In past years, Project DVORA — a part of Jewish Family Service that has provided domestic violence outreach, advocacy, and education to the Jewish community since 1999 — gave out sukkah decorations with pointed questions about relationships and peace in the home, tying Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October to the idea of “Sukkat Shalom” — a peaceful sukkah, or home. This year, however, it opted for more proactive outreach, instead choosing a Shabbat after the High Holidays with a parsha, or weekly Torah reading, that would allow rabbis to tie their sermons to domestic violence. Parshat Lech Lecha tells the story of Abraham and Sarah as they follow God’s command and move forth into a new, unknown land — an analogy for encouraging domestic violence survivors to move forth into a new space of healthy relationships and self-worth. Over a dozen congregations participated.
The program was based on a similar annual event held in Melbourne, Australia, which Rabbi Ben Hassan attended while he served the Jewish community there from 2009 to 2013. Now at Sephardic Bikur Holim in Seattle, Hassan suggested the idea to Project DVORA staff as a way to involve Jewish leadership in the movement against domestic violence.
“We wanted to make it more of an open conversation instead of a passive symbol hanging in a sukkah,” says Cynthia Gamel, who works as an advocate for Project DVORA. “We wanted to see if it would change the way the community responds to it and get our community talking about the need to make changes within it.”
A 1997 study commissioned by Jewish Family Service found domestic violence in the Jewish community was as common as in the general population, which sparked Project DVORA’s creation. According to Seattle’s Department of Human Services, 19 percent of women and 9 percent of men in the state report domestic violence over their lifetimes, but numbers likely are higher. Several resources exist here, including the Eastern European Counseling Center in Kirkland, which provides free aid to immigrants from the former Soviet Union. According to the center, immigrant women are more likely to be killed by violence than the general population.
Domestic Violence Awareness Shabbat was one of numerous events that Project DVORA has hosted throughout the years to spread awareness of domestic violence as an issue, as well as awareness of the resources they have to offer survivors. It has also focused on youth outreach in the last year, particularly working with teenagers on personal boundaries and what healthy relationships look like. The Project DVORA team is hopeful that through continued outreach like this, it can continue to grow its presence in the community as a culturally safe space for Jewish survivors of domestic violence.
“Congregation members are so much more likely to disclose to a rabbi if he or she has spoken about domestic violence in the past from the pulpit,” says Liz Coleclough, director of Project DVORA. Hassan cites his sermons in Australia as proof. “Within weeks, I had congregants contact me to talk about the issues they were having,” he says. He adds that it’s important for survivors to have supportive messaging from their community leaders. “This is not your fault,” he says when he speaks to survivors. “We have the services to help you, and as leaders, we’re here to support you.”
- Every 9 seconds, a woman is assaulted or beaten.
- 1 in 3 woman and 1 in 4 men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.
- 500% increased risk of homicide if a gun is present in a domestic violence situation.
- 8 million number of paid work days victims lose per year.
- 1 in 15 children are exposed to domestic violence. 90% are eyewitnesses.
Resources for Victims
Project DVORA runs programs and workshops for survivors of intimate partner abuse, as well as a kids’ club for children who have witnessed abuse.
Call confidentially: 206-461-3240
The Eastern European Counseling Center provides mental health services to immigrants from the former Soviet Union, including “mail-order brides.”
Call confidentially: 425-633-6476
Path With Art offers healing art therapy programs to people recovering from traumas including violence, addiction, and homelessness.