Janna Friedman, a licensed clinical social worker, described how she once listened to a female client who confided in her about the constant fighting going on in her marriage — how her husband put her down all the time and controlled the family's finances. That was when Friedman saw "red flags" flying everywhere.
These women are "not even aware it's abuse," said Friedman. "They're not even aware of the severity of the situation — that that's not a healthy relationship."
Friedman explained that such scenarios are common in her line of work as coordinator of Shelter of Peace, the Jewish Family and Children's Service of Greater Philadelphia's domestic-violence prevention program. She stated that one-in-four Jewish women and one-in-seven Jewish men are the victims of domestic violence — including physical, emotional, verbal and financial abuse, the latter two being the most frequent cases she handles — and these statistics for the Jewish community mirror those nationally.
"The numbers speak for themselves," said Richard Gelles, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice, which is celebrating its centennial year of social work education. Gelles, an internationally recognized expert on domestic violence and child welfare, who has conducted several national surveys that look at religion and rates of physical violence within families, was also quick to assert that men can be the victim as well.
"It's a myth that violence doesn't occur in Jewish households," said Gelles. "[It's] just not true."
With October designated as Domestic Violence Awareness month, organizations are bringing the issue of abusive relationships — something that is all too often hidden within families — to the forefront of public consciousness, and a new local initiative has been launched to focus attention on the problem.
Women Against Abuse, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit agency that provides services to victims of domestic violence and their children in Pennsylvania, is partnering with the City of Philadelphia and Verizon Wireless to raise awareness in the local area. For the next six weeks, the agency is urging people to get on board with its citywide, antiviolence iPledge campaign.
On Wednesday, Sept. 24, the kickoff event for this initiative was held at City Hall as WAA representatives, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, elected officials and others spoke on how domestic violence affects not just the victim, but her — or his — whole family, the workplace and witnesses of the abuse. "The impact lasts a lifetime," said deputy mayor and city health commissioner, Dr. Donald Schwarz.
No Stranger in the Community
Jews have to understand that domestic violence is no stranger to their community and that it affects all denominations, noted Friedman, who added that Jewish women tend to stay in abusive relationships five to 15 years longer than members of other ethnic communities. Additionally, abuse is "so underreported" in the secular community, but it's especially so in Jewish households.
"It doesn't fit in with Jewish culture," noted Friedman. She said it's hard for Jewish women "to admit the person they chose to be with isn't a 'nice Jewish guy.' "
A fear exists within the community, she explained, that if the abuse is reported, it won't be believed, perhaps because of the public persona of the abuser as a respected doctor, lawyer or Jewish community leader; "especially for the Jewish community, we need to break the silence."
The City Hall kickoff event last week added another layer of meaning to this pervasive issue as it was held less than 24 hours, after the shooting death of Philadelphia Police Officer Patrick McDonald, the fourth local officer killed in the line of duty in the past year. Several of the speakers commented on a correlation that exists between violence in the home and the level of crime on the city's streets.
Nutter charged Philadelphians to be good friends and citizens, and offer to help or point out resources if someone is being abused.
"Domestic violence doesn't discriminate against any ethnicity, it doesn't typecast," noted Heather Keafer, director of fund development and communications at WAA, echoing the comments of Friedman and Gelles. Keafer added that it affects young and old, rich or poor. The iPledge campaign, she went on to say, is an opportunity to open the doors for communication, and have Philadelphians make a personal commitment to end the cycle of abuse. She insisted that issue had to be made "more public."
Faith-based communities, she added, can play an important role in spreading the message.
The WAA has a diverse membership (including at least four Jewish members) from multiple professions. That's so the organization can "involve as much of the community as we can," noted board president Sally Rosenthol. She and other WAA staff and board members emphasized their intent was to make further inroads not only into the Jewish community, but into other religious and racial minorities — something Friedman agreed with.
"The more ties we have with other organizations, the better off we are," said Friedman.
She said that, during this month, Shelter of Peace is stepping up its efforts to reach out to synagogues, advising them that posters and brochures are available, which provide information about the agency's programs.
"Help is out there," said Friedman. "Call us. Abuse does happen, and we are here to help."
For more information, call the JFCS helpline at 866-532-7669 or visit www.iPledgeWAA.org.