Dec. 6 this year was just an ordinary Thursday. That’s the problem.
On Dec. 6, 1989, a young man murdered 14 women on the campus of Montreal’s École Polytechnique because he was “fed up” with the advances women had made in engineering. He was upset about affirmative action, which guaranteed a fair chance to women. He was tired of the constant attention to “women’s issues.”
Since 1989, there have been yearly memorials on Dec. 6 to mark that tragic event. Dec. 6 is a date seared into many Canadian women’s minds.
Yet Dec. 6 seems to go by awfully quietly in most of the Jewish community. I can remember only one memorial service in a synagogue offered by a Jewish group, a year after the massacre, and nothing since. Is this because there were no Jewish women murdered that day? Are we also fed up with talking about violence against women? Are we Jews tired of all the “women’s issues?”
Do we recognize our own intolerance when it’s sanctified in the name of religion? Need I remind us all of the 16-year-old Muslim girl who was killed last month by her religious father for not wearing a head scarf, lest we think that the killing had nothing to do with religion and “women’s issues?”
This Dec. 6 wasn’t quiet for me, though – it was filled with “women’s issues.” I spent the day on the phone with a family that was searching for a rabbi to perform their child’s bar mitzvah ceremony at a synagogue whose rabbi was unavailable that week. For various reasons, they needed someone right away and, not surprisingly, the vast majority of rabbis serving congregations were not available.
Finally a rabbi volunteered to help – a female rabbi, it just so happened. A series of embarrassed and apologetic phone calls followed from the various leaders of the synagogue involved, politely explaining the “problem” of having a woman rabbi. Then the family themselves called, exasperated and desperate. Couldn’t I just help them find a male rabbi – right away – since they didn’t want a woman rabbi? Since they didn’t want her – based solely on her gender – couldn’t I help them find someone of the “right” gender?
Never mind that in any other realm of Canadian life, such blatant job discrimination based on gender would be illegal. Never mind that not too long ago, Jews in general were also the object of such discrimination in the job market. Let’s talk about violence to the soul.
I understand and accept that not all Jews are comfortable with or even recognize female rabbis. But do not ask me to facilitate a woman’s delegitimization. It would be unthinkable spiritually, morally and politically to have apprehensions about black people in a certain job, or Asians in a certain school, or Latinos in a certain apartment building. But if you did, you would hopefully be respectful enough of them as people to think twice before sharing your issues about them to their face, or asking them to help you find someone more “suitable” than they are based solely on race.
It was ironic that this devaluing of a human being based on her gender happened on Dec. 6. In the Jewish community we will continue to disagree, I am sure, about the changes and accommodations we are prepared or not prepared to make because of modernity. But remember that there is more than one way to do harm to a woman with sexism that is so subtle and pervasive that we aren’t even aware of it.
On this Dec. 6, I was reminded that “women’s issues” are Jewish issues.