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Purple Ribbon Campaign, Part I

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Another October 

Purple Ribbon Campaign, Part I photo

Our world is a little pinker this month, much to my daughters’ delight. Pink ribbons, pink soup cans, pink M&Ms, pink skyscrapers all aglow. I can take a moment to tell my girls that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, why that’s important, and what we can do to help. I’m happy to have the pink prompts.

We’ve come a long way since bubbe's day when the word cancer was spoken in a whisper. Now our doctors will tell us, our mothers will tell us, the media will tell us about monthly self exams, diet and exercise, mammograms starting at 40 (shit, that’s me).

We’ve come a long way, bubbe, but the breast cancer awareness movement is not done saving lives. Through the efforts of organizations like the Chicago Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders and FORCE, through the vision of people like filmmaker Joanna Rudnick and physician Deborah Lindner, I have faith our daughters will grow up with new household words that will save even more lives. BRCA mutations, previvor, hereditary cancers/ Ashkenazi Jews, family history, genetic screening.

One in eight women will develop breast cancer in her lifetime.

One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

Hey you. October is also Domestic Violence Awareness month. As I sit here and wonder – Does that have a color? A face? A voice? – I could use a little pink help.

I learned just now, thanks to Google, that domestic violence awareness does have a color. Purple, to represent the bruises of those who have been hurt at the hands of their partners. Judging from the lack of lavender in the October air, I conclude, the purple ribbon campaign hasn’t hit mainstream.

All the more reason it needs to. To save lives, we can’t whisper.

I want to shout when I hear people say abuse does not happen in the Jewish community. I want to shout as the Jewish faces I know begin flashing through my mind. The girl from my synagogue who disappeared for half of ninth grade after being severely beaten by her boyfriend. My friend who lost her virginity to date rape our first year on campus. The sea of t-shirts displayed at the Response annual meeting, each representing a young person who has survived abuse.

If page one of my mental photo album isn’t enough, the data speaks for itself. The Jewish Community Health Survey of West Rogers Park (2004) found that one in four adults had witnessed domestic violence and nearly one-third of households included a victim of physical, verbal, or sexual violence. A Jewish Women International study on domestic abuse in the Chicago Jewish community confirmed that abuse occurred across the lifespan, across denominations, across income levels, between heterosexual and same-sex partners.

Across the community, in homes, in schools and through our agencies, we see the consequences of sexual abuse, child abuse, physical abuse, teen dating violence, bullying, and elder abuse. The cost of abuse is enormous on a personal, community, and national level, whether we are counting medical expenses, psychological impact, emergency room visits, the demise of families, lost childhoods, or lost lives.

Like all communities, the Chicago Jewish community is deeply affected by domestic abuse.  Of the 270,500 Jews in the Chicago area (Metropolitan Chicago Jewish Population Study, 2001), this translates to tens of thousands of faces, of voices, of individuals who have been impacted by abuse.

And in many ways, the Chicago Jewish community is paving the way in its fight against domestic abuse. Our efforts are serving as a model for other faith-based communities locally and other Jewish communities across the country.

As MENSCH gets men talking . . . as SHALVA opens its door to the next woman who needs help . . . as Project SHIELD prompts another rabbi to scratch his beard and slowly nod his head . . . as JCARES brings another partner to the table and inspires another person (like me) to open her eyes, make needed changes or advocate in her own way . . . as Response hangs t-shirts of teen survivors out on the clothesline . . . one by one, another light bulb goes off.

And whether that light is purple or pink or white, my hope grows that much brighter that when our daughters grow up, the community will be that much safer.

To save lives, we can’t whisper.

Purple Ribbon Campaign, Part I photo 2

My daughter Emma – stay strong. Amen.


Purple Ribbon Campaign, Part II

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A Chicago Mensch 

Purple Ribbon Campaign, Part II photo

When you think of a mensch, what comes to mind? Maybe it’s your grandma telling you to be a mensch or maybe it’s the rabbi at your Bar Mitzvah telling you to grow up and be a mensch. What probably does not come to mind is the grassroots effort started a few years ago in Chicago known as MENSCH, Men for Shalom in the Community and Home.

Picture a group of Jewish guys sitting around a table – guys who work in business, technology, recreation, law, mental health – getting together not to talk about Monday night football or cars or how much money we make. We get together to talk about violence against women and girls – and what we can do to eliminate it.

I first came to the MENSCH table because my friend and MENSCH founder Randy Parks asked me to. I stayed for many reasons.

MENSCH is a community of Jewish men with different perspectives who share a common goal.  We all have daughters, sisters, mothers, and friends and we want them to be safer. At monthly meetings, we have spent many hours learning, sharing, exploring, and discussing ways to make a difference.

You never know who is affected by domestic abuse, be it verbal, physical, financial, or sexual. It could be someone who lives in the apartment upstairs, someone who works with you, someone you meet at bar, or a friend of a friend. Through my job, I encounter many young Jewish people. Do I know how to listen? Would I know how to help?

I brought my youth group to a MENSCH community education event, exposing these high school kids to the issue of abuse and engaging them in dialogue. The Clothesline Project, organized locally by Response, is a powerful visual display of t-shirts, each created by a survivor of abuse. Behind every shirt is a person with a story. I watched these kids begin to “get it”. Through MENSCH events at synagogues, JCCs and elsewhere, and through individual conversations, we can help our friends, our brothers, our sons start to “get it”.

“Get” that we have not only the opportunity, but the responsibility, to prevent attitudes and behaviors that lead to relationship violence. “Get” that building a healthy community, free of violence, starts when we can recognize the harmful effects of our own attitudes and behaviors on our partners, our community and ourselves.

It’s not that guys are schmucks and we should feel guilty. Most men are not violent, but most acts of violence are perpetrated by men. I have the ability, and the responsibility, to do something about it.

To help further our goals, MENSCH recently joined forced with JCARES (Jewish Community Abuse Resources, Education and Solutions), a dynamic coalition working to create a community that prioritizes safe, healthy relationships. With the support of JCARES, MENSCH is launching an attitudes and beliefs study. When we are done, we will be able to say, this is what Jewish men think about domestic violence. And the results will help shape future directions for MENSCH.

In the meantime, here are ten things you can do to make a difference:

• Encourage your HR department to sponsor workshops on positive relationships in the workplace, then sign up and bring your co-workers with you.

• Be a good listener.

• Read the SHALVA fact sheet on what to do when someone needs help.

• Speak with the boys in your synagogue youth group about ways to be cool that don't come at the expense of others.

• Embrace the driving/sex metaphor. Encourage your friends not do either when they or their passengers are drunk.

• Attend a rally, speaker, or seminar – just as you would for Israel, a favored politician or football team. You can “own” men's role in violence without being personally guilty.

• Talk to your friends about attitudes you likely share.

• Participate in the upcoming MENSCH Attitudes and Beliefs Survey.

• Know that there are resources out there – check out the MENSCH website to learn more.

• Take a moment to think about the way you’re talking and what you’re doing – in the words of your grandma and rabbi, be a mensch.

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