JewBu Quest: From Abuse to Happiness

JewBu: a Jew who practices forms of Buddhist meditation & spirituality. This blog documents my quest to 1) heal from sexual, verbal, and emotional abuse, 2) come to terms with losing Mom and Grandma to Alzheimers, 3) find balance, explore the spiritual, stay present. Bascially, I've experienced some pretty crappy shit in my life and want to find a way to move past it and find happiness.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hatred in My Department

Monday night around 10pm, I got an email from a professor in my department that was sent to the department list serve. A very hate-filled email comparing Israelis to Nazis with horrible graphic pictures from the Holocaust and Gaza. One had a little girl's decapitated head in Gaza next to bodies of Jews killed by Nazis.

I was so upset that the professor sent this that I wanted to immediately respond. I called my friend Jennifer and asked her to talk me down. People often send heated things out on our department that lead to horrible disagreements. I have been warned recently that when I'm up for a job, people on the hiring committee will call any professor in the department that they know to ask about you. So I didn't want to get on anyone's bad side. But as an Israeli and the descendant of Holocaust survivors, I felt like I couldn't be silent.

My friend helped me come up with the idea to ask the department chair, who is on my committee, to say something so that I don't have to. I crafted her a well-thought out email explaining why I think what the professor said is over the line. And I didn't hear back.

I went into a trauma cycle and started binging on food and alcohol. I only had two drinks, but that's enough to potentially trigger a migraine for me. I fell asleep from a food and alcohol coma.
But, I woke up around 3am. I was wide awake with a bit of a headache and with all of the feelings. I had to teach on Tuesday. It was a long and disturbing night. I listened to my guided imagry CD and took homeopathic medicine.

The next day, I ran into the chair of the department. She told me that she had decided to not say anything because she thought it violated the professor's academic freedom to have her limit what could me said. This really hurt me because she's stepped in previously when a graduate student made rude comments to a professor and in another case when someone made racist comments to Chicano students. I felt as if my hurt didn't matter.

I was considering letting the whole thing go. I mean, I am graduating in 6 months, hopefully. I decided to write an email response and then just save it in my drafts. It felt better to get everything out and to spend the time carefully crafting out my thoughts and clarifying what my experience was in a thoughtful and sensitive way.

Then, I got an email from my chair justifying her decision that I could just get off the listserv if I wanted and that the list is meant for people to post whatever they want. I was so hurt and angry that I decided to send out my email response to the listserv.

At first there was no response, and that made me feel a little hurt. Then, I got emails from other Jewish graduate students in my department, thanking me for being brave enough to send the email. They felt the same way. I felt better for having said my peace and voicing what I need - to not have hostility in my workplace (and asking for what I need is something that I really struggle with).

The next day, another professor sent out an email to the listserv calling for an academic boycott of Israel. Now, this would include not allowing me to do what I had done for my MA research and not allowing me to apply for postdocs in Israel. The boycott call has been going around the world for years, so this was clearly posted, I and some of my friends believe, in direct response to my email. It was like a screw you to my request to be respected.

Now, I'm super upset. I can't focus. I have gotten several emails of support from fellow students, but the faculty are silent. Other than my advisor who asked me when I was okay about what happened; I told her no. I don't think that she's going to do anything about it. I took myself off the listserv, which means that I may not receive notice about conferences, jobs, and funding opportunities. But I'm not putting myself through all that.

My therapist says that I'm running, which is a pattern from me - that I shouldn't demonize the department and that I should learn to not distance myself from those who hurt me and take better care of myself when I'm feeling the trauma. Or something. I don't even know what I'm supposed to do. We ran out of time so she said we'd talk about it next week. I hate that.

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Blogger April_optimist said...

It takes courage to speak up when the consequence of doing so can be so serious.

I'm upset that he chose to send such an email out, that he believes the two situations are comparable and I'm not even Jewish but it still pushes MY buttons to hear about it.

Would it help to ask yourself what fear that professor's email shows? Because no one writes such a thing unless some fear resonates through that person very deeply.

When people can step back from their fears, that's when a dialogue can begin and sometimes change happens.

Or maybe he just likes an excuse to bully.

(((Hugs))) on having to deal with all of this on top of everything else.

Thursday, January 22, 2009 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Karma said...

I honestly don't know him or the her that sent out the second email very well at all. So, I don't know if I can speak to their fears. I have heard the he is a bit of a bully in general and tends to take extreme positions in support of whomever he believes is the underdog. But I don't know them that well.

One of the especially painful things to me was the message that dialogue is unacceptable and that whatever I might have to say isn't legitimate because I'm on the "other" side of the issue and am a graduate student (not professor).

Thursday, January 22, 2009 7:11:00 PM  
Anonymous tafka pp said...


I hadn't seen this until now. I'm so sorry you had to go through this and can completely relate, I've experienced this a lot both in and outside of Israel.

What I would suggest to you is that when you are feeling calmer, you should maybe consider rejoining the listserve... I'm writing this message to you sitting in my Palestinian office (where it has become increasingly fraught to be the only Jew, but it got to a point where I realised that I don't have to take all the anti-Israel stuff as personally offensive to me.)

I say this because I think that this won't be the last time you're confronted with such sentiment in academia. But the main reason I think you shouldn't leave permanently is because of the way that your response inspired other students to reply to you and say what they did. I'm so proud of you.

I'm not suggesting you need to become the Hasbara-Guru in your department (yeah, right!) but I have a feeling that it might be easier to keep your "enemies" close to your chest than allow nasty propaganda to go about the listserve unfettered. Ignore the professor's childish and pathetic response calling for a boycott... Think about it like this- if you re-joined, next week you could even post something about the humanitarian angle post-Gaza, not just silly name-calling propaganda: You could emerge the bigger person here (which you are.) I'll even send you a selection of articles if you like!

You're an amazing ambassador of human and women's rights and don't let anyone else EVER make you feel differently!

Friday, January 23, 2009 4:38:00 AM  
Blogger Marj aka Thriver said...

oooo, this sort of thing boils my blood! "Academic Freedom?????" What the heck is that supposed to mean? If someone was sexually harassing someone else, would THAT be "academic freedom" as well? There's no question in my mind that what was sent out was abusive, not to mention inappropriate and unprofessional. Good God! People are such spineless weanies! I'm glad you are not.

Friday, January 23, 2009 4:18:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Karma,

That is so awful; I am so sorry you are having to deal with that. You seem to be handling the situation remarkably well though. I hope that everything gets better for you.

Faith Hoffen

Saturday, January 24, 2009 2:20:00 PM  
Blogger April_optimist said...

How is it going? Has the email situation gotten any better?

Saturday, January 31, 2009 1:22:00 PM  

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