Delivered by Rabbi Jill Maderer, Kol Nidre
Avinu Malkenu: We have strayed and sinned before you.
Anachnu chatanu/ We have done wrong.
Al chet shechatanu lifanecha–
For our sins, our God, v’al kulam-for all of these, kaper lanu-lead us to atonement.
This High Holy Day season is the first time our entire community is gathering, since the nation has been shaken by the increasing awareness of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
This could be a difficult sermon to hear if you have been harassed or assaulted. You are not alone. This could be a difficult sermon to hear if you have harassed, assaulted or devalued women, and you are working on the difficult path towards tshuvah/repentance.
Thanks to Jodi Kantor, Megan Twohey, Tarana Burke and Alyssa Milano, “Me Too,” has been our teacher this year. Although it is not women’s or victims’ or survivors’ responsibility to fix sexism–a problem that hurts not only women, but all genders– the brave Me Too accounts have helped to demonstrate the magnitude. It’s your neighbor posting MeToo. Actually, many of your neighbors.
Sexual harassment and assault are not only a problem among public figures; if it’s out there, it’s in this room, and in us. We have done wrong, not only in acts of sexual harassment or assault, but in our tolerance of systems that uphold gender power imbalance. Al chet shechatanu lifanecha–for the sins we have committed against You with sexual misconduct and abuse of power, lead us to atonement.
Men experience sexual harassment and assault, and there are female perpetrators, but it’s the misconduct against women, that is the epidemic. Because sexual harassment and assault are not about sex; they are about power. And societally, women have less power. When our society treats women differently from men, it is about unequal power.
There are many areas of gender bias, that I care about, but will have to save for a different sermon, including the pay-gap, rape culture, men’s repentance paths, and LGBTQ+ rights; and for the purpose of tonight’s message, I will speak with some gender binary simplicity. I’d like to focus tonight on the notion that, when we treat women differently than the way the treat men, it leads to a power imbalance in society, that enables power abuses, such as: the devaluing of women, and sexual harassment. And, I’d like to focus on how each of us can identify our own power, and use it.