Author Archives: El HaLev

About El HaLev

El HaLev ("To the Heart”) is an Israeli non-profit organization which was established in 2003 to help end violence against women of all ages by means of self-defense and martial arts training. Over time, we expanded our violence-prevention activities to include life skills, self-empowerment, and personal safety instruction for other populations increasingly at risk, including children, the elderly and people with special needs.

Throwing Racism to the Wind: An Unforgettable Adventure

Liora Sophie

Have you ever heard of Muslims and Jews in the Middle East joining hands to battle violence against women? Stay tuned. You’re about to get an earful.

I volunteer as an assistant in a self-defense program for women called IMPACT. The course we finished yesterday was for a group of Muslim women in East Jerusalem. Since none of the team spoke fluent Arabic, we used a translator most of the time, but we communicated pretty well even without a common language.

After the third session, one of the women shared this story.

I never used to take my children out by myself. When I wanted to take them out, I’d call my sisters, and if no one could come with me I just wouldn’t go. But last week I took them out alone. I wasn’t afraid at all.

This is a perfect example of the kind of changes IMPACT makes…

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My body, My Right To Defend It

Women in East Jerusaelm lear self-defense

Every women who comes to a self-defense class fights.

She fights the stigma of “this isn’t ladylike.” She fights the voices around her saying “I’ll protect you!” or “Who are you kidding?” She fights the inner voices of “I can’t do this,” and “What if I fail?”

I had the challenge and pleasure to teach a group of wonderful Arab women in East Jerusalem. My challenge: I don’t speak Arabic. Their challenge: thinking outside the box!

These women come from a culture where your husband, your father and your brothers can define how you live; they decide what you can do, where you can go etc. As an Orthodox Jewish women I am not pompous enough to judge the traditional Muslim community. What I am willing to do, though, is give voice as a witness to the tremendous growth and sharing that occurred during this course.

On day one, I ask the women to share a bit of their background. I made it very clear to them that I may teach things they do not feel comfortable with, and that I would love to hear feedback if that is the case. They told me that Islam does not support rape or violence – despite how it may look to an outsider. That was all we needed to embark on our journey.

In order to follow through with any kind of self-defense course, all participants must reach an understanding.  “This is my body, it’s all I have all day, every day of my life, and it is my right to decide who can touch it.” Embracing that was empowering. What a simple but profound concept. How life changing!

The obstacles were many. Besides the language barrier, the air conditioning didn’t work and the heat was unbearable. In the last class I gave the women an exercise to help me assess if they had mastered the concept, “My body, my right to defend it!”  I asked them to role play attacker/defender in verbal scenarios. What a beautiful thing then happened. The quiet, timid, skeptical and sometimes giggly women blossomed. The attacker became the inappropriate or slimy guy. The defender used her voice and body language to make it clear that she was not interested, repeating herself clearly until he gave up. What courage and determination! Just beautiful.

As part of our closing circle I read to them a favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote written when she campaigned for the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights, on which we base our work (Article #3: Every person has the right to life, liberty and personal security.)

“Where…do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home, so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet, they are the world of the individual person. The neighborhood…the school or college…the factory, farm or office…Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”

With that, we shook hands and parted ways (for now 🙂 ). With a commitment and willingness to defend our bodies. They walked out, one woman at a time, standing just a bit taller, with a little more sparkle in her eyes, and with the thirst to learn more. Woohoo!

Written by Yudit Sidikman

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Personal Boundaries: If I Don’t Respect Them, Who Will?

Boundaries: If I don't respect them, who will?

To respect your own boundaries you need to know what they are.  They need to be an intimate part of your personality. They must have shape, form and content. If we wait until they are tested it is significantly more difficult to act. Why? Because personal boundaries are confusing and they are not built of stone. They are built by conviction.

Last Tuesday night I found myself standing in front of a lovely group of about 30 religious high school girls in Gedera. My goal: Convince them to sign up for the self defense course starting next week.

You might think that in 15 years of teaching self-defense, I would get into a routine of how I teach a class. However, I am amazed at how each time I run an introductory self-defense workshop it’s different.

I must thank the Simpsons for providing new meaning to the term “Krav Maga” as I found myself Kiai-ing  like Lisa Simpson every time a verbal strategy became a need for a strike. The girls had been told that I was going to be teaching Krav Maga (Oops – I am a Judo Teacher…)

Somehow even after years of working with this very progressive school, which is one of the few girls’ schools that officially requests a self-defense course for their students, I was stumped. “They just don’t get it!”

I decided to try setting a different goal: get them to understand why El HaLev’s Self Defense is different from others, and how essential it is to learn.

After an hour of scenarios and demonstrations of different types of responses to different levels of attacks, it dawned on me. One sentence came out of my mouth that made it so intensely clear why I had driven to Gedera for a one hour intro.

If you do not respect your own boundaries, how can you expect anyone else to?

Take a minute today. Show respect to your personal boundaries by getting to know them. Allow them to take form and to exist within your consciousness and not be some far away relative you only think about when someone mentions them.

Yudit Sensei

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Sexual Assault Prevention Tips

As the mother of a very wonderful and sensitive young man, as well as a self-defense teacher and women’s empowerment advocate, I have had to deal with some very unpleasant conversations. Predominately after getting off the phone helping some distressed woman or girl when my son only overheard my side of the conversation. As sensitive as I have tried to be about not condemning all of mankind, it definitely can seem like I dislike men.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Ask my wonderful male IMPACT instructors and the fantastic male Judo and Martial Arts instructors that I have had the privilege to work with. I can add to that my father, son and numerous other male friends and family for whom I have nothing but the greatest respect and love.

But hearing only my side of the conversation, my young son would say to me, “Mommy, do you really think all men are bad?” My answer was, “I know it might sound that way, but what is bad is violence. Unfortunately, many, many times violence is at the hands of men. If I was a man, I would be so upset with all of the bad men who make a bad name for me, a man. But I am not, so I fight against violence in the way I can. One day, you will find your own way to fight violence. The first step is being a good man and a good father.”

One of the biggest controversies in the violence prevention world is whether we need to focus our work on victims/survivors or on the perpetrators.  More correctly, if we teach women to defend themselves we are saying that it is their responsibility, and what we should be doing is stopping violence by stopping the perpetrators. The answer, in my mind, is both. We need to educate against violence. We also need to educate that protecting one’s body is a universal right. I purposely wrote both of those statements gender neutral.

This past year I have seen more and more groups and ads being created by men against violence; men against rape. I hear my colleagues talk about their male advocates and how they are creating programs that build on healthy communication between the sexes. I have posted links to some strong videos done by young men who speak out against rape.  I am proud of the growth in awareness that I see in this area. I am even more proud of the cooperation of both genders to raise awareness and be vocal in our fight to end violence. And yes, it is a fight.

So today, I am throwing down a gauntlet. Men, take this JPEG file. Print it. Hang it in your office, on your fridge, your dorm door, in the bathroom at a local bar or restaurant, or any place you are willing to make the statement “I believe in this!”

And women, you know what my advice is for you 🙂


Yudit Sensei

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips

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Go, Erin! Go, Erin!

Here at El HaLev, we had the privilege of hosting the Adventure Philanthropist Erin Michelson, on her trip around the world where she will volunteer for various communities and organizations. During her visit, we discussed philanthropy, self-defense and fashion.

Erin Michelson appeared at El HaLev with her flaming red hair dyed blond, but her bright orange trousers reflected her fiery personality. She waited patiently on the sofa, a small suitcase at her side. “The suitcase is my home,” she said with a smile, “Isn’t it crazy? I lost my suitcase Lebanon for two and a half days, and when I looked at my backpack I thought ‘Everything I own is in that backpack”.

Erin is a charming and confident woman. Seven months ago she left her business, her home and her cozy life to travel for two years, volunteering and donating all over the world. “I had a couple of weeks off last summer, so I decided to take a trip,” she recalls how it all started, “I threw my stuff in the car and drove away. I was having so much fun – the views, the open spaces, the freedom – I thought, I could just do this for the rest of my life. And then it hit me – that I can do this for the rest of my life.”

Erin Michelson (right) and Yudit Sidikman, El HaLev's CEO

Erin took all her savings which were previously intended for buying a house, and put them towards funding her trip. “I got rid of everything. I closed my consulting business, sold the car, gave away my clothes,” Erin told us. She opened up a Fund with the money she raised selling her belongings, over twenty five thousand Dollars. She donates the money to the myriad projects and organizations she volunteers for.

While in the Philippines, Erin worked on a project building houses for the homeless, literally putting a roof over someone’s head. “I didn’t buy a house, but somebody got a house,” she laughs. In Laus, Erin took part in a project in which the children of the village receive their first book, and later decided to donate money towards building a library.

By the time she arrived in Israel, Erin had been to nineteen different countries including Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Cambodia. During ten days in Israel, Erin volunteered at El HaLev, and kept busy updating her website, giving fundraising advice for NPOs and writing a book. So how does she have time to travel? “Well, I took a shuttle from the airport so I saw Jerusalem on the way,” she joked.

Erin heard of El HaLev after completing an IMPACT course in San Francisco. IMPACT is a unique self-defense workshop, considered to be one of the most effective strategies for prevention of sexual harassment. “I decided it would be a good idea to learn self-defense in preparation for my trip,” Erin said, “and it was a life-altering experience.” Erin, who firmly believes in studying self-defense, and specifically in the IMPACT strategy, has donated scholarships for this course to two women in the United States. Through IMPACT, Erin became familiar with El HaLev, the only organization in Israel which offers IMPACT courses to women and teenagers.

Erin says she doesn’t miss much about her life in the States. “My friends and family didn’t live nearby anyway, but I’m still in touch with them over the Internet.” Her clothing style, however, has been affected by her adventure. “I try to dress up really modestly now, because I try to be inconspicuous,” she commented. “After I lost my suitcase, I had to buy a few clothes, and I picked up a brown shirt – I would never buy something brown, but I thought ‘maybe it won’t look dirty.'”

Erin is headed for Africa next, and as for the future, there’s no telling what lies ahead. “I won’t necessarily go back to the US,” she said, “I don’t know where I’ll be at the end of the trip, because I don’t think you can do a trip like this and not come out a changed person. I don’t have plans for the future – I’m waiting for life to surprise me.”

Written by Noa Raanan. Translated by Liora Halevi.

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What Is Wrong With Being A Little Boastful?!

Last night I taught a self defense workshop. Now, that is nothing new, but what is new is that I had a epiphany.

I have said many times that the first step in learning self defense is to accept that you are worth defending. If you do not believe that basic premise, you will have a super hard time standing up for yourself. To me this is just plain and simple.

So, I handed my lovely unsuspecting students white El HaLev T-shirts and told them that they needed to write on the back of the shirt “I’m [blank]” and that the blank had to be positive. The group consisted of pairs of mom’s and daughters and their two social workers. Some of them wrote “I’m strong!” “I’m pretty!” “I’m independant!” and neither of the social workers wrote anything. I prodded them a little…… but nothing…..but a blush…..

Driving home I was thinking to myself, what is it about accepting that we are good at something that is embarrassing. I had done this exercise before with 6th grade girls and of course there were a bunch of them who wouldn’t do it but I figured….teenagers….. so I ran this past a few of my staff today and one of them said to me, “Oh, I wouldn’t do that.” “Why?” I asked. “Well, it is boastful” she answered. “What’s wrong with that?” That’s the real question. What is wrong with that!? What is wrong with being a little boastful.

A memory arises of the great question of how could Moses be the epitomy of humility when he himself writes that there will never be a greater prophet than Moses. The answer, and here I cannot give a source, other than to say I know there is one 🙂 , is that humility is not about what you are but rather knowing where it came from. Moses knew that his gifts were from G-d. I know that my gifts are from G-d. Therefore, saying I am smart isn’t boastful, it is acknowledging who I am. And so what if it is boastful! I think that there is a huge difference between acknowledging who you are, lifting yourself up and putting others down. That’s where being boastful can go bad. To me it is simple common sense that it is no ones job to believe in me more than I believe in myself. I am smart! I am capable! I am me!

Now, go get a white T-shirt. Put your “I’m [blank]!!!” on it and wear it for a day. Then tell me how it felt 🙂

That's me being a little boastful

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