Domestic violence and abuse exist everywhere, even in the Orthodox Jewish world.
“Domestic violence happens in all communities,” said Deborah Rosenbloom, chief program officer of Jewish Women’s International, a Jewish nonprofit advocating for an end to domestic violence against women and girls. “No one is immune.”
To address the problem in the Philadelphia community, JWI is partnering with Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia and Dinah Philadelphia to design a slate of education and training programs and community outreach opportunities. The projects are a result of a grant awarded to JWI by the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women.
The grant, titled “Sh’ma Kolenu: Engaging the Orthodox Jewish Community of Philadelphia in Addressing Domestic Violence,” is for $450,000 over three years. Awarded in October with the budget approved in January, JWI, JFCS and Dinah will convene a group of Orthodox leaders this month to build interest in addressing domestic violence in the community.
“Our religious leaders are our first responders, so it’s crucial for us to be able to provide them the training and resources to help those in abusive relationships, which includes knowing when something is beyond the scope of their work and when to refer out,” said Ronni Troodler, program manager and social worker for Orthodox Services of JFCS of Greater Philadelphia.
The partnership also will develop a series of workshops for Jewish high school and college students at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, led by JFCS, legal professionals and mainstream service providers, led by Dinah, and raise awareness of domestic violence through signs and brochures at local Jewish businesses and community spaces.
The interventions and awareness-raising programming will be tailored to the results of JWI’s 2021 study, “Domestic Violence in the Jewish Community: A Needs Assessment,” which found gaps in long-term help for survivors.
“The goal behind this whole thing is to reduce the shanda, reduce the shame people feel about it and promote healthy relationships,” Rosenbloom said.
JWI applied for a grant from the Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women specifically for underserved populations, such as faith groups. According to Rosenbloom, many service providers who provide care and interventions for domestic abuse survivors have not received culturally competent training. Providers may not know about specific dating norms; shelters may not provide kosher meals or keep Shabbat; survivors may not feel comfortable seeking care outside of their community.
JWI does not have any direct service providers and chose to partner with JFCS and Dinah, which both provide direct services to survivors. Philadelphia also has a robust Jewish community, allowing JWI to extend its impact beyond the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas.
Both JFCS and Dinah are part of JWI’s collaborative membership, providing national networking and peer support for Jewish organizations addressing domestic abuse. The two organizations, particularly Dinah, provided input on JWI’s 2021 needs assessment.
JFCS and Dinah, with JWI’s resources and grant dollars, will be able to expand their own programming and community outreach.
“Up until now, there hasn’t been any institutional infrastructure addressing domestic violence and abuse within the Orthodox community in Philadelphia,” Troodler said.
Because the Orthodox Jewish community can be insular, it’s important to identify community leaders who can provide resources in confidence. According to Dinah Director of Programs and Partnerships Rachel Yakobashvili, mikvah attendants are examples of people who, when trained, can provide resources and support for survivors of domestic violence or abuse.
“Domestic violence and services — they do look different in every community, and you have to consider the cultural nuances behind that,” Yakobashvili said.
Emotional abuse can also take on specific forms in the Orthodox Jewish world, such as the withholding of a get, or documentation that allows for a divorce. Even if a Jewish couple divorces legally in civil court, if a man withholds a get from a woman, she is unable to remarry within the Jewish community.
“Refusing a get is really demoralizing to the survivor in the situation,” Yakobashvili said. “It’s a more insidious way that abusers manipulate situations in order to assert power, dominance and control that isn’t recognized by the court system.”
With appropriate education and interventions, more Orthodox community members can feel empowered to address domestic violence and abuse.
“There’s a huge emphasis, as we know, in Orthodox life on marriage and family,” Rosenbloom said. “We want to be sure that those relationships are healthy — and not just the end goal of getting married, having children, but that the end goal is like having a healthy relationship within that marriage and with your children.”