Author Archives: Liora Sophie

About Liora Sophie

Liora Sophie (a.k.a Liora Halevi) has a B. Sc. in mathematics and education from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. She has experience in website content writing and social media marketing. Outside the office, Liora teaches math privately at all levels and is currently working on a project to make advanced mathematics accessible to a general audience. When not working, she plays cello for Nava Tehila.

Building Bridges in the Middle East

It’s no secret that there is a lot of tension between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. However, stories about peaceful encounters and coexistence rarely make the headlines.

This month, El HaLev instructors taught a self-defense course to a group of Arab women from East Jerusalem. Since most of the staff does not speak Arabic, they used a translator.

The following quotes were said by the women at the course graduation:

“Before this course I never dared to walk alone. Not anywhere at any time. I was just too afraid. Today I walk alone and feel confident and strong. How liberating!”

“At first I was embarrassed to work with men in the room, but after the first day I understood how tremendously important it was for us to fight against a realistic attacker. I thank the men so much for giving us this gift.”

Thank you for giving me permission to say NO and teaching me to use it with strength and purpose.”

The volunteer assistant shared this:

Despite the language barrier and cultural differences, the women remind me a lot of the Jewish women I took the course with at El HaLev two years ago. They’re in denial, but at the same time, curious. Shy but daring. I feel that the similarities by far outweigh the differences.

I came to IMPACT after I was attacked by an Arab man in my neighborhood. I survived the attack, but like most victims, awaited his return. IMPACT helped me feel my strength and realize my true abilities.

And now, here I am surrounded by shouts in Arabic, the very words which failed me when it mattered most. But soon I learned to shout the way I didn’t know back then.

The level of trust, intimacy and friendship between the women and the team of instructors has helped me, more than anything, to renew my own trust in mankind. There were moments in which we glimpsed that perhaps, under different circumstances, we could have been friends.

Teaching self-defense to women from east Jerusalem  serves as a reminder for what we stand for: empowering women, regardless of age, color, size, nationality or political background. The first step to fighting violence against women is accepting that every woman deserves to know how to defend herself. When we focus on our similarities rather than our differences, we find that we are not alone.

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Fighting Violence – The Way That Works

Women do not have to tolerate sexual harassment

In the world we live in, everyone is fighting for something.

We each have our cause, a problem we’re battling; poverty, sizeism, racism, terrorism, etc. These are all big problems. Huge problems. Problems which are too big for one person to fight, originating in human survival instincts. These issues are going to exist for as long as humans exist, because it’s who we are, and how we survive.

And here’s another one: Rape.

Why is rape set aside from the others? Rape is a giant, universal problem, claiming more and more victims every day. One in THREE women – those are the statistics! So why am I mentioning it down here, and not up there with the rest of its friends?

Because rape can be fought.

With kicks and screams. With an aggressive look in the eye. With a single word.

Most of the problems I stated above have an idea at their basis. For instance, the idea that someone who is different is a threat (racism), or the idea that being fat is unhealthy (sizeism). In both of these cases the problem originates from a survival instinct, but is fueled by our subconscious belief that this idea is solid fact. In the case of rape, this idea is that men are stronger than women.

IMPACT battles this concept at its roots, shaking up humanity at its most basic, existential levels. Beyond proving without a doubt that women are equally strong in their bodies as men, IMPACT says: women do not have to tolerate sexual harassment. Women do not have to tolerate verbal abuse. A woman does not have to stand there quietly while someone hisses and whistles at her. She’s allowed to stop him the instant she feels slightly uncomfortable. You don’t have to wait for him to hit you in order to tell him to leave you alone. All of these things seem so trivial, we shouldn’t even have to think about them. And yet, the opposite is so deep within us, it has become our nature to tolerate abuse and disrespectful behavior.

So many women go through years unable to say the word “no” without feeling pangs of guilt. IMPACT teaches us that it’s never too early to say no to something you do not want. You’re allowed to say no to the way someone looks at you. You’re allowed to say no to people you love. You’re allowed to say no in random, everyday situations. You’re allowed to say no in the middle of sex, and you don’t have to feel bad or apologize for it. No one has the right to force you to do anything, and no one has the right to cross your own personal boundaries. And if you don’t think you can stop them, you should learn how.

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Can A Woman Fight A Man?

Let’s assume that not everyone is a high ranking martial artist. Is it possible for a woman to escape from a man who grabs her?

“Does anything hurt?” the instructor asks kindly.

“No,” I reply, trembling slightly.

“Are you ready?”

“Yes,” I say, not entirely sure if I mean it.

Before I have time to breathe, I am grabbed from behind by a man who is twice my size and in full armor. His arms are strong, locked around my chest.

“HANDS!” yells the instructor. I raise my hands slightly, but I can only move my forearms because my upper arms are trapped beneath his.

“WAIST!” yells the instructor. I shove my hips backward at the man holding me. He staggers slightly but his grip remains firm. I have gained an inch of space, just enough to slip my arm out of his grasp and slap him hard in the –

“GROIN!” yells the instructor.

The man releases me as his hands drop to his groin, which is supposedly throbbing painfully. I turn around, hands raised, prepared to protect, prepared to punch hard.

“HEAD!”

I punch him in the face.

“GROIN!”

Again? Yep. Because my knee is right there. It’s an easy target, and my legs are strong, so I can hit hard.

“HEAD!”

Because, having been hit in the groin twice, the man has bent over and his head is hanging conveniently next to my knee. I knee him in the head. He falls over onto his back, arms at his helmet, the signal that, were he without his padded armor, he would have been unconscious.

IMPACT is an internationally recognized personal safety, assertiveness and self-defense training program, which is part of a comprehensive effort to prevent sexual assault and other acts of interpersonal violence and boundary violations.

In IMPACT we learn much more than punching and kicking; we learn to set clear verbal boundaries, to stand up for ourselves. We learn to appreciate the strength of our own bodies which not many women are aware of.

When it comes to a physical confrontation, we learn to match a woman’s strengths to a man’s weaknesses in order to get away unscathed. Usually, in everyday life, they are matched the other way; a man’s strengths to a woman’s weaknesses – which leads us to believe the common stereotype that men are stronger than women. The truth is, men are stronger in the upper body, while women are stronger in the lower body. So when a man and a woman arm wrestle, of course he’s going to win – upper body strength! But what if we matched lower body strength in a man and a woman?

Now, you might say, “That’s not fair!” It’s not fair to match one person’s strength against the other’s weakness. But may I calmly point out that SEXUAL HARASSMENT IS NOT FAIR either. If someone is trying to rape you, shouldn’t you be allowed to play dirty?

Written by @liorasophie.

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Take Chances! Make Mistakes! Get MESSY!

Has your boss ever dashed into the office with a big, bright orange dart gun and started shooting Styrofoam darts all over? Well, that happens sometimes when you work at a martial arts center. It’s important to know what to do about guns. Even dart guns.

Especially if someone is pointing one at your head and demanding you get into your car.

I don’t think I have ever been so dirty in my life. I have black grease spots all over my jeans, t-shirt, hands (though I’ve since washed them several times with soap) and under my fingernails. I feel like a true student of Ms. Frizzle’s – “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!” I was eager to get messy, which made the workshop I took today on personal safety with cars all the more fun.

Never been so dirty

Never been so dirty

Just over a week ago, I found myself stuck in a parking lot unable to start my mom’s car. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but it wouldn’t start. I called around, but no one seemed able to help me, until finally a friend’s dad guessed that maybe the steering wheel was locked, and talked me through unlocking it. Like magic, the car started and everything was fine. I drove home wondering how on earth I managed to acquire a driver’s license without knowing the first thing about my car. It was this thought which prompted me to sign up for the class on car safety – I figured I’d learn a few things about cars, and some good self defense techniques never hurt.

Learning new things

At 5:00pm we met in a garage in Talpiyot, Jerusalem, a small group of women plus the instructor, ages ranging from 20 (I assumed I was the youngest) to about 60 (guessing). People pulled up in their cars and a guy from the garage showed us how to check oil and water, insisting that we each practice it physically so that we would remember. He emphasized the fact that with this knowledge, it is much harder to rip us off at the gas station, where they have a tendency to pretend to check your oil and tell you you need more anyway. It’s empowering to know you can’t be ripped off.

It’s empowering!

Next we drove to a parking lot near El HaLev and had a car-related self defense class. Yudit, the instructor, brought along her dart guns and a few rubber guns which felt like a real gun in your hand, but were bright yellow so as to not be mistaken for real by an outsider. We practiced various techniques on dodging the gunshot and getting away from the attacker. I won’t go into details, they’re not that interesting (hint: you should take this class!) But I will say the two most important things we learned: One, where you are right now is better than where he wants to take you. So you have a better chance to survive by pushing the gun out of the way and making a run for it, than by following his orders and driving somewhere unknown and hoping for a loophole. Two, why do you have to listen to him, just because he’s trying to scare you?

Remember that you have a car. Cars are not to be underestimated. In fact, if someone unwanted gets in the passenger’s seat and starts barking orders at you, buckle your seatbelt and go ahead and crash that baby. Now who’s got a better chance of surviving?

Written by @liorasophie. First published on her blog, In Purple Ink.

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