I always knew the time would come for the Jewish communal world to face the sexual assault and harassment that pervades it. That time is now. I wish it wouldn’t have taken this seismic #MeToo movement/moment for us to get on board in fixing a problem that has persisted in our peoplehood since biblical times, but those who abuse power do not let go of it easily, especially without institutions that stand unwaveringly behind victims and survivors. This is a large part of why it’s so exciting that the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (JWFNY) is hosting a town hall meeting this week titled, “Revealing metoo as wetoo in Jewish Communal Life,” to specifically address “gender abuse and harassment in the Jewish community.”
The language used to describe the event already cued me to the fact that the organizers care deeply about those who are most affected. I spoke to JWFNY executive director Jamie Allen Black who told me that she specifically chose the phrase “gender abuse and harassment” as opposed to “sexual harassment” because as she described, “it’s not about sex but about power and demeaning—for me that’s a big message and now seemed like the right time because people are actually listening.”
In fact, JWFNY has been working to address this problem well before the Weinstein allegations came to light. Starting in the summer of 2016, JWFNY began holding trainings to combat harassment and gender abuse for professionals in Jewish organizations, improving their model overtime.
In early December of 2017, Black was approached with the idea that JWFNY hold a town hall meeting on the topic for the Jewish communal world, like those hosted by the Royal Court Theater in London and the Public Theater in New York. The idea would be for individuals to share survivor stories before communally establishing a code of conduct.