For the Jewish celebration of Passover, there is a tradition in which the Seder participants say, “Next year in Jerusalem” at the end of the meal. And this year, that well-worn phrase is about to become a reality for active Landmark graduates and Pasadena seminar participants, Ellen Snortland and her husband, Ken Gruberman. Although they won’t be there for the first night of Passover, they will be in Jerusalem this year, rolling out Ms. Snortland’s now classic book Beauty Bites Beast in a new and updated Hebrew edition. They will screen the documentary by the same name in Jerusalem for the first time as a private fundraiser for their sponsoring organization, El Halev. If you can attend or you have loved ones in Jerusalem, the location, date and time of the event is at the end of this story.
“Beauty Bites Beast, both the book and movie, are ‘granddaughters’ of the work I’ve done with Landmark, and before that, the est training,” Ellen Snortland said. “I took the est training in 1973 with its founder, Werner Erhard, and that is where I learned to say yes first, and then figure out how I was going to fulfill on that yes later.”
Ten years ago Fred Ouweleen, a long-standing investor in the Hunger Project who also owns a factory in Tijuana, emailed Ellen. (Ellen and Fred had visited Oaxaca, Mexico, together as Hunger Project investors.) The gist of Fred’s email was, “I read Beauty Bites Beast. I am tall and privileged. It never occurred to me before I read your book that just being a woman can sometimes be a frightening experience. No one has ever hassled me simply for being on the street or threatened me in my own home. Could you come to our factory in Mexico and train the women who work for me how to set boundaries and be safer?”
Ellen said, “Little did I know then that my “Yes!” would result in driving a large portion of the next 10 years of my life, and the lives of those nearest and dearest to me.”
It took a couple of months, but by August of 2006, through another set of “yes” folks, they had everyone and everything they needed in place so they could go and train more than 20 women who worked in the PacMin factory in Tijuana. Lisa Gaeta, a Landmark graduate as well as the CEO and founder of IMPACT Personal Safety Los Angeles, was on board and, with her help they had the four week-long class staffed from all over the U.S.
Meanwhile, Snortland made requests of Mr. Ouweleen: “Fred, can we do this on paid factory time for four Fridays in a row? We want to give your employees the same experience that our students in Los Angeles would have. We also know your employees will not want to come back for a night or weekend class, because most of them use public transportation and have ‘second shift’ responsibilities with children, husbands, and home-life.”
“Sure,” he said.
“Secondly, can you keep what we’re going to do under wraps so we can hand out questionnaires about violence and get spontaneous answers before we reveal what we’re doing?”
“Not a problem,” he said.
“Will you let me film it so we can possibly make a documentary? Before you say yes, you need to know that filmmaking can be chaotic and every Friday for a month, there’ll be crew, cables and assorted crap all over your facility.”
Fred’s response? “Yes — art is messy!”
They assembled staff from all over the United States to go to Tijuana for four Fridays in a row. Ellen says, “You try dealing with the red tape of getting temporary work visas for self-defense instructors that have combat simulation gear packed in their luggage and see if you have the requisite patience and persistence to convince Mexican border patrol staff that you’re safe. I double dog dare you! And we did it. Oh yes, we did.”
Predictably, the women we trained transformed before our very eyes, from people who could barely say “No” under the best of circumstances, to individuals who set boundaries as a natural expression of being human. Oh and that questionnaire? They all had experienced violence in their lives and didn’t have a clue about boundary setting. After the class, the students were ready to also teach those boundaries to their children. The co-founder of the United Farm Workers, Dolores Huerta, joined us to give the graduation speech! We were a “Yes!” and “Si se puede” — it can be done! — team from the very get-go.
Now fast forward 10 years through the Great Recession, personal financial struggles with Ellen and Ken, discouragement and worse. The documentary landed on the back burner and for awhile, looked like it would stay there.
And then, it was on the front burner again.
“The world needs to see this movie! I’ll stand by you to make sure it gets done,” said Deborah Hartnett Kennedy, also a Landmark graduate, who gave Ellen the confidence to stay the course. Ellen’s husband, Ken, who Ellen hadn’t even met when this journey started, jumped in to be Ellen’s right-hand person and just like that Beauty Bites Beast the documentary was back on track!
So why Jerusalem? In the “leaving the biggest and best for last” category, Yudit Sidikman, an Israeli friend and colleague of Ellen’s stepped forward and said, “I will raise the necessary funds for you to finish the film! Not only that,” she continued, “I will translate your book into Hebrew, and we’ll even subtitle the movie in both Hebrew and possibly Arabic at some point!”
Thus, Ellen and Ken have the astonishing opportunity to share a movie that is about women taking their rightful place in society, shoulder to shoulder with men rather than three steps behind, in the city that many of us consider the crossroads of civilization; the place closest to the ear of our creator. There’s nothing more civilized than having women achieve equality in all areas. Yes, Si se puede and Shalom!
To make a donation or participate in the private screening fundraiser for El Halev, and in honor of March, Women’s History Month, here are the details of the event:
March 28th, 2016, Jerusalem Cinematheque, 11 Derech Chevron, Jerusalem
20:15 Screening of the film “Beauty Bites Beast”
21:45 Discussion with the Film’s Director, Ellen Snortland
Tickets can be found at www.elhalev.org 02-6781764.