Tag Archives: women empowerment

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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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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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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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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