June 26, 2019

Two Jewish Comedians Talk Mary Tyler Moore, #MeToo, and Mothering

Photo provided by Debra Nussbaum Cohen.

Comedian Judy Gold emerged on stage at an Upper West Side theater on Feb. 11 and screeched, “Oh my God, I’m so excited,” as she welcomed comedian/actress/performer Sandra Bernhard to a live taping of her podcast “Kill Me Now.” 

It didn’t take long for the pair of Jewy comics to dive into celebrity gossip. Bernhard asked if the host had been invited to Jennifer Aniston’s 50th birthday party. “I wasn’t invited,” Bernhard said dryly. Gold asked: “Hasn’t she had a lot of work done?” to which Bernhard diplomatically replied, “She’s had a lot of tsuris.”

Being in the audience felt a lot like eavesdropping on two famous friends having a grown up slumber party. Their conversations roamed from what it was like growing up in a New Jersey suburb (Gold) and Scottsdale, Ariz. (Bernhard); how they’ve dealt with hostility toward female comics and sexual harassment over the course of their careers, as well as the fickle fortunes of fame.

Throughout, Gold dinged a hotel desk bell every time they mentioned someone or something Jewish. There were a lot of dings.

The comics riffed on their shared love of Carole King’s album “Tapestry,” reminisced about tearing the cellophane off new albums while sitting on shag-carpeted bedroom floors, and their mutual obsession with TV variety shows and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

Although both women are Jewish, Gold builds her shtick around feeling awkward and unpopular because she is tall and gawky. Bernhard, on the other hand, is all cool fashionista. She has graced the cover of Elle, is known for her style as well as her Mick Jagger pout and is as unflappable as Gold is neurotic. 

To this day, Bernhard is thankful that she didn’t get cast in her high school production of “Funny Girl” despite her Barbra Streisand-esque nose and beautiful voice. Instead, the casting director picked a curvier “totally blond shiksa” and, Bernhard said, ended up sexually molesting the lead and others girls.

“From the get-go, HaShem protected me and I was never molested,” she said, although she did share another story. She said the late comedian Buddy Hackett invited her to come to his Beverly Hills house the morning after the premiere of her 1982 film “The King of Comedy” with Jerry Lewis and Robert DeNiro. She was 26 at the time. “He met me at the door in a terry-cloth robe,” Bernhard said. That was my #MeToo experience,” but she didn’t elaborate further.

“Judy Gold builds her shtick around feeling awkward and unpopular because she is tall and gawky. Sandra Bernhard, on the other hand, is all cool fashionista.”

Gold shared her own Hackett #MeToo moment. “The Concord Hotel was trying to stay open. Buddy liked me for some reason and asked me to open for him. He liked tall women. (Gold is 6 feet 3). He comes up to me right before I go on, he comes up to here on me,” Gold said, holding her hand at bust level, “and says, ‘Give me a kiss.’ I say, ‘I’m not giving you a kiss.’ He’s like, ‘Just give me a little tongue.’ And then he puts his face in my boobs,” shaking it back and forth. “Then I went right onstage.”

Bernhard she said that while she was growing up, she was teased by schoolmates for having her famously full “n-word lips.” After finishing high school early, she went to a kibbutz in Israel, where she had lots of cousins. She picked oranges and grapefruit, chopped weeds in cotton fields and, in the kibbutz slaughterhouse, vacuumed lungs out of chickens on the assembly line. She credits the manual labor with teaching her a strong work ethic.

After returning to the U.S., she moved to Los Angeles, enrolled in the Charles Ross School of Beauty and studied to be a manicurist for three months before working in salons while doing stand-up in local comedy clubs. Comics Paul Mooney and Lotus Weinstock mentored her.

Unlike other women working in comedy at the time, Bernhard refused to be self-deprecating in her act. The late Joan Rivers told her she’d never make it in show business unless she got a nose job but she never considered it.  

“From Day One, it was confidence, confidence, confidence,” Gold said, admiringly.  

“I was insecure, don’t get me wrong, but it never came out in my material,” Bernhard said. “I couldn’t let all the feminists down. All my ladies. They fought for me.”

Gold, on the other hand, wanted a nose job. In the exaggerated, Jewish mother voice she uses when quoting her late mother, Gold said, “You’ll get your nose done when Barbra Streisand gets hers.”

Starring with Lewis and De Niro in “King of Comedy,” was a career high for Bernhard. “I’m sure Jerry Lewis was very nice on set,” Gold, said. “No, he wasn’t,” Bernhard replied. “He was a horrible person.”

The two then talked about being Jewish mothers. “I tortured my daughter. I was involved in the Kabbalah Centre for a long time,” Bernhard said. “From the time she was in utero until she was 10, 11, I would drag her to the Kabbalah Centre.”

She said she then took her daughter to Chabad, where she was bat mitzvah’d. “I thought she would never want to be near anything [Jewish] again,” Bernhard said.  But about a month ago Bernhard went to visit her daughter in London, who said to her mother, ‘Let’s go to Shabbat in Golder’s Green.’ “So we went to synagogue,” and she was really into it, and I was like, ‘HaShem, thank you.’ ”

“You’re so lucky,” Gold said. “Yeah, I didn’t drive her completely away from her faith,” Bernhard replied.

And as any Jewish mother would, Gold responded, “Mazel tov on that, honey. Mazel tov.”

Debra Nussbaum Cohen writes from New York for Haaretz and is a contributing editor at The Forward. 

Felicity Jones on Playing and Meeting Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Felicity Jones portrays a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg in "On the Basis of Sex."

Portraying a real person adds a layer of difficulty to a performance for an actor, especially when the subject is alive to critique it. And playing iconic Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the film “On the Basis of Sex” was quite intimidating for British actress Felicity Jones.

“It’s a huge responsibility and I definitely felt that going into it,” Jones, 35, told the Journal. “It’s about how do you do justice to the justice?” 

When it came to meeting the 85-year-old Ginsburg (nicknamed the Notorious RBG), “I was petrified,” Jones said. “This is someone I deeply admired and respected. But when we went to meet her in her chambers in Washington, D.C., she was incredibly welcoming. [It gave me insight into] understanding the woman behind the icon. What would it take to get to the position she’s in today? What were those struggles? What were those triumphs? My way into it was to become obsessive about the details, explore every part of Justice Ginsburg’s life, to understand her motivations.”

Jones prepared by watching video footage, including home movies, and listening to audio of Ginsburg arguing cases in court. “I spent hours obsessing over the minutiae of her accent and vowel sounds, the tone and pitch,” Jones said. “Her voice is such a testament to the power she’s been able to have in the world. She fought injustice on every single front. And the way that she managed to harness her
anger and frustration and turn it into something positive is a testament to her use of language and her ability to get her voice heard.”

Felicity Jones stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Mimi Leder’s ON THE BASIS OF SEX, a Focus Features release.

The actress received the ultimate validation when Ginsburg gave her performance a thumbs-up. “We email each other and she wrote to tell me how pleased she was with the work,” Jone said. “It’s the best review I could possibly get. If there’s one person whose opinion I cared about, it was hers.”

Directed by Mimi Leder, “On the Basis of Sex” has a script by Daniel Stiepleman, a nephew of Ginsburg’s late husband, Martin. “It’s very rare to find a script about a woman who succeeds and not only lives at the end but makes the world work for her and does so with her relationship fully intact. It’s such a celebration of female success,” Jones said. “It’s as much a family story as it is about becoming RBG.”

The origin drama focuses on a gender rights case that Ruth and Martin Ginsburg argued in 1970, in which the IRS denied a man a caregiver exemption because it only applied to women at the time. “You can look at the film and think it’s a relic from the past, but with #MeToo, you realize that everything that Ruth had been arguing for is more relevant than ever,” Jones said.

“I spent hours obsessing over the minutiae of her accent and vowel sounds, the tone and pitch. Her voice is such a testament to the power she’s been able to have in the world.”  — Felicity Jones

“At such an early point in her life, she understood what it was like to have a sense of injustice, and she used that to her advantage,” Jones continued, noting that as a Jewish woman from Brooklyn, Ginsburg “was discriminated against on many levels, not only because she was a woman but because of her faith and where she was from. I can relate to that, I’m from Birmingham, a place in England that there’s an awful lot of snobbery about and gets made fun of for its strong regional accent. So I empathize with her on many fronts, as a woman and growing up in an industry that’s a male-dominated environment.”

Jones began appearing on British TV at age 12. Her desire to perform “came out of a hobby and a passion and continued from there,” she said. “I went to university and studied English literature and language and psychology, to have something to fall back on.” She didn’t need Plan B. She has worked steadily, most recently in “The Theory of Everything,” “Inferno,” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” 

Ginsburg is not Jones’ first real-life Jewish role. In 2009, she appeared in a BBC miniseries version of “The Diary of Anne Frank” as Anne’s older sister, Margot. “We know Anne Frank so well, so it was great to bring someone who is less well known to the foreground,” she said. 

Jones’ next film, set to be released in November 2019, is “The Aeronauts.” It reunites her with her “Theory of Everything” co-star Eddie Redmayne. “It’s about two balloonists who see how high they can go and survive. My character is based on French balloonist Sophie Blanchard, one of the first women to pilot a hot-air balloon on her own. She used to go out at night on balloon rides and set off fireworks in midflight,” Jones said. “We did a lot of our own stunts in the film, so we came out with a lot of bumps and bruises along the way.”

Jones also has a new film version of “Swan Lake” in development. “I’m always looking for stories that feel relevant and characters that I can get my teeth into,” she said. “At the moment, I’m just rolling with it and open to what comes along.” 

Jones currently is on promotional tour for “On the Basis of Sex,” which has included a screening and Q&A session in Washington attended by Ginsburg. 

“It was hugely emotional seeing her joy for the film. Mimi and I were in tears,” Jones said. “It was the best reward we could have had.”

“On the Basis of Sex” opens in Los Angeles on Dec. 25.

My Person of the Year: Nadia Murad

Nadia Murad was 21 in the summer of 2014 when ISIS militants attacked her Yazidi village in northern Iraq, close to the border with Syria. The militants killed those who refused to convert to Islam, including six of her brothers and her mother.

According to media reports, after being captured, Murad was taken to Mosul, where she was forced to convert to Islam and endured three months as a sex slave at the hands of the militants. She was bought and sold several times and subjected to sexual and physical abuse during her captivity.

She tried to escape, but was immediately caught by one of the guards, she told the BBC. Under their rules, she said, a captured woman became a spoil of war if she was caught trying to escape. She would be put in a cell and raped by all the men in the compound. The militants called this practice “sexual jihad.”

“Referring to the thousands of women still in ISIS’ grip, Nadia Murad added: ‘It is inconceivable that the conscience of the leaders of 195 countries around the world is not mobilized to liberate these girls.'”

A Muslim family that had no connection with ISIS helped Murad escape. She managed to cross into Iraqi Kurdistan and found refuge in camps with other Yazidis. She later reached Europe and now lives in Germany.

Since winning her freedom, Murad has campaigned for the thousands of women who are still believed to be held captive by ISIS.

She was awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize by the Council of Europe in 2016, and called for an international court to judge crimes committed by ISIS in her acceptance speech in Strasbourg, France.

That same year, Murad also was awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. She was named the United Nations’ first goodwill ambassador for survivors of human trafficking later that year.

In October of this year, Murad was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

“A woman being raped on a battlefield in Mosul should get as much attention as a woman being raped in a hotel room in New York City.”

Despite all that, Murad still hasn’t become a household name in the United States. As The World Tribune reported after her victory, “News that Yazidi sex slave survivor Nadia Murad has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war barely registered on the American media radar screen.”

Because she’s gone largely unnoticed in America in the era of #MeToo, if I were editor of Time magazine, Murad would have been my choice for Person of the Year.

Murad offers a unique opportunity for the #MeToo movement to become more global. Among the things I love about the movement is that it wasn’t a flash in the pan. Since it exploded on the scene over a year ago, more and more victims of sexual abuse have felt free to speak out. A crucial conversation has begun. Justice, however halting, is being served. The cause is now ingrained in our national consciousness.

Murad’s story takes the issue of sexual abuse from the home and workplace to regions of armed conflict. It expands the #MeToo movement internationally to where it is sorely needed.

In her address after receiving the Nobel Prize, as reported in The New York Times, Murad condemned “the international community’s indifference to wartime sexual violence and pleaded for new efforts to arrest or punish those responsible.”

“Thank you very much for this honor,” she said, “but the fact remains that the only prize in the world that can restore our dignity is justice and the prosecution of criminals.”

Referring to the thousands of women still in ISIS’ grip, Murad added: “It is inconceivable that the conscience of the leaders of 195 countries around the world is not mobilized to liberate these girls. What if they were a commercial deal, an oil field or a shipment of weapons? Most certainly, no efforts would be spared to liberate them.”

We like to think of globalism in terms of economic interdependence and the protection of the environment, which are hugely important. But justice for victims of sexual abuse ought to be another pillar of globalism. A woman being raped on a battlefield in Mosul should get as much attention as a woman being raped in a hotel room in New York City.

As Murad told the Jewish Journal in an interview last year, “When ISIS is held accountable, when my people are protected, when the women are freed and my people live with dignity, I will be happy then.”

Accountability. Protection. Freedom. Dignity. Happiness. Not a bad list for 2019.

Happy New Year.

A Case of A Silent, Deadly #MeToo in New York

Among the many tragedies of the past couple of weeks, on Oct. 24 the bodies of two young Saudi Arabian sisters were found near the Hudson River, bound together with duct tape. They had been seen that morning in nearby Riverside Park, praying.

Police are still investigating but suspect the sisters’ deaths were a double suicide. Rotana Farea, 22, and Tala Farea, 16, had moved to Fairfax, Va., with their family in 2015. Rotana was enrolled at George Mason University. They ran away last December and entered a domestic violence shelter after reportedly telling authorities that they were being physically abused at home. They then left the shelter without notice in August. 

The sisters had applied for political asylum, and seemingly because of that, their mother received a call from the Saudi consulate ordering the family to return to Saudi Arabia, according to news reports. Officials at the consulate denied the allegations and told reporters that they had hired an attorney to “follow the case closely.”

Two days later, the girls were found dead. According to the police, the girls said they would rather die than return to Saudi Arabia, where they would most likely be forced into arranged marriages.

The day the news broke, my Yemenite neighbor, Waseif Qahatan, came to my apartment in tears. “I could have saved them,” she said. 

Qahatan was a child bride at the age of 14. She had been sold to the highest bidder, her cousin. Though born and raised in the Bronx, that summer she went back to Yemen to wed. Her father received $80,000 in return.

“I believed it was a ‘regular marriage,’ but the truth was, it was indentured slavery,” said Qahatan, now 32. “I was not a wife but a slave to my husband, a slave to medieval rules, a slave to my family’s wishes.”

“When I could no longer handle the pressures, I reached out to local authorities. I was told nothing could be done because I was a minor. So, I was old enough to be married but not old enough to have a say about my body or my life.”

After having her first child at 18, Qahatan was finally granted a divorce at age 20. She was back in the U.S., but a year later was stuck in a second arranged marriage. After her second child, she ran away with her children to a domestic violence shelter. “Although I was very much alone, I finally felt free,” she said.

It is another, silent, deadly #MeToo. Physical abuse, rape, stoning, honor killing — all continue to be standard practice in religious Muslim communities around the world. But because cultural relativism is a big part of leftist ideology, many feminists remain silent on the issue. Linda Sarsour, leader of the “Women’s March,” has so far had zero to say on the Saudi suicides. 

The New York Times ran a story about the tragedy that happened just miles from its offices —and then nothing. No editorials, no op-eds, nada. President Trump couldn’t be blamed for it, so why bother?

Earlier this year, Qahatan started a nonprofit called After the Veil that is geared to help young girls needing to escape abusive families or forced marriages. She posted her mission on the organization’s website at AfterTheVeil.com: “Give a voice to Arab American women in order to empower them. Provide these women with a safe haven and the resources necessary to reach their full potential.”  Further on the website, Qahatan says the location of her organization’s safe house is kept secret to protect the women staying there. 

“Arabic girls all over the world feel they have no options,” Qahatan told me. “The conditioning of Arabic culture is that of suppression and silencing the voices of those who need to be heard the most.”

She remains upset that her nonprofit wasn’t further along to help the Saudi girls, but their deaths have given her renewed focus.

“These girls had made a decision, so they were not praying for themselves but praying for girls like them to one day have a chance, to live a life of freedom,” she said. “I have fought all my life and will continue to fight against the idea that females cannot have power. To girls in this situation, I say hold on. Help is coming.”

Karen Lehrman Bloch is an author and cultural critic living in New York City.

Google Employees Walk Out in Protest of Company’s Reported Cover-Up of Sexual Misconduct

Google employees stage a “women’s walkout” at their Googleplex offices in protest over the company’s handling of a large payout to Android chief Andy Rubin as well as concerns over several other managers who had allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct at the company in Mountain View, California, U.S., November 1, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Thousands of Google employees staged a global walkout on Thursday to protest the tech giant’s reported cover-up of sexual misconduct among its executives.

The New York Times reported on Oct. 25 that Google protected three executives from credible accusations of sexual misconduct, which included negotiating buyouts worth millions of dollars from the company. Google has denied any wrongdoing.

The “Google Walkout” protests have occurred in locations ranging from Mountain View, CA – where Google’s headquarters are – to Tokyo, New York and Berlin.

Here are some photos of the protests:

Their demands are as follows:

Sandar Pichai, Google’s CEO, expressed support for the walkouts.

“Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes going forward,” Pichai said in a statement. “We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

Diversity Is Highlight of 32nd Israel Film Festival

Still from “Working Woman”

A diverse lineup of features, documentaries and short films will be presented at the 32nd Israel Film Festival in Los Angeles, kicking off Nov. 6 with an opening night gala at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills that will honor Israeli filmmaker Avi Nesher and “Halloween” producer, Jason Blum.

More than 40 films and television series will screen at the Laemmle Ahrya Fine Arts and Town Center 5 theaters over a two-week period ending Nov. 20.

“We have close to 30 guests coming — Israeli stars, directors and producers” who will participate in Q&A discussions following their films, IFF founder and executive director Meir Fenigstein told the Journal. 

In addition to new films, including many award winners and nominees, the festival will pay tribute to six Israeli filmmakers with screenings of their classic movies, including Moshe Mizrahi and Menahem Golan’s “I Love You Rosa”, Uri Barbash’s “One of Us” and Assi Dayan’s “Halfon Hill Doesn’t Answer.”

On Nov. 13, four family-friendly films will be shown at the Skirball Cultural Center in a program called “Jewish Identity Through Israeli Films,” starting with the TV comedy “The New Black,” about four rather un-Orthodox Yeshiva students. 

Other selections also deal with religion, including Nesher’s opening night film “The Other Story” and Eliran Malka’s “The Unorthodox.” The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the subject of the documentaries “Foreign Land,” “A Land Without Borders,” and “The Oslo Diaries,” which premiered on HBO in September and whose directors will attend its screening. “It’s an important film because we need to look back to look to the future,” Fenigstein said.
There are films about musicians (“Redemption,” “Here and Now’), people with special needs (“Shoelaces,” “On the Spectrum”), transgender issues (“Family in Transition”) and sexual politics (“Working Woman,” “Fractures”).

Documentaries include “Touching the Sky,” about female Israeli Air Force pilot trainees; “To Err is Human,” about medical mistakes and how doctors are endeavoring to prevent them; and a revealing look “Inside the Mossad,” with former spies from the Israeli intelligence agency.

“The Cakemaker,” which played at the IFF last year, is making a return appearance. “We want to help it go to the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes,” Fenigstein said.

He noted that the Annenberg Foundation joined this year’s group of sponsors, which will fund a prize to the IFF winners. “We’re going to give almost $100,000 in post-production funding to the winner of best feature and best documentary audience choice awards,” he said.

“Working Woman”
A dream job turns into a nightmare for Orna (Liron Ben-Shlush) in Michal Aviad’s timely “Working Woman.” Seemingly inspired by #MeToo, its screenplay actually dates back to 2012. It’s about a married woman who endures sexual advances from her boss (Menashe Noy) because her family needs the money, but suffice it to say that she becomes empowered in the end. 

“All my films are about women’s issues, from a woman’s point of view — issues that concern society,” Aviad said. In this film, “I really wanted to understand why women don’t leave or complain. What makes men continue this kind of behavior? What makes women put up with it? Can women and men work together? All this has been going on forever. Women need to work to provide for our families and we want to have a career but we can’t pay this kind of price. It’s time we tell this to everybody and to ourselves.”

Aviad, who studied literature and philosophy in Israel before getting her graduate degree in the United States, lived in San Francisco for 10 years before returning to Israel, where she’s now on the film department faculty at Tel Aviv University. Having specialized in documentaries like “Dimona Twist” and “Jenny and Jenny,” “Working Woman” is her second scripted feature. 

A secular Jew of Sephardic-Italian heritage on her mother’s side and of Ashkenazi-Hungarian ancestry on her father’s, Aviad documented her parents’ experiences during the Holocaust in “For My Children.” “My father got out before the war and went back to fight with the British army, and my mother and her family went into hiding,” she said. 

Aviad is troubled by the Israeli Culture Ministry’s new edicts that deny funding to artists who criticize the government. “I’m worried that democracy is losing its ground, step by step,” she said. On the other hand, recent steps toward progress in the women’s movement encourage her. “Maybe there’s a beginning of a change,” she said. 

A Still from “Fractures”

Arik Lubetzky’s “Fractures” has a different take on sexual misconduct, focusing on a renowned professor (Shmuel Vilozni) who faces public shaming and marital implosion when he’s accused of coercing a graduate student into an intimate relationship. No one escapes unscathed. 

“These situations are very complicated,” Lubetzky said, noting that in this case, “Everybody is a victim, including the children. These things can destroy a family. We have to look very carefully about these cases and not be so judgmental because we don’t know all the details of what happened. I want the audience to understand that and dig deeper and see it from a different perspective.”

Lubetzky said that he is drawn to stories “about the nature of the human being [whether it’s] a police drama, a Holocaust drama, or a situation like [‘Fractures’].” He may be best known for his film “Apples From the Desert,” which won the IFF audience award in 2015. “I’m not religious at all but I made a film about a religious girl who ran away from her Orthodox family and has a clash with her father,” he said.  

His next project has conflict as well: it’s about two couples, immigrants from Russia, whose lives cross and clash.

A heartwarming story about the complicated relationship between an aging, ailing father (Doval’e Glickman) and his adult son (Nevo Kimchi) who has special needs, “Shoelaces” is particularly personal for director Jacob Goldwasser. “I have a son with special needs. The story is not our story, but it’s very personal to me because I identify with the characters very deeply,” he told the Journal.  He confided that he’d avoided the topic for many years “because I was afraid to be so close to my pain,” but he reconsidered with encouragement from actor Kimchi.

Goldwasser realized that he could use the film to promote awareness of special needs people, “that I could change attitudes in the public and increase understanding,” he said. His efforts resonated with Israeli audiences and critics, earning seven Ophir (Israeli Film Academy) Award nominations, including best film and best director, and a best-supporting actor win for Glickman

“Rescue Bus 300”
What starts out as a tense hostage drama about a bus hijacking turns into a shocking cover-up in Rotem Shamir’s “Rescue Bus 300,” a true story that the director calls “a scar on our history.” It chronicles an April 1987 incident in which four armed terrorists commandeered a bus en route from Tel Aviv to Ashkelon, and it combines re-enactments and interviews with the hostages, reporters and military officials. 

“It was an opportunity to dive into a very dire and tense character-driven situation. I love portraying characters in high-octane situations because they bring out the best and worst in people,” Shamir said.

He had to research the details of the takeover and takedown, but he knew the infamous story about its aftermath. The Israeli public was told that all four terrorists died in a shootout, “But photographs reveled the truth,” Shamir said. “There was a direct order from the Shin Bet to kill the two terrorists who had survived. It was just the beginning of a cover-up that went all the way to the Prime Minister. It took two or three years for the whole thing to come out of the woodwork. Nobody went to jail for this. But the public’s perception changed a lot from that point on.”

Shot over four cold days in February 2017 for the reenactment and one more day for the interviews, “Rescue Bus 300” aired on Israeli TV in May, but Shamir is hoping for a theatrical or streaming release here. Meanwhile, he’s gearing up to shoot the third season of the acclaimed drama “Fauda,” which streams on Netflix. 

“We have a great story that’s different from the first two seasons that takes it to the next level. It’s more complicated in the sense that it’s not just about two men going head-to-head, which was the case of both seasons of the show,” he said. “It’s more of an ensemble season. Doron (Lior Raz) is still leading the group, but not everything revolves completely around him. There are new female characters on the Israeli side and the Palestinian side is completely new.”

Shamir, who has been making movies since he took a filmmaking class in high school at 14, has his next project lined up: a sci-fi series set in a dystopian future, shot in Hebrew and Arabic. “I hope we can get some international support distribution-wise and take it to the next level,” he said.

The Israel Film Festival runs Nov. 6–20. Visit Israelfilmfestival.com for schedules and information.

Feminist #MeToo Needed

Nature evolves. Evolution is, in fact, Nature’s defining characteristic. Change that is lasting and meaningful is slow and wise. 

The same goes, not coincidentally, for cultural mores. Sometimes — like the abolishment of slavery — a bombshell change is needed to crack the ice. With time, progress and evolution take over.

Sexual mores needed to evolve. #MeToo cracked the ice. For the first time, survivors of sexual assault felt they could be heard. It has been a triumph for feminism. Soon, though, #MeToo showed signs of straying from sincerely helping to evolve sexual mores to becoming an opportunity to blast men in power. 

The Kavanaugh allegations brought #MeToo to peak overcorrection mode. I think everyone can agree that, in this case, #MeToo became a politicized tool. Indeed, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) made it into a political AK-47.

Whether Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed or not, women have lost. The real victims of sexual assault have lost. Politicians have exploited one of the most evil acts imaginable for political gain. No one will look back on this proudly.

Photo by iStock

So, can we please start over? I offer up these eight feminist correctives:

Listen to all women. Every woman deserves to be listened to. Only through facts, evidence and due process should a woman be believed. Why? Because some women lie — just like some men lie. The ethos of #MeToo was built on the regressive notion that women are perfect — pristine, infallible. We’re not. Feminism freed women from the false veneer of perfection. We have no need to go back there.

An allegation is just an allegation. It is not the truth until it is proven to be the truth. Early feminists fought primarily for one thing: the same legal standards for women as for men. Bring back the presumption of innocence; the burden of proof must remain on the accuser; end trial by Twitter. Just 50 years ago, Black men were still being lynched over false accusations of rape. Is that really where we want to go with this?

Be objective. Not partisan or subjective. We know that many Democrats are unable to look at Kavanaugh fairly because he is white or preppy or whatever. As well, the hearing triggered a lot of survivors of rape. Understandably so. The problem is, these survivors then lost objectivity: They saw their case in this and couldn’t separate the two. In the 19th century, men believed women weren’t able to be objective — that women could view the world only through their subjective experiences. For the past 100 years, we’ve proven men wrong. Let’s not regress.

• Flirting is not sexual harassment. Do we really want to live in a world without flirting? Some of the best relationships and then marriages stem from workplace flirtations. We’re not in kindergarten. We can make these distinctions. And the men (and women) who can’t should be appropriately penalized.

Include abuse. Both emotional and physical. Also include abuse from other women. The stuff women do to one another can be dreadful — and no, it’s not because a “patriarchy” made them do it.

Go to the police. Rape used to be considered a heinous crime. In early American courts, it was punishable by death. Ironically, as sexual assault became more widely discussed, institutions responded by essentially decriminalizing it. Women, especially on college campuses,  have been urged to avoid the law and allow alternative “adjudication” to handle it. The result has been a nightmare, where consequences have often been imposed without due process.

Take responsibility. Leave a situation that’s going sour. Don’t stay to further your career and then shout #MeToo a year later. The personal is not political: being a feminist means being strong and responsible, not weak and victimized.

Choose decency. Using the law to fight sexual crime is decent. Using only the media to “out” men is not; neither is outing men for political reasons. Fabricating stories is the height of indecency. Our feminist forebearers fought for our right to be treated equally by the law, not to be given special privileges. Sexual mores surely needed to change, but as our forebearers intended — through strength, responsibility and decency. We’ve done a great job cracking the ice. Let’s reclaim our values and begin anew.

Karen Lehrman Bloch is the author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday).

Louis C.K.’s ‘Comeback’ Isn’t the Teshuvah We Were Hoping For

Louis C.K.

“A Louie Louie, oh no [maybe he’s] gotta go… yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” 

On Aug. 26, comedian Louis C.K. was found testing jokes at the Comedy Cellar in New York City. On Sept. 30, he was found there again testing more material and was met with a mix of emotions.

This is not new. Comedians often refine material at smaller comedy bars before going on the road and performing in front of bigger audiences. The problem is that it hasn’t even been a year since allegations and confirmation of sexual misconduct came out against him (In November it will be a year.)

According to the New York Times, C.K. “did not address his inappropriate behavior, including instances in which he masturbated in front of multiple women.” Instead, he took the stage for 20 minutes and hoped the audience would let bygones be bygones.

The Huffington Post reported that some of Sunday night’s comedy-goers were uncomfortable and unsure why he was up there. Though he was met with thunderous applause, two people allegedly left the Cellar and one person said they felt, “some discomfort because of his past and how some of his jokes kind of [came close to] the line.”  

Yes, unlike many other sexual predators, C.K. owned up to his allegations, confirming that what five women said he did was true. However, in his “apology” statement he made almost a year ago he missed a few things.

National etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Texas, Diane Gottsman, told the Journal these are the necessary steps to take when making an apology:

  1. Articulate remorse
  2. Take responsibility
  3. State steps on how to make amends
  4. Follow through with your commitments

With Louis C.K.’s approach, he followed steps two and four. He skipped perhaps the most important part: Saying the words “I’m sorry” or “I apologize.”

How can you give an apology statement without saying you’re sorry? You may regret what you did but regret isn’t the only word these women need to hear.

He hasn’t made any amends. C.K. isn’t religious or observantly Jewish, but according to his comedy specials, he is “chosen” on his father’s side. If he had followed this apology chart, and maybe went to shul on Yom Kippur, he would have realized that making an apology statement and actually fulfilling a meaningful apology are two different things.

“With an apology, there needs to be an action after the apology. You have to show remorse,” Gottsman said. “Then you have to say and articulate how you will rectify the situation. You really need to do it and follow through [with] everything. If you continue the same behavior, you lose credibility, you lose trust and it also sends a message you didn’t mean what you said.”

The comedian did use these words in his concluding statement back in November 2017:

“I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”

If this is true, why would he be spending his time testing out new jokes at a world-famous comedy club?

His behavior is showing the men and women who once loved his raunchy comedy, his family and friends and the people he violated that he’s learned nothing from his experience.

Over the High Holy Days, Rabbi Jill Berkson Zimmerman shared weekly thoughts about forgiveness and the necessary process of Teshuvah (repentance). Zimmerman, like Gottsman, formed it in a To-Do list.  

“…We reflect on where things got broken, and assess our own responsibility,” Rabbi Zimmerman said. “When we’ve made our list (and this takes time), we make a plan. We ask ourselves, how do we get back to wholeness? What phone calls, conversations, apologies and new commitments need to be made?”

Maybe we would be more forgiving of C.K.’s actions if he actually followed through on his statement or gave an actual apology. Over the past year  where was Louis C.K’s Teshuvah?

If Louis C.K. donated money or time to RAINN, NSVRC (National Sexual Violence Resource Center) or other non-profits that help victims of sexual assault, that would be a way for him to show he is trying to do better.

But he hasn’t done that. Instead, he flew under the radar for 10 plus months and he decided it had been enough time to heal all wounds. Instead of activism, he chose comedy. In place of an open wallet, he picked up a microphone.

“We want to know when someone does something and causes us harm small or large we want to feel that there is remorse,” Gottsman said. “It takes real character to take responsibility and take concrete steps to right the wrong.”

As a woman and a former fan of Louis C.K., I’m disappointed in his choices. Everyone deserves a second chance but you don’t get to make a comeback unless you’ve done something to prove you can come back.

Erin Ben-Moche is a Los Angeles journalist and the digital content manager at The Jewish Journal.

The Sins God Can’t Forgive

If Harvey Weinstein went to synagogue on Yom Kippur hoping God would forgive him for his hideous sins against women, he’d be out of luck. Sorry, pal. God may be all-powerful, but he’s not powerful enough to forgive us for the hurt we inflict on others — whether it’s a horrible sexual assault or a hurtful comment.

This is not a new idea. I’m guessing most of us already know that if we hurt someone, the only one who can forgive us is the person we aggrieved. God can’t do it for us.

Still, it does feel awkward to acknowledge a limit to God’s power. After all, this is the Creator of the world, the almighty God of miracles who redeemed us from slavery and gave us the Torah at Sinai. How can there be any limit to this limitless divine power?

I brought this up when I spoke at Kol Nidre at the Beverly Hills Community Synagogue, and it stirred some discomfort. If we hadn’t yet received forgiveness from anyone we may have hurt this year, I said, all those appeals to God in the Yom Kippur prayer book wouldn’t be of much help.

For 25 hours on this holiest of days, I couldn’t get that thought out of my mind. It was as if God was telling me: “If you sinned against your parents, your siblings, your children, your friends, your colleagues or anyone else this year, please don’t come to me. I can’t forgive you, David. You’re on your own.”

“Learning how to stay humble when we’re sure we’re completely right is a difficult and holy act— one that I’m still working on.”

I felt alone with a God who was sending me to a place other than where I was. I kept thinking throughout the day of the people I may have offended this year, and I felt guilty that I hadn’t taken care of all that before entering Yom Kippur. From the reaction I received to my talk, I don’t think I was the only one.

As the day wore on, though, my guilt was replaced by gratitude. I realized more than ever the genius of the idea: God takes human relationships so seriously that he nullifies himself to help us work on them. How blessed we are, I thought, to be part of a tradition that doesn’t let us off the hook when we hurt one another; a tradition that compels us to repair our relationships without leaning on our Creator.

But what damages our relationships in the first place? As I mentioned in my talk, a big part is our obsession with “being right.” That certainty can blind us to hurtful language. If the price of being right is to hurt others, isn’t that too high a price?

I spoke about “being right” versus “doing right.” If my kid makes a mistake and I’m consumed with being right, I’m more likely to respond with anger. If my kid makes a mistake and I’m thinking of doing right, I’m more likely to respond with kindness.

Being right feeds our egos; doing right feeds our souls.

So many of us have “been right” this year about so many things. The chaos of our politics and the breakdown of decency and democratic norms have triggered enormous anger and emotion. I’ve seen how some of that anger has infiltrated relationships. When I asked a large audience on Yom Kippur, “How many of you have had nasty arguments this year over politics?” most hands shot up. What made those arguments so nasty? Maybe each side was sure they were completely right.

“God takes human relationships so seriously that he nullifies himself to help us work on them.”

Learning how to stay humble when we’re sure we’re completely right is a difficult and holy act— one that I’m still working on. But if conveying even strong views with humility can reduce the amount of toxic and hurtful language in our community, it’s more than worth it. 

Hurtful language jeopardizes the most valuable asset we have— our relationships. As Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple said in a holiday sermon, “When you are in pain, when you are lost, when you are afraid—double down on your relationships.  Cherish them.  Nurture them…Do not let the centrifuge of life’s stresses whirl your family and your friendships apart. Double down. Make things right with the people you love.”  

I can only thank God for giving us perhaps the most powerful lesson of our tradition: What counts more than anything for our Creator is how we treat one another. If you ask me, that may be God’s finest moment.

N.Y. State Senate Candidate Accuses Netanyahu Spokesman of Sexual Assault

Screenshot from Twitter.

Julia Salazar, the democratic socialist New York state senate candidate who has faced questions over her claims of Jewish ancestry, is claiming that David Keyes, the foreign media spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sexually assaulted her.

In a statement, Salazar said that the media was about to out her for her sexual assault claim:

Keyes has denied the allegations.

“This false accusation is made by someone who has proven to be repeatedly dishonest about her own life,” Keyes said in a statement. “This is yet another example of her dishonesty.”

The Daily Caller has reported that Salazar fits the description of a woman accusing Keyes of sexual assault in 2016 and that she deleted Facebook posts accusing Keyes of sexually assaulting her. The Daily Caller report also notes that “two journalists from The Intercept and one who currently works at The Atlantic” looked into Salazar’s allegations, but ended the investigation because “Salazar would not cooperate.”

As the Journal has reported, Salazar has claimed that her father is Jewish, a claim that was contradicted by her brother. Salazar then said that she took a conversion class, but never had a b’nai mitzvah. She is now claiming that she underwent the full conversion process.

Additionally, Salazar has said that she is an immigrant from Colombia, which she later backtracked on when members of her family said otherwise. Salazar’s family members have also contradicted her statements that she grew-up in a working class household.

Citizens Union, a good-government organization, rescinded their endorsement on Tuesday when they discovered that Salazar gave them inaccurate information on her academic resume. Salazar recently admitted to The New York Times that she did not graduate from Columbia University despite information from her campaign suggesting otherwise.

Former Obama CDC Director Arrested for Allegedly Groping Woman

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Thomas Frieden, who ran the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) all eight years under President Obama, was arrested on August 24 for allegedly groping a woman’s buttocks in October 2017.

The woman, who has not been identified publicly, reported the alleged groping to police in July, claiming that Frieden squeezed her buttocks without her consent at his home. She added that Frieden apologized to her for it later and claimed that he was going through some personal issues.

Frieden turned himself in on August 24, facing charges of sexual abuse, harassment and forcible touching.

Frieden’s spokesperson told The Washington Post, “This allegation does not reflect Dr. Frieden’s public or private behavior or his values over a lifetime of service to improve health around the world.”

As CDC director, Frieden had to deal with outbreaks of H1N1 swine flu, Ebola and the Zika virus. Prior to becoming CDC director, Frieden was New York’s public health commissioner from 2002-2009, where he implemented bans on trans fats, smoking in workplaces and a program to clamp down on tuberculosis.

Frieden currently runs an organization called Resolve to Save Lives, which does work to help citizens in poorer countries from suffering a heart attack or stroke.

Where ‘Social Justice’ and #MeToo Fall Short

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

We live in an era of “social justice.”

By “social justice,” people typically mean a panoply of left-leaning policy priorities. But the phrase itself is pernicious and anti-morality — justice requires no modifier. Justice is by nature individual — we punish those who are guilty, not those who are innocent; we don’t punish children for the sins of their parents. But social justice suggests that we should allow societal context to inform whether a result is just. Thus, a guilty man from a historically victimized group ought to be let off the hook; an innocent from a historically powerful group ought to be punished in order to provide restitution for historical injustices. 

Judaism fundamentally rejects this notion. In Leviticus, the Torah states, “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.” We naturally assume that the rich are more likely to get away with perverting justice, but the Torah reminds us that our natural sympathies may be just as likely to pervert justice on behalf of someone unfortunate. As the old legal aphorism goes, hard cases make bad law — if we follow our hearts, we almost invariably pursue injustice.

All of this comes up this week thanks to the controversy surrounding Asia Argento, one of the leading #MeToo icons. Argento publicly accused megaproducer Harvey Weinstein of rape just a few months ago; now it turns out that Argento, who touted “women everywhere” having the “courage to share their most painful private traumas in public,” allegedly sexually assaulted a 17-year-old boy back in 2013. According to The New York Times, former child actor Jimmy Bennett alleges that Argento invited him to a hotel room and sexually assaulted him when he was 17 and she was 37. The age of consent in California is 18. The documents reviewed by the Times included a selfie of the two in bed together dated May 9, 2013. 

Argento’s alleged gross misconduct doesn’t undermine her claims against Weinstein, of course. As it turns out in Hollywood, more than one person can be disgusting at one time. But it’s the reaction that’s been telling. Rose McGowan, another face of the #MeToo movement, tweeted, “None of us know the truth of the situation and I’m sure more will be revealed. Be gentle.” All of which would be fine, except that McGowan, along with many others in the #MeToo movement, have suggested that an allegation is tantamount to a conviction. Back in January, she tweeted, “Believe women,” and in November, she tweeted, “It’s quite simple, all who have worked with known predators should do 3 simple things. 1) Believe survivors 2) Apologize for putting your careers and wallets before what was right. 3) Grab a spine and denounce. If you do not do these things you are still moral cowards. #ROSEARMY.”

We all tend to lend credibility to those we like and to disparage the credibility of those we don’t. In reality, we ought to hold the same standards for everyone.

Now, this is a problem. There must be one standard by which we can adjudicate public accusations of sexual abuse. That standard should require some evidence, regardless of the alleged victim; it should at least require a careful weighing of the allegations themselves. Instead, we’ve been told for nearly a year that we must believe all allegations at face value, mainly because so many women have been wrongly ignored in the past. But past sins do not excuse current ones, nor do current virtues absolve past sins. McGowan should be holding Argento to the same standard she’d hold others, whether or not Argento is a woman or a #MeToo icon.

Unfortunately, we tend not to do this. We all tend to lend credibility to those we like and to disparage the credibility of those we don’t. If we’re Donald Trump fans, we defend him against allegations of abuse of women; if we’re Democrats, we defend Keith Ellison against the same. In reality, we ought to hold the same standards for everyone. That’s what morality demands. And it’s what justice demands, even if social justice suggests otherwise.

Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Congressman With Ties to Farrakhan Faces Allegations of Abuse

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), who has previously come under fire for his past associations with Louis Farrakhan, is now facing allegations of abuse.

The allegation first came to light from Austin Monahan, the son of Karen Monahan, Ellison’s ex-girlfriend and an organizer for the Sierra Club. Austin wrote on Facebook that he and his brother “knew that something wasn’t right” with their mother after she and Ellison ended a lengthy relationship. Their mother insisted she was fine and was merely stressed.

But Austin claims he found a video on his mother’s computer that shows Ellison “dragging my mama off the bed by her feet, screaming calling her a ‘f*cking b*tch.’” Subsequent texts from Ellison to his mother “were mixed with him telling my mom he wanted her back, he missed her, he knew he f*cked up and we wished he could do things different” while other times he would “bully her and threaten her if she went public.”

Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) reviewed text messages between Karen Monahan and Ellison; while none of them showed any abuse from Ellison, Monahan did send him a text in December 2017 about “the video I have of you trying to drag me off the bed,” which Ellison never responded to. Monahan also texted Ellison about her writing about their relationship, prompting Ellison to respond, “Horrible attack on my privacy, unreal.”

CNN was able to find three friends of Monahan who claim she told them about he alleged incident. However, Monahan told CNN that she couldn’t find the video of the alleged incident; she also told MPR that she wouldn’t the release the video at all.

“It sets the expectation for survivors of all kinds of forms of abuse, whether it be abuse toward women, abuse from police officers, abuse from other people in power, to have to be the ones, like I’m doing right now, to show and prove their stories,” Monahan said. “It’s feeding into that.”

Ellison has denied Monahan’s allegation.

“Karen and I were in a long-term relationship which ended in 2016, and I still care deeply for her well-being,” Ellison said. “This video does not exist because I never behaved in this way, and any characterization otherwise is false.”

Ellison’s ex-wife, Kim Ellison, is defending Ellison.

“I want members of our community to know that the behavior described does not match the character of the Keith I know,” Kim wrote in an emailed statement to reporters.

But Karen Monahan isn’t the only former girlfriend of Ellison’s to have alleged abuse. Amy L. Alexander, who said she a “hot and cold romance” with Ellison while he was married, wrote in The Wright County Republican in 2006 that Ellison “belittled me about my weight and constantly criticized my every word and action.”

A couple years later, Alexander thought she and Ellison had smoothed things over when Ellison refused to give her a job at an environmental activist group, calling her a “b*tch” and lamenting that he couldn’t “control you anymore.”

One day, Ellison allegedly stormed into Alexander’s house in order to “quiet” her.

“He berated me,” Alexander wrote. “He grabbed me and pushed me out of the way. I was terrified. I called the police. As he fled he broke my screen door. I have never been so scared.”

Ellison proceeded to launch “a smear campaign” against her, Alexander alleged, even going as far as obtaining a restraining order against her.

After #MeToo, an Orthodox Rabba confronts the limits – and possibilities – of her own power

In 2009, Rabba Sara Hurwitz made history when she became the first Orthodox woman to earn public ordination at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale (HIR), an established modern Orthodox synagogue. Later that year, she and her teacher, Rabbi Avi Weiss, then the spiritual leader of HIR, founded Yeshivat Maharat (YM), a New York seminary that ordains Orthodox women as “full spiritual and halakhic leaders.” In other words, as rabbis, but without challenging halachic limitations around what women can and cannot do.

Today, almost a decade later, there are 19 YM graduates working in clergy positions within and beyond the Orthodox community, and another seven will join them after ordination later this month. But for the 28 women currently enrolled in YM’s beit midrash, the year of the #metoo movement has unleashed new questions around the entrenched power structure of the Orthodox community and how it affects the growing number of women working to claim their place as leaders.

Hurwitz, 41, talked to the Journal about the “#metoo” effect on the modern Orthodox community, the power imbalance in traditional Judaism and how she squares the fact that even as a “rabba,” she doesn’t count in a minyan.

Jewish Journal: On May 9, you led an event at Yeshivat Maharat called “The complicated nature of power.” Why is the acquisition of power so complicated for Orthodox women?

Sara Hurwitz: As an institution that is training women to be authorities, we became very mindful during the #metoo movement [about] what our responsibility was in terms of helping our students know how to protect themselves, but also how to help them manage the dynamic between being authorities and protecting against authority. We realized this was a unique position for Orthodox women who, on one hand, are trying to protect [themselves] from harassment and power, and on the other hand, are trying to gain power.

JJ: What impact has the #metoo movement had on Orthodox women?

SH: The conversation has given women some language and confidence in speaking out about uncomfortable situations that they’ve been in. We all have had upsetting statements made about our bodies when we’re on display. [#Metoo] has given students and faculty a little bit more confidence in pushing all of us to come up with a more formal system of reporting and to explicitly create parameters around what’s appropriate.

JJ: Is the Orthodox community echoing the broader culture in terms of women coming forward to report sexual harassment and assault?

SH: I definitely think there’s more silence. We’re a traditional community that has used halachah as its guidepost and part of that system has been to be insular and to not have a system of reporting externally. That sentiment of not airing our dirty laundry still resonates for Orthodox people. But I certainly see a shift happening. It’s no longer possible to dust things under the rug.

Rather than throwing out the whole system, I’m really invested in trying to create change from within. I think about expanding the walls of the beit midrash rather than breaking down the whole building.

JJ: Do you see any connection between the power imbalance in Orthodox Judaism and the ability for a man to more easily abuse his power?

SH: It’s definitely a patriarchal system and men have held [the only] positions of authority for far too long. Our model is trying to ensure that women [be] seen as authorities in addition to men — not to usurp authority, but to create a system where both men and women are shaping communal conversation in partnership.

JJ: Earlier this year the Orthodox Union (OU) reaffirmed its opposition to ordaining women. How did you feel about a decision that essentially delegitimizes your work?

SH: The question about what to call women is just splitting hairs. We know there’s a tremendous need. In the last several months, we’ve [had] 20 phone calls asking to hire women or take an intern either in Hillels, schools or synagogues, so we haven’t felt a backlash in terms of placement. We’ve created a need, and the OU has put their imprimatur on the fact that there is a need.

JJ: As a spiritual leader, how do you reconcile your desire to share your gifts with the implicit limitations of a tradition that tells you you literally don’t count in a minyan?

SH: Rather than throwing out the whole system, I’m really invested in trying to create change from within. I think about expanding the walls of the beit midrash rather than breaking down the whole building. It’s true that I don’t count in a minyan, but I can create a certain experience for people davening in that space that resonates with my congregants.

JJ: Do you hope for an Orthodox Judaism that is inclusive of women in all aspects?

SH: I like to focus on all that women can do. I know it’s probably frustrating I’m not answering your question directly.

JJ: Are you careful because you think you’ll be deemed too radical or do you really not wish for that much change?

SH: Rabbi Yitz Greenberg always says that in order to be a really successful leader you have to be just a little bit ahead of your community, and make sure that you’re bringing them along; but if you’re too far ahead of your community, you’re just seen as a kook. I think about that statement often.

JJ: Where is the most glaring lack of power for Orthodox women right now?

SH: What I see more and more is that girls are choosing to opt out of having more of a religious experience because they don’t have any role models for what a serious religious female leader looks like. In school they’ll see a [woman] who leads tefillah in the morning, but there isn’t the more authoritative female leader. And I think girls are opting out of the religious community in droves because they’re becoming apathetic [about their possibilities within] religious life.

JJ: Do you think increasing openness to women within the Orthodox community will inevitably extend itself to other forms of openness like gay marriage, or more inclusion for intermarried couples?

SH: Obviously inclusion is always important and we always want to be thinking about and embracing those who don’t fit within our halachic system. What I really hope is that it will become very normal and natural to have women be equal partners in the communal conversation, and I think that when you have more wisdom and more perspectives, there is a tendency towards thinking about inclusion.

JJ: Why should you not be allowed to sign a ketubah as a witness to marriage when some guy in the congregation who may know half of what you know is allowed to be a witness?

SH: Look, there’s a system that me and others in the tradition buy into. It doesn’t mean we have to be happy about every aspect of the system. But for me, at least, there’s a willingness to fully embrace it and at the same time engage in the struggle. Being a witness is a halachic category that doesn’t have such good reasons for why it should be gendered, but it is. So we still have to struggle and contend with that.

New York AG Resigns Amidst Multiple Allegations of Assault

New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman speaks at a news conference during a community gun buy-back program in White Plains, New York, U.S., April 13, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D), who once was hailed as the Jewish attorney general “leading the Trump resistance” by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, has resigned after being accused by multiple women of physically assaulting them.

Schneiderman issued a statement on May 7 that read:

“It’s been my great honor and privilege to serve as attorney general for the people of the State of New York. In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me. While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office, they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time. I therefore resign my office, effective at the close of business on May 8, 2018.”

Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow of The New Yorker detailed the allegations against Schneiderman in a lengthy article, with two women going on record and two others who were afraid of being identified due to the power that Schneiderman wields.

One of the women, Michelle Manning Barish, told The New Yorker she had on-and-off relationship with Schneiderman for nearly two years. After the first month of their romantic involvement, Manning Barish claimed that one night Schneiderman viciously slapped her “across the face.”

“My ear was ringing,” Manning Barish said. “I lost my balance and fell backward onto the bed. I sprang up, but at this point there was very little room between the bed and him. I got up to try to shove him back, or take a swing, and he pushed me back down. He then used his body weight to hold me down, and he began to choke me.”

Manning Barish added, “The choking was very hard. It was really bad. I kicked. In every fibre, I felt I was being beaten by a man.”

She claimed that Schneiderman later accused her of “scratching him” and then threatened her by saying that “hitting an officer of the law is a felony.”

Manning Barish claims that she had lingering effects from Schneiderman’s slap, as she frequently felt pain in her ear for months and had to get a “dried bloody crust” removed.

But Manning Barish went back to Schneiderman after he dogged her with calls, and she claims that every time they engaged in intercourse he would slap her. Throughout their relationship, Schneiderman allegedly berated her with insults about her weight and physical appearance, and pressured her into drinking voluminous amounts of alcohol. Schneiderman himself frequently consumed large amounts of alcohol, per the allegations.

Manning Barish eventually ended the relationship. She claims that she once vaguely referred to the alleged abuse from Schneiderman on social media, and Schneiderman threatened her over the phone by stating, “Don’t ever write about me. You don’t want to do that.” Manning Barish has now spoken out after seeing Schneiderman portray himself as a champion of the #MeToo movement.

The second woman who went on record, Tanya Selvaratnam, told The New Yorker that when she was dating Schneiderman, he would slap her multiple times and choke her when they engaged in sexual intercourse. Selvaratnam also alleged that Schneiderman verbally harassed her with insults about her appearance – including calling her his “brown slave” and urged her to partake in a threesome.

Selvaratnam was afraid to leave him due to his threats.

“He had said he would have to kill me if we broke up, on multiple occasions,” Selvaratnam said. “He also told me he could have me followed and could tap my phone.”

Both Manning Barish and Selvaratnam described themselves to The New Yorker as progressive feminists who are registered as Democrats.

The two other women who didn’t identify themselves from The New Yorker also had similar stories about their experiences with Schneiderman. One of them was making out with Schneiderman after a party but wanted the physical encounter to end after he made comments about her being “a slut” and a “whore.” Schneiderman responded by forcefully slapping her twice. The woman claims that Schneiderman then drove her home at her request despite being inebriated.

The fourth woman, who claims to be an ex-girlfriend of Schneiderman, told The New Yorker that she too was slapped, choked and spat on by Schneiderman in addition to being demeaned by his insults. When she told some friends about it, she was discouraged from going public with her story because “Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose.”


On April 16, Schneiderman praised The New Yorker for their reporting on the #MeToo movement:

After the allegations were published, Manning Barish tweeted:

Back in 2013, President Trump seemed to hint at the allegations against Schneiderman:

Azerbaijan’s Unique Appreciation and Celebration of Women’s Empowerment

Statue of a Liberated Woman in Baku, Azerbaijan, depicting a woman who decides to remove her veil.

Statue of a Liberated Woman in Baku, Azerbaijan, depicting a woman who decides to remove her veil.


On March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day across the world. Considering the state of the world we live in today, I am especially grateful to be from Azerbaijan, and to raise my daughter in a country that not only celebrates and empowers women, but one that has an impressive history of high standards toward women, where over centuries women have been successful and breaking barriers in academia, art, industry, and government.

Azerbaijan was the very first Muslim country in the world to grant women equal voting rights, in 1919, an entire year before the United States and decades before many Western European nations; just one of countless examples of Azerbaijan’s history and standards toward women. Azerbaijan’s example for the rest of the world, set long ago, has never been more important than today, when women’s rights are on the center stage of global media.

With the global movement of #metoo, more have come to understand the experience of women in the world, and how discriminatory, violatary treatment of women is rampant, and come in many forms – some violent and shocking, others more subtle yet all the same impactful in pushing women back from realizing their worth and their best quality of life. As much as #metoo is about violence against women, it is also about attitudes against women. As a Muslim woman from a majority Muslim country, one that has long upheld women’s rights and ingrained in its national character an attitude of respect and awe for women, I am aware of how lucky I am.

Our country is best known as a beacon of tolerance, an “Oasis of Tolerance”, as Rabbi David Wolpe once wrote, and as a critical diplomatic force, capable of crossing aisles, breaking barriers and stereotypes, and succeeding in all ways despite dealing with a brutal war waged against us by our neighbor for the past 30 years. But some may not know that Azerbaijan has a remarkable history of women, leaders across art and industry, with women today in the highest levels of prestige across every field.

We have laws in place that assert the protections and respect for women across Azerbaijani society. For example, Article 25 and 34 were added in 1993 to Azerbaijan’s Constitution, and they guarantee full equality between men and women generally, and equality of men and women within marriage specifically. In 2006, Azerbaijan passed a Gender Equality Law which guarantees that women receive equal pay at work and prohibits discrimination in hiring and promotional practices.

The first secular school for Muslim girls anywhere in the world was opened in Baku, in 1901, and today, over 50% of PhD holders in Azerbaijan are women. The Judicial branch of government has many female justices, including the Honorable Tatiana Goldman, who is Jewish, and an Azerbaijan Supreme Court Justice. The legislative branch is not lagging behind in this regard: there are 21 women in Azerbaijan’s Parliament (out of 125 total), including Bahar Muradova, the Deputy Speaker. Our commitment to women’s equality has grown quickly: in 1990, women constituted merely 4.3 percent of parliament. Today this number is 17 percent, which is only slightly lower than the U.S. Congress with 19.8 percent. In Azerbaijan, we can boast that the Deputy Mayors of 71 out of 78 Administrative Districts, as well as many state committee chairpersons and deputy ministers are women. Only at Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry, 52 percent of all employees are women, including two ambassadors and an honorary consul (in Switzerland, Bulgaria and Australia).

There are so many examples to choose from, but I think you can see a lot about Azerbaijan by just looking at two of our famous women – current First Vice President Mehriban Aliyeva, and one of the most groundbreaking early female pilots in the world, Leyla Mammadbeyova, from the 1930s.

One of my favorite things to hear people say about First Vice President Aliyeva, is that she is known as “Kind Lady”, or Mehriban Khanim, as we say in Azerbaijan. The First Vice President is known for her generosity, her tireless humanitarian efforts in Azerbaijan and beyond as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, and her advocacy for health, women and children, among so many areas she works on to improve the world.

On the other hand, Leyla Mammadbeyova, who was called the “Mistress of the Skies”, was known for her daring, her strength, and her remarkable achievements as a pilot and mother to 6 children.

These diverse qualities of feminine heroism; kind and noble, daring and bold; all represent the history of positive attitudes toward women that hold strong in Azerbaijan. In the capital city of Baku, we have a famous statue, called the Statue of a Liberated Woman, and it depicts a beautiful woman, standing tall on a pedestal, casting her veil off her shoulders. I think this statue represents our attitude toward women in Azerbaijan; a celebration of our many strengths.

Hussein Javid, considered the “Shakespeare of Azerbaijan”, once said that “A country without woman is destroyed and remains helpless but in the hand of woman this world will only have bliss. She will exalt humanity.” My favorite part is the end, when Hussein Javid wrote, “She will exalt humanity.” I think of the First Vice President, and our famous pilot, both exalting humanity, literally raising it up, one with policy and charity, the other with wings – both with the courage to break barriers for women across continents. Happy International Women’s Day!



Awash in Self-Obsession

Photo from Pixnio.

There’s a new mode of transportation in Venice, Calif. It’s called a Bird Scooter. For anyone who has a 3-year-old, these are motorized, adult versions of your kid’s first Razor or Micro Mini, whipping through the streets of Venice like slim, individualized 21st-century gondolas. As whimsical and playful as their presence is in Venice, I have had more than one incident where a Bird gondolier lost in his zippy feeling of invincibility nearly crashed into my clueless perambulation, lost in my glass “Golden Calf” iPhone, almost rendering me a scooter-incident statistic.

There is a distinct tension I feel as an inhabitant of the 21st century that the Birds remind me of: It’s easy to become numb to the presence of others around us, especially those going in a different direction. As both an observer and a participant in this self-obsessed new world, I fear it is desensitizing us to the needs of others, which is one of the cornerstones for building a just society.

This is a national phenomenon. From our tribal allegiances to our cultural xenophobia, all sides are guilty and accountable for feeling that our right of way is the only right way. In our fast-paced flurry about town, our privileged and affordable access to the globe (both physical and virtual), our siloed social media universe facing inward, we have, ironically, lost a human quality — the ability to experience the Other.

In a recent University of Pennsylvania scandal, law professor Amy Wax was asked by the university to “take a sabbatical” in the wake of her publishing an unpopular op-ed in The Wall Street Journal spotlighting a return to “bourgeois values.” Wax recognized the moral decline in the United States, noting that more than half of all children in America are being raised in single-family households, a rise of opioid addiction is decaying our core, and increased tribalism is fracturing our country. Her theory of change was assailed by her colleagues and she was put in academic herem.

As a woman who loves Torah, the fallout from Wax’s editorial captures a unique form of heartbreak. Gone are the days of respectful disagreement; forgotten is the engaged discourse of our academic institutions. It seems that unpopular opinions must be reckoned with through shame, isolation and marginalization of those who generated them. Lost are the academies of Sura and Pumbedita; we have confused the messenger with the messages. Our fingers gliding upon the glass of new media has turned our touch cold to one another. Gone are the days of rigorous and respectful debate, which old-fashioned Jews called machlochet.

It’s easy to become numb to the presence of others around us, especially those going in a different direction.

Pirkei Avot 5:16, the Wisdom of our Fathers (a distinctly male-dominant claim of wisdom — should we ban it because we have yet to unearth its female corollary?) and one of our foundation texts on machlochet states: “Any dispute that is conducted for the sake of heaven, its outcome will ultimately be determined. And if not for the sake of heaven, it will not be determined.”

L’Shem Shaymayim, “For the Sake of Heaven,” hovers heavily. What does it mean to dispute “for the sake of heaven” for a 21st-century reader? The ancient idiom dominates, and our minds weigh it with authority. But what if the whisperings of those who came before us were read instead as: “Any dispute that is conducted for the sake of heaven, its outcome will ultimately be determined. And if it is not, for heaven’s sake(!), it will not be determined.”

The rabbis speak to us from the beyond both imploringly and playfully: Dispute! Debate! Disagree! For most of our musings are not in heaven’s realm. We must recapture the ancient art of machlochet, as our engagement with one another is our redemption while we are still here. Don’t zip speedily by your fellow with a false sense of invincibility because everything ever thought, written or known can be found in three seconds of a Google search. That’s for the Birds.

Let us recapture the awe of standing before the Other; fall in love with the world of ideas, not information. Not all unwanted advances — of ideas or sexual appetites — need be conflated into accusations of sexual assault or an unpopular opinion into an academic lynching. May we smash false idols of glass screens and reclaim the fine art of disagreement with an impish curiosity as we stare face to face with our opposition, as, for heaven’s sake, it is so not about you. It’s about us.

Rabbi Lori Shapiro is the founder and artistic director of The Open Temple in Venice.

Badass Queen of Purim

Screenshot from YouTube.

How do I love Vashti? Let me count the ways.

In case you aren’t familiar with this woman of the Bible, Vashti makes only a brief appearance at the beginning of the Book of Esther, in which we read the Purim story. We meet her as Queen Vashti, married to the King Ahasuerus, who rules across the Persian empire.

King Ahasuerus seems to care a lot about appearances. First, he hosts a six-month display of wealth for his subjects, an ego-stoking extravaganza. Then, he invites all the men of the kingdom to a feast, complete with open bar. One week in, when the guests are good and drunk, the king commands his queen to appear before the people and show off her beauty, wearing the royal crown.

And Vashti refuses.

Why does she refuse? There are many interpretations, of course, this being a Jewish story. The most classic one, on which many later traditions are based, is that the king asked Vashti to appear before the people naked, wearing only her royal crown.

Whether or not we accept the naked theory, Vashti does not comply with the king’s desire that she display her beauty before hordes of drunken men. His advisers are horrified. They urge him to banish her, so that the women of the kingdom will not wonder if they, too, should begin to think for themselves and disobey their husbands.

And so Vashti is banished from the kingdom, leaving the job of queen vacant, to be filled by Esther, the conventional heroine of the Purim story.

When a sacred text is discussed over many centuries, its characters take on the form of current events. In ancient Babylonia, the rabbis imagined Vashti as a wanton idolater. The earliest modern feminists, in the 1800s, lauded her as a model of liberation. And in our particular moment, Vashti resonates most obviously with the #MeToo movement as she refuses to comply with workplace sexual harassment in the palace.

When the king asks Queen Vashti to appear and display her beauty, she faces a fundamental human question: Should I do what is asked of me by others?

The term “sexual harassment” is new, but as we see from this story, it’s almost incredible how ancient and pervasive the act is. From her vantage point as queen of the Persian empire, our heroine sees this abuse of power for what it is and chooses to abdicate the throne rather than acquiesce. Courageously, Vashti gives up her wealth and power in exchange for … well, who knows what happens to a divorced ex-royal in ancient Persia?

But gender politics are not the only lens through which Vashti’s story has powerful resonance. I also love how her refusal can be an inner, spiritual teaching, as well.

When the king asks Queen Vashti to appear and display her beauty, she faces a fundamental human question: Should I do what is asked of me by others? Or do I, instead, dare to live by my own instincts?

We face this question in infinite ways. It can come in the form of deciding whether to speak the truth about our sexual orientation or gender identity. It can challenge us when we feel drawn to become more or less religious than our families of origin. Or it can manifest in terms of dreams for how to live our lives — I think of my high school friend, a gifted classical pianist who passionately wanted to pursue music but whose parents insisted she enter a fast-track, pre-med program.

And on a daily level, this question appears in decisions as simple as how to represent ourselves on social media. Do we include our struggles or present only a carefully curated spread of perfect-looking moments, as Ahasuerus presents the riches of his kingdom, as he seeks to present his perfect wife?

Vashti can inspire us to ask: What happens when we refuse to dwell on the level of appearances and see, instead, with our hearts? What happens when we refuse to aim for admiration, perfection, accolades, and instead make our goal simple: to be our most authentic selves?

If you dress up for Purim, keep Vashti in mind and be the queen of yourself.

Alicia Jo Rabins is a writer, musician and Torah teacher who lives in Portland, Ore.

#MeToo and Mashiach

Women’s Bureau 1920, Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

I did not expect to hear a Torah teaching about the #MeToo movement in a Chasidic synagogue. Rabbi Reuven Wolf, however, is not your typical Chasidic rabbi.

On a recent Shabbat, he expounded some verses from one of the lesser-known books of the Bible, Habakkuk:

He shall speak of the end, and it shall not fail; though it tarry, wait for it, for it shall surely come, it shall not delay.

The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the water fills the sea … and

… a stone shall cry out from the wall.

In this prophetic description, the Age of Mashiach, i.e., the messianic age, will not be accompanied only by peace and goodness — the lion lying down with the lamb, etc. —  but also with knowledge of God, God’s plan and the true meaning of the elements in that plan. We will thus finally understand the spiritual purpose of everything, and everyone, in our physical environment.

At that time, even the rocks will testify whether we walked over them for a wholesome purpose or a selfish purpose. In other words, did we employ our resources to make God’s creation a place of greater holiness or less? A place of greater justice or less? A place of greater kindness or less?

If so for the rocks, Rabbi Wolf said, how much for the people in our lives? We will be called to account for the ways we treated everyone we met, and particularly those closest to us. Did we help them realize their true purpose in the creation, or did we exploit them for our own selfish ends?

It is a fact of biology that the human male gives the seed of life and the female receives it. Each provides half the DNA, but the female egg is vast compared with the tiny sperm, and it is the woman alone who nurtures the new embryo for the next nine months. So you would think that the male would be a humble, nurturing partner in the relationship.

Sadly, this has not been the case. Throughout the history of humanity, many men have exploited their size, strength and patriarchal role as giver of the seed to get what they want from women. The sexual relationship should be the holiest interaction on earth, one that enables both partners to join with God in the creation of new life, but men have often hijacked it to give themselves pleasure at the expense of women’s dignity. This is a grave sin — one that harms the woman, the man and the whole of creation.

The fact that we have now crossed a line, that people will no longer tolerate such an established pattern of behavior, is beyond momentous. In the annals of humankind, it is a change akin to the advents of consciousness, fire, language, agriculture, cities and democracy.

According to Rabbi Wolf, the #MeToo movement is not only a world changer, but evidence that the Shabbat of history is at our doorstep.

In the Hebrew calendar, the year is 5778. We are 222 years from Y6K, the dawn of the seventh millennium — a time that will be holy like the seventh day. Our Sages often liken the Age of Mashiach to Shabbat. And just as Shabbat begins before night actually falls, the messianic age is now settling in around us like dusk.

Jewish tradition, like Habakkuk, holds that the end “shall surely come,” and it will not come later than its appointed time. It may, however, come earlier.

We can hasten the redemption by earning it. If the human world grows in kindness and righteousness, Mashiach will come sooner and without pain. If we cannot achieve such growth, Mashiach will come with a sharp birth pang, more commonly known as the apocalyptic battle of Gog and Magog.

Such a battle is not hard to imagine on the current world stage, and its consequences would be horrific.

Let’s avoid that fate. Let’s buy in to Rabbi Wolf’s vision of an Age of Mashiach that we usher in by increasing peace, justice, lovingkindness and dignity in the world.

Let’s make sure the #MeToo movement succeeds in protecting women from exploitation and enables them to realize their true purpose as equal partners in the creation.

It’s a good bet. Even if Rabbi Wolf is mistaken, what have we lost? And if he’s right …

Salvador Litvak shares his love of Judaism with a million followers every day at accidentaltalmudist.org.

Episode 72 – #metoo and the Power to Forgive

On October 5, 2017, only a few months ago, a report published in The New York Times shook the foundations at the epicenter of America’s film and television industry – Hollywood. More than a dozen women accused the hugely successful film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, abuse and rape.

These allegations brought about a wave of accusations against prominent male figures in film and TV. It gave birth to a movement named #metoo and recently another movement named Times Up both aimed at empowering women to speak up against sexual violence and misconduct.

One year before this seismic report, there was a warning tremor. A tremor that was nonetheless seismic for the person reporting. A journalist from the Los Angeles Jewish Journal published an essay titled: “My Sexual Assault and Yours, Every Woman’s Story.” That journalist’s name is Danielle Berrin. Danielle refrained from naming names and instead conveyed her experience, her trauma and the devastation she felt from this once idolized man.

Soon it became clear that this man was the prominent Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit. Shavit apologized, begrudgingly, and stepped down from the public stage. Israel’s media world was shaken to its roots.

Danielle Berrin joins us today to talk about her story, the #metoo campaign and how, after the ashes settle, we might be able to build a better future.

Danielle Berrin on the Jewish Journal and Twitter

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“Folks, Time’s Up!” Babs has a message for the Foreign Press

34 years ago, a verklempt Barbra Streisand accepted a Best Director Golden Globe Award for her work on “Yentl.” “This award is very meaningful to me. I’m very proud because it also represents, I hope, for so many talented women,” she told the audience. The crowd ruptured in applause.

Last night, Streisand, yet again, took to the Golden Globe stage, this time to present the award for Best Drama. But first, she made sure to mention that since 1984, no other woman has received Best Director. “Folks, time’s up!” she said.

Streisand is only woman to have won Best Director at Golden Globes

"Folks, time's up!" The last time a woman won "Best Director" at the Golden Globes, it was Barbra Streisand for Yentl in 1984.

Posted by Jewish Journal on Monday, January 8, 2018


This year, no women were nominated for the Best Director category, a fact which did not go unnoticed. “And here are the all male nominees,” actress Natalie Portman said before reading out the list while presenting Best Director with Ron Howard.


Where’s #MeToo for Persian Victims?

For the crime of shaking hands with her lawyer, cartoonist Atena Farghadani was forced to undergo a “virginity and pregnancy test” prior to her 2015 trial in Iran on a charge of “illegitimate sexual relations.”

Commenting on her case, Said Boumedouha, deputy director at Amnesty International, said, “The Iranian judicial authorities have truly reached an outrageous low, seeking to exploit the stigma attached to sexual and gender-based violence in order to intimidate, punish or harass her.”

Seeing the waves of protests that have broken out in recent days throughout Iran, I thought of all the other Persian women who must be praying to be liberated from such insidious oppression.

Why are they not part of the #MeToo movement?

Well, for one thing, because in Iran, women pay a price for speaking up. Farghadani herself, in addition to her “illegitimate sexual relations” trial, was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in an Iranian jail because she drew cartoons that “insulted” members of Parliament.

As I wrote back in July 2015, “Farghadani is not alone. There are thousands like her languishing in Iranian prisons because they had the nerve to oppose an evil and oppressive regime. How oppressive? According to Human Rights Watch, ‘In 2014 Iran had the second highest number of executions in the world after China, and executed the largest number of juvenile offenders. The country remains one of the biggest jailers in the world of journalists, bloggers, and social media activists. ’ ”

Since then, after the 2015 nuclear deal that empowered Iran with billions in sanctions relief, the oppression has only gotten worse.

According to Amnesty International, “Iran continued to execute children in 2016,” including hanging 17-year-old Hassan Afshar because of homosexual activity. At least 49 inmates on death row were convicted of crimes committed when they were under 18 years old.

In March 2016, the United Nations Children’s Rights Committee noted that in Iran “flogging was still a lawful punishment for boys and girls convicted of certain crimes” and that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) children had been subjected to electric shocks to ‘cure’ them.”

The committee also reported that “the age of marriage for girls is 13” and that “sexual intercourse with girls as young as nine lunar years was not criminalized.”

That is what evil does — it grabs more power so that it can stay in power, even if that means jailing women, hanging gays and conniving the West into releasing billions, all in the name of God.

How is all of that for motivation to run on the streets and storm the barricades of theocratic despots who treat women and children worse than slaves?

Yes, those are the same despots who suckered the West into empowering their evil regime in return for an agreement that, at best, delays a nuclear Iran by a decade.

And they’re the same despots who have been wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East while remaining, according to the latest U.S. State Department report, “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

“Who knows? Iran may change,” President Barack Obama said to Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in April 2015, around the time that Atena Farghadani was being sentenced to jail for her cartoons.

Of course, at the time, Obama was eager to conclude his legacy nuclear deal, which may also explain why he stayed so quiet when protests erupted on Iranian streets in 2009. Instead of betting on the Iranian people, Obama spent his two terms in office betting on the mullahs who were oppressing those very people.

Obama was as passionate about his deal with the mullahs as he was silent about those who were hanged for being gay or women who were jailed for speaking up.

In his zeal to promote his deal, he kept making hopeful comments that all those billions in sanctions relief would help the Iranian economy and trickle down to ordinary citizens. As he told Friedman, he hoped the deal would “harness the incredible talents and ingenuity and entrepreneurship of Iranian people” and empower the nonviolent forces inside Iran who’d want to “excel in science and technology and job creation and developing our people.”

Two years later, the only thing that’s trickled down to Iranian citizens is more oppression and misery. But why should that surprise us? Obama bet on evil, and evil bit him right back.

The Iranian evil includes blatant corruption. For decades, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accumulated assets of about $95 billion through an organization, Setad, that was created to help the poor but has morphed into a business juggernaut.

As detailed in a Reuters investigation:

“Khamenei’s grip on Iran’s politics and its military forces has been apparent for years. The investigation into Setad shows that there is a third dimension to his power: economic might. … Setad gives him the financial means to operate independently of parliament and the national budget.”

That is what evil does — it grabs more power so that it can stay in power, even if that means jailing women, hanging gays and conniving the West into releasing billions, all in the name of God.

It’s an unfortunate timing that this week is our annual Mensch issue, where we focus on human decency and goodness. Maybe the contrast between mensches and oppressors will spur people to launch a #ThemToo campaign, this one on behalf of desperate victims risking their lives right now on Iranian streets.

Leon Wieseltier apologizes for inappropriate behavior toward women

Screenshot from YouTube.

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.

#MeToo: No More To Violence and Degradation

Rabbi Yoshi ZweibackRabbi Yoshi Zweiback granted me permission to share his moving and meaningful #MeToo sermon from Friday, October 20, 2017 at Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, California:

“This is the line of Noah: Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his age; Noah walked with God.”

It was good that Noah walked with God. It was good that he was blameless in his age. It was good that he was a righteous man.

Because no one else was.

According to our tradition, Noah was the only righteous man of his generation. Everyone else was pretty much disgusting.

Our Torah portion this week tells us in fact that the whole world had become corrupt.

The great medieval commentator, Rashi, tells us that the Hebrew word “וַתִּשָּׁחֵ֥ת” refers to a particular type of corruption – ערווה, usually translated as “liscentiousness” – sexual depravity.

WATCH: Soulful Shabbat Service Oct 20 2017 with Rabbi Yoshi’s sermon

Rashi notes that according to the midrash, ערווה so offends God that it leads ultimately to indiscriminate punishment, the “end of all flesh,” a punishment that is meted out on good people and bad people alike. It, in the words of the midrash, is something that הוֹרֶגֶת טוֹבִים וְרָעִים – it kills both the righteous and the wicked.

What a parasha for this week.

Like many of you I’m sure, I’ve been reading one #metoo story after another on facebook.

Friends, classmates, colleagues sharing horrifying stories of aggression, discrimination, degradation, humiliation, and violence.

Details of Harvey Weinstein’s behavior and the degree to which so many were complicit in it continue to emerge. There is a corruption, a type of ערווה in this town, in the entertainment industry, and – more broadly – in our world, that is gross, disgusting, nauseating.

How should we respond? What should we do? How can we make things better?

Although I had a mother and I have a sister, a spouse and three daughters, it is very difficult for me to relate personally to so many of the stories I read.

I’ve found it helpful, though, to simply try to listen to the experiences of others.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Margaret Renkl shared a moving piece about her own experiences. A few years back, she found herself sitting around her kitchen table with her sons. The subject of travel came up and her boys asked her why she hadn’t backpacked around Europe like their father had.

Here’s what she shared with them:

“It’s dangerous for a woman to camp alone,” I finally said at the table that night. “There are women who do it, but I’m not that brave.”
My children grew up with stories of their father’s adventures. They did not grow up with stories of mine. I didn’t tell them the story of the 16-year-old family “friend” who babysat while his parents and mine went out to dinner the year I was 11, how he followed me around the apartment, tugging on my blouse and telling me I should take it off, pulling at the elastic waistband of my pants and telling me I should take them off, how I finally locked myself in my bedroom and didn’t come out till my parents got home.

I didn’t tell my children the story of walking with my friend to the town hardware store when we were 14. I didn’t tell them that my friend used her babysitting money to buy a screwdriver and a deadbolt lock to keep her older brother out of her room at night.

I didn’t tell my children the story of my first job, the job I started the week I turned 16, and how the manager kept making excuses to go back to the storeroom whenever I was at the fry station, how he would squeeze his corpulent frame between the counter and me, dragging his sweaty crotch across my rear end on each trip…

There is nothing unusual about these stories. They are the ho-hum, everyday experiences of virtually every woman I know, and such stories rarely get told. There will never be a powerful social-media movement that begins, ‘Today I ate breakfast’ or ‘Today my dog pooped and I cleaned it up’ or ‘Today I washed my hair with the same shampoo I’ve been buying since 2006.’ We tell the stories that are remarkable in some way, stories that are surprising, utterly unexpected. The quotidian doesn’t make for a good tale.

And maybe that’s why the avalanche of stories on Twitter and Facebook this week has been so powerful. It started on Oct. 5, when The New York Times first broke the story of accusations of sexual harassment against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, but it became a juggernaut 10 days later, when the actress Alyssa Milano tweeted, “If you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.” Within minutes the hashtag #MeToo was all over Twitter, Facebook and Instagram — over 500,000 times on Twitter and 12 million times on Facebook in the first 24 hours alone — and the deluge shows no sign of slowing. The numbers keep ticking up as women tell the stories of men who used their power to overwhelm or coerce them.” (“The Raw Power of #metoo “-NY Times, Oct 19, 2017)

There is a terrible corruption in this world.

In this week’s Torah portion, God gets so fed up with humanity that She decides to start over, to destroy Her creation and begin again.
Our parasha tells us that Noah was indeed righteous.

But he is criticized by the rabbis who contrast Noah’s behavior with the behavior of Abraham. When Noah is told that God wishes to destroy the world, he says nothing. He builds the ark and saves his own family but he does nothing to address the core issue, the fundamental problem, the corruption that so angered God.

And maybe that’s one of the lessons for us. It’s not enough to be upright in your own behavior. Of course each of us at work and in our interactions with others wherever we are should behave according to the highest standards of our tradition and be particularly careful not to degrade, humiliate or harass – ever. But our tradition requires us to go farther: we have to actively work to build communities where the norms and standards of upright behavior in this regard are widely embraced so that we can build a world where 14 year old young women don’t need to put deadbolts on their bedroom doors.

On a closed facebook page for Reform rabbis, I read many stories of female colleagues across the country who have felt uncomfortable in their own shuls because congregants or co-workers had made comments about their dress and their appearance. They shared stories of being hugged or kissed at the oneg when they didn’t feel comfortable with that type of touch.

We can and we must do better. And we have to help each other as a community to do better.

If you didn’t hear Rabbi Knobel’s powerful and moving High Holy Day sermon about gender violence, you can find the video of it on our website (https://youtu.be/B5S2opBM_Ss). And if you heard it, watch again and think about it in the light of what we’ve seen over the past two weeks.

And I invite you, if you feel comfortable doing so, to share any of your experiences and any suggestions you have about how we can make this sacred space more comfortable for you and about how we can work together to change things in our City of Angels where so many of those awful, awful stories we’ve been reading took place. And then we must change things more broadly so that the violence and degradation, the terrible corruption that led God to want to destroy the whole wide world will become a distant memory so that no woman or man will ever again have to say “#metoo.”

Thank you to Rabbi Yoshi and Stephen Wise Temple for all you do: 

“We make meaning and change the world.”

אנחנו יוצרים משמעות ומשנים את העולם.

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.