By Rabbi Donna Kirshbaum
It was never easy. Now it’s even harder for those in our communities suffering from domestic abuse to reach out to trusted leaders, and for leaders to reach them. With its new Mi sh’Beirach written explicitly on behalf of these families, Jewish Women International’s Clergy Task Force anticipates a process similar to sending a message in a bottle: although for now it must be shared in a general way, it stands a chance of reaching specific homes, at least during this mid-pandemic moment.
Jewish leaders have little choice but to cast this message out into the life we are presently living, trusting it will be heard by at least some of those who are most in need: we know you are suffering, we stand ready to support you, we will work to communicate with you without further compromising your safety. The Task Force urges colleagues across the denominations to publish the mi sh’beirach on a regular basis in bulletins and newsletters, link to it permanently on websites, share it widely on social media, and speak it aloud during weekly services – with perhaps a special emphasis at each rosh hodesh – in Hebrew and/or English. Stylistically, it fits the traditional formula in both languages; content-wise, this mi sh’beirach is direct. Take, for example, the middle section:
May the Holy One support those whose homes have become places of quarantine and quarrel. May they find a sukkat shalom, a shelter of peace, above and around them, far from danger and struggle.
May the Holy One reveal to those who have caused harm that they do not exist alone, that their violence harms both body and soul.
JWI’s updated Mi sh’Beirach for Families Experiencing Abuse also echoes the intent of its many cousins – those often highly creative, highly public petitions for blessing and healing, not only on behalf of individuals but of entire communities. As such, this one also asks for wisdom and a discerning ear within our institutions. Even those organizations that have worked to remove the long-standing stigma attached to abuse must still figure out how to become a source of safety, strength, and reliability for victims who have been suffering in silence and shame.
Indeed, while the silence of some who are sequestered grows more deafening, that of others has finally been broken with calls for help. In any case, the problem is acute. According to a recent article by JWI’s Chief Program Officer Deborah Rosenbloom and founding Director of the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence Rob Valente, published here in eJP on Oct 1st, “243 million women and girls ages 15-49 were sexually and/or physically attacked by an intimate partner in the last 12 months. Unemployment, financial hardship, and physical and mental trauma due to the pandemic are causing an uptick in domestic violence worldwide. Covid-19 has intensified the complexity, scale and lethality of this violence with data from around the world showing that front line workers, hotlines, shelters, and law enforcement are reporting increased requests for help.”
In order to help Jewish clergy help others, the Task Force has also updated its Clergy Guide on Domestic Abuse in addition to its mi sh’beirach. Meanwhile its parent organization has embarked on a multi-faceted project, with support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, designed to understand the needs of Jewish families experiencing abuse and strengthen the ability of both clergy and direct services to support them. The Jewish Domestic Violence Needs Assessment will help produce “a roadmap to connect families with appropriate services, explore ways to keep our congregations safe, and forge stronger relationships with external domestic violence prevention, awareness, and support programs, creating a national agenda to develop new collaborations, partnerships and funding sources for Jewish survivors’ continuing and unmet needs.” JWI also notes that the ten-minute survey is expected to yield a directory of services and programs to be housed on its website and will “lift up the voices of those you serve, which will be shared with decision-makers and funders.”
Responding to this shadow pandemic requires improvisation and ingenuity. In that spirit, JWI’s Clergy Task Force is encouraging leaders to pluck this new mi sh’beirach out of the sea of pandemic-related advice and share its message as often and as widely as possible.
Rabbi Donna Kirshbaum, co-creator of JWI’s updated mi sh’beirach with Rabbi Sean Gorman, has been active in the Clergy Task Force for over a decade and is responsible for its four “Rethinking” holiday guides for Purim, Shavuot, Sukkot, and Shabbat. She has been leading her part-time pulpit, Bethlehem Hebrew Congregation in northern New Hampshire, from her home in Israel since April.