Until a few years ago, the Jewish community had a kind of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about domestic violence. (See page 7.) It likely stemmed from pride: pride in our laws and traditions, pride in our close communities, pride in our strong families, all of which are warranted. But with that kind of pride may come denial or, in the face of undeniable pain, a closing of ranks, an unwillingness to expose a flaw in our imagined perfect Jewish world.
The opposite of pride, of course, is shame, but contemporary Jewish leaders and organizations are teaching us that it is not shameful to tell the truth about domestic violence – for only then can we seek to prevent it, or seek legal redress when it is perpetrated.
Family life, even in the Garden of Eden, is fraught with tension and frustration. Civilization, as that brilliant Jew Sigmund Freud said, has its discontents. The recession in particular is distressing and even frightening. Some people have a lesser ability to deal with these, and their lower boiling points may erupt in abusive behavior, whether physical or verbal.
Either can be horrifying and damaging to the victim (perhaps even to the perpetrator). Simply pushing such an experience into the recesses of the unconscious does not work, nor did it ever. It does not protect against future abuse, and it continues to fester in the mind.
We are grateful to Project SARAH (Stop Abusive Relationships At Home) for its continuing campaign to raise awareness and to educate the community about domestic violence. It enlists rabbis and Jewish organizations from all streams of Judaism in its “Many Voices: One Message” campaign, and it leads workshops for professionals – including rabbis and mikvah attendants – on how to recognize the signs of domestic violence and what to do about it. One result of better dissemination of information within and about the Jewish community is that kosher food is now available at all shelters in New Jersey. That provides a level of comfort and reassurance to Jewish victims who must, unfortunately, seek shelter from the storm.
We began counting the local rabbis and organizations that had signed on to last year’s admirable campaign, preaching from pulpits and raising funds for victims’ services, and stopped at 50. We are glad to see local Jewish high schools on the list – and proud to note our own newspaper’s name.
Project SARAH has awarded us – among others – a certificate of appreciation for our helping to raise awareness of domestic violence. But it is Project SARAH that deserves all of our appreciation.