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One Life at a Time
March 11, 2013
One Life at a Time

Posted by Mark Sokoll

White Ribbon Campaign“In the image of G-d he created them. Each and every man and woman in the image of G-d" reads the Book of Genesis. But a belief in G-d is not a prerequisite to understanding the real message of the Book of Genesis. There is an infinite dignity in each one of us that must be respected, nurtured, and cared for by every one of us.

When nearly one in four women in the United States reports experiencing violence by a current or former spouse or boyfriend at some point in her life, we cannot stand idly by. When we know that domestic abuse occurs at roughly the same rate in the Jewish community as in the general population, our clergy, our communal leaders, our congregations, our organizations, and our community cannot stand idly by.

As the CEO of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston and as a man, I challenge each of us and especially other men to reflect deeply about what we see around us. The reality of domestic abuse in our Jewish and secular communities leaves us no choice but to speak out and say abuse and violence towards our partners is a violation of our Jewish values.

People often ask, “What can I do about this problem?” The first thing is to understand domestic abuse as a pattern of controlling behaviors imposed on one person by his or her husband, boyfriend, or wife. These controlling behaviors can be violent but can also include emotional, verbal, psychological, and financial abuse as well.

So how do we help our friends or loved ones if we recognize abusive behavior? Let them know you are concerned and you are there for them. Convey your concern without judgment and leave the door open for them to reach out to you anytime. Ask yourself, your congregation, rabbi, or friends: Have we done our part to be sure that survivors of domestic abuse will find that “community embrace” if they reach out? Also, don’t feel that you have to figure this out alone. JF&CS Journey to Safety and other professionals with experience with domestic abuse are here to help.

Thursday, March 7 was White Ribbon Day. The White Ribbon Campaign’s goal is to encourage men to become more involved at home, across the country, and internationally in ending violence against women. Even as fathers, husbands, family members, and friends, men are often silent on this issue. White Ribbon Day calls for men and boys – including Jewish men and boys – to step up, listen, learn, and then act.

It’s time to look at our response to those in our midst who are literally or figuratively bleeding. Are we looking the other way? Our tradition and our communal values demand that we ask these difficult questions and act upon the answers. Judaism teaches that saving a single life is like saving the entire world. Efforts to stop abuse and prevent future abuse really do matter, one life at a time.

Mark Sokoll is a lifelong Jewish community advocate, activist, and educator. Since 1988 he has held several posts at the JCC, including Director of Jewish Resources and Executive Director; he became President/CEO in 2000. Prior to his tenure at the JCCGB, Mark was a Senior Educator at Alexander Muss High School in Israel and also worked as a licensed tour guide. During his service in the Israel Defense Forces, he served as an educator at the IDF Institute for Officer Training and Education.

He is a past Chair of the Board of Directors of the Lenny Zakim Fund, a nonprofit foundation that funds Greater Boston grassroots organizations involved in building a better society for all. He has been honored by Mayyim Hayyim and is a past recipient of the Myrtle Wreath Award from Hadassah; the Lester Gilson Award from the Solomon Schechter Day School; and the Bernard Reisman Award from the Hornstein Program at Brandeis University.

A graduate of Boston University, Mark earned his Master of Arts in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies from Brandeis University and received Rabbinic ordination from the Bet Din-Bet Achim in New York City. He stepped down from a part-time position at Temple B’nai Israel in Revere, Massachusetts in 2010.

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