A group of women here is working to ensure that Israel’s network of shelters for abused religious women can continue and expand its services. It has already held one local fund-raiser and has scheduled another for Jan. 5.
Lorna Cymet, an Englewood resident who serves as program director for the Manhattan-based American Miklat Committee, explained that although Israel has 1′ shelters for victims of domestic violence, the 11-year-old Miklat-Bat Melech is the only one set up specifically for the needs of the Orthodox.
Chavie Rosen and Miri Shein auction off gifts at a recent "Wrap-it-Up" party at a private home in Englewood to support Miklat, Shelters from Abuse.
"Before Miklat-Bat Melech was founded, it was really hard for religious women to make the choice to be away from their [extended] families and then not have a place to go that would be comfortable for them culturally and religiously," Cymet said.
Miklat-Bat Melech miklat means "shelter" and bat melech means "daughter of a king," in reference to the traditional Jewish view of women receives some government funding but mostly relies on donations.
In addition to a shelter in Jerusalem and another in the central region, the organization offers a ‘4/7 hotline, a hostel for at-risk religious teenage girls, a transition apartment, psychological counseling, vocational training, and free legal representation for women of all backgrounds.
Last year, 40 women and 150 children sought refuge at the two shelters, which together can accommodate 14 women and 50 children at a time, according to Executive Director Noach Korman.
"Bat Melech offers more than just kosher food and a Shabbat atmosphere," said Korman, an Israeli attorney who plans to be at the Jan. 5 benefit performance Cymet has arranged at the Dwight-Englewood Upper School.
"The people who work in our shelters are religious," Korman said. "They work with the women’s rabbis and they provide a religious environment for the women’s children; for example, there is no television in our shelters. Meeting the needs of the children is important, because the women who come to us have an average of four children, while women at Israel’s other shelters have an average of 1.5 children."
However, he stressed, Bat Melech also has given free legal advice to more than 1,000 women of all faiths through its Jerusalem-based Center for Family Justice, which opened in ‘004 with the help of a $10,000 grant from the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. With a staff of just three attorneys, Miklat initiated court proceedings for half those women. The center’s staff social worker also teaches basic financial skills that clients need in order to break their dependence on an abusive husband.
Cymet is working with a committee of lawyers in Toronto to raise money that will enable the center to hire additional staff to realize Korman’s goal of opening satellite justice centers in the center, north, and south of the country.
"Having access to the legal system enables some women to reach out for help before they need a shelter," said Cymet, who lived in Israel with her husband and young children for several years and hopes to return this summer.
According to miklat.org, an average of 17 Israeli women are murdered by their husbands each year; 1,500 women seek emergency care annually because of domestic violence. Religiously observant victims are less likely to leave their abusers out of shame and a fear that their children will be stigmatized and ostracized.
Miklat has published a booklet, available in Hebrew and English, to educate the population about Jewish law’s severe prohibitions against spousal abuse.
Cymet has enlisted the support of 18 area rabbis who have pledged to raise awareness of the problem. "Our mission is to address and reduce domestic violence in the Jewish world, because it impacts everywhere," she said.
Just before Chanukah, a group of local women donated $7,300 in proceeds from a "Wrap-it-Up" party, which Cymet termed "an appetizer" to the Jan. 5 performance, a one-woman show dramatizing the story of a young woman from an upper-middle-class family who ends up in an abusive marriage.
"I first saw Naomi Ackerman perform ‘Flowers Aren’t Enough’ at The Frisch School [in Paramus] last year, and it was as if the play were written for Miklat," said Cymet.
The show starts at 8 p.m. at Dwight-Englewood’s Schenck Auditorium, 315 Palisade Ave. (doors open at 7:30). A Chinese auction and dessert reception will follow. For advance tickets, at $36 per person, call Rhonda at (‘1’) 419-‘716; tickets also will be available at the door.