When two-time Olympic gymnast and gold medalist Aly Raisman visits the Cleveland-area for the National Council of Jewish Women/Cleveland’s opening meeting this fall, she’s coming in her new role as an activist speaking out against sexual abuse.
NCJW booked Raisman to speak at its Sept. 26 meeting at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights.
Raisman will come to town during the height of her success breaking new ground in the #MeToo movement.
Elaine Gilbert, a co-chair of the event, said she heard Raisman’s story of the sexual assault she experienced from U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar on “60 Minutes.” Gilbert said Raisman’s interview was so powerful and courageous, it first brought her to tears and then inspired her to bring Raisman to Cleveland.
“Her messages are so strong about standing up for yourself, and I think especially to young people, if you think something is wrong, speak out,” said Gilbert, a member of The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood.
Last November, Raisman, 23, came forward as one of the more than 150 girls and women to describe abuse by Nassar and spoke at his sentencing hearing. He was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison for multiple sex crimes.
Since the hearing, Raisman has continued to speak out about her experience in interviews, on social media and elsewhere. In March, she sued the U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S.A. Gymnastics, saying they should have prevented the abuse.
“It has become painfully clear that these organizations have no intention of properly addressing this problem,” Raisman said in a statement to The New York Times in March. “After all this time, they remain unwilling to conduct a full investigation, and without a solid understanding of how this happened, it is delusional to think sufficient changes can be implemented.”
In an interview with the Cleveland Jewish News in October 2016, Raisman, who at the time attended a Reform congregation, Temple Beth Avodah, in Newton, Mass., said her strict gymnastics schedule often got in the way of celebrating Jewish holidays with her family. The Needham, Mass., native also discussed what it was like to win the team gold medal both in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, and how being part of such a diverse five-member team in 2016 was distinct.
“I think it is really special that we all came from such diverse backgrounds, but were able to come together as a team,” Raisman said.
Raisman also published her memoir, “Fierce: How Competing for Myself Changed Everything” in 2017, which became a New York Times bestseller. The book discusses her journey as an athlete, as well as body positivity and her role as a sexual assault survivor.
At the afternoon event, Raisman will speak about the #MeToo movement and her experiences in a discussion format, moderated by Ann Klotz, head of school at Laurel School in Shaker Heights.
Tickets will be sold to the public, which NCJW plans to announce. The group also is looking to partner with schools across the area.
Gilbert said she relates to Raisman’s message, as she experienced sexual harassment in high school and it “shaped my life to some extent.” She said the “sincerity and ferocity” with which Raisman speaks out on sexual abuse is special and hopes her story will encourage others to speak out.
“(Raisman) really believes this has to move forward – that the message really has to get out there,” Gilbert said. “And she’s not giving up.”
Gilbert worked to secure Raisman as a speaker with two other event co-chairs, JoAnne Salon and Marcy Schwartz, as well as NCJW/Cleveland Executive Director Mindi Axner.
Axner added that having a well-known speaker like Raisman at their event hopefully will draw more people to the advocacy work of NCJW.
“There are many opportunities to get involved on various topics, whether it’s women’s reproductive justice and health, gun violence reduction, homelessness (or) human trafficking,” Axner said.
The Cleveland Jewish News is the exclusive media partner for the event.