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Clues to Making Change

  • Listen when people talk about their experiences. Believe them.
  • Use the power of the bima. Make your dvar torah/newsletter/sermon about #MeToo, sexual harassment, supporting women. “Is it sad to me that women have to use men’s voices to promote their own? Yes, but that’s going to be effective,” said Rabbi Rachel Ain of New York’s Sutton Place Synagogue, during the webinar “#MeToo From the Pulpit: A Rabbi’s Role in Creating Safe, Respectful Synagogue Communities.”
  • Talk about—and model—proper behavior. “We need to openly talk about gender dynamics on the bima, in newsletters and in board meetings,” said Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu. “Comments about a woman rabbi’s body and clothing are never appropriate. Rabbis on the bima or officiating at a lifecycle event are not there to be objectified. They are there to do their job and offhand comments like these, though they are often meant as compliments, only serve to undermine the stature of the rabbi. It causes women to feel diminished.”
  • Find and use liturgy that emphasizes the sacredness of speaking out. “We need to look at how our tradition perpetuates imbalances of power,” said Rabbi Mira Beth Wasserman of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, a panelist at “Revealing #MeToo As #WeToo in Jewish Communal Life.” “We don’t talk about the language of upstanding and rebuke that exists in the text. People need to hear their rabbis talking about speaking out.”
  • Use money to make change. Don’t ask people to do the work of change for free, said Wasserman. All Jewish organizations should also be investing in sexual harassment trainings, as well as follow-up, and, Wasserman suggested, creating a fund to support those who are pursuing cases against their abusers.
  • Place affected people at the center of change-making. “It’s those who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse who should be deciding how resources get allocated,” said Shifra Bronznick, founder of Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, at the “WeToo” event. 

— C.D.