This past week, the true extent of the problem of rape and sexual assault in the military came to light, and the numbers were stark and ugly. A new Pentagon report found that nearly 26,000 members of the military were sexually assaulted last year — a 35% increase from 2010. The numbers sent shock waves everywhere, prompting furious editorials from major papers and a particularly angry-sounding President Obama at a press conference saying, “I have zero tolerance for this,” and vowing a top-down culture change.
Easier said than done, of course. The Los Angeles Times editorial board notes the deepest irony in the case, which is that a major point person in the military was caught, so to speak, with his pants down.
Discussion of the exclusion of women from public spaces in Israel — its manifestations, its dangers and its possible remedies — has increased in recent weeks, with a different variation on the theme catching the media spotlight every few days.
Recently there has been increased focus on the issue of violence against women. First, Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat (who also heads the Ministerial Committee on the Status of Women) exclaimed during a heated cabinet debate, “Where there’s an exclusion of women, violence against women eventually grows.”
Walla published a related opinion piece by attorney Anat Tahon-Ashkenazi titled, “The Exclusion of Women From Security Issues Influences Their Security.” While much of the concern recently has been about gender segregation and the disappearance of women from advertising and signage, as well as on the paucity of women journalists (especially on television) presenting and analyzing news, she zeroed in on political leadership and decision-making.
The hardest thing about moving to Israel from the United States has been dealing with the fact that by moving here I have put my children in physical and moral danger. Of course I know that danger lurks everywhere — car accidents, cancer-causing pollutants, violent criminals. When I am in a mall in Israel with my kids I worry about them being blown up, whereas when I am in a mall with my kids in the U.S. I worry about them being abducted. Different place, different dangers. I know that.
Is living in any country morally neutral? America was built on the backs of slaughtered natives; when I lived in New York, I regularly had to walk by homeless people. When I lived in Washington, D.C., the line between black D.C. and white D.C. reminded me of East and West Jerusalem. Growing up in suburban New York, I went to an Orthodox Jewish day school and summer camp; I did not have non-Orthodox Jews in my social circle, let alone non-Jews. Though we had some Christian white neighbors, there were no blacks, Asians or Hispanics and certainly no Muslims.
While I am unhappy with the segregated reality in Israel, at least there are some Muslim and Christian Arab kids in my children’s school, and we send the kids on Arab-Jewish interfaith summer programs. We live in Lower Galilee in a highly Palestinian and Arab-Israeli-populated area, so interact daily with Arabs. My children learn Arabic in school, and we make an effort to socialize with Arabs. My kids are, without a doubt, less Arab-phobic than their peers in Jewish day schools in the U.S.
The Sisterhood spoke with Air Force Captain Sarah Schechter, 41, who is a chaplain and a Reform rabbi, as well as the mother of 3-year-old-daughter Yael Emunah. She works at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, mostly with new recruits who are in basic training. In the past two years she was deployed to an undisclosed location in the Persian Gulf and recently returned home from a four month deployment in Balad, Iraq. Her husband is a stay at home dad. We spoke with Capt. Schechter, above reading Torah, about what it’s like to be a mother working in the military. You can read a related story, about Jews in the military, here.
Tell me about your start in the military and your career path.
I joined the military as a result of Sept 11th. As an adult I never seriously contemplated the military and it was not a track particularly developed in rabbinical school, but when our country was attacked, immediately, I realized our complete dependence on the good will of thousands of people who volunteered to make national defense their business. I wanted to help in any way possible and for me, that meant becoming a chaplain. On Sept 12th, I called an Air Force recruiter and, echoing Abraham’s words, I said, “hineni,” “here I am.”
How long had you been serving when you had your daughter?
My daughter was born a few years into my military service. I joined as a chaplain candidate while still in rabbinical school and have been in active duty service the past five and a half years. I have deployed twice in her three plus years and all in all have missed quite a bit of time in her life.