Confessions and warnings

Confessions and warnings

Project S.A.R.A.H. addresses domestic abuse

A young woman tells her mother, “I wouldn’t want a husband like you have…. Every time he comes home, we’re running away to hide in our rooms…. Do you like it when he pushes you around like that? I hate it! I’d rather stay out of his way so I don’t have to watch.”

This is a scene from “Confessions,” a video developed by Project S.A.R.A.H. (Stop Abusive Relationships at Home), to teach yeshiva high school girls about domestic abuse. “Most videos are not suitable for yeshivas to show,” said Teaneck resident Elke Stein, Director of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Service of Project S.A.R.A.H. “We received a grant to develop videos that are religiously appropriate, to be used in these schools.”


“The video project is pitching to a more [religiously] right-wing element in the community,” said Esther East, also of Teaneck, who is director of Jewish Family Services at the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton/Passaic. “Single-sex schools need videos that speak to them – videos with only women in them, or only men in them.”

“The … videos for young people teach what to look for when they are dating,” said East. One called “The Warning,” is intended for women of 18 to 19 years old who are beginning to date, and portrays a young woman warning her friend about a suitor who is “just not a good guy … a control freak.” She describes an escalating abusive situation she experienced with that suitor and cautions her friend to “keep your eyes open and be careful.”

Another video, developed for young men, shows two brothers discussing a financially abusive girl who forces the boy to overspend on her. “There are emotional, psychological, and financial issues that go into a relationship,” said Stein.

Project S.A.R.A.H. will debut “Confessions” at its fifth annual breakfast on Sunday, March 27. The event will recognize eight physicians who have partnered with Project S.A.R.A.H., and will feature Dr. Susan Schulman, a contributing author in a new book, “Breaking the Silence: Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community.” (The book, published by Ktav, was edited by David Mandel and David Pelcovitz; see related story.) Schulman, a Brooklyn pediatrician, was “one of the first to speak out against child sexual abuse in the Orthodox community,” said Stein.

The website describes the organization as having many partners and supporters. It is funded by the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety”“Stop the Violence Against Women Grants Program, as well as the Passaic County Women’s Center, JFS of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton/Passaic, and private donors. Project S.A.R.A.H. also works in partnership with other JFSes to provide services in other parts of the state. The website further explains that Project S.A.R.A.H. serves Jewish families in New Jersey, seeking to “overcome the cultural, religious, and linguistic barriers that prevent victims from acknowledging the problems of domestic abuse and sexual assault.”

“There’s an enormous shift in the Jewish community, from being in denial that these problems existed in the Jewish community to really wanting to create a safer climate for families,” explained East. “People don’t have to live with abuse. Kids can keep themselves safer.”

Some of the support mechanisms for families provided by the agency include the Shalom Task Force hotline, opportunities for counseling, and the training of professionals in the community. “Abuse is a complex matter, with legal ramifications, financial issues,” said East, explaining that attorneys, physicians, and rabbis can all help families in crisis.

“We train rabbis so they can be as sophisticated as possible in understanding these issues in the congregation,” said East. “Rabbis are often the first point person who realizes there’s a problem in the family. The husband, the wife, or the school may reach out to the rabbi.”

Elke Stein, director of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Service of Project S.A.R.A.H., left, and Esther East, director of Jewish Family Services at the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton/Passaic Josh Weinberg

“Whatever you do in these family systems in which there is violence or abuse, you have to be careful what you are doing. It can make the situation more explosive, more complicated,” she added. “We felt if we trained rabbis it would make them more effective.”

Another program supported by Project S.A.R.A.H. is the Aleinu Safety Kid Program, which was originally developed by Jewish Family Services in Los Angeles. Project S.A.R.A.H.’s website explains, “The Safety Kid program is a comprehensive school program that teaches children in a fun and non-threatening way how to keep themselves safe from potential perpetrators.”

“They trained us to deliver the program; we are bringing that service into New Jersey,” said East. She reported that YBH of Passaic-Hillel has adopted the program. “We work with faculty, parents, and kids from kindergarten through third grade.” The program focuses on “primary prevention – teaching kids how to keep themselves safe,” she added. Yeshivat Noam of Paramus and Cheder Lubavitch of Morristown are scheduled to participate in the Aleinu program.

“There should be a safety net of different parts of the community that are trained and responsive to anyone who comes through the door,” East said. The doctors being recognized at the Project S.A.R.A.H. breakfast include pediatricians as well as obstetrician/gynecologists. “There are eight physicians who have accepted the opportunity for identifying themselves as partnering physicians. There are many others as well who work with us.”

“Pediatricians are vital community resources that can play a critical role in sexual abuse education and prevention…. [T]he pediatrician can create a ‘teachable moment’ to explain about privacy. This conversation can take place unobtrusively, with little emotional fanfare,” writes Dr. Isaac Schechter, a clinical psychologist in Rockland County in “Breaking the Silence.” He continues, “In a community where pediatricians as a group began implementing this practice … several situations of abuse were discovered and immediately addressed.”

Obstetrician/gynecologists also have a special relationship with their patients, which can provide opportunities to educate and advise women about domestic abuse and may serve as a front line to identify victims of abuse. “Physicians are an access point for people to help themselves,” said East.

Rabbi Raffi Bilek, a licensed social worker and outreach coordinator for Project S.A.R.A.H., demonstrates how a puppet named Safety Kid is used in the organization’s Aleinu program to teach children about personal safety. Courtesy Project S.A.R.A.H.

Being recognized at the breakfast are Drs. Sema Bank, Ruth Borgen, Efrat Meier-Ginsberg, Wendy Hurst, Steven Schuss, Vickie Shulman, Lynn Sugarman, and David Wisotsky. They have raised awareness regarding domestic abuse by providing information for their patients. Some of them have participated in formal training on abuse, have arranged it for their staff, or are planning to do so.

“Their role is a very important one – to ask the questions if they have some concern about a patient,” said Stein.

The breakfast is scheduled for Sunday, March 27, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. at Cong. Bnai Yeshurun, Teaneck. There is no charge for the event. For information, go to RSVP to (973) 777-7638.

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