From Our CEO
Listen to the Voices of Women
March 8th, 2024

Almost 74% percent of UJA’s employees are women, as is our president, Linda Mirels, and our immediate past president, Amy A. B. Bressman. Women have been leaders at UJA for decades. They lead and sit at our planning tables. Our finance tables. Our advocacy tables. Women lead many of our nonprofit partners.

On International Women’s Day, I wish this message could focus solely on celebrating the women who are the backbone of our community. However, given the war in Israel, and the news this week, we need to focus on a painful and disturbing issue.

Earlier this week, the United Nations finally released a report acknowledging the sexual violence that took place on October 7, as well as the ongoing sexual abuse of hostages.

It’s about time, but it’s not nearly enough.

For months now, evidence of sexual violence has been mounting. Despite the testimony of paramedics and other first responders, despite the depraved videos released by Hamas themselves, the world’s response has been shockingly muted, with tepid condemnation and rationalization. How can rape possibly be justified as a legitimate form of resistance?

Back in December, a delegation that included Sheryl Sandberg, Hillary Clinton, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan gathered at the United Nations to lay bare the scope of the brutal sexual violence that took place on October 7. At the session called "Hear Our Voices,” speakers called to task activist groups that normally stand with and for women — notably the United Nations itself — which, at that point, had said little to nothing about the crimes against Israeli women.

Among the witnesses who spoke before the UN, medical professionals who examined the bodies of victims and representatives of ZAKA, a UJA grantee that undertakes the sacred task of collecting human remains. They presented the crimes that took place in no uncertain terms: harrowing sexual abuse of both the living and dead.

Many UJA grantees worked relentlessly behind the scenes to make this session happen. A few weeks later, The New York Times released an investigative piece about the mass rapes, with the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, a UJA grantee, playing a key role in providing critical information. The UN’s report would likely not have happened without this pressure.

To date, UJA has provided more than $1 million to a range of grantees that are directly involved in responding to gender-based violence, including rape crisis centers treating victims, counseling for first responders who bore witness to horrific scenes, as well as to groups collecting evidence and testimonies to document the atrocities that took place. We’re also helping to fund the distribution of a documentary, Screams Before Silence, featuring Sheryl Sandberg, sharing stories with a broader audience.

A painful truth: we’re dealing with a crime whose victims and witnesses are either dead, still being held hostage, or too traumatized to speak out.

For those unable to speak, we must tell their stories. And for those who may one day come forward, we must listen and amplify their words.

Shabbat shalom   

P.S. Join UJA and the Hostages and Missing Families Forum on Sunday, March 10, at 11am at a rally for the hostages. Meet at the bandshell in Central Park, hear from hostage families and released hostages, community leaders, leading rabbis, and elected officials. March to show the world we won’t stop until we #bringthemhomenow.