WHILE prominent American-Jewish academic-activist Dr Keren McGinity joins the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation’s (ACJC) ‘Gender in Jewish Communal Organisations’ project as a consultant, she brings more than her experience as a gender scholar. McGinity is a trailblazer, a path unwittingly forged when she penned a courageous opinion piece for The New York Jewish Week in June 2018.
At that time, the #MeToo movement had ascended to full flight, and self-reflection and accountability pervaded every industry. But the American Jewish community was yet to confront its own #MeToo problem, McGinity wrote in the op-ed.
“I know, because I am one those women.”
She went on to describe an experience with a highly revered academic who allegedly used his seniority to lure her to dinner under the guise of professional guidance, only to make inappropriate comments and forcibly kiss her at the end of the evening.
The decision to go public “built up over time”, McGinity told The AJN. She sought counsel from a friend, finally coming to the realisation that even if she was to come forward as the only victim, it couldn’t trivialise her experience – “If someone robs a bank, they don’t have to rob 100 banks. Just robbing one is enough; it’s a crime, and it’s wrong.
“I didn’t want for anyone to experience what I did, and therefore I felt compelled to come forward.”
Despite not naming her alleged offender in her piece, the details resonated. In the month that followed its publication, four additional women came forward to the Jewish Week. They (together with McGinity) alleged the renowned and celebrated Jewish sociologist Steven M Cohen, had sexually harassed them, and a further three women claimed sexual misconduct.
In an investigative report published by the Jewish Week in July 2018, Cohen did not deny the claims, taking “full responsibility” for his inappropriate behaviour and apologising “to the women whom I have hurt by my words or actions”. He later resigned from his various esteemed positions.
“I’m grateful that the timing of my saying, and writing, #MeToo was such that people were ready to hear it, and to listen,” said McGinity.
Because of her clarion call, McGinity was deemed a Forward 50 honoree, and Lilith magazine named her on its “7 Jewish feminist highlights of 2018” list. She has since travelled to various Jewish communities across the US to discuss the broader issue, and is currently authoring a book that explores the #MeToo movement in Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities.
“When we share our stories, we actually gain power, and also support and empower each other – and so, as difficult as it was [to share], life on the other side is immeasurably better.”