9.24: what a difference a day – a month, a year – can make

So, Domestic Violence Awareness Month is upon us once again.

When I first came to JWI, DVAM – and the entire abuse issue, really – was nowhere near my radar. Five years later I am most definitely aware, and part of me wonders when I might become desensitized to all this sadness for the victims, anger toward the abusers, and frustrated disappointment with protective systems that systematically fail to protect.

After reading through dozens of tragic stories to choose 30-plus for this project, I can confidently say, “Not this year.”

And of course, not any year. There is no vaccine for empathy, and no anesthetic for vicarious pain. Besides, a light heart in the face of all this tragedy wouldn’t be brave or optimistic; it would be empty.

Anyway, searching for the content of this blog has been an interesting odyssey. I heard a lot along the way – but the most resounding echo is all that ISN’T being said about domestic violence. The silence surrounding this issue makes the fortress even more difficult to breach – and nearly impossible to conquer.

For example, the friends and family I e-mailed directly for help spreading the word (a pretty large group, the majority Jewish) were mostly unresponsive, except for one or two who replied with a referral to somebody else, like a shelter worker who might contribute an experience. I know for a fact some of my contacts have first- and/or second-hand knowledge of abuse, but none of them stepped forward to share.

Friends on Facebook were also largely dismissive. When I invited them to join this project as an event, not one of them responded “yes.” However – ten did RSVP “maybe,” and six of those were men (two Jewish, three not, and one half). One friend contributed a story.

People on Craig’s List were downright hostile. Comments from the Women’s Issues forum included “ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ” and “Yawn NEXT!,” and one user flagged me as anti-semetic (sic). (I love a good spellor, especially one who’s well informed.)

On the other side of the coin, those who’d already gone public with their stories were beyond gracious about letting us post their art and writing here. Most took a genuine interest in JWI, and offered to help any other way they could.

In general I’ve found it much, much harder to engage Jewish women in this project than non-Jewish women. They didn’t just decline to share a story or discuss the issue; they refused to even acknowledge it. Not denial, just… total quiet. (Male friends – particularly Jewish ones – were a bit more inquisitive.)

For five years now, when I tell people, “I work for Jewish Women International, we do a lot of work around domestic abuse,” I’m almost always met with either skepticism or outright disbelief. Usually a lame joke, too, about Jewish women abusing their husbands (it doesn’t get any funnier after 50 tellings), and of course the question: “Is there really that kind of violence in the Jewish community?”

The answer is “Yes,” – and if you want to know why you’ve never heard of it before, just listen to the silence.

But first listen to these stories from abuse survivors – those who lived to tell, and those who have to live without their murdered friends and relatives. They cover the spectrum of races, religions, and regions of the U.S., illustrating the fact that domestic violence truly is an equal-opportunity destroyer. They do have one thing in common, though – and we thank them for that inspiring courage that makes them a community unto themselves.


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