October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and several groups are working to raise the issue in the Jewish community.
The Lakeland Hills Jewish Center in Wanaque will dedicate Shabbat services tonight to the issue and Rabbi David B. Saltzman will address it from a Jewish perspective.
“We have to be aware that it’s out there,” Saltzman said. “Whether in the Jewish community or the general community, becoming aware of it makes us better family members and more concerned about what we see in the world around us.”
This week’s Torah portion, Bereisheet, details the story of creation, which includes the world’s first family – Adam and Eve – and the first case of family strife – brothers Cain and Abel, whose differences ended in murder. The story provides lessons to modern-day families, Saltzman said.
“Even in the most ideal family there is the possibility of violence to partners or children and how important it is [for people] to honor their father and mother,” he said.
The rabbi stressed the need for mutual respect within families.
“That balance is very important, that children respect parents and parents respect children and partners respect each other,” he said.
At the shul Friday night Carla Horton, executive director of Hope’s Door, a domestic violence shelter in Westchester County, N.Y., will speak about her experiences at the shelter. Information will also be available from Project SARAH (Stop Abusive Relationships At Home) and the Children’s Defense Fund.
Project SARAH is a domestic abuse project funded by the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety-Stop the Violence Against Women Grants Program in conjunction with Passaic County Women’s Center, the Jewish Family Service division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic, and the Association of Jewish Family Service Agencies of New Jersey. It was created 14 years ago with a federal grant intended for underserved communities, in this case the Orthodox community.
“It’s not that it’s more of a problem in the Orthodox community, but the resources are less accessible,” said Esther East, director of Jewish Family Service of Clifton/Passaic.
Every year in October Project SARAH runs Many Voices, One Message. The organization collects signatures from around New Jersey from those who commit to speak out about domestic violence. Last year’s campaign garnered signatures from more than 150 rabbis across the denominational spectrum, as well as more than 25 organizations, including The Jewish Standard. This year’s project is still collecting signatures, East said.
In May, Project SARAH began looking at the issue of child sexual abuse in the Jewish community. The New York Times reported on Wednesday about the increase in arrests this past year of child molesters from chasidic communities in Brooklyn. The cause, according to the paper, was that an increasing number of chasidim no longer believe they can receive justice through the rabbinic courts and therefore turn to the police.
East also pointed to a discomfort within the Orthodox community of using secular channels that had been an early roadblock. Resources, she said, were not as accessible by the Orthodox in the past.
“Somebody in the Orthodox community might have felt more reluctant to go into a secular shelter or use a secular court system,” she said, noting that all New Jersey shelters now have “kosher kits” so they can immediately provide kosher food for those who need it. Beyond New Jersey, combating domestic violence is gaining steam in elite circles. Earlier this week, Israeli President Shimon Peres called domestic violence a form of “interpersonal terrorism.”
East said there has been a “tremendous shift” in attitudes in recent years about coming forward to the authorities about domestic violence. In the past, one of the biggest barriers to ending violence has been getting victims to go public.
“There’s been a significant decrease in shame being the obstacle in coming forward,” she said. “A woman can say now, ‘The way you speak to me is in an abusive way.’ Our feeling is that there’s less tolerance for being in an abusive relationship and people are feeling more comfortable asking for help.”
“It’s not perfect but [the system is] so far improved over the way things were years ago when a rabbi would say, ‘There is no domestic violence in my congregation,'” East added. “We never hear that anymore.”
For more information on Project SARAH, visit www.projectsarah.org.