‘Smart Women, Smart Conversations’ offers community, comfort, connections

The subject was a painful one, but the women who attended the most recent event in JEWISHcolorado’s “Women’s Philanthropy: Smart Women, Smart Conversations” speaker series found comfort and healing in community.

More than 40 women gathered to hear keynote speaker Dr. Masua Sagiv present “Gender-Based War Crimes and the Feminist International Response.” Dr. Sagiv is Scholar in Residence of the Shalom Hartman Institute based in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Koret Visiting Assistant Professor of Jewish and Israel Studies at UC Berkeley.

Rachel Goldhamer hosted the event in her home.

Smart Women Smart Conversations March 2024

“As a mother, it’s easy to get caught up in our lives, our day-to-day routines, and to stagnate,” Goldhamer said, as guests gathered in her kitchen to talk and enjoy an expansive homemade lunch. “Part of what defines us as Jewish women is the desire to always learn, grow, and develop and also to be in community together. ‘Smart Women, Smart Conversations’ is exactly that—the opportunity to connect with other smart Jewish women, come out of your daily routine, and grow as a person.”

Dr. Sagiv’s research focuses on feminist social change and the law, and she is also connected to the project gathering evidence of gender-based crimes that took place on and after October 7.

She began by telling her audience about her first Shabbat after October 7, when she looked around and found 30-40 people in the house. “I turned to a friend and said, ‘This feels like a shiva but in a good way because we can be together.’ I felt like I was part of something bigger, which is the complete opposite of how I felt in the next few months in my professional circles outside the Jewish community. This feeling of loneliness has influenced a lot of the advocacy and activism we have seen since October 7.”

For Michelle Striker and Carly Schlafer, Co-Chairs of “Smart Women, Smart Conversations,” Dr. Sagiv was the right person in the right place at the right time to talk about the difficult topic of sexual violence perpetrated on women and men during and after the attack by Hamas.

Carly Schlafer and Michelle Striker

“Dr. Sagiv offered powerful, brave, poignant, and informative testimony,” said Schlafer. “She reminded us that we must continue to speak up and speak out for the victims, particularly because of the failures of the international community. It was also important for us to hear about the incredible work of Israeli civil society in advocating on behalf of the victims and the leadership of Pramila Patten, United Nations Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict.”

“I was reassured by hearing Dr. Sagiv talk about the amount of work done by people like her behind the scenes,” Striker added. “It makes me a bit hopeful for the future. Having her speak to the denialism—people saying that none of this happened—that was very important because it’s horrifying.”

Excerpts from Dr. Sagiv’s remarks

Without going into explicit detail, Dr. Sagiv focused her remarks on what happened on October 7. She also discussed the reaction from activists and the international community in the past five months. These are some excerpts from Dr. Sagiv’s comments.

“All sexual violence is horrible. Sexual violence during an armed conflict is worse. It is always conducted with weapons. There is underreporting of sexual violence in combat because most victims don’t survive. There is a proliferation of gang rape in these types of offenses, and it is conducted in front of others to increase the humiliation and sense of helplessness. It is brutalizing.”

“What happened on October 7 fits these characteristics of sexual violence in armed conflict.”

“We know this happened from first responders, videos taken by Hamas, security camera footage, and testimony from the morgue at Camp Shura. This is not just based on testimony from one person. We have corroboration from different sources.”

“It was premeditated, it was planned, it was clearly a pattern. This was a goal of Hamas.”

Dr. Masua Sagiv at Smart Women Smart Conversations

Dr. Masua Sagiv speaks with Diana Zeff Anderson

“We need to start building a case against those who committed these acts. It’s going to be very, very difficult.”

“We face denialism, people who say, ‘It didn’t happen. There is no forensic evidence, rape kits, or first-hand testimony.’”

“In Judaism, dignity of the deceased is a top priority. When investigating a sexual crime, this could be a problem. You don’t have the evidence you need. It is impossible to have perfect documentation, especially rape kits.”

“If there is no accountability for what happened on October 7, this is only going to get worse. Gender-based violence in combat is not going to stop. We have a responsibility not only toward our own victims but also toward future victims.”

“We have three goals: recognition that the crimes happened, achieving justice for the victims, and making sure this can never happen again.”

“What can we do? We can support organizations that are helping the victims. We can keep talking about this issue. And we can be attentive to where we consume our news, making sure we use platforms that do the hard work of accurate reporting.”

Leaving ‘Smart Women, Smart Conversations’ less lonely

This “Smart Women, Smart Conversations” event was the most recent in a series launched by JEWISHcolorado’s Women’s Philanthropy in March 2023. Speakers have looked at subjects like “Jewish Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion,” “Impact Investing,” and “Resiliency During a Time of War and Antisemitism.”

“These events are a wonderful way to get women together,” Striker said. “To have a small, intimate salon environment feels welcoming. For people who might be uncomfortable in a large setting, it’s a great way to engage and connect.”

Smart Women smart Conversations in March 2024

“The topics we choose are timely and relevant to women,” Schlafer added. “Today, I leave this event feeling more informed and less isolated.”

Even Dr. Sagiv left the group feeling renewed by “Smart Women, Smart Conversations.”

“As an Israeli woman, being at an event like this one makes me feel less lonely. I want to thank you for doing this event, for caring about this issue, and for keeping going in the months since October 7.”

To learn more about Women’s Philanthropy, please contact Roberta Witkow at rwitkow@jewishcolorado.org.