Sexual Harassment in the Religious Community


         

Sexual Harassment in the Religious Community

 
 
 
 

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I Stand Accused

By Anonymous

I was accused of the worst. I was and am innocent, but I cannot prove it. What can I do? I will tell you my story and you will understand. You will judge me.

I am a religious man, I wasn't always, but somewhere, some how, I became religious, gave up a good job and moved to Israel to live a truly Jewish life. I thought that here as a Jew, life would be simple. But who would imagine what would be – a life nearly in shambles – because of a mistake – a mistake that I did not make.

I was accused of sexual harassment. I could not believe my ears. Who me? There must be a mistake, but no, there was no mistake and it all was a mistake. I was accused. Denying it meant nothing. Here are the details:

I run a small business to support my little family and myself. I take great pride that I am self-supporting even though I learn in one of the many kollels (institutions dedicated to religious learning) in Jerusalem. I am known as a diligent student always taking my lessons serious and always seeking more depth and analysis. I dress and look like a hundred thousand other kollel-niks. That was the beginning of my problem.

I must file a form every so often in a government office regarding my business. I always see the same clerk there, a religious lady. She wears a "shaitel", a wig, which so many of the religious women in Jerusalem use as a head covering, her sleeves are always long as is her skirt length. Some how, some way, we never hit it off. I have a personality that bends to get along, I enjoy all people, religious, ultra-religious, secular, and even anti-religious and I must confess that I have had several friendships with Arabs. I have never let my own religious beliefs become a barrier between me and the other person; but this lady and me; well, it was a bad chemical mix. She was always nasty, inconsiderate and curt – yes I know - typical Israeli. But there was something different here, something nastier.

On this particular day, I came in as required to submit my form and was greeted by her same typical cold, distant, non-caring attitude that had become her trademark. As we finished the submittal she turned to me, bend her head down, and said in a quiet, matter-of-fact manner, as if to say, 'I'm on to you': "One of the women that works here identified you as the man who put his hands on her in a cab."

"Huh?"

"Understand, we are on to you," she whispered in a voice, as if to say, we will get you. "Be careful about your conduct." She added as a final token of her utter disgust.

"Who, what, me?" I stammered. "Who said this? About me? Can't be!" I mumbled back. I was too shocked at this horrendous accusation to answer her properly. My mind had been given an electric shock.

She took my papers in a definitive action, as if to demonstrate her executive authority, putting them together and stapling them with a curt and final loud click with her stapler, as a show of 'we are finished, get up and go'. I just sat there stunned. What is this? Who could ever say such a thing about me?

She gave me a dirty look as I tried to protest my innocence. Her eyes ignored me and her face reflected a 'yeah-yeah-sure' attitude. I could see that she thought 'of course you are going to protest, but we got you nailed'.

I picked up my briefcase and stumbled down the stairs and got out the building. Under the open skies, I began to reflect. What the heck is happening? My G-d, I thought, I gave up much in my secular life to become religious, and I have done everything a G-d fearing person could do. I live in a religious neighborhood; I am active in the synagogue; I have always tried to live an exemplary life. The last thing I want is to mess around – if I did, I would not become religious. Why would someone accuse me? It must be a mistake.

Even worse, I considered, what can I do to prove my innocence? Even worse, what would happen to me if this became neighborhood gossip? I could be ruined. Would anyone believe me? What would the neighbors say? Would they believe such a lie? What would my wife say? I saw that I was at the mercy of this nasty religious woman. Fortunately she did not live in my neighborhood, but still, if she told people about me, I would be ruined. Words get around.

My mind turned back to dwell upon an educator that lived in the neighborhood. He was a true Torah scholar who earned his living by teaching teens. They accused him of sexual molestation. It was their word against his. Some say he was too hard on them and they got back at him, other just say he was indeed molesting boys. He is practically out of a job now – doing what he can to make a living. He has no real friends now. He once gave weekly lessons to the men in his house, but that has stopped. Was it true? Who really knows – but the reality is that he is a ruined man.

What about me? Needless to say, I spent much brain time trying to work out a solution. I decided that I would ask the lady that accused me of touching her private parts to please look closely at me. After all, there are many men who dress like me: black hat, back suit, white shirt with a beard and glasses. Perhaps if she could see me close up, maybe my nose was not exactly the nose of the harasser, or maybe my glass frames were different, or something! Maybe it was a dark night, but I could not stand by idly while my reputation was being destroyed.

On the next meeting that I had with this religious lady, I asked her if she would speak with her friend that she should come and see me close up. I pleaded my innocence. She was cold as ice and tough as steel, "She is not interested in dealing with you and if you force your self on her, she will go to the police."

"Where did this take place?"

"She said on a cab from B'nai B'rak."

"B'nai B'rak? I haven't been there in a long time. Only for a wedding and I went with my wife and took a bus back. I can't ever remember taking a cab from B'nai B'rak."

"Listen," I pleaded, "Speak to her. I am innocent. I want you and her to know it. Just ask her to do me the chessed (kindness) of coming close up to see me to make certain. Please!" How in the world can I prove that I haven't been in a cab from B'nai B'rak in years – you cannot prove something did not happen, you can only prove that something did happen. If she will at least say when it happened, perhaps I was at a wedding that night. I needed a chance to prove my innocence.

She shrugged her shoulders in the typical Israeli manner meaning you're not worth talking to, please leave. I left. I didn't know what to do? I was stumped. What if my accuser came close and said it was me? Then I would be cooked! But I felt that I must clear my name.

The next time I went to the office to submit the forms; I got the same cold, nasty treatment. "Did you speak with your friend?" I inquired.

"She is not interested." She stapled the papers and turned away from me, cold, case is closed, you're guilty, finished, finito.

I was crushed. My last hopes dashed. I was frightened; I had no other plan. I called up my Rabbi and slowly gave him the picture. I was frightened to tell him, lest he consider that perhaps I was guilty too. But I had to trust him that he would believe me. He was kind. He consoled me to avoid making a case about it. Perhaps it will pass, if it does pass quietly then consider myself lucky. If it comes out in public, then we would have to sit down perhaps with a lawyer.

The strange twist to the case is that my folder was given to an Arab – a nice chap, Mohammad. Crazy, but he was very friendly to me even offering me advice on my forms, what I could to save money and be more efficient. I looked around for the nasty lady. I did not see her there. Maybe she was fired or maybe she was transferred. Her cubical was empty. Thank G-d!

But my fears never left me. She was probably still in Jerusalem. All she had to do was to say to someone, "Hey, you know this fellow? He is a sexual predator. He puts his hands on ladies" Boom, I would be dead!

Time when on and I worried perhaps today it will come out, but thank G-d it never did. But I thought what can a person do to prove his innocence? Nothing, I was at the mercy of these two women. Would my friends and neighbors believe me? Why should they treat me better than the scholar who was accused of molesting teens? What would my wife and children think? If the president of Israel and a minister can lose there jobs because of sexual harassment charges, who am I to stand my ground in the face of accusations.

I know that there is much fooling around going around in offices, I was secular. I am certain that the new laws have given women more protection in the work place as well as on the street. I know also that there are perverted religious men – not many, but a few. But just imagine, if some one has a grudge against you, a few words, and poof, you can be destroyed. There is no antidote for an accusation like this.

I turn to the ladies and I ask them, if some one puts their hands on you, scream and scream loud. Do not let is pass. Take immediate action. Had this accuser yelled in the cab, the molester would be positively identified, but after waiting with no action, who can really know?

Again, ladies, do not take molestation. Protest on the spot it is your right.

* * * * *

You have read the article, please tell us what you think.

Would you believe the fellow who denied the sexual harassment charges or would you believe the women who made the complaint? Indicate below your preference.

I believe the fellow
I believe the lady
I don't know, but I suspect the fellow
I don't know, so I would not make any decision
 
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~~~~~~~

from the November 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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