Safety, respect and equity is for #UsToo

The glow of last week’s Hanukkah candles brought much-needed light into these difficult times. They gathered us together and they grounded us, and they served as a reminder that light can expose corners that were previously shrouded in darkness — corners begging to be seen.

On Oct. 7, the darkest corners of our world were revealed when Hamas terrorists attacked southern Israel, killing 1,200 people and taking approximately 240 hostages. Victims were beaten, burned, sexually assaulted and mutilated. After Oct. 7, more hate was unleashed against our community, this time globally and at the highest levels seen in this century. No longer hiding in the darkness, this disturbing, deep-rooted antisemitism must be addressed. 

The egregious global silence, justifications and denials of the horrific gender-based violence witnessed in the Oct. 7 attacks indicate there are even more challenges to the work that lies ahead.

At SRE Network — a network of over 170 Jewish workplaces and communal spaces across North America dedicated to implementing communal standards to prevent discrimination and harassment and to ensure safety, respect, and equity for all — we see, believe and stand with the victims and survivors of Oct. 7. They have already suffered far too much and need to know they are not alone. 

This is why criminologist, educator, victim advocate and SRE Network senior advisor Dr. Guila Benchimol penned this powerful open letter to the survivors of the Hamas terrorist attack on Oct. 7. It’s why Guila and I, representing SRE Network, attended a United Nations Special Session focused on sexual and gender-based violence in the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack on Dec. 4 in New York City.

From left: SRE Senior Advisor on Research and Learning Dr. Guila Benchimol, SRE Executive Director Elana Wien, and Women’s Rabbinic Network Executive Director Rabbi Mary Zamore standing outside the UN “Hear Our Voices” Session on Dec. 4 in New York City.

And it’s why SRE Network has reached out behind the scenes to gender justice and women’s movement leaders in secular spaces, calling on our partners and letting them know why silence and denial are not an option.

How do we move forward after the unthinkable? How do we continue to partner in community after the crushing silence from our allies? 

We don’t turn away from the darkness. We face it. 

We don’t push away those who have been silent. We call them in. 

We don’t stay enshrouded by gloom and doom. We move forward. 

We get informed, lift up our voices, invest in healing and resiliency and continue to advocate for a better, safer and more respectful world.

Get Informed 

You can watch the UN Special Session Hear Our Voices: Sexual and gender-based violence in the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack, held by the Israel Mission to the UN, National Council of Jewish Women, Sheryl Sandberg and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, among others. Those testifying included Chief Superintendent Yael Richert, from unit Lahav 433 at the Israeli National Police; Shari Mendez, member of an Israel Defense Forces reserve unit established to identify and prepare the bodies of deceased female soldiers for burial; and Simcha Greiniman, a volunteer with the nongovernment rescue and recovery organization Zaka.

You can also learn about Israel’s Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes Against Women and Children and its founder, human rights and international legal expert Dr. Cochav Elkayam-Levy; and you can read about the efforts to get recognition of the atrocities at the UN level from legal scholar and international women’s rights advocate Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, who served for 12 years on the UN Committee on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. 

Lift Up Your Voice

Sharing the recording of the UN session on social media is a great way to raise awareness. You can also join Sheryl Sandberg, NCJW and many other women’s rights organizations and Jewish communal partners like SRE Network to denounce the use of rape as a weapon of war by using hashtags like #AllHumansEverywhere are #UnitedAgainstRape is another step. Signing the NCJW’s Global Women’s Leaders Letter to urge the safe and swift return of all hostages to their loved ones is another way to make yourself heard.

Invest in Healing and Resiliency

From financially supporting direct services for those who have experienced primary or secondary trauma, to supporting organizations who are raising awareness about gender-based violence in Israel and around the world, there are multiple pathways for contributing your financial support as well as your voice to this important issue. Below are a few of the ongoing efforts:

  • Philanthropists who are members of Jewish Funders Network (JFN) should learn more about the JFN Israel Gender Giving Steering Committee and its Emergency Funding for Women in War call for philanthropic action.
  • The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel serves as the umbrella for the nine regional Rape Crisis Centers (RCCs) in Israel, which provide legal, counseling and other services for victims of sexual violence. They are supporting women victims of the Oct. 7 attacks and women facing secondary trauma.
  • Counseling Center for Women in Israel provides specialized individual, group and family therapy, including to those impacted by the Oct. attacks. That includes survivors and evacuees, families who lost relatives, and journalists, social workers and psychotherapists experiencing second-degree trauma.
  • Magen for Jewish Communities helps Orthodox victims of sexual abuse advocate, speak up and pursue justice while supporting their healing journey.

What does a world of safety, respect and equity for all look like? It is a world where all people are free from abuse, engage one another with dignity and are treated fairly. It is a world grounded in shared values, authentic partnership and strong community. It is for everyone. And that includes all Jews.

Elana Wien is the executive director of SRE Network.