Questions that could save a life

Elizabeth Hersh is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel (TE), and a blogger on the Jewish Light’s website (

By Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh

A couple of months ago when being admitted to a local emergency room, I was asked the usual questions about insurance and health history. While I was in considerable and visible discomfort, the woman asking the questions kept her head turned away from me and her eyes on the computer screen as she asked two very important questions. She inquired about domestic violence as well as if I was comfortable in my own home. 

These are appropriate questions to be asked in this setting. They should be addressed to both men and women. What I was curious about was the setting in which I was asked. My spouse and a friend were standing there with me! While I am fortunate to be in a safe and loving relationship, many are not. To be given an opportunity to say “help” could be to save a life.

However, shouldn’t these pertinent and potentially life-saving questions be asked in private? How can someone who suffers from emotional, mental or physical abuse answer honestly with others, especially a partner, standing right there? Imagine the scene afterwards if one were to say in front of one’s abuser, “Yes. I fear for my life.” 

I understand that everyone is busy and time is of the essence. But, couldn’t these questions be asked in privacy? Hospitals are busy places. Doctors, nurses and social workers are there to save lives. Would it be possible to find a more efficient moment to ask a question that may save more lives? After all, to save one life is to save the entire world.

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