivas Daas 30).

This is true even about a crime that does not affect other people. All the care taken about public shame is because the crime does not affect the public. And even then, there are situations where the admonishment must be done publicly. By contrast, in our discussion about abuse, which affects others, all these restrictions do not apply: Embarrassment of a criminal is never an excuse or a reason to put anyone else in potential danger.

Based on the above, I would submit the following criteria to determine whether to publish and publicize the name of a molester:

1) The abuse must be established without a shred of doubt. Because just as we must protect the potential victims of abuse, we also are obligated to protect the reputations of the innocent, and not wrongly accuse anyone without evidence or witnesses.

 2) Publicizing the fact will serve as a deterrent or even possible deterrent of further crimes, or will warn and protect possible future victims. If that is true, then lashon harah does not apply. It would be the equivalent of saying that it is lashon harah to warn someone of a weapon-wielding criminal who may cause harm.

3) Even if a name is not available to be publicized, the issue of abuse itself must be addressed for the same reasons stated: to make the public aware of the dangers, to protect innocent children.

The argument that publicity will give the community a “bad name” and “why wash our dirty laundry in public?” does not supersede the obligation to protect the innocent from being hurt.

Anyone who suggests that abuse must be overlooked, because (as one person told me) it “happens all the time” and “by many people, including our leaders,” or for any other reasons — is not different from ignoring any other crime, and is in itself a grave crime.

One could even argue that the greatest “kiddush HaShem” (sanctifying God’s name) is when a Torah-based community demonstrates that it doesn’t just mechanically follow the laws or isn’t merely concerned with reputations, but that it sets and demands the highest standard of accountability among its citizens, and invests the greatest possible measures to protect its children from predators, create trust and absolutely will not tolerate any breach or abuse. That the greatest sin of all is ignoring or minimizing crimes being perpetrated against our most innocent and vulnerable members: our children.

In conclusion: The bottom line in all matters regarding abuse is one and only one thing: protecting the innocent. Not the reputation of an individual, not the reputation of the community, not anything but the welfare of our children. In every given case, whether to publicize, whether to take any other action, the question that must be asked is this: What is best for the victims? Will or can this action help prevent someone from being hurt or not? If the answer is yes or even maybe yes, then the action should be taken.

The crisis has reached a boiling point where it must be addressed and brought to the attention of the public to make everyone aware of the dangers, the long-term consequences and the zero-tolerance policy that needs to be applied to every form of abuse.

Anything less would be irresponsible, immoral and, yes, in some way complicit.


Rabbi Simon Jacobson is the author of the best-selling book “Toward a Meaningful Life.” He heads The Meaningful Life Center (meaningfullife.com), in Manhattan, N.Y., which bridges the secular and the spiritual through a wide variety of live and on-line programming.

Iranian Jews stand by their man Katsav in rape and sexual harassment case


Despite a flurry of criticism directed at Israeli President Moshe Katsav over rape and sexual harassment allegations, support for Israel’s embattled president remains strong among Southern California’s Iranian Jews.

“Many in the community here know President Katsav on a personal basis,” said Sam Kermanian, secretary general of the L.A.-based Iranian American Jewish Federation. “The feeling is that he is not the type of person who is capable of committing the sorts of crimes attributed to him.”

Katsav’s ascension to the presidency nearly seven years ago marked the first time an Iranian Jew was elected to such a high political office in any government. The achievement served as a source of pride for many Iranian Jews worldwide.

Katsav, 61, has been accused of sexual harassment and rape, but no formal charges have been filed. A hearing is scheduled for May 2, after which Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz will determine whether to indict the president.

Allegations that Katsav sexually harassed or assaulted female workers surfaced in July 2006. Katsav suspended himself from office on Jan. 25, after Israeli prosecutors drafted a rape indictment. Other allegations being considered against Katsav include breach of trust, obstruction of justice, harassment of a witness and fraud. He denies any wrongdoing.

“The charges against me have nothing to do with reality,” he said during a Jan. 24 press conference. “When the truth emerges, the citizens of Israel will be shocked.”

Katsav also accused Israeli journalists of libel and suggested that the Israeli media, motivated by racism, has been trying to discredit him ever since his 2000 victory over Shimon Peres for the presidency.

Calls made to Katsav’s attorneys in Israel seeking comment were not returned.Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik is filling in as president during Katsav’s self-imposed three-month suspension, which ends on April 23, Israeli Independence Day. According to Israeli law, the president is immune from prosecution while in office and can only be tried after the end of his term or if he resigns.

Katsav is expected to ask the Knesset for a second three-month extension to accommodate the May 2 hearing. Katsav’s term ends in July, and he has vowed to resign if formally indicted. Earlier this month, a Knesset committee voted against impeaching the embattled president.

Dr. David Menashri, chairman of the modern Iranian studies program at Tel Aviv University, said despite the negative press Katsav has received in the Israeli media, various Israelis of Iranian descent have by and large been sympathetic to him.

“Some prominent figures in the Iranian Jewish community expressed public support for Katsav, blaming the media for blowing the issue out of proportion and coming out with a verdict even before President Katsav has been brought to trial,” Menashri said.

A number of Southern California’s Iranian Jewish leaders said they were disturbed by the backlash against Katsav in Israel, given the fact that no formal charges have been filed.

“Mr. Katsav was not judged, not taken to court and the accusations have not been substantiated. So how can a whole country consider him guilty?” said Rabbi David Shofet of the Nessah Cultural Center in Beverly Hills. “It’s against the Jewish teachings of the Talmud to do so.”

Local Iranian Jewish leaders said they have been urging the larger L.A. Jewish community to show restraint when it comes to judgment on Katsav until after his trial.

“As people who are concerned for Israel’s well-being and who are not always happy with what they see on the political scene, I think we should all be very interested in seeing that Mr. Katsav has the full opportunity to defend himself and make sure the whole truth comes out,” said Kermanian, the Iranian American Jewish Federation’s secretary general.

Ebrahim Yahid, a West Los Angeles resident and 40-year friend of the Israeli president, said the allegations made against Katsav were not typical of the president’s behavior. He said the accusations caught local Iranian Jews by surprise.

“The news was a major shock for our community, and we wanted to organize some sort of demonstration supporting President Katsav,” said Yahid, who chairs of the nonprofit Arbitration and Mediation Committee in Beverly Hills.

Ironically, the Iranian Jewish Woman’s Organization, a Los Angeles-based social group, honored the Israeli president’s mother Goher last year for her success in raising Katsav to become a source of pride for Iranian Jewry worldwide.

Other local Iranian Jewish leaders said they were confident the community’s image would not be tainted as a result of the scandal.

“Why should one scandal tarnish the whole community?” said Dariush Fakheri, co-founder of the Eretz-SIAMAK Cultural Center in Tarzana. “We [Iranian Jews] are not known as a community with a high crime rate, nor low education, nor a lack of interest in humanity or philanthropy.”

Some Iranian Jewish legal experts said that while there may be support for Katsav, the scandal has tainted his reputation and sparked rumors among certain circles within the community.

“The notion of you are innocent until proven guilty is a very new and alien concept in the Iranian Jewish community,” said Nazila Shokrian-Barlva, an attorney with Los Angeles County public defender’s office. “The whole idea of gossip is to assume the reverse, and even if you are never proven guilty, the cloud never goes away.”

Update 2007-07-20:
Local Iranian Jews shocked by Katsav plea bargain

Lawsuit Filed in Granada Hills Jewish Community Center Shooting


Lawsuit Filed in Granada Hills Jewish Community Center Shooting

Families of the victims of the 1999 North Valley Jewish Community Center (JCC) shooting in Granada Hills are suing the state of Washington for allegedly failing to supervise the man who committed the crime. The $15 million lawsuit filed Aug. 18 says the state’s Department of Corrections failed to adequately monitor Buford Furrow Jr., an ex-convict on probation from a Washington state jail. On Aug. 10, 1999, Furrow burst into the North Valley JCC and opened fire. He wounded two small boys, a teenager and an adult receptionist, and later killed a Filipino-American letter carrier nearby. Furrow is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

Young Quits After ‘Hurtful’ Remarks

Andrew Young resigned as a Wal-Mart advocate after disparaging Jewish, Arab and Korean shop owners. A former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and mayor of Atlanta, Young resigned as head of “Working Families for Wal-Mart,” and apologized. The Los Angeles Sentinel, a black newspaper, asked Young how he could advocate for an organization that displaces “mom and pop” outfits. Young said he was pleased when those stores were “run out” of his neighborhood. “Those are the people who have been overcharging us — selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables,” he said. “And they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs, very few black people own these stores.”

Olmert Pressed on War Inquiry

Ehud Olmert is under pressure to establish a state commission of inquiry to investigate how officials handled Israel’s war with Hezbollah. The Israeli prime minister told the attorney general to see what alternatives exist for such an investigation, ranging from inquiries that would be made public to those that might remain confidential within the Cabinet. Meanwhile, criticism of how the war was conducted is mounting. Petitions have been circulating by reserve soldiers who have returned from fighting in Lebanon with long lists of complaints.

Diaspora Money Heads North

World Jewry is expected to contribute about $344 million to rehabilitating Israel’s northern towns and cities. The money, according to an Israeli government plan announced Sunday, would contribute to the overall cost of repairing damage and providing assistance to northern residents, estimated at about $1 billion. Money would go to financial aid for residents and businesses, repairs, psychological counseling, rebuilding schools and other projects run by a newly formed Israeli government committee. An emergency campaign in the United States has already raised $220 million for assistance to the North.

Israeli Officials Face Sexual-Harassment Charges

On Monday, police seized computers and documents from President Moshe Katsav’s Residence in Jerusalem, seeking possible evidence related to charges by a former employee who has claimed that Katsav coerced her into sexual relations. Katsav has denied any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, Israel’s justice minister resigned in the wake of sexual-harassment charges. Haim Ramon announced his resignation Sunday. Israel’s attorney general said he plans to indict Ramon on charges that he forcibly kissed an 18-year-old soldier at an office party July 12, the day the war started between Israel and Hezbollah.

“I am sure that I will succeed in court,” Ramon said. “A kiss of two, three seconds, based on the version of the complainant, cannot be turned into a criminal act.”

Israeli Children Anxious After War

About 35 percent of Israeli schoolchildren who stayed in the North during the war with Hezbollah are suffering from anxiety, nightmares and other problems, a survey found. The 16,000 or so children also were found to have difficulty concentrating and are crying more often, the Tel Chai Academic College found in the survey. Problems are especially acute among preschoolers.

Major Israeli Writer Dies

Writer Yizhar Smilansky, an Israel Prize-winner better known by the pen name S. Yizhar, died Monday. One month shy of his 90th birthday, Yizhar died of heart failure. Known as a major innovator of Hebrew literature, he wrote prose, poetry and children’s literature. He also was well-known for his essays, which gained attention at the beginning of the war in Lebanon in 1982. His writing, which often challenged the Zionist narrative and the morality of the army, was the subject of intense controversy.

Israel: Hezbollah Used Russian Weapons

Israel complained to Russia that Russian-made anti-tank missiles reached Hezbollah fighters, who used them with devastating effect against Israeli troops. An Israeli delegation traveled to Moscow earlier this week to deliver the complaint, Ha’aretz reported. The anti-tank missiles proved to be one of Hezbollah’s most effective weapons in the monthlong war in Lebanon, responsible for the deaths of at least 50 of the 118 Israeli soldiers killed in the fighting. Israel protested in recent years when Russia sold advanced weapons to Syria, warning that they would be forwarded them to Hezbollah, but Russia dismissed the concerns. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said it was “impossible” that Russian weapons could have reached Hezbollah.

Jewish-Owned Market in Moscow Bombed

An explosion at a Jewish-owned market in Moscow killed at least 10 people and left 16 to 40 wounded. According to preliminary reports, no Jews were hurt in the blast at the Cherkizovsky market. The market is believed to be owned and operated by members of the “Mountain Jewish” community, which has its roots in Azerbaijan. At least two children died in the Monday morning blast in Moscow. Investigators say the explosion, which caused a two-story building to collapse, could have been a settling of scores among gangs, but officials are not ruling out that the blast was a terrorist attack.

Restaurant in India Named After Hitler

A new restaurant in India is named after Hitler and has swastikas on its walls. The owner of the Hitler’s Cross restaurant in Bombay told Reuters that he just wanted to stand out from the crowd. India’s Jewish community is protesting the name.

Annan Chides Iran on Holocaust Cartoons

Commenting on an exhibit of cartoons questioning the Holocaust, Kofi Annan’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said that the U.N. secretary-general has made clear in past conversations with Iranian officials that while he supports free speech, “people need to exercise that right responsibly and not use it as a pretext for incitement, hatred or for insulting beliefs of any community.”

A museum in Tehran opened the exhibit last week, in response to the publication in Denmark last year of cartoons that targeted Mohammed, the Muslim prophet.Exhibit organizers say they took their cue from Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called the Holocaust a “myth.” Annan is to visit Iran in coming weeks as part of a tour to follow up on the Lebanon-Israel cease-fire.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Best & Worst of Times


It’s been a month of extremes for the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) on the West Coast. As the Orthodox youth group basks in the joy of moving into its own building, it is also reeling from the shock of a scandal involving an East Coast regional director allegedly abusing teens.

Last month Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The New York Jewish Week, published an article exposing 25 years of possible sexual harassment, assault and emotional abuse by Rabbi Baruch Lanner, who immediately resigned from his position as director of regions for the NCSY, a division of the Orthodox Union (OU). The OU – the same organization that grants kosher certification to 20,000 food products – has set up a counseling hotline and an independent commission to investigate the OU’s role in the Lanner situation.

According to Rosenblatt’s article, in which alleged victims from the past three decades revealed their identity to expose Lanner, the OU was long aware of the accusations but did not remove him from the organization, and only after many years did they prevent him from working directly with teens.Even according to the alleged victims – many of whom became Jewish educators – Lanner was a dynamic and magnetic leader in the movement. For years he served as regional director in New Jersey, where he was also a yeshiva high school principal.

“Our goal is to restore the public’s confidence in the Orthodox Union and NCSY, and to preserve and improve the programs that have benefited tens of thousands of young men and women involved in NCSY since its inception in 1959,” said Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, national president of the OU.

Dr. Larry Eisenberg, president of the West Coast region of the OU, says the incident has dealt a blow to the faith and goodwill the community has toward the organization.

But, he says, the incident has already led regions around the country to compare notes on how they ensure the safety and well-being of the NCSYers.

“The organization is being upgraded and modernized, all of the systems and procedures and policies. NCSY is an institution that has been around for a long time, and sometimes you run a certain way based on how you’ve been doing it for decades,” Eisenberg says. “When a problem comes up, you realize you have to set things up based on the realities of today.”

For businesses as well as organizations, that means policies and training regarding harassment, he says. What has always been practiced as proper decorum and sensitivity now needs to be formalized.Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, West Coast director of the OU, says the region, with its joint professional and lay leadership, parent involvement, and ongoing staff training and oversight, is a safe and inspiring environment for the roughly 3,000 teens it serves from Vancouver to El Paso.

“I am very confident that the necessary safeguards are in place,” he said. “My office is always open to the kids.” Eisenberg cautions that despite the sense of betrayal, the community should withhold judgment until the commission issues its final report. According to The Jewish Week, NCSY’s largest synagogue-affiliated chapter pulled out of the group last week, and the sponsoring synagogue, Congregation Beth Aaron in New Jersey, voted to withhold all fees paid to the OU.

Several OU-affiliated Los Angeles synagogues said their boards would discuss the incident, but none expected any actions would be taken. “I think the process should be given a chance to run its course before we disconnect from an organization that has done a lot of good,” said Marc Rohatiner, president of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, where he said a handful of people have brought up the notion of withholding fees form the OU.

Eva Yelloz of North Hollywood, whose three older children were enriched by their involvement as teens and later as advisors with NCSY, says her trust in the group has been shaken, but she will not keep her youngest son, 14, from getting involved if he wants to.

“I believe it was one person like this, and the administration who let it go on surely has learned its lesson,” says Yelloz. “After this has come out, they will clean up their act in every way possible and do their utmost to keep a clean record and do better than their best.”

Kalinsky says none of the kids withdrew from local summer programs, including a boys’ camp for 60 kids. In fact, according to Sharyn Perlman, director of public relations for OU, not one of the approximately 1,000 teenagers signed up for NCSY’s Israel trips or local summer programs pulled out.

NCSY, working with volunteers from Nefesh, the association of Orthodox mental health professionals, has set up a toll-free hotline (877-905-9576) for present and former NCSYers to call for counseling on religious or psychological issues.

The investigative commission is headed by Richard Joel, international director of Hillel, the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and includes professor of psychiatry Rabbi Abraham Twerski, several lawyers, business people and philanthro-pists, and the former consumer affairs commissioner of New York City.”The Commission will explore past actions of Orthodox Union employees and lay leaders to determine what remedial action should be taken and will formulate new guidelines for our personnel to ensure that these circumstances will never be repeated,” Ganchrow said.

Gary Rosenblatt’s article, “Stolen Innocence,” (New York Jewish Week, June 23) is available at www.thejewishweek.com. The OU’s comments are at www.ou.org. Any information for the commission can be sent to inquiryncsy@yahoo.com

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