As humans, we have a tendency to underplay the effects of words. And yet God created the world using words: “And God said ‘Let there be light.'” This emphasis on the importance of words was the message Rabbi Joseph Telushkin delivered at a program and fund raiser, on Thursday, Oct. 25.
Telushkin’s appearance, presented by the Jewish Council Against Family Violence (JCAFV) and Jewish Women International, helped the two organizations shine the spotlight on domestic abuse in the Jewish community.
“We need to address the myth of family violence in the Jewish community,” Ilene Joseph, president of JCAFV, said. “We want people to be aware that this issue continues to exist in the community and for them to talk to their sisters, friends, and daughters to encourage them to be safe.”
The evening’s program was part of a goal to dispel the myth that violence does not exist in Jewish homes.
“We are no better off when Jews lie on behalf of the Jewish community,” Telushkin said. “When you say you don’t believe domestic violence occurs in Jewish homes, what are you saying to the women who are in that situation?”
He also said that people who go around denying violence make it harder for the victims to come forward and get help because they are made to feel as though they’re the only one.
During Telushkin’s talk he called attention to the mitzvah of combating family violence.
“There is the mitzvah of redeeming captives,” he said, “and this applies to women who live in fear of their own lives. So important is the commandment to save the captive that God uses it to describe himself in the Ten Commandments. God doesn’t say ‘I am God’ but instead says ‘I am the one who brought you out of bondage.'”
Telushkin also taught the crowd of around 200 that the mitzvah not to commit verbal oppression is very important and that words can hurt. Telushkin’s speech, based on his book Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, infused scholarly Jewish teachings with lessons on communication.
“My guess is more people have been hurt by things said to them than things said about them,” he said. “And one of the things that causes problems in communication and relationships is anger.”
Telushkin cautioned that if we don’t watch what we say, we can whittle away at a relationship and then eventually turn away from each other.
He said that the problem with rage is that it’s not productive or fair.
“It’s a myth that people can’t control their anger,” Telushkin said. “How many times have you been angry with someone in your family but then a neighbor comes to your door and you’re nice and friendly? We all can control our anger.”
Telushkin offered a few suggestions for expressing anger:
* Restrict the direction of your anger to the incident at hand. “Don’t schlep up stuff from the past.” He said the two words that should not be uttered are “always” and “never.” “No one is always something and if you say they are then you are lying which causes you to lose the moral high ground.”
* If you have a bad temper, then fine yourself every time you lose it and give the money to tzedakah.
* Apologize. This action is particularly important for parents. “When parents don’t apologize,” Telushkin said, “they are sending a message to their children that you don’t have to apologize when the other person is weaker than you.”
* Declare periodic complain-free days. “Go 24 hours without pointing out any problems in your life. When you don’t complain, you start to appreciate things in your life again.”
Organizers of the evening were very pleased with the community’s response. “It is marvelous to see different groups in our community come together,” Judy Zisk Lincoff, chair of the event, said. “Rabbi Telushkin is known for bringing people together.”
Telushkin was introduced by Rebbetzin Paula Rivkin, one of the co-founders of JCAFV. Rivkin explained the history of the organization and listed the resources available to women which include a hotline and shelter with a kosher room. She also described some of the activities JCAFV has done in order to educate all aspects of the community. “We have put on workshops for rabbis and social workers,” Rivkin said. “One of our goals is to build a tent large enough to include all Jews from many backgrounds.”