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‘The world must not stay silent about sexual violence’

By Rabbi Charley Baginsky, Rabbi Rebecca Birk and Student Rabbi Daisy Bogod

International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict

Today, 19 June, is the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. As Rabbis we bear witness and encourage others to do so. We call out the use of rape and sexual violence in conflicts around the world. We take seriously our responsibility to name and speak in solidarity. 

And, this year particularly, we reflect on the horrific, organized and brutal gendered violence unleashed on 7 October and to the Israeli hostages still in captivity. 

We must give voice and focus to this today. We are doing so with suffering in Gaza and Israel in our minds and prayers, and knowing that affirming and giving voice to all this pain is our responsibility every day. 

The use of gendered violence as a weapon of war is not a new story; it is not one that is limited to one culture, country or time period. We know that sexual violence is under reported, under represented and often remains un-punished. One cannot underestimate the impact of this not only on the victims themselves, but also all those who surround them and who viscerally feel the vacuum of inaction.

We know that within our Jewish tradition, the female voice has often been ignored, silenced or forgotten. We saw, in the aftermath of 7 October, that many of the UK political leaders chose to show solidarity in Orthodox synagogues, where they spoke to and prayed alongside male rabbis and congregants and we knew that this was not the whole of the story and was not a reflection of the totality of the pain. It is our role as women rabbis to tell women’s stories, ensure women feel seen and make sure female voices are heard. 

Today, we pay attention to the fact that the UN has now acknowledged the extreme sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October. 

Today, we bear witness again to this, and to the world’s ensuing and bewildering silence. 

Today, we do so particularly as women as we raise up the experiences and pain of these women. These voices have not been heard through these months in the cacophony of political ferocity. But they are there and they are being supported by our colleagues in Israel and we join with them today. 

This was made explicit yesterday, as we sat among our fellow rabbis and cantors with Ayelet Razin Bet Or, the former Director for Israel’s Authority for the Advancement and Status of Women. She has been leading the Dinah 7/10 Project which emerged in response to the gendered violence and atrocities committed by Hamas. She explained their aim to achieve accountability for these acts through locating evidence and witnesses. 

As she told us: “I am a feminist, I am a political feminist. I have always been a feminist – I have travelled the world to stand side by side by women protesting against gender based violence. I was in Cyprus calling for justice alongside British and Cypriot women when a young British woman was vilified for accusing three Israeli men of rape. Now I am asking people to hear our story and the world has been silent.”

We know that this is not an easy topic to talk about, to read about or to listen to. We wanted to share with you these resources to support you with this: 

  • A film has been made by Sheryl Sandberg, working closely with the Dinah team, which you can watch here.
  • Our colleagues at the Union for Reform Judaism in America have also created this pack of study materials for those screening the film and/or wishing to take action, which you can find here.
  • We know too that there are many within our British Jewish community who are victims of domestic and sexual violence. Jewish Women’s Aid provides a confidential and culturally sensitive service for all those who need it. You can contact them in confidence here.

The verse from Deuteronomy 22:3 reminds Lo Tuchal L’hitalem… you cannot be indifferent. Our hearts break for so many in this conflict.

Today we pay attention to these crimes, the women who suffered such brutality and those who continue to suffer and commit ourselves to not letting them feel like they are on their own surrounded by a deafening silence.

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