Bat Melech, Israel’s most comprehensive network of social service for victims of domestic violence, has reached across the Atlantic for assistance, hoping to create a funding base in America in order to be able to help even more women in crisis.
Newly hired executive director of American Friends of Bat Melech, Danielle Berkowitz, has been working in the field of non-profit management for fifteen years, specializing in fundraising, grant writing, leadership development and project management, and recently relocated from Beit Shemesh to Highland Park, New Jersey with her husband and three children.
“When Bat Melech reached out to me, I knew I had to join with them and use my expertise to help victims of domestic violence,” explained Danielle. “Not only is it a cause that is near and dear to my heart, as it is based in my former home of Beit Shemesh, but last year alone Bat Melech had to turn away fifty four women, not to mention their children, due to a lack of funds. The Israeli government will pay some of the costs of assisting abused women, but they will only pay for the woman herself not her children. And most of these women have at least four kids. There is a stark need that has to be met and we are hoping to get people in the United States on board for this very important cause.”
While Danielle knew there were many organizations that would be able to make use of her expertise, the pull of working with Bat Melech was too strong to resist.
“There are, unfortunately, so many people in need, so many worthy causes that work with varied client groups, but what struck me about Bat Melech is that when it comes to domestic abuse, so many are quick to blame the victim. No one blames a child for being handicapped, no one blames a widow for her husband’s death, but so many people blame a woman in an abusive marriage. She gets blamed if she stays, blamed if she leaves, blamed for being in the situation in the first place. Wherever these women turn, they are faced with blame.”
Danielle finds that while the topic of abused women is one that people of any religion or demographic can relate to, it is particularly difficult for women in the Orthodox Jewish community. Not only are people hesitant to take in an abused woman and her children, for fear of ruining a prospective shidduch or otherwise sullying the family name, once an abused woman makes the decision to leave her community she is ostracized and will never be able to return to her former home. Additionally, children of an abused mother typically find that they are no longer welcome in school, as they are viewed as “problem children” and very often find themselves in shelters all day, every day, for months on end.
“I am hoping to spread the word on this issue throughout the United States so that people know about Bat Melech and know what we are doing for women who can’t ask for themselves,” said Danielle. “The problem of abused women transcends both geography and religion. People everywhere understand the concept of a women and children whose lives are placed in jeopardy by an abusive father.”
Danielle hopes to bring her message not only to adults but to children as well.
“Kids gravitate towards ‘mitzvah projects’ and we need to let them know that they have the ability to help other children who don’t have the privilege of going to school. It can be twinning programs, Bar and Bat Mitzvah programs. These kids aren’t supposed to have Bar and Bat Mitzvahs?”
While Danielle and her family hope to return to Israel at some point in the future, for now her sights are set firmly on using her time in America as wisely as possible.
“I hope to move forward and continue to make a difference in people’s lives,” said Danielle. “Sadly, there are so many victims of domestic abuse in Israel and it is up to us to help them get through this traumatic period of their lives.”
Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who has written for various websites, newspapers, magazines and private clients in addition to having written song lyrics and scripts for several full-scale productions. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.