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Sunday, December 24, 2017


As a rape survivor decades agoand as a lecturer in Political Science, who concentrates on global affairsto me the most remarkable development of 2017, is not the ascendance of Vladimir Putin to the most powerful men in the world, the North Korean or Syrian debacles, or Donald Trump’s alarming isolationist doctrine. Surely, these are important issues, which I do not minimize. But no development this year impressed me as mush as the expansion of the #MeToo movement and its success: No longer will powerful men in any industry will use their authority to sexually abuse their subordinates without thinking about the consequences of their deeds.
And yet, in spite of the movement’s accomplishments people will continue to ask, as they have been doing from Anita Hill to the #MeToo accusers: why has a victim of rape or another act of sexual misconduct waited for years or decades to tell her or his story? By posing this question they are deliberately raising doubt about the accuracy of the accusation or the character of the accuser. Worse yet, in many cases the victim is afraid to be blamed for her or his own rape. This is why they may still hesitate to come forward. I know that from my own experience:
Aaron, a high-ranking military man, had been my fallen husband’s best friend. He and his wife, Rachel, became my trusted friends too, and I saw in our closeness the stuff that makes everlasting friendships. After my husband was killed in the Arab-Israeli Six Day war, short of my sister and her husband, Aaron and Rachel were the couple closest to me.
Nearly two-and-a-half years into my widowhood I was living in New York City, working for the Israeli government. Just then, invigorated with my determination to rebuild my life, I was numbed by another blow.
Aaron arrived in New York, part of a group that accompanied then Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Dayan. Assigned to be Aaron’s interpreter on a trip to upstate New York, arranged for him by a well-known Jewish organization, I found it natural to accept Aaron’s suggestion that I sleep in a spare room in his spacious suite at the Carlyle Hotel. The following morning we were to be picked up early, and doing so would save time.
After spending part of the evening in an official outing with the group I arrived alone at the hotel and went to sleep in one of the bedrooms. But at two in the morning I was awakened by Aaron’s banging on the suite’s door. He was supposed to have his own key. When I opened the door after changing back into my day cloths, Aaron was angered by the long time it took me to open the door. Had that happened years later, with my acquired experience I would have left the hotel right then. Better yet, I would have never agreed to sleep there. But I had trusted Aaron as if he were my brother.
When I went back to my room, he followed close behind me and stopped the door with his foot. There was a strange smile on his face, of a sort I had never seen before.
“Aaron, what are you doing?” I asked, pretending to be calm, though my heart was pounding with fear.
“I’m coming to your bed to sleep with you,” he said. He pushed me into the room and then onto the bed and started to kiss me.
He did not pay heed to my pleas or my screams, and I tried to push him off with all the strength I had. But he fought back like a vicious animal. He was a tall, strong man who weighed twice as much as I, and my violent struggle seemed only to arouse him more. Cruel and terrifying, he was a rapist like all other rapists, whether in hotel rooms or in dark alleys.
“Rachelwhat about Rachel?” I cried frantically when none of my tactics worked.
“She said that with you it was all right.”
“Yigal, remember Yigal. He was your best friend!” I pleaded, as if my departed husband were in the next room. As if I were calling him to save me from his friend, who had turned into a beast.
“He’s dead,” I heard the devil say.
My husband was dead, and I was a piece of meat, no longer his widow but merchandise that exchanged hands. Beastly hands. Inhuman hands.
I did consider charging Aaron with rape but refrained from doing so, fearing that I would be accused of provoking my own rape. No one would believe me, I thought in panic. What was I doing in his hotel room to begin with, they would ask.
I was also concern that the publicity of the case would crush my parents, and that they would not survive the knowledge of what had happened to me after the unimaginable losses I had suffered already. Not only was I widowed, but traumatized by seeing my husband burnt beyond recognition and hearing his deafening last breaths, I lost our unborn baby.
I was also certain that Aaron, holding a high position in the military and defense establishments in Israel, would abuse his power even further. Nothing was beneath him, I assumed, my mind running wild imagining an army of false witnesses he would be able to recruit, who would assassinate my character in court.
Only my sister and her husband and a handful of close friends knew about the rape. It took me nearly thirty years to be able to talk openly and publicly about that experience. When I was finally ready to acquire whether I could still press charges against Aaron, he was dying of a dreadful disease.
Because of changes in the attitudes toward rape and other sexual harassment, thanks to brave women and men who did not hesitate to openly declare, “We have been victimized and we will be wronged no more,” survivors are speaking up. But many more still fear what I had dreaded: Being blamed for my own rape and being smeared.

Friday, December 8, 2017

This post appeared in the Forward On Nov. 1 2017. Please read. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

My Memoir

It's finally out. After a decade of writing and rewriting, editing and re-editing with the help of recommended qualified editor; after doubts and reassurances, and after translating the book into Hebrew and publishing it in Israel (under the title No Laughter In Winter) two years before its final English version was completed, on June 29, I published my memoir in its original English language, in the US.  

Completing the book was an incredible journey of hard work, despair and delight, tears and laughter. But mostly it was a journey of rediscovery and pride.

I am proud of being the granddaughter of my ultra orthodox grandmother, who was a feminist and an activist decades before these words were recognized in her community; proud of being the daughter of my parents, and a member of two extraordinary families; proud of taking part in building my nation-state of Israel; proud of enduring unthinkable losses and challenges; proud of being able to love deeply, to hope in the midst of darkness, to fight for what I believed was right, to rebuild my life, and to acquire a strong sense of self.

I poured my guts out, putting on paper my most intimate experiences for strangers to read. I did it not for sensationalism – I would have revealed the names of a few famous characters who were intimately involved in my life if scandal and melodrama were what I sought in order to sell my book. Rather, I did it out of candor. I had a story to tell and I could only do it openly and honestly.   

I hope that my story inspires you.

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Sunday, May 14, 2017

Tribute to My Mother on Mother's Day

This post is taken from my forthcoming book WAR WIDOW
My mother Khaya, the fifth among eight siblings, was born to the Sher family on January 17, 1915. In her youth, my mother’s beauty was legendary among those who had known her, and tales of her looks traveled beyond her hometown. When she approached the bank of the river that runs through town, men would whistle and stop to watch her crossing the bridge.  Seventy-five years after my mother left Plunge I walked on that bridge. Though it was far smaller than I had envisioned, it registered as huge in my mind.
When my mother was seventeen she was arrested on that bridge after she had bent to retie a loosened shoelace. Apparently the policeman who detained her suspected she was making a signal of some sort to members of the banned Communist party. Her brother Yitzhak bailed my mother out, vouching that she was not a Communist.
But she was a Zionist, planning her immigration to Palestine to take part in building the Jewish state that was yet to come. In 1933, when she was eighteen, my mother left Lithuania for Palestine. Leaving her family behind at the age of eighteen took courage, determination, and a commitment to the Zionist cause. But in Palestine, her bravery gave way to depression and despair. No one who had known my mother in her youth could have imagined how that stunning, energetic, blossoming young woman would fade like a wilted flower in the darkening chill of winter, rising like a phoenix in the sun-warmed days of each summer.
Years went by and seasons changed. I was a married woman and a mother myself. Her green eyes fixed on me, with sadness, she asked: “Tell me, Ziva. Was I a good mother?”
 “Yes, you were,” I answered, remembering that when she was healthy, safe from the dark days of winter when her laughter sank in the despair that consumed her, she was a caring, devoted mother.
Few things made me more proud than my mother’s involvement in the Parent Teacher Association, appearing in school looking as beautiful as she had in our summers outings, being loved and admired by teachers and fellow parents alike.
She was a loving mother who sheltered her two daughters. I felt loved and secure when she wrapped me with tenderness and watched me as if I were the precious apple of her eye.
This was the mother who took me as a child to my favorite restaurant—a rare outing in the semi-socialist society in which I grew up—and watched me eat the food I liked, ordering nothing for herself. She fought to place me in a better grammar school than the one in which I was enrolled, and she went to school to defend me when necessary. She made me the most beautiful Purim costumes, for most of which I won first prizes. She was the mother who arrived by cab at midnight at the home of my Uncle Yaakov and his wife, Esther, when I was seven or so, because she presumed that I would cry that first night I slept away from home. She was the mother who took me for my first bra when I did not yet need one, because she wanted me to have pretty breasts when I grew up. She was the mother who took me to the dermatologist to prevent acne and to the gynecologist when my menstruation was irregular. She was the mother who made sure that my sister and I wore the finest clothes and ate the best food available. She did all that and more in her good days, and sometimes even when she was ill.

I don’t know the exact date of my parents’ marriage. They were probably wed by a private rabbi, before such unions were recorded.  They were married by 1936, about the time this photograph was taken

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