Teach Your Children

In case you don’t know, the Jewish people divide the Torah (Pentateuch, first 5 books of the Hebrew Bible) into chapters and these are read in order, aloud, usually at the synagogue, every week of the year, especially on Shabbat (the Sabbath). We’ve actually being doing that for about 2,500 years, ever since we returned from Babylonian exile to Jerusalem sometime in the 5th century B.C.E. Two thousand five hundred years. That’s amazing. 

We are now around the beginning of the Hebrew calendar year, and this Shabbat, December 14th, Jews all over the world read the chapter called Vayishlach (meaning ‘And he sent’ from the first few words of the text). This is from the first book of the Bible, Genesis, chapters 32 – 36. 

Below is an excerpt from Genesis Chapter 34, somewhere in the middle of the story.

Genesis Chapter 34

1 Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to look about among the daughters of the land.   א וַתֵּצֵ֤א דִינָה֙ בַּת־לֵאָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָֽלְדָ֖ה לְיַֽעֲקֹ֑ב לִרְא֖וֹת בִּבְנ֥וֹת הָאָֽרֶץ:
2 And Shechem the son of Hamor, the Hivvite, the prince of the land, saw her, and he took her, lay with her, and violated her.   בו ַיַּ֨רְא אֹתָ֜הּ שְׁכֶ֧ם בֶּן־חֲמ֛וֹר הַֽחִוִּ֖י נְשִׂ֣יא הָאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּקַּ֥ח אֹתָ֛הּ וַיִּשְׁכַּ֥ב אֹתָ֖הּ וַיְעַנֶּֽהָ:
3 And his soul cleaved to Dinah the daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl and spoke to the girl’s heart.   גו ַתִּדְבַּ֣ק נַפְשׁ֔וֹ בְּדִינָ֖ה בַּת־יַֽעֲקֹ֑ב וַיֶּֽאֱהַב֙ אֶת־הַנַּֽעֲרָה֔ (כתיב הנער) וַיְדַבֵּ֖ר עַל־לֵ֥ב הַנַּֽעֲרָֽה (כתיב הנער) :
4 And Shechem spoke to his father Hamor       saying, “Take this girl for me as a wife.”   דוַיֹּ֣אמֶר שְׁכֶ֔ם אֶל־חֲמ֥וֹר אָבִ֖יו לֵאמֹ֑ר קַח־לִ֛י אֶת־הַיַּלְדָּ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את לְאִשָּֽׁה:

In most synagogues, someone gets up and gives a talk, a short sermon of sorts, about a topic relating to the weekly Torah portion.

Where is this going? I want to tell you about my amazing daughter, Tamar, whose righteous indignation about injustice and discrimination I embrace fully. Mea culpa. But she takes her anger and outrage a few steps further than I ever had the courage to do and for that I admire and love her to pieces.

A few days before Shabbat Vayishlach in 2018, Tamar, then 18 yrs old, asked to give the talk at our synagogue. And she did. In Hebrew. I translated it and bring you her words (and remember she’s talking in front of our congregants in the synagogue):

Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to look about among the daughters of the land.” Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, went for a walk

And Shechem the son of Hamor, the Hivvite, the prince of the land, saw her, and he took her, lay with her, and violated her.” Shchem sees her, takes her and rapes her

“And Shechem spoke to his father Hamor saying, Take this girl for me as a wife” And Shechem tells his father he wants this girl for a wife

The sons of Jacob hear that Dinah was kidnapped and raped and they go to Shechem to try to save her. But Shechem wants her for his wife, so he offers them a deal: You bring us your daughters and we will bring you our daughters.

The story does not end there, but this is enough for us to get the point. Did anyone ask Dinah how she felt? What she wants? Remember, she was just raped. Did anyone ask if she wanted to marry her rapist? The answer is no. Why? Because she is not considered a human being. She is property, and it is obvious that property, as other inanimate objects, don’t have feelings.

That’s the way it was in Biblical times, and despite what many people believe, this is still reality for millions of women today, millions of women who do not feel they have a voice, that no one listens. This is the reality, that most men in the world do not know what it is like to live as a woman. The fears and hardships that almost every woman has.

The moment I truly and really understood this was during the Open Shabbat weekend at Telem Mechina in south Tel Aviv. It was an amazing and entertaining Shabbat and I had fun. After Friday night dinner, we (the candidates) sat in a circle and chatted with the mechina members. One of them, a young woman, brought up the location of the mechina and that when she finishes to volunteer downtown, she is hesitant to walk back to the mechina alone at night because she fears that she would be assaulted. Another mechina member, a young man, turned to her and said, “What? What are you afraid of? I walk around the streets here at 3 a.m. and nothing happens to me!”

Feminist writer Margaret Atwood, who wrote A Handmaid’s Tale, a book about violence towards women, gender discrimination, rape, etc, has a famous quote and it goes like this: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them”.

Men do not experience the world like we women do. They think that because we live in a modern, democratic country in 2018, there is no need for feminism, no need for conversations about gender discrimination, violence against women, sexual assaults and rape.

But they are wrong. Because there have been 19 women murdered by their partners in Israel since the start of the year; a young girl in Afghanistan was just sold into marriage by her impoverished family; millions of little girls go through genital mutilation every year in Africa and Asia; women in the United States who report being harassed or sexually assaulted or raped and no one believes them, see their assailant reach a prestigious position in society like a Supreme Court Judge or even the President of the United States. Feminism is still important. The fact is that in the State of Israel, one of every three women suffer sexual harassment and one of five get raped.

Men – I turn to you. Think about it. You know someone who has been sexually harassed. You know someone who has been raped. You cannot run from it. But don’t think that because of that statistic, women have to adapt themselves to that dangerous reality. We are not the ones who must change.

Parents – especially parents of small children. Don’t let that statistic make you fear for your daughters. Do you want to protect them? Do you want to assure them a good life? Don’t limit their freedom. Don’t tell them what they can and cannot wear, how to behave and what to do around men. Quite the contrary. Teach your boys to respect women.

Remember, it is not a woman’s responsibility not to get raped or murdered. It is the man’s responsibility not to rape and not to murder.

At the end of her speech, at the synagogue, there was an audible gasp and then, complete silence. For a good 10 seconds. Tamar looked around at the shocked community members and went back to her seat.

It was BRILLIANT!!!!

I am so proud 🙂

So yes, we in Israel have issues we must address, aside from the obvious geo-political mess. We have serious social challenges, one of them is gender discrimination and violence against women.

But we also have brilliant young Israelis like my Tamar, who will do their best to confront our challenges and make this a better world.

Tamar photo


Shalva and Justice

There is a new craze in Israel these days. The Eurovision Song Contest, which Israel has won three times already, (the latest being last year with Neta Barzilai’s amazing rendition of ‘Toy”) is coming to Israel this May! Yes, and Israelis are beside themselves with excitement. It will be held in Tel Aviv and its probably too late to try to find any hotel space (I hear airbnb apartments are sold out as well) but I digress…

What is really gripping the Israeli public is who is going to represent Israel in this year’s Eurovision. And its a nail biter and a tearjerker, because the crowd favorite is a band. A special band. A band made up of eight special needs young adults, three visually impaired, two with Down’s Syndrome, one with Williams Syndrome, one with autism and their musical director, who himself suffered a debilitating injury during his military service.

The Shalva Band blossomed out  of the musical therapy program at Shalva (meaning ‘peace and calm in Hebrew), which is the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. But enough with words.

Please watch the Shalva Band in their debut performance in front of a national audience. I dare you to keep a dry eye.

The band has been doing extremely well in the competition, moving forward and making it to the next rounds. As a matter of fact, the Shalva Band performed their first original song this past week and made it to the Quarter Finals!

The song, written by Annael (the lead vocalist), documents her journey with disability and acceptance. The song is called ‘I See Something Good Within You‘ and is about how she ‘looks’ in the mirror and sees something good, something close, something worth loving.

The possibility of this amazing band of special needs friends making it to the top and representing Israel in the Eurovision Song Contest is a worthwhile story in itself.

However, it is made more poignant because last week I attended the International Court for the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Tel Aviv. My daughter Tamar was selected to be among 70 talented and inspiring teens from all over Israel to help commemorate this anniversary by staging a mock trial. The highschoolers staged the trial of Ernst Rudin, a Nazi doctor, pioneer and head of the Racial Hygiene programs in the Third Reich. He was in charge of the forced, mass sterilization of over 400,000 Germans deemed inferior and undesirable and the killing of tens of thousands more. In one of his speeches he justified the euthanasia of children as “the value of eliminating young children of clearly inferior quality”.  He was known as a ‘racial fanatic’ and one of the leading advocates for the purity of the ‘German people’.

Ernst Rudin was arrested after the Holocaust and was supposed to stand trial as a war criminal at Nuremberg. However, his defense claim was that most of his knowledge about eugenics and the racial superiority of the Aryan Race he learned from the birthplace of race theory, the United States. This made the American lawyers and judges at Nuremberg quite uncomfortable and they did not wish to open a Pandora’s Box. So, he was chastised, got a slap on the wrist, fined 500 marks, and released. He died a free man in 1952.

The Israeli teenagers were divided into two groups; prosecutors and defense attorneys. Famous international judges were invited to preside over the trial, from Scotland, the United States, and Germany as well as two high ranking Israeli judges.  Witnesses were brought in from Austria and Germany. Rudin was played by an Israeli actor…

I was so very impressed with the teens as they advocated for or against this Nazi and his crimes. Their seriousness  and professionalism overwhelmed me and I could barely contain my pride and ‘naches’ (Yiddish for pleasure attained from seeing someone you love do something amazing).

The organizers and sponsors of the mock trial aim to package this idea and market it to other countries with the goal of creating an International Youth Parliament that will deal with matters important to the youth of today.

I was going to write about the trial, and Tamar, and how proud I am of her, and how fascinating it all was last week. But I hadn’t yet. I got busy with other things.

Until today, when my husband Yitzhak and I watched the video of the Shalva Band moving on to the Quarter Finals. He wiped tears from his eyes and said to me, “You know, Rudin would have killed them all.” As simple as that. The Nazis would have sterilized and euthanized them. Every one of them.

And now, I’m at a loss for words.