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What Sexual Misconduct Costs a Community

Nonprofit organizations, political campaigns, social justice movements and theater productions, among others, are at risk for creating an environment where the goals are so important, the work so heady, that those who suffer the heavy weight of misogyny or prejudice in such environments are prompted to silence their outrage for the greater good.

The devastating—and, to some, surprising—quotes you read on Lilith’s cover are not unique to the Jewish community. But taken overall, they give vivid testimony to the fact that Jewish nonprofit organizations can feel like an extension of a family, and boundary violations in a Jewish workplace setting seem often to be overlooked or forgiven for the sake of the cause itself.

The disgust and anger and disillusionment we hear in those quotes mask a lot of ancillary damage. What more damage could there be? Women are giving up on promising careers because, justifiably, they feel unprotected. When they can, they’re turning away from workplaces that need their talent. In addition to the huge cost to the individual women victimized, we need to recognize the costs of losing their presence in organizations.

One example among many: When renowned playwright and theater guru Israel Horowitz was outed in November by the New York Times as a sexual predator (“Yet another Jewish man,” you’re thinking), reports revealed that many talented women abandoned promising work because Horovitz had forced himself on them. One woman told the Times, “People like this—they’re dream crushers.” 

Several decades ago, Cynthia Ozick wrote in Lilith about the Jewish “half-genius,” arguing that any pride in Jewish accomplishments must be muted by an understanding that fully half of Jewish brainpower and creativity has never had a chance for full expression—namely what we women would have produced, given the chance. Although women’s writing is now closer to being admitted into the canon than it was decades ago, there is still a grim brain drain, as you’ll read in the Lilith section that follows. You will:

  • Hear how a student’s unwelcome sexual encounter with a Hollywood director derailed her career before it even got moving.
  • Learn how schools and organizations can adjust and improve their practices so that predators will be accountable.
  • Tune in to the special, odious brand of sexual misconduct experienced by women who are pulpit rabbis.

There’s plenty of work ahead.

— SUSAN WEIDMAN SCHNEIDER