WHAT'S THE BEST WAY TO SAY #METOO? IN THE SMALL, INSULAR JEWISH PROFESSIONAL WORLD, PEOPLE ARE OFTEN RELUCTANT TO COME FORWARD WITH SEXUAL HARASSMENT ALLEGATIONS--ESPECIALLY AGAINST 'BIG MACHERS.' THAT'S BEGINNING TO CHANGE.

Author:Moehlman, Lara
Position::THE YEAR OF THE WOMAN
 
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WHEN SHE WAS 23, Debbie Findling was hired by a Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Woodland Hills, California, to oversee its summer day camp under the supervision of acting executive director Leonard "Len" Robinson, an experienced Jewish communal professional in his 40s. It was the summer of 1988, and she was excited when Robinson invited her and her then-boyfriend out to dinner with him and his wife. She told him that her boyfriend couldn't make it and arrived to find only Robinson, who made an excuse for why his wife wasn't there either. After dinner, he tried holding her hand as she walked back to her car. When she refused, he told her it was normal behavior for colleagues who liked each other. When he tried to kiss her, she pushed him off. He called her naive, said she was a prude and told her to grow up. When he then asked her to have sex with him and his wife, she became flustered, jumped in her car and drove away.

Findling was so upset she scraped up the money to fly to Denver, Colorado, to discuss what had happened with a previous boss and mentor, who was also a friend of Robinson's. He advised her to report what happened to the Los Angeles regional office of the JCC Association of North America. She did, and soon after she began to receive voicemails from Robinson, threatening her and saying she was ruining his life by reporting him. She was then transferred to a JCC in Santa Monica and assured she'd have no further contact with Robinson; she was also told that he was remorseful and seeking therapy. Robinson would go on to become the youth director for the JCC in Portland, Oregon, and then the executive director of the JCCs of Seattle, Greater Phoenix and Greater Los Angeles before being appointed executive director of NJY Camps, the largest Jewish camp system in the world.

Findling's father, an attorney, wanted her to file a lawsuit, alleging the JCC leadership knowingly assigned Robinson to supervise young women despite his history of sexual harassment, but Findling refused. "I was convinced--and still think--that if I had filed a lawsuit, that would have ended my career with the Jewish community," she says. "I would have been labeled, you know, one of those women. An agitator." She paid a price for this decision. "For 30 years I wondered, 'did I do something wrong?' and 'why was I in that position?'" she says. "Anyone who has experienced sexual harassment knows that it has a deep and lasting impact on the psyche."

But this year, amid the emerging #MeToo movement and 30 years after the incident, Findling--now 54 and an established philanthropic adviser--decided it was time to come forward with her story. Inspired by a private Facebook group called #GamAni (#MeToo in Hebrew) where women share their experiences of sexual harassment within Jewish communal life, she wrote an op-ed in The New York Jewish Week, titled "Is the Jewish Community Perpetuating Sexual Harassment?" In the piece, published on March 20, she discussed her experience but didn't name Robinson because, she says, she wanted the piece to shine a light on systemic issues of harassment within Jewish agencies and not just her personal experience. For her, it was about "in what ways do guys like this, who have been accused of sexual harassment to HR and have admitted it, just get promoted and moved to other Jewish organizations?" On top of that, she didn't know if Robinson had changed in the 30 years since she had worked with him. "I had no idea if he sexually harassed other women," she says, and she "didn't want to engage in lashon hara [gossip]." She preferred to give him the benefit of the doubt, to believe he had done teshuva (repentance) for his actions.

After her op-ed appeared, about half a dozen women contacted Findling, telling her they'd read her piece and knew that she was referring to Robinson. She says they told her that he'd harassed them, too. "They said 'me too,' and not 30 years ago; 'me too' five years ago, two years ago, last year and very recently," Findling says. Once she learned of the new allegations, she told herself "all...

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