Posts Tagged ‘El HaLev’

Fighting Violence – The Way That Works

In self-defense, Sexual Assault, violence prevention, What we do, women, Women's Empowerment on September 26, 2011 at 20:09

A wonderful post from The Strength Within.

Check it out.


Fighting Violence – The Way That Works.

The Bitter Taste of Victory: a Self-Defense Success Story

In Sexual Harrassment on November 28, 2010 at 13:37
A short time ago, El HaLev received a letter from a graduate of one of our 10-hour self-defense program. One night, this young woman went to a bus stop. A young man began to stare at her, moved closer and sat down next to her on the bench. He began by making verbal overtures and then, sexual advances . She resisted verbally. He began touching himself, left and returned. Finally, she called a friend waiting at the next bus stop, who ran over to join her at her stop and the harassment stopped.

“What did I do wrong?” was the underlying question posed by the letter.

This was  my response:

Thank you for your letter. First of all, what a harrowing experience!  We are angered and saddened that you had to experience it at all. And we are very impressed  that you have decided to turn it into a learning experience. We applaud your strength and your wisdom.

First of all, here is a list of several things we can tell from your story that you did right:

  • You trusted your intuition when it told you that something was not right about the situation
  • You tried to put distance between yourself and the man who was worrying you.
  • You saw the situation as one that might require self-defense skills
  • You sat down next to someone else to create safety in numbers
  • You tried to set a verbal boundary
  • You kept reassessing the situation as things changed
  • You called your friend for support and help
  • And, most of all, you never gave up

So, as disturbing as your experience was, you succeeded in keeping an incident that started off as sexual harrassment into what your attcker clearly intended to turn into sexual assault. In short, you won!

Now, let’s take a look at some of the details of your story and discuss a few things that might be helpful to you now and in the future:

1) “The second man started staring at me. I looked away and tried to ignore him”: This is one of those situations that many of us have difficulty with. The question I would ask here is: Did you choose to look like you were ignoring him among other alternatives (like using strong body language, creating a physical barrier, using your voice, etc) because you thought it would work best, or did you choose it because you were worried about embarrassing yourself or hurting his feelings if you choose a more pro-active course of action? The fact is that pretending to ignore someone is a legitimate technique that works some of the time. As it happened here, each time he moved closer and, thereby, tested your boundaries, you were also in a position to test the effectiveness of the technique you were using and perhaps try something else.

2)  “I couldn’t move further over on the bench because another women wearing earphones was sitting there and I didn’t want to bother her“: Since we can now look back and see that having your friend join you was what finally deterred this persistent harasser, we now know something we could only guess back then: waking this Beauty from her slumber, i.e. getting her to remove her earphones and asking her to ally with you, might well have stopped the situation in its tracks. From experience, we can tell you that getting her attention would have been a favor to this young woman, though she might not have appreciated it at the time :-). Her disconnection from the environment sets her up as a prime target for a potential assailant like this one. Perhaps she would have learned the lesson that pretending that nothing is happening around you doesn’t make it so— without having to go through the kind of harassment that you endured here.

3) “I tried to speak to him in the most aggressive voice I could muster but all that came out was: ‘ Stop. Enough. Please, that’s enough.” : First of all, this tactic DID result in him taking his hands off of you and onto himself. So it obviously had some effect. In order increase its effectiveness, there are a couple of things you might consider:

a) If you want to be civilized and say “please”, then you can say “please”. Go right ahead— as long as your tone of voice and body language make it very clear that this is not really a request; it is an order!

b) When issuing an order like this, it helps you to focus and him to comply if you tell him, not just what you want him to STOP doing, but what you want him to do— in this case: “Go away”, “get lost”, “leave me alone”, or anything like that: clear, short and to the point. And be prepared to repeat yourself as many times as it takes for him to understand that he has been caught, his game is over and he might as well go home.

4) “In any case, I know not to wait alone at bus stops if possible— especially not at night.” : Be sure that you learn the right lessons from your experience. There is nothing wrong with your choosing to wait at a bus stop alone at night or at any other time of day. HE was the only one who did anything wrong here. You have the right to be where you wish when you wish. And, as you have demonstrated so well, along with that right goes taking responsibility for your own safety, i.e. paying attention to your environment, listening to your intuition, setting boundaries when you feel you need to, removing yourself from difficult situations when you can and fighting like a tigeress to get away when you can’t. If you do these things, there is no reason to restrict yourself, who you are,what you say, how you dress or where you choose to be. Self-defense training frees us to be who we are, to have our freedom and to stay safe all at the same time.

And one more thing. Be kind and compassionate with yourself. Your nervous system doesn’t care whether or not your struggle became physical; it only knows that it fought a  pitched battle for its survival. The fact that you “won” does not mean that it was not  traumatic.  Talk about what happened. Learn from it. Grow from it.

It may not feel like it right now but yours was a story of self-defense success. We can’t prevent people from acting like idiots. Sometimes we can stop them. In your case, you did more than that; you prevented a physical assault.

We are very, very grateful for whatever part we were able to play in that victory and in your many victories to come.

The Same Old Song Without The Dance

In Children on March 21, 2010 at 03:10

Self-defense instruction meets The Dangers of the Internet

One of the truly important things we have done at El HaLev is to create a nationally-recognized course for training self-defense instructors. The course consists of  instruction in sport-related anatomy, physiology, psychology and class planning and then, practical training from the most experienced instructors in El HaLev (including yours truly) in the art of teaching self-defense skills . All of the young women currently taking the course have a strong background in the martial arts, which will help them learn, apply and adapt the physical skills we teach. However, they understand, and we drill it in as much as humanly possible, that physical techniques are not the be-all-and-end-all of teaching self-defense— not by a long shot.

This past Wednesday, the trial of Avinoam Breverman got underway. Breverman  is accused of the rape, sodomy, and sexual assault of three girls he met on the Internet, ages 11, 13, and 14. Brevermen admits having conversations with the girls, but denies he had sexual contact with them. At his trial, even Brevermen’s lawyer stated that he is worried about what happens on the Internet: “Besides the offenses attributed to my client, which will be clarified during the trial, I am concerned and appalled at the level and content of conversations among  minors. We are talking about sexually-explicit expressions and coarse language used even by children aged 11 to 14.”

Now you can just imagine what a fire storm about the Dangers of The Internet this case has caused. And yet, I am fairly certain that not one of our self-defense instructor candidates was or has ever been approached by her Sensei and taught how to handle herself on the Internet, and certainly not how to teach others  effective Internet strategies in a way that will strengthen rather than frighten them. However, this is one of the many things self-defense instructors here and everywhere must learn, and most often, teach themselves.

When I address this issue with our SD instructor candidates, I plan to give them each a copy of the article below, in the original Hebrew of course, because, in the end, I think the most important thing for them to know about staying safe on the Internet is that it is not all that different from staying safe anywhere. It’s the same old song without the dance: being aware of the tactics criminals use, trusting your intuition, being assertive, getting out of there, telling someone what happened, and continuing to tell until someone offers your help. As for your trophy-winning martial arts form and your  fancy spinning jump kick, you can save them for more appropriate occasions.

Protect children – Not just online

The arrest of a suspect in the sexual assault of young girls again raises concern about the dangers online. But it is important to remember that the children are in danger everywhere and that we can protect them – even without violating their privacy

Ilana Brodo

Y-Net, Feb. 2, 2010

Yesterday (Monday) two things happened that reminded us all, including me, of the precarious situation of children in the “Wild West” that is the Internet.

While in Tel-Aviv, a man was arrested on suspicion of using the Internet to access and attack many young girls, in Jerusalem the Economic Committee held a special meeting with the youth participation concerning ways to protect children online, in which, among the proposals were the expected government censorship, software for filtering sites and of course talk, talk, talk.

Whether a special curriculum, or even subsidized courses for parents, there seem to be plenty of ideas. But according to reports, the exploitation of tender young girls at the hands of criminals seems inevitable. The question is, why?

Maybe there are some important points that the current approach of educating children to use the Web wisely is missing. Maybe we forgot a few essential things.

Dangers Are Everywhere

The Internet is not the only place where your child is in danger. Also in the street, at school, while crossing the road, spending time with friends or a school trip- countless dangers, including those same  evil people, threaten your child at any time.
So why does the Internet seem to be such a focus of pedophile activity? The answer is simple – on the global network, you can choose how old you want to be and how you choose to introduce yourself. Even photos and videos can be quite easily faked, if you are wondering when the mask is removed and the predator is detected.

The Internet is a place where it is easy to create connections, make friends and talk with complete strangers about just about anything. On the other hand, there is no shortage of places where a child can meet a pedophile, whether at the home of a private teacher, the parent of a friend or a guard at the mall near school. The Internet cannot be held responsible.

If that is so, then the tips are the same tips and the information is the same information: do not take candy from strangers and don’t meet up with people you don’t know. The Internet is a medium. Although it is too successful a medium for these stalkers, t in the end, the Internet is merely a means.

The other thing many forget is that we used to be children. We worried parents were once children- curious, innocent and perhaps even vulnerable. It is important to look at  this issue first, from the perspective of a child, and then from that of the pedophile, despite the difficulty of doing so.

The Inner Child

There is no doubt that when we were children, as our personalities began to crystallize, we also needed personal space in which to operate and a degree of privacy. We did not want our parents reading our diaries we preferred a degree of independence in deciding for ourselves. It’s easy to forget, but your child thinks the same way so, that you did.

No force in the universe can stop a 14 year-old from acquiring pornographic material, and these materials were always available – whether in print, video or, today, digitally.

As it is for pedophilia, so here, the Internet is only the medium, the means whose face has changed with the progress of technology and society. Sites of any kind, like restricting the sale of pornographic magazines to18 year-olds and older: ways to bypass the restrictions were found in the past, and will be found in the future.

Many Internet guides for protecting children encourage parents to install technology to restrict access to sites with child-appropriate content, to regularly look into the child’s affairs and even to remove the PC from the child’s room.

Wouldn’t this kind of intrusion into the child’s privacy force him to find alternatives? Infringement of a child’s privacy, given that his information on the computer is indeed for him a personal thing, would be interpreted as an attack. For this reason, intruding into his or her computer should be reserved only for cases in which you suspect your child is in real danger.

So if you shouldn’t pry, what can parents do to keep their child safe from the schemes of evil people on the Internet?

Know The Enemy

Before you try to understand the online lives of your children, it is at least worthwhile to learn the difference between a browser and a torrent program. We did a little bit of detective work and checked out the pages of our children on their social networks. These pages are open to everyone, so it is worthwhile for you to know what information your progeny are publishing there.

For example, it happened to reach my ears that the father of a 13 year-old daughter forbade her to put her picture on her Facebook profile. As an alternative, the young teen chose a photograph of a model wearing a revealing swimsuit. As a result, the indecent proposals that she received in her private messages and on her Wall appeared in worrying numbers.

Some guides also advise parents to supervise their kids whenever they are online. The age at which you can give a child privacy on the computer, in my humble opinion, is no different than the age at which they can cross the street or to go out with friends without supervision. On the Internet, similar to other life situations that can, at time, be dangerous, what will determine the outcome, in the end, is the use of discretion.

It is important to explain to your child the dangers of the Net. Without a doubt, it is better to inform him of the existence of bad people than to have him find out for himself – perhaps in a chat room intended for children only.
More than “explaining”, however, it is important to listen. Take an interest  in the sites your children surf as much as you do in their experiences on school breaks or at their cousins’ house this weekend. Share with them interesting sites that are appropriate for them, and ask them for recommendations.

At the end of the day, protecting your child on the Internet is the same as protecting him/her elsewhere. The difference determines the outcome, in most cases, is not content filtering or the location of the computer, but that same use of discretion and critical thinking that parents must help their children acquire, rather than aggressively guarding them for as long as they will put up with it.

Predators On-Line: When Virtual Becomes Reality

In Children, Crime in Israel on February 5, 2010 at 02:22

Internet predators & pedophiles chat in Hebrew too

Parents in Israel are used to fighting for the security of their children, but the battlefield keeps shifting. Not that the days of parents warning children to stay away from suspicious packages and people wearing strange clothing that might conceal bombs.  However, a glance at the latest news or the latest edition of David Morris’s blog Tzedek-Tzedek (see below) reminds us that there are  dangers lurking in what should be the  safest places on Earth- right inside our homes.

Yes, Virginia, Internet predators and pedophiles chat in Hebrew too.

Parenting has always been hard work. It used to be that at least we could fantasize that if we locked our children in our homes and threw away the keys, they’d be safe.  Now, the Internet brings the outside world right in. We can no longer afford the illusion that we’re in control, that we can somehow keep our children and teens blissfully ignorant AND out of harm’s way.

My mother tells me that the first time she gave me permission to ride my bicycle off of our street, she stood by the window crying until she saw me riding home. By the time I came in the door, she had taken out an onion and started cutting it so I would think her tears were caused by the onion, not her fears for my safety. We all have to find our “onions”, our ways to keep from infecting our children with our fears. But we owe it to them to give them the tools they need to be as free AND as safe as possible in the world they live in— the Cyber world as well as the “real” one.

So, here’s a place to begin: some advice to share with the youngsters in your life about staying safe while chatting online

  • Be careful who you trust. Remember, no matter how long you have been in contact with them or how nice they seem, online friends are really strangers. And they may not be who they say they are.
  • Meeting in person someone you met online can be dangerous. If you feel that you ‘have to’ meet, tell your parent or caretaker and take them with you – at least the first time you meet. Meet only in a public place in daytime. And do not leave with them without informing your parent or caretaker where you are going and with whom.
  • Keep personal information personal. Your name, address, telephone number, mobile number, private email address, and picture: These are examples of personal information that can end up in the hands of people you don’t want to have it. Check your profile and remove personal information. Don’t share this information with people you meet online, even if they ask you for it. Let them know that it’s a matter of your safety. If they insist, that shows that they don’t care about you. Are these that kind of people you want as friends?
  • When in doubt, log out: Get away from an uncomfortable situation in a chat room by logging out or by changing your screen name.
  • Think twice before you answer private messages. Private chats can end up being more personal than you might want. It can be harder to end a conversation in a private chat than on a public chat. If you are on a private chat and something makes you uncomfortable, trust your intuition. If something feels wrong, something IS wrong. Log out.
  • Use a nickname, not your real name. Try to choose a nickname that is less likely to attract the type of attention you might feel uncomfortable dealing with.
  • Look out for your friends: Speak up if you think that they are at risk.
  • Tell your parent or caretaker if someone or something happens online that makes you feel uncomfortable or worried.
  • Go to www.chatdanger.com to learn important online self-defense skills like how to keep/save a copy of the conversation in chat , how to block/ignore people and how to report something you feel uncomfortable about.

OK everyone! Grab those onions, go in there and help somebody you love stay safe.

How Many Kids Can One Man Abuse?

Police lifted a gag order Monday detailing the arrest of 33-year-old Avinoam Braverman, of Tel Aviv, alleged to have contacted some 1,000 minors, engaging some in virtual sex in front of web cams and of raping, sodomizing and molesting others, as well as possession and distribution of child pornography,…http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=167472
In a society which promotes loyal monogamy as being the ideal sexual relationship – one partner for each of us –  the popular assumption is that one pedophile will also approximate to one child victim.

Very few of us are aware that research has consistently shown that (and this is staggering) around one in four girls and one in six boys has been sexually abused by the age of 18. (Russell, 1986; confirmed also Gorey & Leslie 1997; Finkelhor, Hotaling, Lewis & Smith 1989; Brier & Elliot, 2003).
And in the sole major survey amongst Jewish orthodox women (Yehuda et al, 2007), 26% of the women surveyed reported sexual abuse, with 16% reporting the abuse occurred by the age of thirteen. In other words, sexual abuse of females is consistent with the findings for the general population. (Some have suggested that the number of male victims may be higher in the orthodox community, because access is far less restricted in orthodox communities than for males on females – but there has been no scientific survey yet on this).

This startlingly high incidence of child abuse victims, in all populations, however does not mean that this proportion of adults (between one in four, to one in six) are pedophiles.

There have been various distinctions drawn (R.Weiss, 2009) on the characteristics of pedophiles, including these categories:

  1. Dedicated or Fixated Child Offender – adults who are usually solely sexually attracted to children.
  2. Situational or Regressed Child Offender – adults whose sexual attentions wander to children, often due to extraneous pressures.
  3. Sexually Addicted Offender – exhibiting similar compulsive traits to substance or gambling addictions, some adults have increased and obsessive needs for sexual stimulation, sometimes including relationships with children.

The majority (85%) of child sex offenders are in the second category; these offenders can often be successfully treated through therapy. Sexual addiction (category 3) is a quite common psychological condition affecting between 3-5 % of the general population; very few of these people resort to non-consensual sex; treatment for this addictive behavior has been often found successful.

The most damaging pedophiles, in terms of numbers of victims, are the dedicated or fixated child offenders; they will often achieve positions of access, trust and authority over children, such as becoming sports coaches, summer camp or youth group supervisors, babysitters, clerics or educators – specifically in order to gain unfettered access to their victims. Some will even marry a partner who already has children, for this same reason. The perpetrators develop sophisticated ‘grooming’ techniques (sometimes in collusion with other pedophiles) and in practice they know that only very few children will ever register formal complaints against these perpetrators (sometimes the children do not become consciously aware that they were even abused until they reach adulthood themselves), so the numbers of their victims over a pedophile’s ‘career’ (which can continue through their senior years) can reach staggering proportions. There is little prospect of these pedophiles being ‘cured’ by available therapies, and recidivism (repeat offense) rates are high (around 75% of convicted child sex offenders).

A study by Abel et al32 of 377 nonincarcerated, non-incest-related pedophiles, whose legal situations had been resolved and who were surveyed using an anonymous self-report questionnaire, found that heterosexual pedophiles on average reported abusing 19.8 children and committing 23.2 acts, whereas homosexual pedophiles had abused 150.2 children and committed 281.7 acts

Another study (Baker) concluded that men who chose girls, generally victimized relatively few while a man who preys on non-related boys “will victimize as many as 280 male victims”.

These studies confirm law enforcement reports about the serial nature of the crime, the large number of children abused by each pedophile, and the underreporting of assaults.

What appears different from the ‘classic’ behavior patterns of pedophiles in the Braverman case is the alleged extensive use of the internet and messaging technologies, and his targeting of multiple young girls.

However, that Braverman was apparently able to readily reach so many actual and prospective victims, seemingly without multiple reports by either the child victims or their parents to the authorities – is deeply shocking, but unfortunately not unusual.

At the Crossroads of Jerusalem

In teens on December 11, 2009 at 03:18

My personal assignment in honor of the Circle of Strength’s Volunteer Day was to give an hour-and-a-half self-defense class just off Zion Square at a drop-in center called Crossroads.

Crossroads is a center that serves a subculture of vulnerable teens that have been sidelined.  While many organizations have been established to meet the needs of at-risk teens, one such population is consistently under-served:  the hundreds of Jerusalem’s English-speaking at-risk youth. Poor, isolated and on the streets, they are, nonetheless, stereotyped as being “Affluent Americans” and are, therefore, estranged from the usual governmental rehabilitative frameworks. See the article below for a look into some other problems in the existing youth treatment system.

Any way, The Crossroads Center, established in 2001, is the only organization actively helping Anglo teens find their way through information and referral, recreational activities to keep them away from trouble and danger, psychological care and counseling.

And speaking of finding one’s way, parking in downtown Jerusalem was never easy but what a nightmare the the endless construction on Jerusalem’s infamous light rail has created! Miracle of miracles, I found my way to a parking garage. I walked through Yoel Saloman Street carrying my trusty striking pads, crossed over Jaffa Street, found HaHavatzelet 2 and climbed the three floors to the Center. My assistant, Tova, met me on the stairs.

Our class began with a group of about seven teens, mostly boys, who starting out  sulking because the social workers turned off  “South Park” in honor of my arrival.  By the end, we had about 20 teens in the room who had worked to various degrees on boundary setting, striking and targeting. The teens did what all teens do: testing, interrupting, challenging and generally, making life difficult… But they also learned, challenged each others assumptions and asked insightful questions.

After the class, when I had a few minutes to speak with the staff, they told me that they were impressed by how well the group listened and participated.  The girls in particular  asked them if we could offer more classes. We brainstormed about writing a grant together, trying to get Youth Services to fund a course, looking for a course sponsor with a special interest in helping these kids successfully find their way into safe and healthy adulthood. I don’t know how we’ll do it yet, but, somehow, we’ll find a way. Some things, like these kids, are far too important to leave to chance.

Knesset Discusses 100s of Untreated At-Risk Youth

N. has worked as a prostitute since she was 14. A. accumulated 29 criminal records before the age of 13. There is no room for them in any residential center, not for them nor for hundreds of others due to a lack of of dormitories and staff. A government investigator points his finger at the Welfare Department- and the report on this subject that he prepared was discussed today in the Knesset.

Yael Barnovsky
Ynet News (Hebrew) 09.06.09

N., a 14 year-old girl from the Central Region, fell victim years ago to violence at the hands of her father. At age 13, she got drunk for the first time and was exploited sexually by men much older than she. She received not treatment, and after she was raped by a neighbor, she started using drugs and in order to pay for them, began engaging in prostitution. The court ordered that she be placed in a closed dormitory facility but, the waiting list was too long, so meanwhile, she was placed in an open dormitory from which she regularly flees and continues her work as a prostitute.

A. a boy of 13 form the North, grew up with a violent mother and a father he barely knew, since he is rarely out of prison. Already by 7th grade, he dropped out of school and began wandering the streets. Within a year, 29 police reports were filed against him. A. who is considered a “high-risk youth”, was arrested on suspicion of abusing animals. His imprisonment was extended until the end of proceedings against him. The judge decided that, if he was placed in a closed dormitory facility, he could be released from prison. In this instance also, the answer as to whether he could be accommodated was “no”.

According to statistics from the National Council for The Child, in 2008 there was a 10% drop in the number of youth in treatment under the Youth Shelter Authority of the Welfare Department responsible for dormitory facilities for youth at risk. Since 2002 and until 2007, the number of youth placed in these facilities grew from 1,297 to 1,826- more than 40%. However, in 2008 there were only 1,650, an 11% drop. Do the statistics reflect that there are fewer youth at risk? Unfortunately, the answer is no. The reason is that, as in the examples of N. and A., there is a shortage of space in the dorms and of professional staff— that prevents fast treatment for the youth that need it most.

The Welfare Department Calls This “A Difficult Period”

These statistics were presented today (Tuesday) by the Executive Director of the National Council for the Child Dr. Yitzhak Kedman, in a meeting of the Knesset’s State Review Committee that will discuss the damning findings that arose from the report of the State Comptroller concerning the Youth Shelter Authority.

According to the report, in the 10 government dormitory facilities under the Authority there are 351 spaces and 567 on waiting lists. Of those at least another 98 would have qualified for treatment if all 351 spaces were filled. However, only 253 of the spaces are occupied and a lack of professional staff members prevents the remaining spaces from being filled.

The State Comptroller found that Youth Authority attempts to reach the Welfare Department Management in order to find a solution to the problem of dormitory placement, were not dealt with and that Welfare Department Management failed to cooperate re: the adoption of a multi-year plan that would enable an overall solution to this difficult on-going problem and provide material for dealing with this issue vis-a-vis the Treasury Department.

“If the government was a parent,we would long ago have taken him/her to court for criminal child negligence, failure to fulfill parental responsibilities, defying court orders and false imprisonment,” said Dr. Kedman…

Circle Of Strength

In empowerment on November 18, 2009 at 17:51
MaagalHaotzma Logo

The Circle of Strength Celebrates 12 Great Years of Body-Mind-Spirit Empowerment

For the last 12 years,  El Halev has organized the Circle of Strength Martial Arts Seminar for Women. Circle of Strength, as its’ name implies, is a celebration of female power in a warm, exciting and supportive environment.

For this,  our “Bat Mitzvah” year, we are hosting a delegation of top female instructors from the United States and Europe. They will be joining us for

  • Big Happenings in Jerusalem and the North featuring a number of classes for different levels and open to everyone.
  • AND a series of self-defense seminars we are offering FREE-OF-CHARGE  to a number of groups of less fortunate populations all over the country

Just in case there remains  anyone out there who still wonders why the issue of violence prevention is so vital in today’s Israel, below you will find excepts from a recent article reporting that violence has become Israel’s number one social concern.

But right now, in honor of this special event, here the first in a series of GUEST POSTS from the people who are integral parts of The Circle of Strength.

P.S. Of course, as they say, “there are no free lunches” and , certainly, no free nationwide seminar tours. That is why we invite anyone who would like to join the Circle of Strength by helping make these seminars possible, to contribute what they can through our friends at www.israelgives.com.

Circle of Strength Guest Post

Yudit Sidikman

Judo: 3rd Degree Black Belt

Founder & Chairperson: El HaLev

So, my very first special training in the USA was a joint program with NWMAF and PAWMA in Olympia, Washington. I was a brand-new blue belt and I had never seen any other martial arts other than Judo and Karate. There were close to 500 women there! And I still remember them announcing, “…representing 89 different styles of martial arts!” That just blew my mind! Eighty-nine different styles of Martial Arts? Could that even be possible? My roommate and I were thrown together because we both had written “Kosher” on our applications and I guess they figured that it would be easier to let us work that one out together. It was love at first sight. Sensei Jill Shames and I began that weekend the beginning of an amazing friendship. Actually, it is so much more than that. We are family.

The following year, Jill e-mailed me that she was going to be making aliyah to Israel with her family. Before they even got on the plane, I said to her, “What do you think about organizing a Special Training for Women Martial Artists in Israel? We dragged Sensei Jaime Zimron into the threesome (who we also met in Olympia (who says there is no G-d?) and when Jill landed we went off to the Jerusalem Municipality where we met Raya Sonenfeld (then – Director of Sports for Women; now – El HaLev Board Member) and Amira Bar Shalom (then – Shotokan instructor; now – El Halev Director of Self- Defense Development (and Shotokan instructor)) and yes, they thought we were crazy! So, twelve years and thousands of women later, we can proudly celebrate our Bat Mitzvah year.

To me, the Bat Mitzvah celebration is not just about getting presents and the technicality of growing up (we know what real twelve year-olds are like). Rather, it is the time of transformation, the time at which we begin to learn about our social responsibility, our membership in the community of mankind and our need to think about others and share our skills, talents and resources. I have learned in training in the martial arts that you can become so self-centered and egotistical that it is hard to see what benefits there are in the “arts.” On the other hand, I have met some of the most humble and giving people I have ever seen, people whose lives have been dedicated to the spreading of knowledge, the sharing of skills, the encouragement and dedication to raising generations of good people through the true arts that they teach.

This year, El HaLev steps forward into its 12th year of sharing the excitement and beauty of strong women training together as equals and of making a social statement that we can and will defend ourselves if we need to. I bless the amazing women around me. May we share another 12 and another 12 until we reach 120 teaching, sharing, growing and raising generations of strong women together.


Poll: Violence more worrisome than corruption

Social Strength Index indicates concerns over growing violence, increasing worry about economic future…

Yael Branovsky
11.16.09 / Israel News

Growing violence worries Israelis more than corruption and poverty. The many murder cases and violent incidents over the past year have made violent crime the most worrisome subject for Israelis, according to the 2009 Social Strength Index that will be presented at the Sderot Conference for Society…

The poll taken this year shows that 81% of Israelis think violence in society is the most concerning issue as opposed to just 73% in 2008. This bumped corruption out of first on the list of most concerning issues, though it did see a slight increase from last year’s 79% to 80% this year.

Poverty and the gap between rich and poor was ranked third on the list of worrisome topics with 79%, up from 61% in 2008. The continued struggle with the Palestinians is fourth on 2009’s list with 71% in 2009 as opposed to 74% on the previous year’s index.

Some optimistic figures were also registered. Some 62% of Israelis are proud of the State of Israel, as opposed to just 52% in the 2008’s index. Fifty-three percent of Israelis believe that the State will always protect them, up from 42% last year…

The 2009 Social Strength Index was measured during the month of October and is based on polls taken in November in the past five year. The polls are identical save for small differences in the makeup of the questionnaire. This year’s poll was carried out via telephone interview of 555 respondents making up a representative sample of the adult population in Israel. The interviews were conducted in Hebrew, Russian, and Arabic.

Why I run

In violence prevention on November 7, 2009 at 22:41
IMPACT-Israel Staff

IMPACT-Israel Staff: We Want To Help More Women Learn To Protect Themselves From Violence

Planning meetings for our December 8-18th  “Circle of Strength’ Women’s Martial Arts & Self-Defense Events. Another IMPACT Self-Defense Class for Arabic-Speaking Teens from Jerusalem. A visit by Uri Menahem, the head of The City of Jerusalem’s Sports Department. A visit to the Maccabi Health Fund to request  support for our violence prevention programs. A pre-event visit to the gymnasium in Rishon LeZion where The City of Rishon LeZion and Israel’s major women’s organizations WIZO, NAAMAT and Emunah will hold an El HaLev-led Day of Empowerment in honor of the International Day of  Struggle Against Violence Against Women. A partnership meeting in the Bedouin city of Rahat with Sabha Abu Janem, the founder and chairperson of The Rahat Women’s Association. A Brown and Black-Belt event at a shooting range and climbing wall. A massive practice and breakfast meeting for all members of IMPACT-Israel’s training staff.

These were the essence of a frenetic, fulfilling and exhausting week. Thank God for weekends and the chance to regroup, rest and reflect.

Weekend over, I sat down at my computer to attend to all the emails I received while running from meeting to meeting last week. One of those emails contained a link to an article written by my IMPACT colleague in Boston, Meg Stone. A gem.

There is a Jewish wisdom tale that says that every person should carry one slip of paper in each pocket. In one pocket, the paper should say “I am only dust and ashes”. In the other: “The world was created for me”. Thus, we are meant to maintain the fragile balance between our humility and our self-confidence.

So, this coming week, as  I run from one end of the country to the other explaining why what we do at El HaLev is so important, I think I will put Meg’s article on one pocket, to remind me of the Big Picture: what it means to scream from the rafters that we must intervene in the growing crisis of violence.  In the other pocket, I will put the following news item about a pedophile and his five young victims. The meetings with Big Names, leaders and key organizations are, in the end, all about these five children and thousands like them. I will never know their names, but I know their eyes. I have seen them in so many victims of violence: eyes filled with anger, regret and sorrow. Eyes that light up with the fire of courage and determination as they learn that they can fight back.

Meg, thank you for your wonderful article. And to the children from Petach Tikva and their families, I dedicate this week  to you.

What if we did as much to prevent rape as we do to prevent H1N1?

by Meg Stone, November 3, 2009 – 8:05pm

I spent most of this past spring and summer rolling my eyes every time I heard a news story about the swine flu. Almost every day local reporters got hysterical about 5 or 10 or 20 confirmed cases. Entire schools closed in response to a handful of kids with fevers, and as if there were no war in Afghanistan, no economic crisis, and no other epidemics claiming ten times as many lives, newscasters talked about H1N1 (the proper name for swine flu) for hours.

I have a degree in public health and my work focuses on preventing rape and other acts of violence and supporting survivors in healing from abuse. When I see all the attention swine flu is getting, I’m jealous. Other than intermittent news stories about sex offenders on the loose or why women who accuse professional athletes of rape are lying, sexual violence rarely gets any widespread coverage. Certainly no state of emergency declared by the President of the United States.

Now, I don’t want to diminish the grief of those who have lost loved ones to H1N1. I don’t even want to question the scientific validity of the Center for Disease Control’s decision to declare it a pandemic. But the fact remains that the impact of H1N1 is far less than that of other public health crises that receive a fraction of the attention and resources. The CDC reported just over 43,000 cases of H1N1 between April and July of this year and estimates that it will affect a million people, or 0.3% of the total population of the United States. Compare this to the 2.5% of women and 0.9% of men who reported being raped or sexually assaulted in the past year. The most recent statistics about rape available from the CDC are from last year. Swine flu? Last week.

What would our media, our public discourse, and our institutional responses look like if people cared as much about rape as they do about H1N1?

I imagine the federal government urging colleges to stop the epidemic of rape by developing protocols for quarantining students who have tried to use drugs or alcohol to incapacitate women who would otherwise not consent to sex. Or university officials directing students to stay off campus or out of public areas until they are free of the belief that they are entitled to sex any time they want for a full 24 hours. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

I dream of public health departments so inundated with the demand for educational programs that teach kids about healthy relationships that they can’t keep up. Of public outrage that there are not enough doses of self-defense training to inoculate everyone against rape, and of medical experts having to go on television to reassure people that more of these self-defense vaccines are on the way.

Then I wake up to a phone conversation with a principal who tells me there is no dating violence in his school and another with a teacher who desperately wants to offer rape prevention resources to her high school classes but can’t because the entire budget for health education in her district was cut. So much for the dream.

But if I stop resenting H1N1 for getting so much attention for a moment, I realize that what I’m complaining about is actually public health at is best. It is probably true that the coordination of government urgency, media attention, medical system mobilization, and common sense precautions will succeed in thwarting a pandemic. We will probably not look back at 2009 and say it was the beginning of a swine flu crisis that devastated a generation.

What feels like hysteria or over-emphasis is actually the way prevention is supposed to look. It is supposed to be widespread and coordinated. Messages about the importance and seriousness of the public health threat are supposed to be so pervasive that they are almost impossible to ignore. I’m so used to caring about public health crises that don’t get the attention and resources they deserve that I almost can’t recognize what the public health system looks like when it does work.

This kind of focused attention is my wildest dream for our society’s response to HIV, rape, domestic violence, drug addiction, racial health disparities, cancer-causing corporate pollution, food system injustice and every other area of public health that is marginalized.

So why is the public health infrastructure working so well? Because it’s not being undermined by shame, stigma, and denial (you know, the way rape and sexual assault are). Even in the highest drama evening news stories there is almost a complete absence of victim blaming. Personal choices and individual behaviors spread the flu, but our government, our health workers, and our media understand that this crisis is too serious to waste time arguing over whether people who don’t wash their hands or share cubicles with co-workers who fail to stay home from work the recommended 4 to 7 days deserve what they get.

It would be unthinkable for a person to avoid seeking treatment for swine flu because s/he’s afraid that if s/he tells her/his doctor s/he’ll be blamed for touching her/his eyes and nose or lose her/his housing because no parents want to raise their children in a neighborhood where people don’t sneeze into their elbows

As if invoking the finale of High School Musical, when it comes to H1N1, we’re all in this together. Swine flu is not concentrated in any population that people already hate or devalue, so raging debates about whose immoral lifestyle caused it don’t get in the way of an effective public health response. (Even Fox News is posting stories that are sympathetic to people whose jobs don’t have paid sick leave and the hardship they face in missing work as the authorities direct.) Wouldn’t it be nice if other health crises were treated the same way?

In watching the rapid mobilization against this virus I know that the public health infrastructure works when our government, our media, and our medical leaders are motivated to mobilize it. H1N1 is not getting any attention it shouldn’t – it’s getting the attention all public health crises should.

23-year old suspected of raping 5 children

Police say suspect’s DNA matches that found on kids who were grabbed from entrance to homes, threatened, and sexually abused
Raanan Ben-Zur

Police arrested Tuesday a 23-year old man from Petah Tikvah who is suspected of sexually abusing at least five children between the ages of 8-11.

He was arrested following a successful matching of DNA. During questioning he told the interrogating officers that “if I did it, I must be sick”.

During recent weeks Petah Tikvah Police received five complaints from children who claimed to have been sexually assaulted. All of the children described a man who waited for them in the dark at the entrance to their homes, grabbed them, threatened them, and then sexually abused them.

Police gathered descriptions of the attacker as well as DNA samples, but no matches were found in the police database. Officers launched an investigation and the man, who has no police record, was arrested and his DNA found matching to that found on the victims.

The young man has not confessed to the allegations but told officers, “I was high. I don’t remember. If I did such things it means I’m sick and if I’m sick I need treatment.” Police are currently checking whether the suspect has been involved in any similar cases. He is scheduled to be brought before a court later for the remand of his arrest.

The suspect allegedly threatened the children’s families and told them his actions were retaliation for what their fathers did to him when he was young, a claim that the investigation has revealed as false.

Stopping Sexual Assault in The Israel Defense Forces

In violence prevention on September 17, 2009 at 15:42
As unlikely as it may seem, 1 of 7 of  female IDF soldiers will be sexually harassed or worse during their service

As unlikely as it may seem, 1 of 7 of female IDF soldiers will be sexually harassed or worse during their service

This morning, I read a report issued this summer by the Knesset committee on The Status of  Women, chaired by Knesset Member Zipi Hotovely (Likud).

According to the 2008 military survey, one of seven female soldiers report that they have been victims of sexual harassment or assault. Of the 363 reports of sexual harassment or worse , 62%  were physical; 5% of the complainants were men. When it came time to pursue the charges, only 63% of the women complainants chose to pursue the matter further.

I was impressed enough to write Knesset Member Hotovely the following letter:

I am one of the founders and the Executive Director of El HaLev, a non-profit woman-powered organization dedicated to empowering women of all ages, body, mind and spirit, through training in the Martial Arts and Self-Defense. Since our founding in 2003, we have worked with thousands of women and collaborated with dozens of government and non-profit agencies in pursuit of a kinder, gentler and safer Israel…

…You wisely added that the fact that only 63% of the women complainants chose to pursue the matter further, indicates problems in the system. It also highlights the society-wide problem of being re-victimized after an assault.

I am a great believer in “Crisis=Opportunity”. Your implications of this survey are disturbing. However, they also present an unprecedented opportunity to empower an ever-greater proportion of Israeli women.

We at El HaLev (www.elhalev.org) are recognized throughout the country as The Experts in training women to find their physical and emotional strengths and use them in their own defense. We met this week with an Wingate army training representative to discuss the possibility of introducing our truly women-oriented self-defense, assertiveness and life-skills training into the army training regimen toward the goal of producing better, safer and more confident female soldiers. We were well-received and, I am certain, more meetings will follow…

…If we are going to succeed in our mission of reducing verbal and physical violence against women in our society in general, and the army in particular, we will need the help and support of people like you, leaders on the frontlines of changing the status of women in Israel.

Please do me the honor of meeting with me to explore how we can work together with your network of empowered women toward our common goal.

Now you all know MY resolution for wording toward my life’s dream the New Year.

What’s yours?


In case you thought that the IDF is too “macho” to consider making women’s self-defense part of the training of female soldiers, don’t take MY word for it…

IDF mulling self-defense course for all female recruits

Aug. 9, 2009

Citing fears of kidnappings and sexual assault, the IDF is considering establishing a special self-defense course for all female soldiers who enlist in the military.

The plan is the brainchild of Col. Dr. Avi Moyal, head of the IDF’s Combat Fitness Division. Moyal has discussed the idea with Brig.-Gen. Gila Klifi-Amir, the General Staff’s Adviser on Women’s Affairs and the two are hoping to secure a budget for the program.

Under the plan, all female recruits will participate in a week-long self-defense course to provide them with skills how to fend off potential attackers, rapists and kidnappers.

“This course will be aimed at providing the female soldiers with self-confidence to travel around the country in the framework of their military service as many of them need to” explained a senior officer in the IDF’s Ground Forces Command.

Most female soldiers in the IDF serve in non-combat positions and undergo a very low-level basic training without receiving any real self defense skills.

“Very few female soldiers are given an introductory class in hand-to-hand combat but not enough to know how to fight off an attacker,” the officer said.

To have and have not…

In Mind-Body Philosophy on June 19, 2009 at 17:53

One of the principles of self-defense, martial arts and just plain old healthy living is maintaining your focus on what you HAVE rather than on what you DON’T have. For example, Foul-mouthed Idiot reaches out and grabs my wrist. Now, I can spend the next five minutes playing tug-of-war over my wrist with a man 5 times my size…. or I can introduce his nose to the palm of my other hand or kick him in the nuts,   and be on my way. In the cold light of day, the choice seems abundantly clear. But won’t be, if I focus my energy on the limb that is NOT available, rather than to all the ones that are.

…which brings me to this past week, which I have ostensibly spent on the couch in my living room, my right arm bound in a sling . I took a spill on my electric scooter last week. It was a short ride that ended as a long story of barking dogs, concerned neighbors, x-rays and pain meds. I separated my AC joint.

On the one hand, it is amazing how many meetings, write-ups, reports and what-nots  I have managed to do pecking away with my left hand on my laptop while jabbering away via wireless Internet, Skype, two cellphones, and a land line.

Some of the lessons of this week are not surprising. After more than 20 years of  partaking in the martial arts and teaching self-defense, it is no great surprise that being  limited physically drives me crazy.  And not being able to drive is VERY inconvenient, especially when you live in Rehovot and your office is in Jerusalem… Duh.

I am continually amazed, however, at my ability to discover alternative strategies for  using my body to accomplish everyday tasks. Two decades of martial arts practice will do that for you. I am also continually amazed by the speed of  the healing process— the transformation of ‘road rash’ back to healthy, supple skin.  And I have done some pretty neat adaptions to my kata to enable me to continue my practice one-handed. Instructing twice a week is a great motivator.

I also allow myself a few minutes of mindful whining each day.  Despite my absence, things at  El HaLev are jumping. Everyone has been raving about RENT, the production being performed on our new rooftop deck. They tell me 200 people showed up for opening night! 200!!! And here I am forking down comfort foods with my left hand while my dog, cat and bird line up waiting for something to drop.

With any luck, I’ll be back in the saddle next week.

, מהשעה 17:30.

Nu? And Not So New…

In What we do on June 9, 2009 at 21:02


Sure, this blog is new. Yaddada-yaddada. But, the neat stuff we do at and through  El HaLev to empower women, kids, older adults and people from vulnerable populations through the Martial Arts and Self-Defense, well, that’s not ‘new’. We’ve been doing that since 2003.

Haven’t heard about us? Well, here we are.  And I’m going to be posting about all kinds of things connected to the special brand mind-body-spirit self-protection and self-defense life skills  that we at El HaLev share everyday with people of all ages and from all walks of life.

As you may know, Israel is a pretty political place. Politics seems to be the Israeli national pastime — next to eating falafel and driving obnoxiously.

But what we do is not about politics. And it’s not about violence— so put away those protest signs.  It’s about right of all people to feel safe and secure in their homes and on their streets. And it’s about the responsibility each of us has to take action to improve communities, our families and ourselves.

Nu? As we tell visitors to our El HaLev Training Center in Jerusalem, ‘take the chips off your shoulders and stay awhile’.

Welcome to our world…