10.26: faces around the seder table

It is Sunday, April 20, 2008, 7:00 p.m. at a synagogue in Cleveland, Ohio. Four women, from different parts of the world, are sitting around the Seder table. What they have in common is that they are all victims of domestic abuse who sought refuge at the Hebrew Shelter Home in Cleveland, Ohio.

One of the women table is Rebecca, who has three small children. Rebecca escaped her husband, a successful business man, social charmer and abuser. She came to Cleveland from Cincinnati because she feared nobody in the observant community she lived in would believe her. She was referred to JFSA by the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Rebecca was relieved to hear of a shelter that would not only provide safety, but also an observant, kosher space for her and her children.

Sitting next to Rebecca is Hannah, a 19-year-old Jewish girl who escaped from her abusive boyfriend, goes to a local community college, and wants to be a teacher. Her boyfriend, six years her senior, was her manager at the McDonald’s restaurant where she worked. After dating for two years, they moved in together. He controlled her every move, called her cell phone every five minutes, and accused her of having an affair. When she told him that she was leaving, he locked her in a closet. Hannah’s mother, who was Jewish, died when Hannah was 15 years old, and her father, who is Catholic, remarried to a woman who was uninterested in Hannah. Hannah has not practiced Judaism since her mother passed, and this is her first Seder in nine years. She is surprised by how safe and reconnected she feels.

Next is Jessica, a 32-year-old Jewish woman with two children who was married for 12 years to her high school sweetheart. Jessica always took his controlling nature as a sign of how much he loved her until his behavior escalated, and she realized she needed a healthier life. Jessica’s husband isolated her from her friends and family. He threatened that if she divorced him, he would make sure she would not ever be with anyone else. She saw a flyer advertising a JFSA Family Violence Services support group for empowering women. Since she began participating in the program, she has received the knowledge, resources, strength and support to leave her husband safely. Jessica has a good job at a local bank, and JFSA is providing her with legal services so that she can get a divorce, obtain a protection order, and receive child support.

The most recent addition to this group is Mrs. T, a 65-year-old woman who came to the Hebrew Shelter Home to escape abuse from her daughter and son-in-law. A widow in Ukraine, she came to the USA to look after her granddaughter. Now that her granddaughter is going off to college, Mrs. T’s daughter and son-in-law are threatening to throw her on the streets. Mrs. T knows that her daughter endures abuse too, but she cannot get through to her. When Mrs.T. read an article in the Russian newspaper about the services at JFSA for domestic abuse victims, she knew she had to get help. Mrs. T has learned how to take the bus, registered for English classes, and made friends at the Hebrew Shelter Home. She has obtained affordable housing and a part-time job through the resources offered to her. Sitting at the Seder table with her new friends, she is thinking of all they have in common. They are all Jewish survivors of domestic abuse, and more importantly, with the support of the community, they are all becoming empowered women who are not merely surviving, but thriving.

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