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Domestic Abuse In The Frum Community


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An Open Letter To The Silent Bas Yisroel

As the coordinator of the Domestic Abuse Program at OHEL for the past 10 years, I have seen many very special women come forward with their painful stories. I am proud to say that our program has made a significant difference in the lives of these courageous women.

Whether they have chosen to remain in the relationships, left the abusive relationship or are still contemplating their options, these women have been strengthened in their resolve to improve their lives and the lives of their children. Actually, they have even, in some cases, improved their lives with the abusers who are now living more peaceful lives with these women. You ask, “How is that possible?”

When I first began here we were getting very few calls. Those women who did call were very hesitant to share their name, much less, come in for a face-to-face interview. One particular woman managed to call me once a week from a safe phone and we had weekly therapy sessions that way for three months before she actually came in. To date she has made a life for herself and her children and is awaiting a GET.

For those afraid of coming forward because our agency is at times seen, albeit, incorrectly, as the extended arm of the city’s children’s services, we can honestly state that we have never had to report a case in our program to Children Services. In addition, the community should be aware that city agencies to date have been trained to understand the dynamics involved for mothers who are victims of abuse and that often their ability to care or protect their children is seriously compromised by their situation and, as such, will not remove the children from their mothers.

You see we understand how painful, frightening and shameful it is to take that first step and pick up the phone even if it is done anonymously. But we have learned an important lesson throughout the years, that is, if you keep hesitating and hiding you will never know if you can find some resolution for your constant pain and suffering.

We know you suffer in silence.

We know that for those who are being physically abused, who live with true violence on a daily basis, you are not only living with a broken heart but perhaps with the actual physical pain of broken bones. Some of you never seek medical help; others cover up the origin of your injuries. And so, the abuser gets stronger and stronger in his resolve to continue the abusive behavior. He has no reason in the world to change. He has you exactly where he wants you. Exactly where he has trained you to remain all these years, hidden and ashamed. It is our belief that shame is the overpowering reason for your anonymity.

For every woman who does come forward, and for whom we are so grateful that we can actually do something for, I am always reminded that there is another woman who has not taken that first step and is alone, frightened and hurting. That is a painful reality for those of us working in the field of domestic abuse. What exacerbates our pain and frustration is the knowledge that we can, without a doubt, somehow help you consider ways to change your present circumstances for the better. The solutions and options are not simple, but they are there.

We also understand that in no way are you portraying a lack of courage by not coming forward. You are afraid of repercussions. You may have actually tried to break away in the past, reached out to someone but found that they were unable to understand the intricacies of your plight. As you well know, the normal responses to interpersonal problems don’t work for domestic abuse victims. You do have to be more careful, you cannot just stand up to these abusers, you need to consider your safety and that of your children, your home, finances, and short and long term plans. OHEL’s Domestic Abuse Program is staffed with very sensitive, frum and knowledgeable individuals who have been trained in this area and will work with you in complete confidence.

Any step you wish to take is a courageous move forward. You only have to reach out and we will make every effort to grasp hold of your hand and help you. You have a right to a peaceful life, a peaceful marriage, a safe and trusting environment in which to live in and raise your children. No individual, much less a spouse, has a right to tamper with that right. Your effort at reaching out is not an attempt at destroying shalom bayis, it is a resolve to strengthen your shalom bayis. You are not the cause of the problem. You are a victim of circumstance. However, you need not remain that victim but can move forward to gaining freedom from this oppressed life. Again you ask, how?

Our motto is: “We are here to provide ‘SAFETY & HEALING’ – not force you into making long term decisions that you are not prepared to do.” This translates into a variety of possibilities that best suits the individual, rather than give “cooky-cutter” advice.

In certain cases, we were able to help some women reunite with their spouses – if the abusive spouse was prepared to work on himself and his marriage and the woman was inclined to reconcile with him.

Most importantly, each of the women who have sought our help came away stronger and more resolute in maintaining a healthy outlook on life, marriage and raising children. They have learned to recognize their own inner strengths and were able, as a result, to make intelligent informed decisions as how they could proceed with their lives.

Our bracha to every Bas Yisroel, “May you merit a peaceful, loving home where you can practice the much quoted posuk: “Esha keshara osseh r’tzon baalah” (an honorable woman is responsive to her husband). It is not difficult to be an esha keshara when your spouse acts as a true “baal” (loving spouse) and treats his wife as “ishto keguffo” (dear to him as his own self is to him).

OHEL’s Domestic Abuse Program offers a range of completely confidential services from private counseling, weekly support groups, to safe dwellings. All services are free of charge. Our telephone number is 718 851-6300. Please ask to speak to our intake coordinator where you will find a sensitive individual who will take your information and refer you to our department. You will then receive a call from one of our counselors directly.

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As the coordinator of the Domestic Abuse Program at OHEL for the past 10 years, I have seen many very special women come forward with their painful stories. I am proud to say that our program has made a significant difference in the lives of these courageous women.

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