Me Too

I am one of the many women who have experienced harassment only to have my complaints thrown to the wayside.  The man who harassed me was a member of my synagogue.  He and his wife invited me to stay with them for a while as they knew I did not have a place to stay.  I was excited that members of my synagogue would be so kind.  I was in the process of conversion and I was hoping to learn how a Jewish household was run, how to prepare Jewish food and celebrate holidays.  I thought I might be able to help them out as well as their house and yard were big.

The first few weeks I was there they were away on a cruise and I watched their dog.  Upon their return they became different people than the ones I had met at synagogue.  They had always been friendly and kind.  Now that I was living with them they suddenly changed.  They began taunting me with things they found out about me.  Nothing bad, but these were things that only my landlord who had sent me into homelessness would know.  I realized they must somehow know her, probably through the senior services office she had worked at.  A friend invited me out for a drink on my birthday and I was treated as though I was a minor, even though I was 54 at the time.  I was told I wore children’s clothing, they insinuated that my ex’s family only pretended to like me, and on and on and on.  It got worse instead of better.  I knew through experience not to over react and leave, as I had no where to go.  They knew this, and it was winter in Seattle.  I bit my tongue at all of their verbal abuse and weathered out the winter.

The abuse was not only at home.  He was active in the same political groups that I was and tried to sway their opinion of me for the worse rather than the better.  This had an impact on my employment as the people involved in the political groups were also my employers.  At Torah study they mocked me and carried on theatrics to make me look bad.  I had no idea why they were doing these things to me and I was very hurt by it.

I moved out of their house and their abuse continued at political functions and at synagogue.  I decided I could no longer be a door mat.  I went to a demonstration at a Macy’s store by employees.  I decided to join them as I had once worked their and agreed with their objections.  While I was in the picket line he showed up and eventually walked up to me.  I told him in a calm tone of voice, “I am going to ask you nicely to leave me alone.”  He tried to say something and I repeated my words.  He walked off and I hoped he would respect my wishes.

Instead of respecting my wishes, his abuse became worse.  The theatrics at synagogue continued, and he and his wife constantly insinuated that I needed to be made homeless.  The only reason I could think of that they acted this way was my former landlord. A convention was held in Seattle over a weekend.  He tried to approach me, and I reminded him I had asked him to leave me alone.  At one of the sessions he sat across the room from me, which I found acceptable.  He them moved to a seat next to the woman I was sitting with.  I reported this to the convention staff, yet he continued to harass me. At a meeting of the King County Labor Council he signed that he was going to take my seat away from me, which he was successful at doing.  He took away my career at the union.

I take my time spent worshipping and studying Torah at synagogue very seriously.  Having someone like him constantly harassing me was devastating, especially after what happened with the union.  I complained to the synagogue staff about his behavior.  nothing was done and the behavior continued.  He sometimes acted like a small boy pestering a playmate and he often had a grin on his face.  The continued harassment began to take a toll and was causing depression.  Instead of being a victim I decided to take action.  I tried to serve him with a restraining order.  The police said they were unable to find his house.  I went to court anyway and the judge did not do anything.

I finally moved away from Seattle, for many reasons, that being one of them.  I am still dismayed at all he was able to  do to try and destroy me.  I spoke up and complained about what he was doing to me, something I would not have done in the past.  No one would help me, they continued to support him and treated me like I was a pain in the ass.  Members of my synagogue signed that they were going to make me homeless.  Retaliation for speaking out.

I have not in my past accused a man of harassment.  It took a lot of courage to speak up and to try and do something about someone who was not only harassing me, but trying to destroy my character and good name and was successful at it.  I spoke the truth and was treated as a nuisance.

I am glad the women of Hollywood have been more successful than I at calling out bad behavior and that action is being taken.  Nothing makes one feel so small as to have the courage to speak up and then to be ignored.  It is time that we stop ignoring those who speak up.  I was not sexually abused, but harassment is harassment.  I think in horror about those who are sexually abused and ignored.  It is an ill our society needs to fix as it leaves permanent scars.


Unwanted Harassment

When it comes to harassment women have a hard time in getting the harassment to stop.  The legal system does not have a system set up that would allow women peace of mind by legally forcing a harasser to stop.  When we have a president who has committed offenses himself there is little hope.

For about 2 years I experienced unwanted harassment from a man and no one would do anything about it.  I asked him nicely to leave me alone to his face at first.  He agreed he would leave me alone and walked away.  However the harassment did not end there.  I ended up going to the police, my rabbis and members of the political organizations to which we both belonged.  I was unable to get help from anyone.  I ended up being treated like I was the one doing something wrong.

What is harassment?

According to Merriam-Webster the definition of harassment is:  to annoy persistently,
 to create an unpleasant or hostile situation for especially by uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct.

Being Harassed at Synagogue

In my case my harasser would come to my synagogue and harass me during our Torah study and services.  This happened at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle, WA.  I complained to a rabbi and office staff that this was taking place.  They listened to me and did absolutely nothing, even though his harassment was witnessed by others and recorded on video.  Instead I was treated as though I was a pain in the neck, I was unreasonable.  Meanwhile the harassment continued.

The rabbis at Temple de Hirsch went along with the harassment and participated in some of it themselves. I wondered where in the Torah does it say that a congregant who only wants to go to synagogue to pray and attend services should be harassed.  I wondered why religious leaders would teach others, especially young men, that it is ok to harass women if you do not like them because nothing will happen to you and all that will happen is that the victim will be humiliated and embarrassed in public.  I felt I was being punished for standing up for myself.

The problem comes down to money.  My harasser had a lot more money than I do, so he could do more to support the synagogue.  His bad behavior would be overlooked because he donated a generous amount every year and apparently I do not matter at all.  I feel I should have been able to attend synagogue without being harassed.

Using Legal Means to Stop Harassment

I tried using legal means to stop his harassment.  I filed a restraining order.  According to the court the police were unable to serve my harasser.  I went to the appointed court date anyway.  The judge was a man and has no sympathy for me.  He laughed and said nothing would be done.

The Emotional Toll of Harassment

Constantly being harassed by someone you repeatedly ask to stop takes a huge toll on a person emotionally.  First of all for someone not to heed your repeated requests for the harassment to stop has mental issues that need to be addressed.  It makes a person feel unsafe to know that anywhere they go that person may show up.  I felt like I was being stalked.  Knowing no one would help me make him stop made me feel helpless and I began experiencing depression.

In the end it was one of the reasons I moved to California from Washington state.  I think I have made the right choice as the women of Hollywood are fighting back.  They are setting examples and being role models for other women who are experiencing unwanted harassment.  The worst thing a woman can do is to be silent about abuse or harassment.  No one should experience abuse or harassment and the culture is shifting to protect those who have become victims.



Finding Judaism (Part 3)

After about 3 months of attending synagogue, Rabbi Telrav left Denver for the East Coast.  I stayed at Temple Sinai for a while, but when I got a job as an innkeeper at a bed and breakfast my schedule would make it impossible to attend that synagogue.  I decided to attend an Orthodox synagogue as Reform was all I knew.

At the Orthodox synagogue I met with Rabbi Ben Greenberg.  He was a wonderful teacher and I was happy to have read To Be a Jew which explains the Orthodox rituals.  At this synagogue I attended services with a Mechitza, a wall that separates men and women.  During service the rabbi stood in the middle.  I learned a great deal about Jewish tradition, keeping kosher and observing Shabbat.  When my job ended I moved back to the Seattle area.

In Seattle I wasn’t sure where to attend.  Luckily the union I belonged to sent me to an event that was held at a synagogue.  Rabbi Daniel Weiner spoke at that event and I decided to attend a service.  I really felt at home there and began attending.  I enjoyed all of the rabbis there and ended up taking the class required for conversion.  I worked on my conversion with Rabbi Aaron Meyer.  Rabbi Meyer always challenged me to do more.  After 5 years of studying Judaism it was time for the mikvah and to make my conversion official.

Going to the mikvah, a ritual bath, was the most spiritual moments of my life.  I entered the room with the bath alone and took off the robe I was wearing and entered the bath.  Through a screen the rabbis said a prayer and had me repeat it.  I then went under the water once.  Another prayer was said and I went under again.  A third prayer was said and when I went down I knew that when I rose out of the water, after the five years of studying and hard work, I would be a Jew.  It was a moment I can not describe in words.  I felt that I was becoming the real me.

Becoming a Jew has been the most life changing experience I have had.  It has been a positive force in my life and has changed the direction I was going for the better.  I have never worked on something so continuously and with so much enthusiasm.  Allowing faith to enter my life has made me a strong, more thoughtful person.  I thank all who guided me along the journey.

Finding Judaism (Part 2)

When I arrived at the synagogue the doors were locked.  At first I thought I must have had the time or date of our appointment wrong.  Then I noticed a call box and pressed the button.  A woman asked me why I was there and after telling her I had an appointment with rabbi Telrav she buzzed me in.

Rabbi Telrav greeted me in the lobby and we both walked to his office nearby.  In his office was a book shelf along one side of the wall completely full of books.  A guitar sat on a stand in the corner.  I immediately felt at ease.  I sat in a chair and we began discussing how I came to Judaism and what I was looking for from him.  I asked about conversion and he told me the process.  He would not be the rabbi to handle my conversion as he was moving to the east coast in a few months.  I told him I would be happy if he would get me started and I left feeling hopeful.  One of the first things he had me do was to eat Kosher.  By eating Kosher one is reminded of his beliefs every time he or she eats.  I was already eating Kosher by then so that was easy.

I began attending Saturday morning services.  These services were held in a small room at the front of the synagogue.  Chairs were arranged in a circle with a table holding the Torah scroll in the middle.  Most of the prayers were said or sung in Hebrew.  I had no idea how to pronounce the words in front of me, so for the first few weeks I listened and read along in the sidir.   After a few weeks of just listening I began to participate in the prayers.  What fascinated me about the service on Saturday was that sometimes the rabbis led the service and sometimes a congregant was the one to lead.

I continued to meet with Rabbi Telrav every couple of weeks or so.  I had to take the lightrail to the edge of Denver and then walk up a huge hill.  One day when I was to meet with the rabbi I did not have money for the light rail.  In Denver one can board the light rail without a ticket, but if the transit workers check for tickets and one does not have one, they issue a ticket for a larger sum of money.  If that ticket is not paid in the correct amount of time, one goes to jail.  I decided to risk it as I really needed to be doing what I was doing at that point in my life.  Everything was going well and I was almost at my stop.  I was the only one left in my rail car when a transit worker came aboard to check for tickets.  I stayed calm and kept knitting with the needles that were in my hand.  For some reason he never approached me and I got off at my stop.  I felt very lucky as I had no means to pay for a ticket had I been issued one.

Rabbi Telrav introduced me to the Talmud and it changed everything.  The Talmud is a collection of volumes of commentary by ancient sages and rabbis on the laws in the Torah.  The reason this was so life changing for me is that in Seattle my last landlord there made up a huge amount of lies and twisted almost everything that happened while I lived there and somehow got a large number of people to believe her.  Never in my life had someone gone to such great lengths to destroy me.  However in the Talmud there were many things she did to me and the ancient sages and rabbis agreed with me.  While that did not have an immediate affect on my life, just knowing that i was not the bad person she kept trying to make me out to be, gave me hope and peace.  It gave me mental strength that had deteriorated with all of the hate going on around me.

Finding Judaism (Part 1)

The question I am asked most often is why I converted to Judaism.  It is not an easy question to answer other than to say that I have always felt Jewish.  Since I can remember I have been drawn to Jewish people, entertainers and practices.  I began exploring Judaism further when I moved to Denver, Colorado and lived in a Jewish neighborhood.  In the neighborhood was a Judaica store and one day I went in and asked the woman behind the counter for a good book to read if one wanted to know more about Judaism.  She suggested the book To Be a Jew by Hayim Donin.


I began reading the book and learning about Jewish rituals and practices.  I began implementing some of the practices in my life.  In order to read the Torah I had to walk five miles to the library downtown, which I began doing several days a week.  Besides reading the Torah I also began losing weight from the miles I was walking everyday culminating in my losing 100 pounds.  Although I was reading about Judaism I had not yet been to a synagogue or talked with a rabbi.


One of the practices I implemented in my life was to make sure everyone was fed.  I volunteered a couple of days a week at a food bank as a social worker who provided clients with local resources for all of their needs.  One day I woke up to find it had snowed heavily the night before.  I left early to walk the 7 miles to the foodbank, a distance at the time I was use to traveling by foot.  The food bank closed at 5PM and when I left it was dark.  Dressed in a wool sweater and coat I began the 7 mile walk back home.


As I walked along the bicycle path the temperature began to drop.  That night it was around zero degrees.  I had just moved to a part of town I still was not real familiar with.  After walking for quite a while I realized there were no longer streetlights in view.  I was lost.  The cold began to make me shiver uncontrollably.  In the snow and the dark the local terrain looked much different than it did during the day light.  I turned around and began retracing my steps to see if I could figure out where I had gone wrong on my journey home.  As I walked along the path my shivering got worse.  I did not have a phone, there were still no street lights and I had not seen anyone else along the path.  My teeth were chattering and my entire body was shaking.  I thought I might freeze to death if I did not find the way home soon.  Finally I saw lights and a path that led to a street.  It happened to be my street and I made it home alright.  


When I got home I got in the shower and stood under the warm water until it ran cold.  I got into bed with warm blankets and covers but I was not able to truly feel warm for a few days afterwards.  The near death experience motivated me to seek out a synagogue.  There was one not too far away and the following day I called a rabbi to schedule a meeting with him.

Estate Records (Exert from my memoir #2)

He stood up to make his way to the bar to get us drinks touching my shoulder as he passed by. A few minutes later a glass of cold beer was sitting in front of me.  We were not strangers.  I had met him a year before through Jay who I was dating at the time and we had run into each other occasionally.  One night he asked me out and at first I reluctantly agreed.  It made me uncomfortable that he was friends with my ex.  He assured me he had not seen him in over a year.  There was one thing Scotty was good at, making women feel important.  He had used this skill to get me to agree to go out with him.  He was charming, good looking and other women wanted to date him.  So the night he asked me out I gave him my phone number.  He called me as soon as I got home to make sure I had given him the correct number.  I wondered how much of his charm was an act and how much was real.  I decided not to care.


The room around us was filled with smoke from cheap cigarettes and the smell of cheap beer permeated everything.  That night I didn’t notice, all I saw was the man sitting in front of me telling me his life story.


In this week’s Torah parsha Pinhas Moses and Aaron’s son Eleazar are asked to take a census of the Israelite people after God had sent a plague upon the Mideonite people for their trickery against Moses.  This parsha brings to light the importance of census taking, inheritance and land distribution.

The census is taken to determine the size of each tribe and the land is to be distributed based on the number of people of each tribe.  The daughters of Zelophehad came forward before Moses and explained that their father had died in the wilderness and had left no son.  They were brave determined women and asked that they be given a land holding.  Moses brought the case to the Lord, who determined their case just.  They were to be given their father’s share.  The Lord then tells Moses instructions for inheritance of property.

In the United States these practices are still carried on today.  Every 10 years in the US a census is taken.  The results are used for determining how federal funds and other resources are to be distributed based on population numbers.  This practice dates back prior to the Revolutionary War.  Census records can be viewed by the public after a period of 70 years and are available at US National Archive repositories located throughout the country.  These records can be helpful in researching one’s genealogy and family background.

The inheritance practices in Pinhas are also largely in place but can be varied based on ones final will and testament.  The daughters of Zelophehad were the first feminists mentioned in the Torah and modern women can look to their example in standing up for their rights at a time when women are beginning to see a backslide in the progress we have made over the last century.