JCADA prepares to Mark Domestic Abuse Awareness Month

This October, communities across the state and throughout the country will sport purple ribbons as a reminder of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Please wear yours.

Our Detroit Jewish community must continue to look ata problem from which we are not immune.

Why, you might ask? Don’t Jews believe in Shalom Bayit (peace in the home)? Certainly, domestic abuse and violence don’t occur in Jewish households …

Sadly, our rabbis, social workers, physicians, teachers and friends tell us that is not the case. In fact, the incidences of domestic abuse and violence in Jewish communities is statistically the same as in other communities, without regard to economic status or educational level.

More than a dozen years ago, Jewish Family Service, with the support of the Jewish Women’s Foundation, commissioned Jewish Women International to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment survey of attitudes, knowledge and beliefs about domestic abuse in the Detroit Jewish community.

The results of the survey told us that our community did not understand much about domestic abuse. Broadly speaking, the report concluded that leaders, clergy and social service providers in our community were ill-equipped to recognize incidences of domestic abuse. When they did understand that something frightening was happening, they did not have the tools to respond or help.

JCADA, our community’s ongoing response to domestic abuse, was born. The Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA), supported by back-to-back grants from the Jewish Women’s Foundation, set out to educate the community and our responders and to create a network among the Jewish human service agencies, synagogues, psychotherapists, physicians and teachers that is ready and able to respond. JCADA is working to ensure that there is no wrong door for those seeking help.

Our congregations are often a point of entry for families experiencing abuse. To that end, our clergy must be trained in how to recognize the signs of abuse as well as how to respond.  JCADA has supported clergy trainings for the Michigan Board of Rabbis and the Va’ad, and will continue to do so until we have eradicated domestic violence altogether.

For a long time, modern society has been silent on the theme of violence in families — with the idea that if we don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist. Of course, avoidance isn’t the answer. What we have learned, however, is that by talking about the reality of domestic violence in our community, we can then begin to combat it one family at a time. With awareness campaigns, like the purple ribbon campaign and others, with education campaigns, and ever since our community rabbis have begun talking about domestic violence from the pulpit, discussing it in Torah study classes, in conversations in the sukkah, at the festival/holiday table, etc., more and more people are becoming comfortable sharing their stories and working to end this violence.

Abuse in Jewish families presents itself exactly the same as it does in non-Jewish families with different forms of abuse: physical, verbal, mental, financial. Ultimately, it is about one partner exerting control (and taking away control) from the other. A uniquely Jewish form of abuse comes in the form of withholding a get (a Jewish divorce) from a woman after receiving a civil divorce. This maintains a man’s control over his former wife and prohibits her from remarrying and moving on with her life. Please understand that this does exist and it is very real.

If you are concerned about a family member or friend, recommend that they speak with someone they trust; this could be their doctor, counselor or rabbi. A trained rabbi will create a safe space for a confidential conversation and make referrals for support. Please also know that suggesting that the couple “just work it out” isn’t always the best advice, for it can actually exacerbate the violence. And just because a person recognizes that he/she is in an abusive relationship, it doesn’t mean they are ready to leave. As friends, family and clergy, our role is to be available for friendship and support when they are ready.


Helen Katz is a JCADA member and on the JFS Board of Directors Executive Committee.





Rabbi Marla Hornsten is a JCADA mmber and co-chair for the Clergy Task Force to End Domestic Violence for Jewish Women International.

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