My name is Dr. Miryam Sivan and I am a fiction writer and lecturer in literature at the University of Haifa in Israel. I am originally from New York City and it was growing up on the ‘tough’ city streets that caused my feminist consciousness and inevitable recognition of male predation to be formed. For decades I was involved in Holocaust stories and the silence around sexual violence inflicted on Jewish women during the war always seemed ‘off’ to me. I am not a historian so I did not research primary archival sources to unearth the violence that did occur, but as a literary critic I focused on the threads of this violence as seen in testimonial literature and fiction. My article on the Polish-Israeli writer, Yehiel Dinur, whose early novels were concerned with sexual predation in the concentration camps, was included in Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust. Published in 2010, decades after the war ended! it was the first scholarly volume that dealt with the topic. For many years I have been an Advisory Board member of Remember the Women Institute, dedicated to “including women in history since 1997,” including the exposure and dissection of gender based violence. In 2014 I published a short story collection, SNAFU and Other Stories in which one story, “Traffic,” deals explicitly with this kind of violence. In 14 short vignettes I ‘expose’ scenarios in the various religious and ethnic communities of Israel where women’s bodies are violated not in exceptional ways but in socially ‘common’ ways. In Israel where there is no separation of religion and state, outdated and misogynistic religious laws still govern women’s lives to a frightening degree.
How do you think the Shiloh Project’s work on religion and rape culture can add to and enrich discussion and action on the topic of gender activism today? Is there more we can do? What else should we post?
I think the Shiloh Project is engaged in important and wonderful work. I think your range of articles is extensive and highly informative.
In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?
In April 2019 my novel, Make it Concrete, will be published in New York. It is a story about a woman who ghostwrites Holocaust memoirs while her own mother, a Holocaust survivor, will not talk about her war time experiences. To avoid ‘spoilers’ I won’t give any more details, but I can say that sexual violence and its repercussions play a critical role in the unfolding narrative drama.
I will continue to include in my curriculum, particularly in my Literature of the Holocaust course, literary texts that deal openly with sexual violence. In my Israel Stories course (both these courses are in the International School of the University of Haifa – with students from many countries) we read texts and watch films that directly show how religious Jewish law blatantly and unapologetically discriminates against women.
In addition, I am working on a screenplay about a sexual predator and the atmosphere of male privilege which is part and parcel of patriarchal religions and the societies they are a part of will be highlighted and critiqued.