Gift of Absolute Clarity

By Cheryl Moore

Since writing “I’m Never Coming Back,” I have been honored to be contacted by many friends, acquaintances and strangers, offering support, telling their own stories, expressing shock and dismay. Many have asked me for my thoughts on why and how the events that I described were able to happen. I am not a sociologist or psychologist, and I wrote intending simply to alert good people to the reality that when they see or hear harassing or abusive behavior, they are witness to something very harmful and damaging. Nevertheless, I have been thinking about why and how this behavior happens in our community.

First, the “why.” Based on their behavior, the men I reference in my piece can be indelicately categorized as follows:

There is the “Benevolent Dictator.” He is usually a major donor, deeply engaged with the community, and generally considered a “great guy.” He is used to getting his way and when he oversteps, people roll their eyes and say, “That’s just how he is. You gotta love him.” When someone questions, defies or simply ignores him, he is amused, but knows that he has to show everyone who is boss. He can stage a military parade … or grab a woman’s breast in the lobby of the David Citadel Hotel. He smiles throughout.

There is the “Malevolent Whiner.” He may also be a major donor. He usually keeps it in control with men, but when he is challenged by a woman, he becomes infuriated. Years ago, at a social dinner, a macher in our local Jewish community, 25 years my senior, made a crude sexual comment about me. I was humiliated and devastated, and told him so. Enraged, he withdrew his significant gifts from two organizations of which I was board chair, and vehemently protested my winning a community leadership award. My community supported me and I was not asked to step down from my leadership positions and still won the award.

There is the “Man of Misogyny.” He may truly believe that women are inferior and should know it, and/or he may just believe that with women, he is entitled to do whatever he wants. This is the man who, mid board meeting, walks around the table to give a woman a back rub or kiss her cheek, talks over women, has side conversations while women are addressing the group, and might “allow” a woman to chair a board, but believes that when push comes to shove, he makes the final decisions.

There is the “Man Without a Clue,” who, in social situations, acts immaturely, often drinking too much. Part of his shtick is being the life of the party, but he often crosses the line. When he is in the zone, I have seen this guy come on to subordinate female staff, even in front of his own superiors, and make extremely inappropriate comments to volunteers. This is the man who told me that my reward for closing a big gift would be a seat on someone’s lap. He imagines that everyone is having a good time, feeling complimented, and loving the attention, and he is genuinely surprised to learn that anyone has been hurt.

Finally there is the “Love Seeker.” Unfortunately, because for him, feeling powerful is still an important part of the equation, he makes his approach in public and to someone less influential. His mind is on connection, not consent. This is the man who during a board meeting, invited me out to a club.

Now the “how.” No one relishes the idea of a confrontation with the person who is keeping their organization afloat. Add to it the shtetl mentality of trying to ride out trouble because we face much bigger problems and threats. We are also often incapacitated by worry  about “what is good for the Jews.” I too worry about what is good for the Jews, and shudder when Jews who hurt others are exposed. What bothers me, however, is what these people did, not that it is now public. It is not good for the Jewish soul to provide safe harbor to those who hurt others. The answer is stopping the behavior, not silencing talk about it.

Perhaps we should change the model. Perhaps we should make certain that donors know that we respect and value them based on their generous spirit, their commitment to a vision and mission, their sense of justice, and their kindness, not on the size of their gift. Perhaps we should unapologetically make it clear that when we see inappropriate behavior we will immediately return donations and revoke board nominations. It will be very uncomfortable and difficult, but we must have the courage to defend our principles.

While a few have expressed disappointment in my “public airing of dirty laundry,” some have pressured me to name names. My story, however,  is about damaging behavior toward women volunteering their time and passion. I am not alleging a crime and my accusations will not be litigated. The importance of my story is the personal impact of the treatment that I describe, how alone and ashamed it made me feel. I wrote for the good people who might want to pretend that they are not witnessing the bullying and abuse of women, that it is not harmful. To them, I want to give the gift of absolute clarity. You are seeing it. You are hearing it. It is hurting someone. You must speak out.

Cheryl Moore, B.A., M.B.A., B.S.N. is a Women’s Health nurse, living in Pittsburgh, PA. She is passionate about caring for the vulnerable. She used to be a dedicated volunteer leader in the worldwide Jewish community, but today prefers to engage more privately.