The Fragility and Isolation of Home

Photo by RonAlmog, (Flickr page)

By Deborah Rosenbloom, JD/MPA and Rob (Roberta) Valente, JD

The statistics are staggering: Globally, 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 world-wide. 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. Many victims are unable to reach out for help as sheltering-in-place and quarantine make it significantly more difficult to access supportive networks and essential services. 

Jewish homes and families are no exception.

Sheltering-in-place during this pandemic has given many people a small taste of the isolation victims of domestic violence experience regularly. As Sukkot begins and Jews around the world sit in temporary dwellings – this year without welcoming friends to join us – we experience an even more vulnerable version of home. 

Home can be a difficult place to be, even for families with the best of relationships. And yet, home will always be an unsafe place for domestic violence victims who are forced to shelter-in-place with an abuser. Safety planning by victims and friends of victims needs to be adjusted to meet the unique circumstances of COVID-19

As Sukkot begins, so does Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While domestic abuse in Jewish families is no longer stigmatized as substantially as it was a decade or two ago, it is often still a source of shame, and family-centered values may pressure victims to remain in an abusive relationship. (A study of the London Jewish community shows that Jewish women wait about two years longer than the national average before reaching out for help.)

With generous support from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Jewish Women International (JWI) is embarking upon a multi-pronged project designed to strengthen survivor-centered supportive infrastructures, provide peer-to-peer support and trainings for domestic violence professionals and galvanize the Jewish community’s leadership to prioritize the needs of families experiencing abuse. 

And we need your help.

Today, JWI is emailing surveys to the agencies that address domestic abuse in the Jewish community in order to assess the landscape of current services and of unmet needs. The survey was designed by an advisory committee consisting of domestic violence program directors, survivors of violence, clergy, policy experts, and representatives of Jewish Family Services. 

We are seeking a 100% response rate to this survey. If you received it, please fill it out. If you know someone who should have received it, please ask them to complete it. 

In mid-October, following the conclusion of the holidays, a second survey will be sent to congregational clergy and chaplains. They are vital to the effort of creating safe Jewish spaces by sharing prevention messages, demanding accountability from abusers, and helping victims reach safety and healing. 

We know that spiritual leaders are often the first professional a victim turns to for help and guidance, but during COVID-19 there is a new urgency for clergy to reach out to congregants who may be experiencing abuse in their homes. As David Lau, the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel, wrote in a Rosh Hashanah message directed at rabbis in the Diaspora and Israel, “Serve as an ear for the plight of the daughters of the families,” and help connect them to advocates he urges. He noted that calls to a domestic violence hotline in Israel increased by 400% in May alone due to the pandemic. (The Jerusalem Post, September 21, 2020). 

Please encourage your rabbis and cantors to add their voices to this effort. 

An analysis of findings from the two surveys and additional in-depth interviews with survivors, domestic violence advocates and clergy will be released in January. From these findings, we will build a roadmap to address the gaps with robust programmatic, funding and advocacy initiatives that support survivors. 

We learn in the Mishnah, Tractate Sukkah, Chapter 2.8 that women are exempt from the obligation to live in the sukkah. Indeed, no one should be required to live in a vulnerable space. When that space is not safe, we turn to our community for shelter. Much like the way we gather as a community, so too, we must offer support for all who dwell within our virtual walls, building a safe place for all who find home in our midst.

Deborah Rosenbloom, JD/MPA is Chief Program Officer, Jewish Women International & Rob (Roberta) Valente, JD is founding Director of the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence and former Attorney Advisor, U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women.

Jewish Women International (JWI) is the leading Jewish organization working to end violence, ensure economic security, lift women’s leadership, and build a world in which all women may thrive. To learn more, visit: jwi.org