A few months ago news emerged that Wesleyan for years had on staff a man whose job it was to oversee sexual assault hearings, who had been fired from a previous job for sexually propositioning a 15-year-old girl. The hearings he oversaw, we were reassured in an email from the President, were not affected by this fact. A few months after that, I received an email from my Boston prep school; it had never been much for consent education. A teacher about whom I had harbored concerns for years, and had complained about, had carried on an inappropriate relationship with an 18-year-old recent graduate and had been fired. Again, I was reassured that no other students were affected by his behavior.
The revelations of assault and mismanagement at the places my mother had sent me to be educated and taken care of compelled her to tell me softly and unemotionally the story of her own assault on the phone one night. At the age of 13, she had been assaulted several times by the father of the children for whom she babysat. She never told her mother and mused that “it was just one of those things that happened in those days.” My mother, a clinical psychologist, who taught me from birth to name my feelings at all times, seemed suddenly unable to name her own feelings. “I almost never thought about it”, she said softly, “until that woman, you know the one on the plane, described Trump’s hand as like an ‘octopus’. That’s what it was like when he touched me.” I sobbed uncontrollably for hours. Feeling as if I were experiencing my mother’s assault, feeling as if generations of women were experiencing the same trauma over and over. Again and again our bodies were taken without asking.
Into this mess of sex, of power and pain, and of expensive institutions sweeping the messiness under the rug, came the revelation of the MatzoBall. It was a few weeks after the election of Trump and my exhaustion with rape culture and of the denial of patriarchy and power became overwhelming. As a member of IfNotNow, a movement to end American Jewish support for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, I have been accustomed to being disappointed in Jewish institutions.
The MatzoBall, however, put me over the edge.
The MatzoBall is a Jewish singles event, billed as a place for Jews to go on Christmas Eve, to pick up a (white, Jewish) spouse or, as one of their marketing memes puts it, “where Jewish men can hunt for a wife like a lion hunts for prey.” Another place, it seemed, where Jewish men could casually pick up something that had always belonged to them.
So when a friend in IfNotNow suggested that we create an alternative MatzoBall party, committed to affirming the identities of interfaith couples, Jews of color, LGBQT+ Jews, and to building a space of consent and safety for women, I knew I had to get involved. “Gelty Pleasures: An Alternative Hannukah Dance Party” was born, and with it my hope that we can break the cycle of trauma.
Jews know trauma all too well. The obsession with reproductive continuity that fills the MatzoBall—the fixation on creating more Jews and more land for Jews and only Jews to inhabit—I believe comes from a collective Jewish trauma. However, it’s high time to create a party that honors our emergence from this cycle, a place where we can acknowledge those things that have made us feel unsafe, and create new spaces that repair the places in us that are broken. Healing those parts of us that are weathered by trauma, by generations of fear and loss of control will not happen overnight. Nevertheless, this year on Christmas Eve, I will be dancing at a place in which consent is a topic firmly up for discussion, in a way that parties my mother and her mother attended never were. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. I hope you will join us.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.