Woman sits at table
Jan Reicher is the president of JCRC Bay Area, a former Shalom Bayit board member and a survivor of sexual violence. She wears a "Bring Them Home" dog tag as a necklace and a piece of masking tape with "108" written on it, marking how long the hostages had been in Gaza as of Jan. 22. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

‘A trauma upon a trauma’: Denial of Oct. 7 sexual violence haunts local survivors

Jan Reicher could feel the hatred when she spoke against a cease-fire resolution at two turbulent meetings of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors earlier this month. 

Among the hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists on hand were just a handful of Israel supporters. Zionist Jews were afraid to show up and speak publicly about the Israel-Hamas war, she said. And for good reason.

“We were called bitches when we spoke,” Reicher said. “We were jeered. We were booed.”

At one point, Supervisor Matt Dorsey mentioned the New York Times’ two-month investigation into how Hamas weaponized sexual violence against Israeli women on Oct. 7, and Palestinian supporters started yelling, “Lies!”

“They went crazy,” said Reicher, who is board president of the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area.

One man in the room started shouting, “Prove it! Liars!” Then he looked at Reicher and yelled, “You’re a rapist!”

Those words could have shattered Reicher for a reason he wouldn’t have known.

Reicher is a rape survivor who came “within inches” of losing her life four decades ago. But at the daylong meetings in early January, Reicher said, she was able to steel herself against the hate through a resilience she’s built within herself over years, her ability to compartmentalize emotional pain and the moral support from other Jews both inside and outside the room.

Despite reams of evidence — video footage released by Hamas, confessions of captured terrorists and testimony from direct witnesses, first responders, soldiers, doctors and rape counselors — international women’s and human rights groups have reacted with silence, denial or justification after the horrors of Oct. 7, particularly to the evidence of mass rape by Hamas terrorists.

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Naomi Tucker is the executive director of Shalom Bayit, a Bay Area Jewish organization committed to preventing domestic violence. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Naomi Tucker, founding executive director of the Bay Area Jewish domestic-violence prevention nonprofit Shalom Bayit, said that “survivors of all kinds of abuse are being retraumatized” by Oct. 7 and by the waves of hatred against Israel and Jews that have followed.

“It is not new that rape is a weapon of war,” she said. But Tucker has witnessed how antisemitism and sexism have crossed paths in this war.

The prevalence of full-throated antisemitism in the Bay Area and beyond has already left Jews feeling unsafe in their neighborhoods, schools and universities. And for survivors of violence who haven’t always felt safe in their homes, she said, “it is a trauma upon a trauma.”

Tucker, who has been part of the Bay Area’s domestic and sexual violence prevention community for more than three decades, has been shocked by progressive groups and activists accusing Israel of “making up lies because Hamas would never rape anybody,” she said. “These are things that are being said by intelligent people.”

Only one non-Jew in her professional field has contacted her about Oct. 7, Tucker said.

“There has been radio silence,” she said. “I feel personally devastated that people who have been my trusted comrades in this work for many years are now like they are not even here.”

‘Gaslighting, victim blaming’

The ongoing denials led Reicher and Dyanna Loeb, local Jewish survivors of intimate-partner violence, to speak with J. about Oct. 7 and its aftermath. Whether someone supports Israel’s war against Hamas or not, they said, people need to understand that the silence and denials about violence against Israeli women are not just political. They are personal and painful.

For Loeb, the denials feel very familiar.

“That gaslighting, the victim blaming — all of these things I have personal experience with — are happening to Jews on a global level,” said Loeb, a survivor of domestic and sexual violence who serves on the board of Shalom Bayit.

Woman sits on staircase
Dyanna Loeb, a board member of Shalom Bayit and a survivor of domestic and sexual violence, sits inside Chabad of Oakland, where she worships. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

The Bay Area has become hostile to Jews, she said, especially to Jewish women.

“The antisemitism is stronger than the feminism here,” Loeb said. “It has definitely been retraumatizing. People are telling us to our face that it didn’t happen or that it’s our fault.”

She vividly recalls the first time she faced Oct. 7 denial in her own life. It started four days after the massacre when she noticed that a Bay Area friend had posted a video on Instagram of people chanting, “Long live the intifada!”

The antisemitism is stronger than the feminism here.

She decided to reach out to start a “productive conversation.” But no matter how much evidence she presented about the sexual violence, including a video of 19-year-old hostage Naama Levy’s bloodied sweatpants and a Hamas terrorist’s confession about plans “to dirty” Jewish women, he refused to concede that brutal rapes took place. She ended up unfollowing him, as well as a “ton of others” on social media.

Loeb, who travels to Israel almost every year, was there for Simchat Torah 2022, exactly one year before the massacre. She has thought about the possibility that she could have attended the Nova music festival and faced the horrors of Oct. 7. A friend was one of the 364 people murdered there

“Now I know there are people I knew for years in the Bay Area who would not believe me,” she said. “Now I hear people saying there isn’t enough evidence that your people got raped, mutilated and burned.”

‘You don’t have to go back’

Loeb, a Piedmont native, grew up attending Temple Sinai in Oakland, served as president of the Jewish student union at Mills College in Oakland and studied abroad at the University of Haifa during her junior year.

After graduation, she traveled to Israel in late summer 2010 to join a yearlong service learning program. Then she met an Israeli who became her boyfriend.

“It was really lovely at first,” said Loeb, who was 22 at the time. But that quickly changed. He started to act jealous and possessive, then began criticizing her body and accusing her of lying. His verbal attacks escalated to repeated physical and sexual abuse.

“There were times I couldn’t show my face outside because it was swollen and bruised,” Loeb said.

RELATED: World has turned its back on Israeli women, leaders of rape crisis centers tell Bay Area Jews

When she traveled home over winter break, she met up with a male friend who came from an abusive home and asked her directly if her boyfriend was responsible for her fading bruises. She responded, “yes.”

“He said, ‘You don’t have to go back.’”

After that, Loeb opened up to her mother, who told her about Shalom Bayit. Loeb didn’t return to Israel as planned, began weekly counseling at Shalom Bayit and joined one of its support groups. 

“I was in a very dark place,” she said. “I was physically safe but completely broken and in desperation.”

After about six months, she started to surface emotionally, but it took years longer before she felt the trauma was behind her.

Loeb, who is 36, has returned to Shalom Bayit repeatedly for support and joined the board in 2018. A digital marketing manager at a Jewish nonprofit, she is in a “good place” now. 

“I am in a really loving relationship with someone who treats me like a queen,” she said.

‘The worst bruises were inside’

Reicher, who is a former Shalom Bayit board member, said Oct. 7 has been “absolutely triggering” for her as a rape survivor. Her very lowest point was learning about a Nova festival survivor who witnessed a young woman being gang-raped by up to 10 Hamas terrorists before she was shot to death.

“That one story is just haunting,” she said. “That felt like a final fatal blow to my psyche.”

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Jan Reicher (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Reicher’s understanding of the impact of violence goes back to 1983 when she was 18 and starting her sophomore year at Arizona State University. She had recently broken up with her boyfriend of two months and was living off campus. Her roommate was away. 

He asked to come over to pick up his belongings. Instead, he kept her captive for 24 hours, repeatedly raping her. Reicher almost lost her life when he tried to stab her in the neck with scissors. Her roommate’s return saved her, and she managed to escape.

She called her parents in Pittsburgh, immediately left school and did not return for the rest of the semester. Reicher said she was fortunate to quickly join a recovery program for rape survivors. Those months were intense.

“I not only mourned my inability to really protect myself as a woman physically,” she said. “I questioned how I could not have seen it sooner, which is so common.”

It took a long time for Reicher to begin to move past the trauma that included losing trust in other people, and in her own choices.

“The worst bruises were inside,” she said.

Reicher, who is 58, married and the mother of two adult daughters, one of whom has made aliyah, said she considers herself recovered from that terror back in 1983. But she has remained more sensitive to violence, “especially against women.”

The worst time for her each day is when she lays her head on the pillow and cannot fall asleep. She starts to think about the more than 100 hostages believed to still be alive, especially the 14 women and the nightmares they are enduring.

As a survivor, she said, “you relate on a different level to the horror and the complete lack of control and ability to fight for yourself and fight for your life.”

The Israeli U.N. mission hosted an event on Dec. 4, 2023, to focus on the rapes committed by Hamas on Oct. 7 and to press the international community to speak out more forcefully against the sexual violence.(Photo/JTA-Jackie Hajdenberg)
The Israeli U.N. mission hosted an event on Dec. 4, 2023, to focus on the rapes committed by Hamas on Oct. 7 and to press the international community to speak out more forcefully against the sexual violence. (Photo/JTA-Jackie Hajdenberg)

Reicher believes that some pro-Palestinian activists, including women, “can’t allow themselves” to acknowledge that rape and torture happened on Oct. 7 because it would force them to see Israelis as deserving of sympathy and destroy their narrative of the oppressor.

She sees the deniers “as sad, unwell people with a lot of anger in their hearts.”

‘Biggest silver lining’

Both Loeb and Reicher have found comfort and safety in the Jewish community since Oct. 7.

Loeb has been active in Chabad of Oakland for seven years and helped start its Young Jewish Professionals group. She also helped organize a Shabbat dinner for about 60 American and Israeli Jews in San Francisco in November, an evening of Jewish storytelling, poetry and music at the Continental Club in Oakland in December and an event with Israeli social media influencer Adiel Cohen in San Francisco earlier this month.

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Dyanna Loeb (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Reicher has been deeply involved in the Bay Area Jewish community since the mid-1990s. She was a co-founder of San Francisco’s Jewish Community High School, president of Brandeis Hillel Day School and president of women’s philanthropy and a board member at the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. Reicher joined JCRC’s board in 2017 before becoming president in July.

JCRC has been an anchor, especially since Oct. 7. “I could not be more privileged and honored to have this role,” she said.

Reicher has also made new friends in the past few months who share her values. “I have insulated myself with like-minded people,” she said.

After an artist painted an anti-Zionist mural in Noe Valley in mid-October in the San Francisco neighborhood where Reicher lives, a WhatsApp group of pro-Israel Jews sprang up. The group has grown to more than 220 members.

“They are Zionists, and they care about humanity,” she said. “They are very courageous, and they need each other.”

She calls the group a “lifesaver” and the “biggest silver lining to my Jewish life in San Francisco.” When she attended those daylong Board of Supervisors meetings earlier this month, she repeatedly turned to her WhatsApp group for support.

Reicher and a friend have also created a Zoom gathering four nights a week for Jews to meditate together. They breathe, say the Shema and recite a prayer for peace.

She is also specifically interested in finding ways to help Israeli women.

Following months of pressure from Jewish feminists, the #MeToo_UNless_UR_a_Jew movement and Israeli and U.S. leaders, a United Nations envoy is finally expected to travel to Israel and begin an investigation of Hamas’ sexual crimes.

Last week, JCRC, Shalom Bayit and a New York women’s group co-organized an online event with three leaders of Israeli sexual assault and domestic violence programs, who discussed the multiple ramifications of Oct. 7 for Israeli women.

During that event, Reicher helped introduce the speakers and opened up to more than 200 people that she is a rape survivor.

She already knows she wants to do more in Israel.

Next month, she will travel there with a JCRC delegation and meet with women’s groups to volunteer and “figure out how I can be more helpful,” particularly with the women who have been released from Hamas captivity.

“I feel like this is a calling for me.” 

Natalie Weinstein
Natalie Weinstein

Natalie Weinstein is J.'s senior editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at CNET News and, in the 1990s, as a reporter and editor at J., which was then called the Jewish Bulletin.