I took over as co-Chair of Jewish Women’s Aid (JWA) with Liz Gould, a year ago, and I have often been asked why I got involved in JWA.
I was first introduced to JWA 9 years ago when I attended their annual fundraising lunch. Whilst I had been aware that domestic violence did happen in Jewish homes, I had little understanding about what JWA did or why there was a need for it, as an independent organisation.
JWA is the only cross-communal women’s organisation working specifically with Jewish women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. The national statistic is 1:4 women are victims of domestic abuse at some time in their lives; the Jewish Community is no different.
Nine years ago, I was looking for a new challenge. Having had teaching experience, I volunteered to work with JWA’s education programme, going into schools talking to the children about healthy relationships. This involvement at grass roots level really highlighted to me the need to raise awareness of domestic violence. Working with the next generation and talking to them, seemed to be an obvious method of working towards eliminating domestic abuse. Last year JWA reached over 2,500 children though its education initiative.
As I realised the importance of the work that JWA did, over the next few years I became more involved in the organisation. I understood that JWA has two principle aims:
Firstly to provide support for Jewish women and children affected by domestic violence.
We therefore have a fully kosher refuge provision, for the most vulnerable of our clients.
We run a telephone help line, from 9.30am -9.30 pm, Monday – Thursday. The client support team assists emotional and practical support, ranging from safety planning, housing and legal support, to liaison with the Beth Din. We have both face to face and telephone counselling services, aiming to support a woman in taking back control of her life. JWA also has a children’s worker, who uses a range of therapeutic techniques to work through the issues raised by the children who are living in an environment where abuse is prevalent.
The second aim is through education, training and awareness raising, ensuring that the Jewish community recognise and speak out against domestic violence.
Many people I speak to are still surprised that there is a need in the community for JWA. Each section of the community thinks that it happens to the other, and finds it hard to acknowledge that this is an issue in every part of the community. People want to think that if it does happen, it is only to some types of people… “Yes I know it exists in the Jewish community, but much more in the ultra-Orthodox because they are so closed.” We also hear, “I know it happens to Jewish women, but much more in the Reform and Liberal communities because they aren’t so strong in family values.” It seems that none of us want to think that it can happen to people like us!
It is only by talking about it and teaching our children that we can all work together to break down this taboo.
Another area I am often asked about is ‘what about men’. Men can be the victims of domestic abuse too, and this is another area where awareness is key. JWA has produced a leaflet for men, highlighting where men can seek support .We felt that while we didn’t want to take any resources from the women we work with, we needed to address this issue too.
The wonderful aspect about working for JWA is that it is tremendously empowering for women. We really are a fantastic example of women working together to help each other. I passionately believe in the work that JWA does, not only supporting the women and children who need us, but also raising awareness for domestic abuse is an issue in the Jewish community too.
We have a brilliant membership scheme that aims to reach as many women in the British Jewish community as possible, asking them to join us in standing together against domestic abuse. Members can access tailor-made training and awareness courses, and are invited to participate in JWA events through the year.
I see a fundamental part of my role as Co-chair is to raise the profile of JWA.
The past year has been really rewarding, not just because working for an organisation like JWA can make you feel like you are making a difference, but also because I am lucky enough to be part of a great team. JWA is as successful as it is because of the women who make up this organisation, we are always looking to expand the work that we do and with your help we can reach every woman who needs us.