Wednesday, 11 October 2017

I don’t care about Harvey Weinstein

Leah Vincent wrote recently in the Forward about ex-Orthodox women who must learn to say no.  She understood that the dance of dealing with sexual advances from men was complex, and has to be learned in the real world.   I learned about this dance early on in my life, and so I am not shocked by Harvey Weinstein.  Or any of the taxi drivers,  professors, colleagues, relatives,  friends or strangers that propositioned me,  masturbated in front of me,  tried to rape me,  ogled me,  fondled me or honked at me.   What surprises me is that people are shocked when it happens. Their desire for retribution surprises me.   The energy it mobilises in the Twittersphere and the ensuing virtue-signalling, hand-wringing and demonizing surprises me.  

I don’t think I’m the only woman who had an uncle who hugged her too closely.  Or went to the beach as a teenager and saw a man masturbating behind her.  Or who bathed in the beautiful hot springs in Pamukkale, and saw another wanker in action, his eyes fixed on me and my friends.    I’ve had a relative that wanted to be touched, a client that tried to force me to have sex, a friend that fondled my arse and a licenced English cab driver in London ask me for a blow-job.    
I have hundreds of these stories and I bet most women do.   I don’t know if Orthodox women in thick, black stockings and long sleeves get honked at in the street by men in cars, but I know that I get honked at, whistled at and told to smile, whatever I wear.    The men that do these things are not monsters.  They are often kind, interesting, generous and talented human beings, and I try not to limit my world to people who never offend me.  I don’t see myself as a victim.

There’s a beautiful Rabbinic concept describing two worlds of Halacha, the b’diavad world meaning after the event or what happens in the real world, and the hatchilla world meaning every that happens beforehand in the ideal world.  In the ideal world, no woman would have to deal with sexism,   and men and women would live and work together in mutual respect.  But in the mixed b’diavad world I live in, women have to learn to punch, duck and dive, pick their battles, and to believe they have the right to say no.  There’s another thing about the b’diavad world; I only have so much time and energy to focus on the issues that truly bother me.   The problems of white, privileged, educated women who want to become actresses are not top of my list. 

The real crime is that there are millions of girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who will never see the inside of a classroom.   The real victims are poor women.  Two thirds of the girls in Niger are married before they are adults.  Half of the women living in Haiti’s capital city slums have been raped.   Four and a half million destitute and powerless women around the world are trafficked for sexual use.  In Trump’s America, women’s reproductive rights are under assault, with particular impact on poorer women.   These are the issues that enrage me.  I care deeply about a woman’s right to choose, to be educated and to be free.  I’m too busy to care about Harvey Weinstein.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017


I was hiking the Marche De La Memoire again this weekend. Walking with us was a lovely man called Avraham. He had done this hike before. The last time was in 1943 when he was four years old. He remembers he was given a little walking stick and he walked from St Martin de Vesubie with his family and 800 other Jews, up to the top of the Col Fenestre and down the other side into Italy. When they got to Italy many of the refugees were arrested by the Germans and taken to Aushwitz where they were killed. Among them was Avraham's father who had gone to look for food for his family. The rest of the family hid in a hut, but they were found when a child cried. Avraham's mother gave him to an Italian Catholic woman for safe keeping. And so he survived and ultimately made his way to Mexico and then to Israel. He has two daughters in israel now, and five grandchildren who live in Israel and have served in the Israeli army.
I walked with his family on the long walk to the top. His granddaughter said the hike was a breeze without being weighed down by her rifle and her heavy flak jacket.
They were kind people; warm and thoughtful of their grandfather whom they called Papito. Avraham walked slowly and took many breaks but was generally cheerful during the tough three hour hike. I was walking with his grandson, Rafael, taking about Israeli music and poetry when Avraham called to him. "Tell me some good news Rafael!"
Rafael answered: "we have a state, Papito, we have a state."
Avraham and the rest of us made it to the top of the mountain. A young French rabbi said Kaddish for the dead and blew the shofar. Avraham said shehechianu in a trembling voice. He was grateful. He had come a long way.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Remembering one

This is Therese Klau. She is 36 years old and she has just given birth to her second daughter. I know these things because that infant grew up and kept four boxes full of old photos and letters which are now available on line for anyone to look at.  

This is what I could tell from reading the letters and looking at the photos.  Theresa was married to Dr Oscar Klau, a lawyer who was seven years older than her.  She had two sisters and an elegant mother with white hair called Bella.  

Theresa lived in Frankfurt and signed her name ‘Resa’.  Her oldest daughter, Helga, was born 11 years before Ursula.  Before the war, the family went on holiday in Davos, St Moritz and even saw the pyramids in Cairo.  In the photo above you can see the flowers around her bed, the comfy cushions and decorated cottons and satins.  You can see these things for yourself.  You could think that a life that like would keep you safe. Looking at this picture, of the infant Ursula in her mother’s arms, it’s hard to imagine that Resa could die thirteen years later; unwashed, sick and starving at the end of a long train journey at the end of the war.   But that is what happened.  It’s shocking that that could happen and how hard to stop that from happening once it starts.  

Resa and her family tried hard to escape Nazi persecution by moving from Frankfurt to Switzerland and then to Amsterdam in 1936, but to no avail.  The family was taken to Westerbork transit camp from where Jewish people were then sent on by train to the death camps.    60,330 people were sent to Auschwitz.  Most were gassed on arrival.  One of those people was Resa’s elegant, white haired mother, Bella.   34,313 people were sent to Sobib√≥r. Very little is heard about that death camp because all the people sent there were killed on arrival.  4,413 people were sent to Bergen-Belsen. Three of those people were Resa, Oscar and their 12 year old daughter Ursula who were sent there in February 1944.   Oscar died there a few months later.   

As the war was coming to an end, Himmler decided to send three train-loads of Jews from Bergen-Belsen to Theresienstadt.   The last train left on April 9 with 2,500 people inside including Resa and her twelve year old daughter.   Two weeks later the train was abandoned by the driver and guards in Troebitz.  

Squashed, starved, and without drinking water or toilets, 133 people did not survive the journey and were buried near the railway tracks.  Another 320 people died of disease, starvation and exhaustion after being liberated.    Resa Klau was one of those.  On May 7, 1945, on the same day, that Germany signed an unconditional surrender at the Allied headquarters in France, Resa Klau died in her thirteen year old daughter’s arms.  

As part of the Yellow Candle project to remember individual members of the Holocaust on Yom Hashoah on April 23rd, I was given Theresa (Resa) Klau-Altheimer.  There are still many more candles available from New North London Synagogue that can be picked up on Wednesday, April 19 between 7.30 and 9.30 pm and on Sunday 23 April between 9 and 11.30pm. 

From Helga, the oldest daughter to an American relative. She calls her sister 'Uschu'

from the family album
A letter from Helga to a relative where she describes her mother's death as told to her by her sister.
Oma Bella