Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What is the IMPACT?

This post may be a little overdue, but in the year and a half since I completed an "IMPACT" self-defense course for women, there have been some interesting developments. IMPACT is a phenomenon in itself; developed in the US in the 1970s, this short and intensive rape-prevention course is designed to teach women the basic skills they need to fend off sexual assault. There are many things that make the method unique, the most obvious of which is the presence of real live attackers in the classroom. Of course, they aren't real rapists, they are burly young men dressed up in protective gear, men who believe in teaching women to help prevent rape. Women learn to yell "NO!" kick the groin, gouge the eyes, disable the attacker and call for help. The attackers let the women know if they have hit hard enough. If not, try again. The attacker won't fall until the impact is forceful enough.
And there we have it, folks, the metaphor I've been reaching for.
This week, El Halev martial arts' center, IMPACT's only provider in Israel opened a new course in Wadi Joz, one of Jerusalem's Arab neighborhoods. This is not the first course El Halev has provided to Wadi Joz, but it is the first IMPACT course in Wadi Joz in which my daughter, writer and blogger Liora Sophie is assisting.
After I completed IMPACT, both of my daughters signed up for courses. One has gone on to become an assistant and is on her way to becoming an instructor. The other daughter has sent many of her friends to take the course. I can see how it has affected them; they have a clearer sense of boundaries, more body awareness, are more sensitive to language or situations in which they feel uncomfortable or threatened. And of course, they feel they have more tools to deal with these situations.
At the mall buying rain boots, we saw a man, woman and child having a public scene. It was not immediately obvious what the relationship was among them, but all the onlookers, store employees and customers alike were uncomfortable. My daughter was all over it, ready to intervene. She had the words "Is this man bothering you?" on her lips when the situation was diffused.
This is an example of the extended reach of IMPACT; not only is she, a young, single woman empowered with tools to defend herself, she is also a vigilant, aware and powerful tool for the defense of others. The more women we empower, the safer the larger society becomes until rape and sexual harrassment become impossible.
According to Jill Baker Shames, director of IMPACT in Israel, this is what we are doing in Wadi Joz and other Arab communities:
"Granted, the statistics are vague due to lack of reporting, but, what we have heard from service providers inside these communities, sexual harrassment and rape are serious issues affecting a large percentage of women in the Arab world."
So I am proud of my daughter and the rest of the IMPACT staff who go to Wadi Joz and other Arab neighborhoods for the sole purpose of strengthening a society. I have no doubt that when the impact is forceful enough, the attacker will fall.
Oh, and one more thing. When a van full of Israeli men and women arrived in Wadi Joz to teach Arab women self-defense, WHERE WAS CNN?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

On Disappointment and Miracles

Five days from now my Jerusalem theater company is opening one of the best plays of all time, "The Miracle Worker" by William Gibson. I admit I have been brooding all day about the fact that we have sold NO tickets for opening night. There are several groups of high school students booked for later performances, and one night is even sold out, but still, the cast has worked too hard to open to an empty theater. I imagine most people don't think about how important it is to the actors to have a friendly opening night audience, they are likely just waiting for the play to improve later in the run.
As I sit here brooding, I can't help but think I'm to blame. After all, things could have gone differently. The theater could have been full of my friends. But it won't be. Now, the truth is, all modesty aside, I'm a friendly person. I've always had a lot of friends, and I try to be a good and attentive one. I have lived in a small suburban community for the last 12 years. Yes, I'm a bit fringy for such a conservative place, but I like it here well enough, at least I did until I separated from my husband. When my parents were divorced in 1971 my mother told me she lost all of her friends. I find that horrifying and shameful. Today, I find it something else as well; familiar.
Now, before I start my rant, I want to gratefully acknowledge those friends who have stuck by me, you know who you are. In fact one just called to say she's excited to see the play, one of her favorites. But still, as I count on one hand the friends who have even called, written, Facebooked, etc in the last six months, it's pathetically few.
I know a marriage on the rocks can be threatening. I know the specific circumstances are painful and confusing. I know people are people and most can't help judging. But really, folks. This is the year 2011. Have we not evolved in 40 years? In a time when the majority, yes, the majority of marriages will end in divorce, I'm still confused as to why we call it tragic. Shouldn't we just be calling it "normal," as it is clearly the NORM??? There are certainly issues to deal with, children to protect, logistics to work out, overwhelming feelings of sadness, grief, anger, disappointment, hopelessness, the list could go on. But these can also exist in the context of an intact marriage. There are many things to consider, yes, but one thing a separation is not, and that is contagious.
Hence my disappointment in my community. I have heard the gossip, and some kids have been forbidden to play at my house. It makes me sick. What would they prefer? That I stay in unbearable conditions so they will feel less threatened? Sorry, no can do.
The fact is, I doubt most of my real friends feel that way. I am willing to bet most of them simply have not thought about it. I'm fairly certain most people are just busy with their own lives and don't have time or energy to spare, let alone reach out to a friend who is suffering. I'm sure they don't even know I'm suffering. If they did, being decent people, they would not behave this way.
And herein lies the problem. I'm an eternal optimist. I am hard-wired to see the best in everyone. I never give up hope. I never stop believing that people are capable of so much more than they know, more compassion, more insight, more love, more openness, more acceptance, more humanness. I just never stop believing this.
Like someone else I know, and her name was Annie Sullivan. Annie Sullivan (1866-1936) came to live with the Keller family when she was 20 years old. Orphaned as a child, she was raised in a state Almshouse, not a pretty picture. She was blinded by untreated trachoma, but her sight was restored after a number of surgeries. When she arrived at the Keller plantation, Helen, then 7 years old had been blind and deaf for five years. Sullivan dedicated her life to teaching Helen to navigate the world. In the two weeks depicted in the play, when everyone else has all but given up reaching Helen, Annie never gives up hope. She asks Helen and her family to "see" her in a different light, and in the end, she succeeds in unlocking the brilliant mind trapped within the child. It is an astounding story of courage and hope. And in my own way, I feel a great deal like Annie. I also ask people around me to "see" with different eyes, to look beyond the world they know, to see through the darkness of judgement and into the light of acceptance and unconditional love.