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Emily Shrode
Hadassah Evolve Leadership Fellow

Ending My Silence: Hadassah’s Evolve Program for Young Women Gave Me My Voice

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photo courtesy of the author.

October 7th was a tragic day. Hamas terrorists infiltrated the border between Gaza and Israel. Shortly after that, they opened fire on people attending the Nova Music Festival. Civilians spent what started as a peaceful Saturday hiding in bomb shelters. Homes were burnt with families still alive inside them. APnews.com reported that some 1,200 Israelis were killed that day and around 250 civilians were taken hostage.

Reservists in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) handled the cleanup after that bloody day. My friend Amit was one of them. On a Facetime call, he told me about the things he could never unsee. Nor unsmell. I’ll spare you more explicit details for now because my editor has given me a tight word limit.

What pained me the most was reading the reports from doctors in Israel that they wrote after examining deceased female victims of October 7th. According to Dr. Mushira Aboodia, who works in the Rape Crisis Center at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem, “Some rape victims were found with their bodies severely mutilated and abused.

Image courtesy of Hadassah.

Dr. Esi Sharon-Sagi, a Hadassah Medical Organization oral rehabilitation dentist, used dental records to identify women’s bodies mutilated that fateful day. Dr. Sharon-Sagi reports that some women were stripped naked and shot in their private parts while other women were beheaded and shot repeatedly.

For almost 20 years, Dr. Dvora Bauman has been treating survivors of sexual abuse and violence. In Dr. Bauman’s own words, the intentional sexual violence that occurred was “beyond anything I have seen in my career.” One might be wondering how so. “Women were gang raped with such viciousness,” Dr. Bauman says, “that their pelvises were shattered.”

Some of the hostages were released after about 50 days. But not all. In early June, the IDF freed four more. At this current moment, Israel estimates that about 120 souls are still in captivity.

I think a lot about the women still being held hostage. I conjure up a picture in my mind of the terror they must be facing every day. Some of the women are close to my age. Most practice Judaism as I do. Additionally, of these 120 hopefully still-living hostages, seven are American. Keith Seigel, one of the Americans, is a cousin of a girl I grew up with.

Photo courtesy of Hadassah.

I have this eerie feeling that it could easily be my face on one of those social media posts, pleading for Israel to “Bring Them Home.” Would the world care if I were still being held hostage by terrorists? Or if it were me lying cold on an examination table? Would the world stay silent the same way the United Nations has?

This crime against humanity should outrage us all. It hasn’t just happened to the Jewish people. The hostages represent many nations and religious affiliations. And, in any case, these atrocities, no matter who were the victims, are unacceptable war crimes.

I am proud that Hadassah stepped up and created the #EndTheSilence campaign. As Hadassah National President Carol Ann Schwartz said, “Rape should never be sanctioned as an act of war.”

It can be hard to speak out publicly–especially from within a sea of silence. But we are not alone because130,000 people from 118 countries have joined the #EndTheSilence campaign. By signing the petition online, we can all raise our voices and demand UN Secretary-General António Guterres advance an unbiased, independent and thorough UN investigation and pursue vigorous prosecution of Hamas for these war crimes. You can leverage your social media following by sharing the petition’s link.

It’s easy to read all this and feel discouraged. It’s easy to stay quiet. Had I not been chosen to be one of Hadassah’s Evolve Leadership Fellows, I can’t say that I would have felt encouraged to end the silence myself. Through the fellowship, I was able to see Israel for the first time, which gave me a leg to stand on when speaking about these critical matters.

The Evolve Fellowship also afforded me the opportunity to meet the matriarchs of Hadassah. I feel empowered knowing these powerhouse women have forged a foundation for the next generation to build on. Through Evolve, I was gifted a wonderful mentor who pushes me to use my voice. And that’s exactly what I’m doing now!

We can raise awareness also through other Hadassah initiatives such as the Hadassah Yellow Nail Campaign, aimed at shining a light on the brutal acts committed by Hamas against Israeli women and girls. Paint a single nail yellow on one or both hands. Whenever someone asks you about the yellow nail, you can say it is a way of speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Just because the UN has chosen silence, it does not mean that you need to. Hadassah challenged me to end the silence by writing this piece. Now, I challenge you to end the silence however you see fit.

About the Author
Hadassah Evolve Leadership Fellow Emily Shrode brings fresh eyes to the organization, now beginning its 113th year. On the local level, Emily serves on the board of Hadassah's chapter in Austin, Texas, where she currently resides and is a member of the Hadassah Writers' Circle. For Emily, Hadassah is a means of spreading hope and healing the world. She hopes to share her passion for the mission of Hadassah with others throughout her continued involvement in the organization. As a community builder, Emily sees value in what Hadassah does on the local level by providing a space for women to grow meaningful connections with one another.
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