I am heartened during these hard times, to think of Shevet Achim group leaders and group participants making space for difficult conversations about the things that some men do to hurt others. For those of us who also work with boys in some capacity it is a helpful reminder that they need guidance and support in asking for help when they need it so that their personal suffering doesn’t turn into violence perpetuated against others.
Teen girls, of course, also need to talk about how to respond to repeated news of men using their power to acting violently against women (as in the Harvey Weinstein case) and against other human beings more generally (as in the case of mass shootings in this country). They need the space first to talk about how it feels to know that most women in the course of their lives will be effected in some way by the effects of male aggression. They need the safe space to seek support if their own experiences of violence, harassment or abuse are triggered by these high-profile stories. They need guidance and practice to build the skills and the confidence to use those skills to protect themselves in situations when that is possible. And they need to avoid blaming themselves for coping in whatever ways they do with the challenges of sexism as it manifests in their lives.
This isn’t easy work. As I take my down my sukkah for the year, I am painfully aware of the fact that all the work we do with girls protects them only partially, like a sukkah. We are living in a sexist culture that does not offer complete safety to girls, and truly not to anyone. But these past few weeks have given us not just the story of abusive, sick men, it has also given us examples of powerful resilient women who are strengthening one another and supporting one another in their courage to speaking out. Their lives show what we know, that even when women and girls do experience harassment and sexism, so many of us find our way to healing, strength and resilience. We do so by reconnecting to ourselves, to core beliefs, and to trusted others, and from that place we go on to be stars, in our own diverse arenas.
I thank you for continuing to have courageous conversations with the girls and boys you work with, in your various capacities, and I encourage you to share with me and with one another what kinds of conversations your girls are having these days and what questions you have as you are listening to and guiding these conversations.
In solidarity and peace,
Rabbi Tamara Cohen
Chief of Innovation