Candles lit in memory of the children lost in the Newtown massacre.
Candles lit in memory of the children lost in the Newtown massacre.

Credit: 2012 Andrea Much/much0 on Flickr, under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–I was a bit apprehensive as I walked toward the Cloisters for the holiday concert by the Waverly Consort. I buy tickets each year in September and round up friends willing to commit to spending a winter Sunday afternoon in a museum hearing not Handel’s Messiah or Christmas carols, but medieval music sung in Latin.

The Newtown massacre was on my mind, as were the bombings in Aleppo, Syria.

The final aria in the performance, I knew, would be Rachel’s lament after Herod had murdered all the Jewish male infants under the age of 2.

As Rachel’s aria began, I trembled as the words of the powerful soprano Hai-Ting Chinn filled the apse where the concert is held: “Alas, little babes, such savage wounds we see!

Alas, sweet children, slaughtered, butchered in madness. Alas, neither pity nor tender age could save you.”

An alto consoler approached and sang,” Sweetest of mothers, for the sons here slain, cease weeping. Rejoice now even in your mourning, for they live among the stars with the blessed.”

Hearing these words written more than a thousand years ago about an event 2,000 years ago was overwhelming in its direct relevance to the families of Newtown and Aleppo. I looked to my left and to my right, appreciating that my friends were right beside me.

Search for Answers

In recent days I have heard the current-day consolers express sentiments similar to those who sought to console Rachel. For me, however, the talk of murdered children being in heaven was of no use.

How then, could I console myself and go forward with hope and even joy? On the walk home, I searched for answers.

    No. 1 was the gratitude that I escaped from the terror of family violence 30 years ago and neither one of my daughters has experienced it in their own families.

    No. 2 was an awareness–made possible by the women’s movement–that has changed the landscape for families throughout the country. At the end of November, a Bureau of Justice Statistics’ report indicated a national overall decline of 64 percent in nonfatal intimate-partner violence between 1993 and 2010. Cases fell to 907,000 in 2010 from 2.1 million in 1993.

And, two recent events in New York’s legal system comforted me. In late November, a female immigrant from Africa working as a Manhattan hotel maid was believed and vindicated, as was a Jewish Brooklyn teen. Both made complaints against powerful men and, rather than being destroyed, toppled them instead.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s Fall

In late November, Nafissatou Diallo was said to have received as much as $6 million in her settlement with Dominique Strauss-Kahn for an encounter that he described as consensual sex and she said was a brutal assault. Defense attorneys leaked to the hungry New York media everything they found that undercut Diallo’s credibility. That worked to get the criminal charges against Strauss-Kahn dropped, but he was forced to resign as head of the International Monetary Fund, drop out as a presidential candidate in France and is now under investigation for his role in international sex parties. Most recently, he’s had to write a big check to Diallo, whose words carried sufficient weight in the civil case.

A week later, a Brooklyn jury found a respected member of Brooklyn’s Satmar Hasidic guilty of 59 criminal counts of sexual abuse and related crimes solely on the word of an 18-year-old, who the defense described as “troubled.” She testified in open court about the actions of Nechemya Weberman, beginning when she was 12 years old and receiving religious counseling from the unlicensed religious counselor in his home office. She eventually confided what was occurring to a school guidance counselor who went to the police. He will be sentenced Jan. 9.

What will the world look like when the words of women are heeded? We may catch a glimpse as the gun control debate in the United States led by women goes forward in the coming year. And as the power of technology continues to give the women of the Middle East, including Syria, the ability to organize and protest, let us sing out our hope that they will be heard and heeded as well.

Rita Henley Jensen is founder and editor in chief of Women’s eNews.

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