Written by Julie Bressler
When I sat down to write a sermon about the #MeToo movement almost one year ago, I anticipatorily included the sentence, “After a few weeks of activity, the #MeToo tidal wave was overtaken by another social justice initiative and survivors quietly retreated back into fear and silence.” When this statement proved to be incorrect, I proudly deleted that sentiment from my sermon. I am pleasantly surprised that this movement continues to have an impact in the media, in the workplace, and on the pulpit. I am grateful that women and men feel empowered to raise decades-old experiences and that those they share their stories with are not only listening, but also working to make change.
As we approach Rosh Hashanah and enter a new year in the Jewish calendar, we must bring with us the promises and activism from the previous year to keep working for change. We cannot become complacent because the movement achieved key victories in the courtroom and in the court of public opinion. We cannot believe we won because conversations around re-education of girls and boys surrounding gender roles and power exist in our schools and our youth programs. In fact, as we see many individuals accused of assault and harassment return to their positions of power, we must increase our efforts to keep this conversation alive in public discourse and focus on culture change and survivor empowerment.
We have done holy work this year in listening, trusting, and elevating the voices of those who pushed aside fear and shared their stories. We have helped ourselves and others reclaim their bodies and senses of self. We have reflected and challenged ourselves to think about how our own behaviors contribute to a culture of silence and shame. We have committed to do better.
As we enter this holy season, may we continue to do the sacred work of Teshuvah – of returning to ourselves and our souls by honoring the promises we have made to women and men, boys and girls around the world. We will not stop fighting, calling people out, and saying “I believe you” until we no longer live in a culture where we wonder what she was wearing or if he was asking for it when we hear or read stories about sexual assault. As our sacred text teaches in Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of our Ancestors) 2:21, Lo Alecha Hamlacha Ligmor, it is not your duty to finish the work; V’Lo Atah Ben Chorin Libatel Mimena, but neither are you free to desist from it. We all play a role in addressing and combating a culture of harassment and gender imbalance of power. Let’s get (back) to work.
Julie Bressler is a 5th year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles and is the chair of the Jewish Center for Justice Seminary Fellowship.