Mrs. Sharon Russ, Hotline Director for Shalom Task Force, prays every day that her job will cease to exist. Alas, her prayers have yet to be answered. Over the last fifteen years, thousands of Jewish women have summoned up the courage to reach out and contact the hotline, asking for help. They rely on Shalom Task Force’s guarantee of anonymity and privacy and awareness that an Orthodox Jewish wife will often delay efforts to seek advice. This is because she is fearful of embarrassment and the potential negative consequences for her and her children. When she finally gathers the courage to face her dilemma, calling the hotline is her first step towards getting help.
The caller could be a distraught mother who believes that her married daughter is suffering from a controlling, critical husband. She wonders what can or should be done. Another call could be a young girl in her twenties, engaged to be married in just one month, who is uneasy because she heard her chassan speak to a family member in a cold, hostile way. Is this a red flag she should be paying attention to? Is he really the mensch everyone said he is? She’s been uneasy for a while now, as she’s seen this darker side of his personality emerge on several occasions. Should she break off the engagement? And if she does, will she ever get another chance? These cases are representative of the hundreds of different situations Shalom Task Force’s highly trained staff of dedicated women face on a regular basis.
STF hotline advocates take a three-hour shift once a week. They don’t take their responsibility lightly. They know that for many women, they may be the only existing lifeline. There are more than an estimated 1000 calls received each year. Many of these calls are in response to a domestic abuse situation. Additionally, the hotline provides referrals and a listening ear for personal and family concerns.
Rachel*, a dedicated volunteer, shares her experience: “One of my first calls was a woman who called Monday morning at 9:02am, right after the phones opened. It was clear she had been waiting to make the call. She said: ‘I just want you to know that Hashem blessed me with seven children. Last night, baruch Hashem, was the last sheva brachos for my youngest child. I have been married 35 years, my life has been a living hell and I have to get out of my marriage.'” Rachel, the volunteer, continues: “Many times the phone will ring and all I’ll hear is sniffling. I’ll say, ‘I’m here for you, I care about you. I’ll hold on for as long as you need.’ The woman will start sobbing because someone cares about her. I have listened to women cry for ten minutes before they start talking.”
A few years ago, the hotline began an affiliate program that has allowed them to expand beyond the NYC region. Since it is very costly to start up a new hotline and to train volunteers, other areas of the country are joining Shalom Task Force as affiliates. These cities put together a customized manual for social service, therapeutic and legal referrals in their area, and supply the New York volunteers with these manuals. If a woman in trouble calls from elsewhere she will speak to a New York volunteer who has access to referrals that are well suited to the caller’s geographic location.
Sarah* is the name the anonymous victim used when she called the hotline one Tuesday morning, after her husband had left for work and her children were safely at school. She had been summoning the courage to make this call for at least three years. Her hands trembling, her mouth as dry as the Sahara, she practically whispered the words: “I’m frightened for my children to witness what is going on, what do I do?”
Sarah called the right place. Shalom Task Force is here to help.