Poetry reading in Pittsfield
This just in - no poetry reading on Thursday

We have to build a better world than this

This post talks about violence against women. If that is likely to be triggering for you, please guard your own boundaries and read with care.


What can I say in response to the many awful things wrong in the world? The endless news ticker of atrocities both large and small, the many entirely legitimate reasons to be furious and to feel despair? This week my Twitter stream is peppered with posts about Gamergate and Jian Ghomeshi -- two currently-unfolding stories having to do with rape, assault, intimidation, and violence against women.

Violence against women -- from rape, to "doxxing," to other forms of silencing and intimidation -- is everywhere. We read about it in Torah (see On the silencing of Dinah) and we read about it in the news. I am trying to hold all women who have been victimized in my prayers. May they know healing and wholeness, safety and comfort, integrity of body and integrity of spirit. May they not be afraid.

It's harder for me to pray for the men who have committed these transgressions. I find myself thinking of the generation of Israelites who left Egypt and didn't make it to the promised land, their psyches too scarred by slavery to allow them the expansiveness of a new way of being. I wonder whether it's possible to redeem men who are so steeped in toxic entitlement that they would commit such acts.

And then I remind myself that ultimately forgiveness and consequences are in God's hands, not mine. (Thank God for that.) But I do have control over how I cultivate my own compassion and kindness. And I can do everything in my power to show the boys whom I teach, and the boy who I am raising, how to treat women with the respect due to one who is made b'tzelem Elokim, in the divine Image.

Pirkei Avot teaches that it's not incumbent on us to finish the work, but neither are we free to refrain from beginning it. Creating a world where women can live without fear -- that's part of the work. We have to build a better world than this. Full disclosure: I'm not sure how. People hurt other people out of alienation, and I don't know how to heal that. I don't know how to fix a problem this systemic.

But I know that we have to try. That the world needs more kindness. That we all long to feel at-home and cherished for who we are. That Jewish tradition teaches us to cultivate hope in place of despair. It's not incumbent on us to finish the work, but neither are we free to refrain from beginning it. Write, teach, help, listen, pray, mentor, be kind: what can you to do begin creating the world we need?