Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

It’s Activism Time!

Can you think of any better reading material than the statistics of sexual harrassment at your university? I can’t. It’s incredible. This photo states that in the past academic year alone, there have been 25 complaints within the university. (And that’s ONLY the cases that were reported! Remember, most cases are not reported!) The article accompanied by this picture talks about the experience of a person who reports sexual assault to the university. They are subjected to riddicule, humiliation, and often discouraged from going to the police and making an official report.

Here’s my question. Why is this happening in the 21st century? Have we not yet learned to believe victims of harassment and not to put them through “a second rape?” And why is this such a big problem in college campuses? We know we are not the only university in the world where this is a huge problem.

As we bask in the triumphs of modern feminism, we can’t forget that we still have a long way to go before full equality between men and women is achieved. In this case, I want to point out the difference in statistics in the sciences. As a female student of mathematics, in most of my classes the ratio of boys to girls is 7 to 1. I’m serious! It’s no wonder mathematicians have so much trouble dating. 🙂 The point being, there is already a gap between men and women in the sciences. I think, if we want to encourage girls and women to go into academics and study sciences, we need to first and foremost make sure that the college campus is a safe place for girls and women. And right now, statistics show that it is not.

So let’s change that. Let’s make the campus a safe place for female students and teachers. Let’s encourage girls to become educated by welcoming them warmly into the arms of academics and giving them the proper respect they deserve when we fail to protect them.

I call upon the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and its representatives to say, Guys, you can do better than a letter. I want to see you subsidizing self defense courses for you girls and women. I want to see seminars on the bystander approach, educating men and women how to discourage rape culture. I want to see people who report assault treated with respect and their perpetrators brought to justice. I want to see real strong male leadership. With those things, you can truly live up to your mission statement of being the best.

Liora Sophie

Student of Mathematics at Hebrew University

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck, Living in Israel

To You, With Love From A Fellow Human

To the invaluable human soul behind the screen reading my words,

I want to talk to you about this week. Sunday the semester starts, and that’s not enough time to recover from the emotional impact of this week’s events. It’s not fair. Yesterday, a crazy person killed a baby with a car. Today, both Jews and Arabs threw rocks at each other. We’re all upset. Nobody can focus. It’s a terrible, horrible situation.

I want you to know that no matter what you think, no matter who you are, I feel your pain. Because pain is not something which belongs on any side of the political spectrum. Pain is human. As are all of us. So why can’t we stand together, hold hands, comfort each other?

If you’ll stick with me for just a moment longer, I’d like to share with you some beautiful words I heard from a speaker about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict several weeks ago. His name is Ali abu Awwad. It begins with the definition of hope.

“Hope is a place where people create, not just expect,” he says.

Ali Abu Awwad preaches non-violent action. Take action, but not violent action. His first experience of this concept was participating in a 17-day hunger strike in prison, as a protest against the separation of families inside the prison. He wanted to be reunited with his mother. This kind of action, he says is something powerful – it’s fighting with your humanity, more than violence, more than your political rights. “Non violence is to be an artist for your humanity.”

What is the most powerful tool of non-violent action? “Non-violent action causes the other side to see their own actions.” It creates a mirror for your opponent, rather than fueling his violence. “By not giving legitimacy to their violence, you create a safe place for them to give up.”

At 31, Ali’s brother was violently killed by an IDF soldier. The pain of loss and mourning led Ali to realize that there is no revenge good enough. Taking the life of another person can not ease the pain and will not bring back his brother. What keeps a person who has lost something so huge from turning into a murderer? Ali says that even though he lost his brother, his dreams, his land, and his rights, one thing he didn’t lose – his mind. When his brother was killed, a group of bereaved Israelis asked to come and meet his mother. For the first time in his life, Ali witnessed an Israeli person cry.

Israelis can cry? He asked himself. He was shocked. Before this incident he couldn’t imagine that Israelis could cry.

And what about forgiveness? How can you forgive someone for killing your brother? But Ali says he learned about forgiveness from a Sount African mother who told him, “Forgiveness is not giving up your right to justice, but giving up your just right to revenge.

It couldn’t be more clear that Ali does not believe war is any kind of solution. “Palestinian freedom has to go through Israeli hearts, not bodies.” He impresses the interdependence of the two nations by saying, “If Israel is not secure, Palestineans will never have freedom – but if Palestine doesn’t have freedom, Israel will never have security.”

And since then, he’s been an activist for Palestinian rights. He marches and speaks in favor of non violent action. One incident he told of stood out to me. When speaking at an Israeli school in the West Bank, one of the students, a nineteen year old, called him “a babboon.” Ali flattened him with heart-piercing dialogue, appealing to his humanity and commanding his respect. The student fell silent and later approached him, apologizing for his words and admitting that he had never met a Palestinian before. “I never imagined Palestinians had feelings.”

Do you see the striking parallel in these two stories? Each is a tale of a human experience, a raw encounter with our more basic instincts and our ability to overcome them in order to be civilized. Each tells about a person who had never met someone so different from them, but then learned that the other is human just as they are.

Ok, time to wrap things up. I just want to say to my friends at school, my neighbors in the dormitories, my friends in the West Bank and my friends far away in the United States and everywhere, at the end of the day, we’re all human, we can all cry, and that’s okay….

I’m going to leave you with a final quote from Ali, about what he sees as the definition of peace:

“Peace is the courage to engage in each other’s rights.”

Much love and wishes for a quiet weekend,

Liora Sophie

Posted in Fighting WorldSuck

Be A Good Bystander. You’re Not Exempt From Fighting Violence.

Domestic violence affects everyone.

Whether you are the victim, the perpetrator, the victim or perpetrator’s child, relative, friend, coworker, neighbor…you’re affected. This is not somebody else’s problem. It’s not something which isn’t your business. And don’t think that just because it’s a huge probelm that somehow means one person can’t make a difference.

Check out this person. Jackson Katz: Violence against women – it’s  a men’s issue
And this person. Ellen Snortland: We all need to be safe before we can thrive.

I was taking a break from my homework (I already handed in the assignment which is due tomorrow! It’s OK) and came across this article in the daily Israeli Newspaper “Israel Hayom” (=Israel Today):

IMG289Even though I don’t have a lot of respect for this Government-funded newspaper and do not recognize it as a reliable source of information, I feel I have to say something about this atrocious article which was published today. The article is in honor of Novembre 25th being the International Day for Prevention of Violence against Women. It gives a vague number of domestic violence cases reported to the Israeli police per day (72) and an approximate number of women in society who suffer from it (7,000). The article is a series of questions asked by citizens suffering from some type of domestic violence, and answers given by “professionals.” (That’s what they called themselves.)

It’s not really visible in the photo, but in the bottom left corner is a tiny little article which states that ONLY 15% OF JEWISH CITIZENS interviewed said they would report a case of violence to the authorities.

So assuming 15% of cases are reported, the statistics in our beloved country actually look more like 480 cases per day and 47,000 women who suffer from domestic violence. (For a more accurate calculation please do the math yourself. Seriously, I’m terrible at arithmetic. I’m a mathematician. It’s a known fact.)

Of the many things which bothered me in this article, here are the highlights:

1. All questions involving violence began with a phrase such as “My husband beats me…” which on the surface rules out cases of verbal and emotional violence. The askers all seemed to be fully aware that they were involved in a violent relationship, and they all seemed to be experiencing physical violence. There are other types of violence and they are usually harder to recognize than physical abuse, because they don’t leave visible scars on the victim. We need to talk about these types of violence as well.

2. Black and white answers are not always what people need to hear. It’s easy to tell someone suffering from violence “Just leave him!” but it’s not that simple. For example, one of the questions was from a woman whose son-in-law was abusive to her and her spouse. The answer given was “That counts as domestic violence and you can make a claim with the police and get a restraining order.”
First of all, restraining orders don’t actually work.
Second of all, the “professional” giving the answer completely disregarded the fact that this person is the woman’s daughter’s husband. It’s not as simple as just getting a restraining order against your son-in-law. There are people in your life who may be violent to you but whom you still want to have some kind of relationship with. How does getting a restraining order against her son-in-law affect her relationship with her daughter? There are more things which need to be said, because more often than not “Just leave him” is an answer that will go in a victim’s ear and out the other.

3. What seriuosly? 100% of the people interviewed were Jewish?

4. Who is the perpetrator? Who is an abuser? if 47,000 women suffer from domestic violence that means there are 47,000 men (or women) acting in violent ways towards people they love. How does that happen? How do you stop being violent? How do you solve conflicts in non-violent ways if your entire life that’s what you’ve been taught? Is it possible to change? What other ways are there of solving problems?
What the heck are we spending all our public education budget on if not these things? I know some schools have the decency to bring in a social worker once in a while to give a 45 minute lecture to kids about violence but let’s face it, that doesn’t actually help. Schools have no idea how to prevent bullying. The police have no idea how to prevent domestic violence. Something needs to be done. Something has got to change, and fast.

I’m sorry if I come off as kind of angry and aggressive. I’ve had so many conversations with friends and people I respect who just don’t know what to do, don’t know if they should say something, and don’t have any idea how common this problem is.

All this can be overwhelming because the scope of it is so huge and there are many dangers involved. But we can’t just sit around and hope we won’t encounter it in our lives. We already have. Because, as Dr. Seuss said,

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

So here’s what I urge you to do:

Identify your role. Who are you? Are you a victim, perpetrator?
Chances are you are a bystander. Watch Jackson Katz’s amazing TED talk about the Bystander Approach and learn how average people can make a difference.
Speak out. Challenge your friends on using abusive language and making jokes about rape.
Educate yourself. Learn how to defend yourself against violence and encourage people in your life to do so as well.
Take a stand. If you know someone who is in an abusive relationship, SAY SOMETHING to them. Yes, it is your business. Stick your nose in (be careful though, violence is violence!) and you could change somebody’s life.

You’re not exempt from fighting violence.

Posted in Living in Israel

Stand With Israel, Chances Are You Owe Us One

Being a university student means occasionally getting emails from the Dean’s office. But how often do they say something like this:

“Due to the security situation, students wishing to host relatives and friends from the South of Israel in their dormitories may file a request.”
Only in Israel would the Dean’s Office give permission to students to host their families in the dorms. How awesome is that!
 
The IDF has “recommended” to evacuate the south of Israel due to a bazillion rockets being fired in the vicinity. It’s recommended because a bazillion rockets can be quite a nuissance to civillians trying to study or meditate, etc. It’s not manditory because the Iron Dome takes care of most of them. We listen to the news and hear that rockets were fired and caused damage to a house, but fortunately the people were not home at that time and no one was hurt. Hundreds of rockets fall every day and hardly anyone gets hurt.
 
I deliberately avoid reading the news as much as possible. I started to hear about the unusual amount of rockets by facebook posts. Following the IDF’s suggestion, many of my friends have posted that there is spare room in their home for those who need to come and stay. The fact that Israel is a Jewish state means that all of the citizens are one big extended family. Rick Riordan says, “Families are messy, immortal families are eternally messy.”
 
Galgalatz, the IDF redio station is playing songs selected by individuals in the south. Wedding halls in central cities are clearing their schedules so that couples who were planning to get married in the south don’t have to postpone the celebration. That’s what we do here in Israel, when there’s an outside threat. We stick together and prove how awesome we are. I think the Iron Dome has already proven that by minimizing the victims of 500 rocket firings to 4 people. But we’ve tolerated these rockets for seven years, and at some point we just get tired of it. 
 
What I don’t understand is, why are we on our own out here? Didn’t we send huge aids to Haiti and Hurricane Sandy victims? Listen, world, Israel is there for you when you need us, and you know it. When the Carmel forest was on fire we had some help, so it’s obviously not anti-semitism that’s going on here. So come on, if you’re not going to help us fight, at least be on our side. Chances are you owe us one.
Posted in Living in Israel

Mom, Dad, Couldn’t You Have Used A Better Picture?

So, is he really home?

It seems so hard to believe. Only a few months ago we were watching so many protests which appeared to have no effect at all. Suddenly, out of nowhere, there’s a deal for his release. Before we know it, there are photos of him hugging his family. How did that happen?

Before Gilad was released there were rumors about what sort of bargain the government was going to make to get him home. Seven years ago, the Israeli government traded 400 terrorists for the bodies of three soldiers. I was thirteen at the time, and I remember feeling confused and afraid. Why would the government release so many terrorists just to get dead bodies? I felt scared thinking about all of those criminals running amok. It didn’t seem like a fair deal in my thirteen year old mind.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy he’s home, and it does seem like it was the right thing to do. It gives me hope to know that sometimes it does happen. But I’m not going to say I like the deal they made. I don’t like to think that one Israeli soldier is worth a thousand terrorists – as poetic as that may sound. I think it’s important to remember that although that was the deal, it does not mean that any one person is worth more than another. That sort of mindset will not help us evolve into a better race. Terrorists, as terrible as they may be, are still humans, and I don’t like the idea that their government is teaching them that they are not even worth one thousandth of an Israeli soldier. Or trying to make it look like the Israeli government thinks that, which I’m sure they will do, because why pass up an opportunity to blame the Jews? It doesn’t seem like a healthy mindset to me.

Gilad Shalit
Mom, Dad, couldn't you have used a better picture?

Back then I was not in favor of letting a bazillion terrorists out of prison to rescue Gilad. I was afraid that it would cost us more than one Israeli soldier. And who knows? Maybe it will.

But right now I feel differently. I don’t feel any more afraid with more terrorists on the loose; there will always be terrorists. But I do feel safer knowing what my country would be willing to do for me to get me home.

Posted in Living in Israel

Where I Was On 9/11

On September 11th, 2001, I got up and went to school, said “Good morning!” to a friend, and she snapped, “No. Bad morning.” I was ten years old and had just started fifth grade at Orot Etzion in Efrat. I loathed my new homeroom teacher.

We didn’t have a TV. If my parents had heard anything, they didn’t let on, so it wasn’t until much later when class started that I found out what had happened in New York, and it wasn’t until two years later that I watched it on video in science class, where our teacher showed us that the bombing of the twin towers was visible from outer space.

In Israel, the second Intifada was going on where I lived. Hearing about people dying in terrorist attacks was a part of my daily routine, along with eating a healthy breakfast and learning Judo after school and pretending to do my homework. Not that it was any less upsetting. I spent many sleepless nights wondering why I was living in Israel, wishing I could go back to America, where it was safe, where I didn’t have to hear about my neighbors being shot in their car on the way to Jerusalem.

I don’t really remember how I reacted when I first heard the news. But I do remember that for me, 9/11 was the day the option of going back to America became officially closed. I realized at the ripe age of ten that no place on Earth is safer than another, that evil, like humans, lurks everywhere.

In Israel, kids grow up quickly. From a very young age we are faced with the brutal reality that life is not to be taken for granted. I remember thinking that the best way for me to feel safe was to trust in God, because security can not be guaranteed. You’re safe where you feel safe. It’s not a matter of geography or politics.