Domes­tic Abuse and the Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty: Per­spec­tives From the First Inter­na­tion­al Conference

Cindy Enger, Diane Gards­bane, eds.
  • Review
By – October 17, 2011

In July of 2003, over 500 par­tic­i­pants gath­ered in Bal­ti­more, Mary­land for a ground­break­ing event, the First Inter­na­tion­al Con­fer­ence on Domes­tic Abuse in the Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty. The event was spon­sored by Jew­ish Women Inter­na­tion­al and fea­tured over 100 speak­ers. Domes­tic Abuse and the Jew­ish Com­mu­ni­ty fea­tures 15 of those pre­sen­ta­tions and is the next best thing to hav­ing attend­ed the conference.

In the intro­duc­tion, the edi­tors explain that A fun­da­men­tal com­mit­ment, which steered the con­fer­ence pro­gram, was the belief that the glob­al Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty,’ though divid­ed (some­times bit­ter­ly) by pol­i­tics, reli­gious prac­tice, cul­ture and geog­ra­phy, could cre­ate mech­a­nisms to work togeth­er based on shared val­ues about what Judaism teach­es about the nature of all rela­tion­ships, and par­tic­u­lar­ly about inti­mate and fam­i­ly relationships.” 

To whet your appetite, the fol­low­ing are brief descrip­tions of three of the presentations: 

Dr. Amy Rob­bins is a high­ly suc­cess­ful anes­the­si­ol­o­gist who was bat­tered by her ex-hus­band for ten years. She speaks with artic­u­late pas­sion about how she was able to extri­cate her­self from the hell in which she was tem­porar­i­ly con­fined. Her pre­sen­ta­tion ends with a poem writ­ten by her 15-year-old daugh­ter, Emi­ly, who speaks with a voice that is bril­liant and clear. It will simul­ta­ne­ous­ly break your heart and fill it with hope. 

Nao­mi Graetz, who teach­es Eng­lish at Ben Guri­on Uni­ver­si­ty of the Negev, dis­cuss­es how fam­i­ly issues are han­dled halakhi­cal­ly in Israel. The con­cept of civ­il mar­riage doesn’t exist in the State of Israel, so if a woman is being abused by her hus­band and wants a divorce, she must ask her abuser to give her a get. If he refus­es, she is at the mer­cy of the Ortho­dox rabbinate. 

Bren­da Solarsh and Jane Frankel of the Jew­ish Help­ing Hand Soci­ety in Johan­nes­burg, South Africa, pro­vide an inter­est­ing descrip­tion of the response of the close-knit South African Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty to domes­tic vio­lence. This is a com­mu­ni­ty in which the inter­mar­riage rate is under 10% and 80% of the Jew­ish chil­dren attend Jew­ish day schools.

This book will be of the great­est inter­est to: rab­bis, social work­ers, men­tal health and oth­er pro­fes­sion­als who work with the abused or the abusers; to those indi­vid­u­als who lives have been touched per­son­al­ly by domes­tic abuse and to Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions that are keen­ly inter­est­ed in cre­at­ing domes­tic abuse projects. Some of the mate­r­i­al refers very specif­i­cal­ly to Jew­ish law and might only be of con­cern to reli­gious Jews and Jew­ish pro­fes­sion­als. What is crys­tal clear is that hold­ing this con­fer­ence was a very impor­tant step for­ward for the glob­al Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and the result­ing book is a trea­sure that is now avail­able to help domes­tic vio­lence sur­vivors who need encour­age­ment and ideas, to encour­age intel­lec­tu­al dis­course and to pro­vide blue­prints for the devel­op­ment of new services.

Nao­mi Tropp recent­ly retired after a long career in non­prof­it man­age­ment. She worked on the Ann Katz Fes­ti­val of Books at the Indi­anapo­lis JCC for 9 of its twelve years and direct­ed the fes­ti­val for three of those years.

Discussion Questions