Me Too: On Being an Enabler
#MeToo has been pervasive on my news feed. I’m sure that many of my readers have also seen it trending. For those unaware, #MeToo is a call for anyone who has been raped or otherwise sexually assaulted to speak up. I assume the purpose is to raise awareness as to how ubiquitous sexual assault is.
The results are not shocking to me. I already have many friends who have been outspoken on the subject. I can only assume that I have exponentially more who haven’t. Even now, there are those who do not want to participate. And there are those who don’t have access to social media, but are still victims
As such, #MeToo is a very unscientific way to gauge how rampant the problem really is. However, I do not need a statistically sound method to tell me that it’s bad. I didn’t need Harvey Weinstein to know that it’s rampant in Hollywood. I’ve known for years how easy it is for a man (or person of any gender) to get away with even the most heinous acts.
#MeToo. In my past, I was an enabler. I sat on the sidelines as people spoke of rape, sexual harassment, and all the other shit around me. I was told I am living in a patriarchal society; out of the other side of my mouth, I was told not to buy into whatever wave of feminism was en vogue when I was young and more ignorant of such matter.
#MeToo. I have tried being a white knight. I’ve been told “don’t patronize me.” I’ve been told, in the words of Bob Dylan, not to criticize what I don’t understand. I’ve been told I’m not above it either.
Me Too: First Awakening.
My first actual exposure to a man in power who was a perv was in high school. He kind of resembled Chris Farley, only a bit shorter. I would say he was about 5’6”, very rotund, loud, robust, and unbridled. Many people looked up to him. He was a smart man, master of the double entendre, expert at histrionics, brilliant speaker, one of those people who knew how to speak the language of the cool teenager. And to those of us who were not in the cool crowd, well, he would treat us the same way other cool teens did—completely ignoring us, or perhaps the occasional derision.
Baruch Lanner was a highly decorated rabbi from New Jersey. He had been involved in Jewish outreach since the ‘70s. He once taught at the high school I went to. He then became the principal of a school in Central NJ. He worked with an organization called NCSY. I was a regular at their events when I was in high school.
I didn’t really have much to do with Lanner. I remember him once making fun of my last name. I remember once, he was giving a lecture, I asked what he deemed a dumb question, and he responded “you belong in the lady’s section.” Yeah, a misogynist to boot.
But then, in 1997, when I was a senior in high school, Lanner quit his job as a principal. The official story given was that he did some soul searching and discovered that being a school administrator was no longer his calling in life. He wanted to do outreach work full time. In other words, he quit his job as a principal because he loves us!
Or did he?
One day, I was in an AOL Chat Room for Jewish teens. This was the popular waste of time/space, or way to avoid doing homework, back in the late ‘90s.
A rando came in the room and asked “hey, does anyone here know Baruch Lanner?” I said yes.
“Well fuck him. He’s a pervert.” I was one of several people who chided the rando to show some respect for the rabbi.
“No, fuck him. Do you know why he quit his job as principal?” I responded that he wanted to do outreach work full-time.
“That’s a lie. The real truth was covered up.”
And so, the rando explained to us that actually, Lanner had for years been using his position as principal to garner sexual favors from students. Eventually, shit began to catch up to him. So he was told to either quit, or they would have to investigate.
The chat room began to explode with others joining the rando in saying “Fuck that asshole.” People who didn’t know Lanner. But they became judge, jury, and executioner.
#MeToo. I chided them. Do they know who Lanner was? How could an organization as established as NCSY allow a man who has committed such indiscretions work for them?
I was just cursed out for being a sheeple. I wasn’t given answers.
Not until June of 2000.
It was my first semester in college. I was done with most of my finals. I was getting ready for the summer to begin. I went home to my parents’ house for the Sabbath.
That Sabbath, during his sermon, the rabbi slipped in something about an article that was written about Lanner. He said the article should never have been written. They should have settled it quietly, behind closed doors. But the article is “Loshon Hara” (evil speech), and should not be uttered.
My father approached the rabbi after the services and told him he should think before he says such things. He informed the rabbi that there was going to be a witch hunt in the community, and he doesn’t want his name tarred with the same brush as Lanner.
What my father didn’t realize is that Lanner was living with my rabbi at the time. And oh yeah, my rabbi never did change his tune about Lanner.
What article, you ask?
The next week, a friend sent me a link to the article. “Stolen Innocence” by Gary Rosenblatt of the Jewish Week. It was a long article that made some very serious allegations against Lanner.
· A large cross-section of women over a period spanning 30 year claiming to have been groped, fondled, proposed to, sexually harassed (in person, over the phone, etc), assaulted, and other indiscretions.
· A history of violence against both men and women, including kicks to the groin, pulling out a knife and chasing someone, slapping on the back really hard (just to prove he’s one of the guys)
· Many different organizations turning a blind eye, even rebuffing those who reported him
· A Bait Din (Jewish Tribunal) being called to investigate Lanner, behaving like a kangaroo court, and no alleged victim actually being referred to them
· A battery of excuses being made by those who were close to him and very likely aware of his behaviors
· The true stories about why he left his job as a principal, and then was asked to leave several other teaching jobs.
#MeToo. I felt like someone had stuck a knife in my belly and twisted it with enough force to send my kishkas in bunches.
` And so it goes. Lanner was fired. The organizations he worked for “cleaned house.” Investigations were made. As my father predicted, the Jewish communities around me suddenly became witch hunts. Plenty of people were in panic.
Lanner was eventually put on trial Two girls were able to sue him. One had her testimony dismissed. The other, it was enough to give him 7 years.
It did not vindicate him of everything he was accused of doing.
#MeToo. It was thanks to this that I changed my tune. I woke up and realized that most of the people I once trusted were all more interested in their own agendas than actually protecting their youth.
#MeToo. This is not the thing that made me less religious. But this was one of the precursors to me asking questions. I would say this event stirred me so much, that I opened myself to even the rabbinical world being bullshit.
Me Too: I Believe You Now
#MeToo. The other person whose life affected me was Shlomo Carlebach.
Shlomo Carlebach was one of the greatest Jewish songwriters of the second half of the 20th Century. Born in Austria, he moved to New York City as the Holocaust was beginning to rage in Europe. He began his life studying in various yeshivot, hoping to become a scholar. But over the years, he realized his energies were being wasted in the study hall, and he dropped out. Toward the mid-50s, he picked up a guitar and began to sing.
His songs were different than what was out there. Back then, there were two major genres of Jewish music: Klezmer and Cantorial. Both were very formal, and they resonated of the old country. Klezmer was that old European conservatory style music, and Cantorial reminded people of long and boring prayer services. This was the 1950s. Kids wanted their Elvis Presley. They wanted rock and roll, perhaps some folk, or some jazz, or whatever had you.
Shlomo was the first to write Jewish music that could have passed for ordinary folk music. Most of his melodies were simple and easy to sing along with. His voice was nothing special. His guitar playing was pedestrian at best. I’m told he never even learned to tune his guitar! But there was something warm and inviting about his music. He became a star. His tunes became ubiquitous among all denominations of Judaism, from the liberal to the ultra-right.
He began to develop a cult following. During the 1960s, he moved out the San Francisco. He got a mansion and called it “The House of Love and Prayer.” He began to galvanize “Holy Hippelach.” He would try to bring them back to Judaism. He became the hippie rabbi. He traveled all over, and people followed. He was that pied piper figure who would hug and kiss everyone he met, greet them with a smile, and make them feel special. And when he sang, people would listen. He would ask them to join him. And they would sing along.
He died of a heart attack in 1994. I didn’t get into him until at least 1997. I began to read his stories too. He became a hero of mine. He sounded like a rabbi who said “to hell with the rules.” He sounded like that rabbi who accepted everyone for what they were. He was smart, he was charming, but he also loved everyone. People hated him because he played fast-and-easy with halacha (Jewish Law). But his cult became bigger than him as people continued to sing his songs.
#MeToo. There were stories about him being a womanizer. I heard whispers of them. I said they were just jealous because he was so successful where they weren’t.
#MeToo. I was studying abroad in Israel. At that point, I was totally immersed in his cult. Except for the copious drugs that his followers were known for accepting, I made it a point to learn as much of his music as I could. I wanted to be a drug-free Carlebachian.
#MeToo. Aaron, a fellow student, heard some of us talking about Carlebach. He said that if it wasn’t for “kavod haMet” (respect for the dead), he would piss on Carlebach’s grave. We asked him why. He said “because he was a horrid man.” I pressed on and asked why. “He sexually assaulted my mother.”
#MeToo. There I was, confronted point blank with an allegation. I responded the same way any good yeshiva boy would. Three simple words. “I’m not mekabel.” (I don’t believe you). When confronted with Loshon Hara (Gossip) about someone, you are supposed to say “I’m not mekabel” or else you are guilty of the sin of listening to gossip.
#MeToo. The sensitive thing to do when someone tells you they (or someone they know) has been sexually assaulted is to say “I believe you.” I was too obtuse to do so.
#MeToo. Years later, after I became less religious, I opened my mind to the fact that I was wrong about everything, including Shlomo. I read some damning allegations. I read the article in Lilith Magazine. Yes, many women claimed to have been sexually assaulted by him. None came forward while he was alive. It was too late to vindicate them. Shlomo would never be brought to justice. Can’t beat a dead rabbi.
Me Too: I Want to Change the World
What can I do?
#MeToo. I can shut the fuck up and listen.
#MeToo. I can know that no means no. Not maybe. Not “keep begging and maybe I’ll change my mind.” It means no.
#MeToo. I can educate myself and others on how to not be part of the problem.
#MeToo. We can do this.
#MeToo. We do not need another high profile case to awaken us.
#MeToo. For those who think that a girl sharing a drink with you is a guaranteed booty call. It is not. Get over yourself.
#MeToo. For those who think it’s cool to nonconsensually slip off a condom mid-coitus. That is never okay.
#MeToo. And for those who think that wolf whistling and catcalling at random people on the street is appropriate behavior. Has that EVER yielded positive results? Serious question.
#MeToo. For the rest of you all too. You don’t have to live your life thinking that the only way you’re going to get any action is by thinking with your penis and not with your brain. The biggest erogenous zone is the brain. Try it sometime.
#MeToo. I wish I didn’t need to post this.