Campaign 2015 is here! It begins this Sunday with Super Sunday at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center from 9:30 am – 2:30 pm. Come by for an hour…connect with community members…and start our community’s campaign with a great beginning. Plus, it will start our 100 Days of Impact as we strive to raise as many dollars as possible in a short period of time. So, please, ANSWER THE CALL!
Many Thursday evenings I am up late thinking of what to write in my weekly remarks. Sometimes I focus on a Jewish issue, Israel, or work of the Jewish Federation. Other times, I take “case studies” and compare them to the strengths and challenges of Jewish communal life. But for the past few days my attention has been focused on a much darker issue.
This past week, we watched the horrific video of NFL player, Ray Rice, knocking out his then fiancé in a casino hotel elevator. Rice was previously suspended by the NFL for two games, which many felt was not punishment enough. After this new video was released, the Baltimore Ravens football team immediately terminated his contract and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. Many believe it should have happened sooner.
Without getting into the issues about whether the NFL had seen the video previously, I do want to talk about a difficult subject for any Jewish community – actually, the general community – domestic violence.
Domestic violence remains grossly underreported. Perhaps this is because, unlike other kinds of abuse, couples find it hard to talk to outsiders about their problems. Perhaps it is because 85 percent of domestic violence victims in the United States are women. They might refrain from coming forward because their partner is the higher earner and they are afraid of what might happen to the family/children if the violence is reported. Other reasons for not reporting domestic violence could include a sense of self-blame, or a fear of “airing dirty laundry in public.” Unfortunately, there are many.
Rabbi Dan Dorsch recently wrote, “For years, there has been the perception in the Jewish community that because we focus so much of our energy on building strong Jewish homes and in teaching family values, there is little domestic violence. Unfortunately, the fact that domestic violence is mentioned in Jewish tradition going all the way back to Talmudic times proves that our communities have never been immune to it. Naomi Graetz, a professor at Ben-Gurion University in Israel for 35 years, points out that the Talmud (Pesachim 49b) equates the act of wife beating with being an “am-haaretz,” an ignoramus who has no shame. Often following an attack it is sadly the victim who feels a sense of shame or self-blame. However, in this source, Judaism affirms for us that the opposite is true: the one who beats the other person is the sole individual deserving of shame.”
Fortunately, in the American Jewish community we do have vital organizations doing this work. Our own Jewish Family and Child Service and Portland’s Women’s Crisis Line are just two of many important organizations educating the public about the dangers of domestic violence and providing means for victims to get help.
Domestic violence is a world-wide challenge. In Israel alone, about 200,000 female victims of domestic violence reside in the country today. And, some 600,000 children have witnessed domestic violence in their home, based on a report published by WIZO in 2013.
The WIZO study, which is based on data collected by welfare departments and law enforcement authorities, also revealed that in the past year, some 7,335 women, 1,021 children and 2,860 men were treated in 89 centers for the treatment and prevention of domestic violence across the country. Astonishing and disturbing statistics.
In 1996, while working at the Baltimore Jewish Federation, Rabbi Abraham Twerski, a noted scholar, came to speak about domestic violence within the Jewish community. I attended that evening. It motivated a Jewish community to act and respond to the issue of domestic violence. Baltimore became the first Jewish community in North America to create a dedicated (volunteer driven) helpline and donated safe house apartments (with kosher food) for victims of domestic abuse. CHANA (Counseling Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women) is an organization that provides a Jewish communal response to the needs of persons who experience abuse and other forms of interpersonal trauma. Unfortunately, in 17 years, over 2,000 calls have come to the hotline, hundreds of women and children have taken shelter in the safe houses, and over 100 individuals have received pro bono legal counsel. It is a model program and other large Jewish communities have followed suit.
October is recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The intent is to connect battered women’s advocates across the nation who are working to end violence against women and their children. Our Jewish community will continue to do its part with our social service agencies, rabbis, and other interested parties. And, as always, there is more we can do.
As I reflect on all of this, I think back to my daughter’s bat mitzvah Torah portion from two weeks ago – Justice, justice you shall pursue. Rabbi Dorsch said it bestAs Jews, we must never forget that pursuing justice means advocating for those in our society who need it most – whether caught on video or not.
May we only experience shalom bayit (peace in the home) and may you have a Shabbat shalom.