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Shalom Bayit

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10/13/2014

Cindy Sher photo 2

With Sukkot here, and a chill settling into the air outside, we're reminded of the warmth and peace of home, and the Jewish concept of shalom bayit—peace in the home.

But as news of domestic violence captures our attention in the media, we know not all homes are peaceful.

October marks National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and ever since the second video tape surfaced of Ray Rice knocking out his future wife, Janay Palmer, in the elevator, as well as other allegations of abuse in the National Football League, our society seems to be finally focusing on intimate partner abuse. 

In a world where we glorify celebrities for how far they throw a ball on the field or how big their star power is on the stage, it's about time we take this issue seriously and call out and punish the perpetrators of abuse.

I recall my stomach turning as I watched a massive crowd of fans at a televised performance cheer and practically bow down to musician Chris Brown not long after he punched his now ex-girlfriend, singer Rihanna, in the face.

And for decades, the public has paid a hero's welcome to Mike Tyson, a convicted rapist, whose ex-wife Robin Givens has alleged spousal abuse for years. The heavyweight champion of the world slugging his wife never seemed like a fair fight.

It's easy to wag our fingers at the NFL and other celebrities, famous for the wrong reasons, and yet the Jewish community doesn't get a pass on this one. As tough as it is to admit, intimate partner abuse is an equal-opportunity offender, happening just as often in the Jewish community as elsewhere in society.

Regardless of race, religion, education, or socio-economic status, a staggering one quarter of women in this country will be in abusive relationships during their lifetime, but only a tenth of men will be abusers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why the discrepancy? Because the abuser does not see his or her behavior as the problem; it is the abused person's problem. Consequently, even if the relationship ends, the abusive person, often a serial abuser, continues abusive behavior with the next person he or she becomes involved with.

Jewish abuse was once hidden away, kept shrouded in darkness. Helping our community expose this secret is the mission of SHALVA—"giving voice to the unspeakable." SHALVA—which means "tranquility" in Hebrew and launched in 1986—is the oldest, independent U.S. Jewish services agency combatting domestic violence.

A beneficiary of the Federation, SHALVA aids abuse victims through advocacy, counseling, legal information, and other support services for no fee. Anyone who self-identifies with the Jewish community—even those who are not Jewish, but who have Jewish partners—may turn to SHALVA.

We're not just talking about physical abuse. Intimate partner abuse, according to Bobbie Gordon, SHALVA's director of Community Education, builds over time, but starts with controlling behavior—verbal, emotional, financial abuse, and/or isolation from family and friends. It's unlikely that the first sign of trouble between Rice and Palmer was a knockout punch in that now infamous elevator.

Why all the secrecy in our community? SHALVA says that, first, there's a positive stereotype that Jewish men make the best husbands. And in contrast, there's a negative stereotype that characterizes Jewish women as demanding and overbearing princesses. That's what makes some women hesitant to seek help, for fear of not being taken seriously. Plus, in a more tight-knit community like ours, women fear loss of privacy and confidentiality if they come forward. Some worry about creating a shonda, a scandal, if they disclose their abuse.

SHALVA not only helps victims of abuse, but it plays another key role. It empowers the Jewish community to combat intimate partner abuse through awareness, education, and prevention, teaching what healthy relationships ought to look like.

JCARES is another effort in the Federation system that educates and addresses abuse across the Jewish community. Rooted in Jewish values, the program offers a series of educational sessions for professionals and leaders to engage in conversations about abuse. JCARES also offers two other programs: Partnership for Safer Communities strives to build overall health and wellness in schools, synagogues, and camps, and Project Shield heightens awareness about child sexual abuse.

Whatever the program, we need to model healthy relationships for our kids from the time they're in diapers. Abuse is usually learned behavior-passed down through the generations-where abusers were once the abused.

If we can make our children feel empowered and loved, they will have taken the first step to peace in their own homes down the road.

Contact SHALVA at (773) 583-HOPE or email: info@shalvaonline.org. SHALVA is a partner in serving our community with-and a special grant recipient of-the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

To reach JCARES Partnership for Safer Communities, call Jessica Schaeffer at (847) 745-5450. JCARES is a program of the Jewish Child & Family Services and is supported by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Jewish Women's Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, Michael Reese Health Trust, and other generous donors.

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