BY EDEN FARBER / AJT //
I have a new best friend named TED – that would be TED as in “Technology, Entertainment, & Design”.
The organization’s website features videos from a group of amazing speakers on a wide variety of topics. When I’m bored and lonely, TED is there to make me think and feel and reconsider ideas I previously believed factual.
Last week, I was checking out the site and found a lecture by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook and author of “Lean In,” a hugely successful and popular book that was published just a few months ago.
In her TED talk, Sandberg discussed solutions for the disturbingly low number of women finding success in the workforce. She offered a three-step process to solve the problem:
- Sit at the table.
- Make your partner a real partner.
- Don’t leave before you leave.
Sandberg thinks it’s important for women to “sit at the table.” They shouldn’t be waiting in the background, missing meeting or moving away from the conversation.
Next, she made the point that women need to “make your partner a real partner.” She explained that women need to make sure their relationships are healthy and balanced, both giving and taking as needed.
Her last point, “don’t leave before you leave,” refers to a special sort of mindset. Don’t give up before it’s over, she said, and don’t take yourself out of the picture until you’re out of it.
These three points seem silly, perhaps insignificant, but they actually capture and detail a very strong, important mindset: confidence and perseverance.
In the Jewish community, especially in Israel, there’s a situation that requires a lot of confidence and perseverance from women being victimized – and from all of us. Here’s the problem:
In traditional Orthodox marriages, men have all the control; which, in a healthy marriage, is (somewhat) irrelevant. But in a bad marriage, when couples are going through a divorce, women often become victims in the Orthodox community.
All too often during divorces, men withhold gets, divorce documents, trapping their wives in dysfunctional, sometimes even abusive or life-threatening marriages (such women, by the way, are referred to as agunot).
Families are torn apart, and women have no way to easily move forward. They simply can’t start a new life until their husbands (who sometimes go into hiding) grant them their freedom.
If you’re interested, additional information about this issue is detailed in the book “Marriage and Divorce in the Jewish State” by Susan Weiss & Netty Gross-Horowitz.
So there’s a flawed marriage system, and many are suffering because of it. Marriagem, of course, are personal, not communal, issues. So what does this have to do with us as a Jewish community?
I think, in a word, everything.
The Jewish community is giving in to a system that favors abusers. This can’t go on. So I suggest we, as a community, take upon ourselves Sheryl Sandberg’s ideas to be successful, and work toward freeing agunot.
First we need to collectively sit at the table.
Just because it’s not your failed marriage doesn’t mean it’s not your problem. We never know where we’ll find ourselves in life; it’s not good enough to wait until something smacks us in the face before we take action.
Next we need to make our partner a real partner.
I think if we look at this idea as making relationships partnerships, then it makes sense that we shouldn’t condone a system that gives one partner power over another.
Of course, traditional halacha seems to require such a system, but there’s much discussion in the Orthodox movement to make the system more equal for women.
Lastly, don’t leave before you leave. We don’t need to give up on halacha or Jewish tradition, we just need to make it fit; especially in a way that doesn’t leave hundreds of women’s lives in ruins, subject to the powers of a blind patriarchy.
I speak from no personal experience or expertise on the subject. I’m simply raising the issue as a member of the Jewish community who has invested herself in the stories of others, and wants to help make a difference.
Sometimes personal experience isn’t needed to understand – or help solve – a problem. And sometimes a revolution can begin with a tiny idea and a little passion.
About the writer
Atlanta’s Eden Farber, 16, was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.