Project SARAH trains rabbis in divorce counseling

Project SARAH trains rabbis in divorce counseling

Domestic violence cases are very complicated, and there’s a lot of emotion involved. The rabbis need to understand the issues and to be able to set appropriate boundaries," said Esther East, executive director of Jewish Family Service of Greater Clifton/Passaic, where Project SARAH is based.

Setting boundaries and understanding the issues are topics that will be covered in a workshop for rabbis and their spouses, sponsored by Project SARAH and the Rachel Coalition, to be held Saturday, Feb. ‘3. Entitled "Weathering the Storm: A Rabbi’s Role when Congregants Divorce," the workshop will be led by Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter and Shana Yocheved Schacter, CSW, who are husband and wife. The goal of the program is to help rabbis become a more effective resource for congregants in the midst of the emotional turmoil that comes with divorce. Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck will host the program, which begins at 8:30 p.m.

Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter and his wife Shana Yocheved Schacter will conduct rabbinic training for Project Sarah.

Project SARAH is a statewide program that provides counseling for victims of domestic violence, education, community outreach, and professional training. It is a joint project of the New Jersey Department of Criminal Justice, Victim Services, Passaic County Women’s Center, and the Jewish Family Service division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton/Passaic. The Rachel Coalition provides domestic violence resources to families in the MetroWest Jewish Community.

According to East, the decision was made to focus the workshop specifically on divorce this year, even though it doesn’t always involve domestic violence, because "counseling people going through divorce can cause some of the same problems for rabbis as counseling those dealing with domestic violence." Some of the specific issues to be discussed include knowing how to avoid getting caught in the middle, enabling one’s congregation to be a safe haven for all family members, and reducing community polarization in divorce cases.

The Schacters will present a clinical and rabbinic overview, and then the rabbis will have the opportunity for case presentations. The session is closed to everyone but rabbis and their wives, so that attendees will feel comfortable discussing particular issues in an accepting environment.

Jacob Schacter is University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought and Senior Scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University. He holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern languages from Harvard University and received rabbinic ordination from Mesivta Torah Vodaath. He is the author, most recently, of "The Lord Is Righteous in All His Ways: Reflections on the Tish’ah beAv Kinot by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik" (‘006) and close to 50 articles and reviews in Hebrew and English.

Shara Schacter is a psychoanalyst in private practice in Manhattan, where she does pre-marital counseling, couples therapy, and individual counseling. She has served on the faculty of The New York Center for Psychoanalytic Training as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Psychoanalysis. She has also served as a consultant to rabbis on professional and personal matters.

Besides this training session for rabbis, which Project SARAH sponsors once a year, the organization also works with rabbis in two other ways. It offers one-on-one consultation and referrals for rabbis who ask for advice on specific cases. "We are a clearinghouse for information, professional advice, and referrals, often to the local Jewish Family Service, all of which have a commitment to this issue," said East.

In addition, the "Many Voices, One Message" campaign each October encourages rabbis from every denomination to speak out against domestic violence from the pulpit. "We began with maybe 30 rabbis participating, and now we have about 130," said East. "People can’t get help if there’s community denial. These rabbis are on the front lines."

For information about the upcoming workshop or Project SARAH, call program coordinator Elke Stein, at (973) 777-7638, ext. 154, or e-mail


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