Council advocates for abused women

BY VICTORIA SIEGEL, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Many facts about domestic violence are shocking but among the most jarring is that research shows that Jewish women may stay in domestic violence situations twice as long as other women, according to the Jewish Council against Family Violence.

“Jewish women feel responsible for shalom bayit, making peace in the home,” Rebbetzin Paula Rivkin, co-founder of the council, said. “And they feel shame because they don’t think it is happening to others in the Jewish community.”

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Unfortunately, these women are incorrect in their assumptions because one in four women will experience some form of domestic violence during her lifetime and the Jewish community is not immune to this crisis or this rate of occurrence. Estimates put the number of domestic and sexual abuse incidents in the St. Louis Jewish community at 180 last year. But experts feel that number may be too low because many assaults are unreported.

Council members, who represent all denominations of Judaism, want the community to know that there are resources available for these women and that this brutality does happen in the Jewish community. Back in 1993, when Rivkin and Judy Zisk Lincoff, MSW, MBA, LCSW, first began talking about this issue there was a lack of resources for Jewish women. They created the council because they knew there was a problem in the Jewish community and no one was talking about it.

“Many other institutions were way ahead of the Jewish community in addressing this need,” Lincoff said.

Part of that lagging position is because of the myth that abuse doesn’t happen in Jewish homes.

“When I worked at an agency,” Carly Cooper, MSW, a council member, said, “I would get calls from women who would say ‘My mother told me to marry a Jewish man because they don’t hit.'”

One of the council’s goals is to make sure the community is aware of this problem and that people know there is help. To that end the council, along with Jewish Women International, is bringing in acclaimed author and speaker Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. On Thursday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. at the Clayton High School Commons and Auditorium Rabbi Teluskin will present the program “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal; Communication for Healthy Relationships,” based on his book Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well.

In addition to educating rabbis and the community about this insidious problem, the council offers a helpline and a kosher shelter. “It’s a county shelter,” Lincoff said, “and they gave us a room. Since no men are allowed on the premises, we literally brought in supplies on our backs.”

They also held workshops at the shelter with the staff to familiarize them with Jewish customs. The room is complete with Jewish books and Shabbat candles.

Abuse takes the form of emotional, physical, sexual, financial and neglect, and in the Jewish community it crosses denominational lines. For some of these Jewish women, the fear of losing financial security keeps them in these abusive relationships.

“They worry about how they will support their children and buy their food,” Rivkin said. Because of the shame they feel, the women are reluctant to ask for help.

Why do men abuse?

“Because they can,” Cooper said. “In our society, men have privilege. People with privilege often take advantage of an oppressed group.”

There also is a generational component to abuse.

“Men who grew up in violent homes are most likely to replicate that environment in their own homes,” Cooper said.

“This is an issue of power and control,” Lincoff said. “Women who grow up in violent homes are more likely to become victims.”

Currently there are no support groups for Jewish women who are victims of domestic violence nor are there groups for Jewish batterers.

In spite of the obstacles the council faces in educating the community about domestic violence, its members are optimistic.

“Our mission is very positive,” Lincoff said. “We know domestic violence exists, we have created resources for it, and we’re there to help.”

For tickets to Rabbi Telushkin’s presentation, contact Carly Cooper, event coordinator, 314-607-8444 or [email protected] Prices are $100 for a “supporter” (includes two tickets and a mention in the program), $25 for individuals, and $18 for students. Checks can be sent to JCAFV, P.O. Box 11804, Clayton, MO, 63105.

COMMUNITY RESOURCES

The Jewish Council Against Family Violence wants people to know there are resources available in the St. Louis area. Among them are:

* A helpline that is answered during business hours at 314-812-9352.

* Jewish Family and Children’s Services — services include counseling, food pantry, and some financial resources.

* Legal Advocates for Abused Women for help with legal services

* A confidential shelter that can handle any Jewish woman; includes a kosher room and kitchen.

* Project Backpack by NA’AMAT