Israel marks International Men’s Day

Men take a moment to celebrate masculinity and look deeply into what it means to be a man in today’s society.

RABBI DANIEL SILVERSTEIN (left) and Paz Faigenbaum, who organized ‘Men’s Heartspace,’ smile big on International Men’s Day.  (photo credit: BEN BRESKY)
RABBI DANIEL SILVERSTEIN (left) and Paz Faigenbaum, who organized ‘Men’s Heartspace,’ smile big on International Men’s Day.
(photo credit: BEN BRESKY)
Somewhere in Jerusalem a group of men sit in a circle and hold a dialogue on what it means to be masculine in today’s society. Issues include how men are perceived, how they perceive each other, and how to maximize their potential.
Meanwhile on Israeli radio a divorced father explains the struggle men go through to an audience that has never heard such issues discussed in public.
It was all connected to International Men’s Day (IMD), which took place November 19. The event was started by Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh from the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, and today is celebrated in over 80 countries.
Rabbi Daniel Silverstein and Paz Faigenbaum, who organized the Jerusalem meeting – which they called “Men’s Heartspace” – used the occasion as an opportunity to further the discourse by speaking to the Magazine about the day and their plans for the future.
Faigenbaum was born in Australia and has been living in Israel for the past seven years. He had been talking with Silverstein about forming a men’s group for meetings and retreats when he stumbled upon International Men’s Day on the Internet. Although he had never heard of it before and is not affiliated with the organizers, it struck a chord.
Faigenbaum first discovered men’s groups in Australia and was initially turned off by the idea. But he found the value in talking openly about personal issues without being judged.
“It’s place to support one another,” he told the Magazine. “With a men’s group, we can strengthen each other in ways that may be suppressed. We can then cultivate tools to integrate in our families and society.”
Faigenbaum also teaches classes in farming, permaculture and the Feldenkrais method, an Israeli developed exercise program. He ended the men’s circle with a Feldenkrais session.
“We hope this will plant the seed for continuing regular meetings,” he said. “We want to cultivate positive perspectives.” Faigenbaum and Silverstein are planning an event for Rosh Hodesh, the first of every Hebrew month, beginning with Kislev, the month in which Hanukkah takes place.
“Men’s circles are also about celebrating, and like the month of Kislev, we seek to shine the light,” Faigenbaum said.
Silverstein concurred. “Sharing feelings is not automatic in this society. Every society has its own challenges with gender roles.”
Born in London and educated at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in New York, the married father now teaches at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and at Or HaLev.
“Men and boys are learning how to be fully ourselves and inhabit our strengths in a way that is considerate, responsible and compassionate,” Silverstein said. “We are learning the healthy place for aggression.”
He likened the modern struggle of men to the story of the biblical patriarch Jacob.
“Jacob struggles with having a more aggressive and more physical twin brother, Esau, and a lot of his life is working out how to be himself. He struggles with earning a living when people are trying to trick him, and he learns to assert himself in the world in an ethical way,” Silverstein said.
“Tradition is very broad on how much he succeeds, but in the end Jacob gets it right,” he added.
Beards and the Bible
Another person who weighed in on International Men’s Day and what it means from a Jewish perspective was Aleph Male lifestyle brand owner Eitan Ben Avraham, who called the day “a real breath of fresh air. It’s so important that we as a society reexamine our attitude toward what defines a man.”
For the past several years, the American-born entrepreneur has been selling his locally sourced beard oil and balm and creating online content about Jewish sacred masculinity.
“Too many times men are told to be silent and strong... there is an idea that women are turned into ‘sex objects’ and men are turned into ‘success objects’... this can often lead to self-destructive coping behaviors.”
Like Silverstein, Ben Avraham sees teachable moments in the drama of biblical characters.
“King David was a warrior, but he was also a poet and dancer. He fought and he wept.” Ben Avraham sees significance in the story of David’s victory over Goliath, in that David rejected the armor offered to him. “He goes to battle wearing only his tunic, his sling and his faith. Our strength is rooted in our ability to be real.”
Mixed messages for boys in the media
Israeli men today face different battles, and groups like Letzidchem have been dealing with the challenge. Formed five years ago, the nonprofit assists battered husbands, divorced fathers and male victims of sexual abuse.
Letzidchem, which translates as “by your side” in Hebrew, celebrated IMD with a series of online videos, social media postings and interviews on local TV and radio shows.
Dr. Ronit Dror, a Tel Aviv mother of two boys, went through an amiable divorce, but she was shocked to find that other men had been put through the wringer in the divorce process. Dror, who has a PhD in social work, focuses on domestic violence, and since co-founding the group, she has heard countless horror stories. This year’s IMD campaign focused not on men but on boys and teenagers.
“It’s an empathy gap. We are more judgmental toward them [boys]. We are less sympathetic. But we need to raise awareness about the issues that teen boys are dealing with,” she said. “Today’s boys are going through an identity crisis and receive confusing messages about what they need to do to become a man.”
Dror said that boys have different needs than girls, and are in need of positive male role models.
“Because of the divorce rate, a lot of children grow up without fathers,” she said.
Even in the case of a stable two-parent home life, a child may go without quality time from their father because of long work hours, she added.
Boys have a lot of energy, Dror said, and need productive outlets to express themselves. She also quoted statistics on low test scores for boys, and high rates of becoming involved in illicit drug use, dangerous behavior and suicide attempts.
“I talked to Galei Tzahal [Army] Radio today about it,” she said, referring to the International Men’s Day campaign, “and a woman called into the program and said this is the first time she ever heard someone discuss such issues.”
Although Dror’s organization deals with men’s issues, she believes it starts with the youth. She noted that the high school years are an awkward time in one’s life, and teenage boys can sometimes be a handful for parents and educators.
“We need to have patience with them. When we help boys, we help everyone,” she explained.
“Girls and women are affected, too.”
She added that girls also benefit greatly from quality time with their fathers.
“We don’t live in a world with just one gender,” she said.
Divorced fathers overcoming challenges
Dror’s partner in the organization is the group’s chairman Dotan Newman, who when not working with Letzidchem, works in the field of international business development. He likened his divorce to a Franz Kafka novel and noted that he has lost several divorced friends to suicide.
“I am not saying they necessarily did it because of what they went through, but it certainly contributed,” Newman said of divorce litigation and child custody proceedings. These tragedies prompted him to become more involved. Now remarried and the father of boys, he spent International Men’s Day giving interviews to radio and TV stations throughout Israel.
“I am trying to help other men avoid some of the issues I went through. The presence of the father in a child’s life, simply his being there, can build their self-esteem,” Newman stated.
He called for increased budgets for therapists and social workers to deal with at-risk boys.
“I have heard more than a thousand stories,” he said, with issues ranging from financial difficulties, false accusations and parental alienation.
Newman expressed concern that men are seen as expendable in society, and are subject to unattainable expectations.
“Slowly but surely we are starting to change the way society will look at men,” he said.
Small grassroots movement started in Trinidad
Dr. Teelucksingh, the academic who started the movement, spoke to the Magazine about the event and was pleased to hear International Men’s Day had reached the Jewish state.
“I began IMD as a small, grassroots movement, first celebrated as a seminar in the city of Port-of-Spain,” he explained. It wasn’t until 2009 that the movement really took off, but in the past 10 years it has spread rapidly and is now observed in over 80 countries.
Teelucksingh said he has met Jewish and Israeli men in Canada and the United States, and they face similar issues as their counterparts in other countries. “Some have contacted me indicating their feelings of alienation and being stereotyped,” he said.
Teelucksingh, who teaches university classes on Caribbean and early North American histories, spent International Men’s Day with his own father in addition to attending a panel discussion on mental health.
“My message to men worldwide is that IMD is a safe space for healing and hope.”
And while separated by language, culture and thousands of miles, it’s a message that resonates with the growing number of men in Israel who marked the day.