Posted by Myriam Lukoff
Jews strive to achieve balance between individual and communal identities. Although we take pride in individual accomplishments, alone we are less than what we can be. Rabbi Hillel states, "If I am not for myself, who is for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I?"
Community unity can be a powerful vehicle of expression, activism, and change in Jewish tradition. Joyfully, we celebrate communal simchas. Pensively, communities pray on Sabbath and holidays. Mournfully, communities attend to the needs of the deceased and pay respect to their grieving families. As a community, we understand and share others' joyful or sad emotions openly and unabashedly. However, are we capable of empathy when learning a community member is a victim of domestic abuse? While collectively showing support for her, are we openly addressing her physical, emotional, and financial needs without doubting the authenticity of her claim or fully understanding her plight? Are we embarrassed to help or do we not want to get involved? Do we individually step back in silence or as a community step forward to become a voice for this victim?
The victim hears, "She would leave him if she really was being hurt by him,” but is it really so simple to leave one’s abuser? Consider the difficult choice a victim has to make in this example:
A mother of young children stays with her physically and emotionally abusive husband so her children don't live apart from their father. You might ask yourself, “Isn't it obvious that the safety of young, helpless children always comes first?” However, you might not realize that this decision is not so clear to a woman whose choices have been limited, removed, or so criticized that she no longer trusts her inner voice or instincts. Separating her children from their father could feel confusing and very threatening. She might worry about where she will go, how she will support herself and her children, and how she will be able to cope with ongoing emotional and legal abuse after leaving her abuser. It is at this moment when a community openly supporting this victim can give her the courage to protect herself and her children.
If you are approached by a victim or if you hear about a victim of abuse, rally your community (with the victim’s permission) in support of her and her children. Help her and educate yourself about the long-term effects of abuse on victims and their children. As a community we have the power to stop the abuse by helping people to remove themselves and their children from an abusive environment. We have a community responsibility to stop the cycle of abuse from reaching the psyche of these young, impressionable children before they evolve into young men and women who might perpetuate the cycle of abusing or being abused.
Please ask yourself, "Don’t we have an obligation to save others? Wouldn’t we want others to reach out to us in our own different but personal crises?” Hopefully we won't have to ask for help or suffer in silence if we create a community that comes together not only in times of joy but also in times of great -- but not insurmountable - challenges. In giving strength to others, may we be strengthened.
Myriam Lukoff is a member of the Advisory Committee of Journey to Safety, the JF&CS response to domestic abuse. Along with other community members, she has helped to create PARPAR, an organization promoting domestic violence awareness in the Orthodox Jewish community. Myriam has a bachelor of science in physiology from McGill University in Montreal, where she grew up. She currently teaches at Maimonides Elementary School in Brookline and lives in Southborough with her family.
Watch our video to learn why domestic abuse is a serious issue.
Read more from our Domestic Violence Awareness Month blog series.