Category Archives: IMPACT

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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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 www.goeringo.com, 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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