I recently connected with a non-Jewish Olympic gymnast. I read that there was this new pushback in the gymnastics world, where female gymnasts were asking for more fabric like their male counterparts get. It reminded me of the skin gap – a feminist term we coined at Jew in the City which speaks to the discrepancy in the amount of skin men and women are expected to show in the same social settings. It shows that choosing modesty is actually about equality, not subjugation.
While I was expecting to discuss the choice for women to cover up with this Olympian, the conversation started off in a totally different direction, and I was left wiser after our call.
The gymnast told me her life story: she grew up in gymnastics from a young age and it was a toxic environment. There was no love or support among her mentors, just judgment, ridicule and all forms of abuse. She hated gymnastics and as soon as she grew up, she ran away, vowing to never touch gymnastics again.
As she told me this, I thought, “strange – that sounds like a lot of the experiences of the members of Makom.” But she went on, and the story got even more familiar. While she had vowed to never go near gymnastics again, in college she connected with a new gymnastics community made up of healthy and positive people. She dipped a toe back in and suddenly found herself in a wonderful environment. For the first time in her life, she loved doing gymnastics and being a gymnast. This too was exactly like the story of our Makom members. When they get to our organization and meet healthy Orthodox Jews and learn a thoughtful and positive Orthodox approach, so many feel a pride and positivity they never had before.
But wait – there’s more. Now that this gymnast understands what healthy gymnastics looks like instead of unhealthy environments, she is building a system to revamp how the gymnastic culture works, in order to keep kids safe and make gymnastics a positive experience for everyone. This is exactly what we are doing with the Tikun branch! While we have worked on systemic changes in other areas over the years, our first major project is an overhaul of school professionalism to make sure every Orthodox Jewish school has transparency, accountability and checks and balances.
As she finished her life story I told her how stunned I was. I explained to her that I already knew her story because it’s the work our organization is involved with everyday, except substitute gymnasts for Haredi Jews.
And I asked her if she knew what gymnastics and Orthodox Judaism have in common. She didn’t, so I explained. They both use human beings.
Human beings have a range of behaviors. The healthy ones will make experiences positive. The abusers will destroy everything they touch. As a community, it’s up to us to make sure our organizations are transparent enough so that no creep or crook can slip through. Then, we need to make sure we are providing our children with healthy environments which help them flourish instead of tear them down.
There is often a shame in admitting fault, but as we can see from this Olympian, the issues in our community exist because we’re human. We can systemically fix them because as Jews, it’s our job to repair. The only shame we should feel is if we fail to live up to our Jewish values.
And with that, we’d love to show you our new Tikun branch logo. Our tagline is “Broken Can Be Fixed.” It comes from the Rebbe Nachman teaching: “If you believe it’s possible to break, believe it’s possible to fix.” We’re asking for your help to fix. August is Change Makers month. This means that you can change lives by changing perceptions by becoming a monthly donor at any level and allowing us continue to make impacts in our community which will last for generations. Partner with us today.
If you found this content meaningful and want to help further our mission through our Keter, Makom, and Tikun branches, please consider becoming a Change Maker today.
I’m so happy to read that Tikun has a plan to protect people in the hassidic community from crooks!! This is amazing news!
I also really like the title of this article! I agree that the problems come from abusive people who twist around all teachings in a way that will help them achieve their goal of control.
Hurray for Jew in the city for finally standing up against the people who deserve to blamed- the abusers! It is often very difficult to figure out who the abusers are. They are so good at creating smoke and fog all around them. They are so good at confusing people. They are so good at convincing people that everyone else is bad, so that people stop focusing on them.
I wish your organization lots of luck! I sure hope that G-D will help you be successful in helping to protect innocent people from getting hurt!!!
Thanks for your comment, Baila. We have a big road ahead. A lot of abusive people are experts at tricking the public into believing they are righteous. And there’s a lot of community resistance against reporting bad behavior. That being said, our first plan is to build a kit which helps a school create an atmosphere of transparency and accountability. We believe this is what’s needed before physical and emotionally safety could be considered. Any big plan starts with the first few steps. So that is what we are starting.
Great project! May it help keep children safe at school! One expression on your donations page might generate misunderstanding, though: “Repairing systemic issues which sully our name and push Jews away”. I’m not sure what you meant by this – maybe that the issues you are looking to repair are a big chillul hashem? Reading these words certainly gave me a strange feeling because the main thing that is wrong with these issues is not that they sully our name or that they push Jews away, but first and foremost that people are being hurt. By mentioning the other two effects, you make it seem as if things would be all right if only our name weren’t sullied and Jews weren’t pushed away (for example, it the child didn’t tell anyone and remained as Jewish as before). A hostile reader might think: “What they care about is their religion’s reputation and membership numbers, not the children’s wellbeing”. Since this evidently isn’t so, might you consider changing the wording?
I hear you. Broken should be fixed for the sake of health and wholeness. But we’re trying to show how one branch led to another. We can’t say we’re good if we don’t act good and we can’t heal people if we know systems are still hurting them.
I want to wish you , my blessings your doing a wonderful thing, the world needs pol who do and care, especially when it comes to school systems
Were children can end up struggling for a live time
May hashem give you and your team the energy support and all tht you need to make a difference
Love and light
I’m so happy to hear about your plans to increase transparency in our schools. I happen to be on the board of a yeshiva/ day school in the New York area that is currently setting up a system for reporting and investigation of the kinds of problems and abuse you are talking about.. Too many of our children have been “lost” over the years because of the systemic need to cover things up in case the outside world might find out what’s going on in our community. It’s time we start worrying more about these precious neshamos.
Hatzlacha in this very worthy endeavor
I would love to connect. We’ll be in touch beH.