Sanctuary for the Abused

Friday, September 28, 2007


Today I join 1,000s of bloggers around the world in BlogCatalog's Blogging for a Great Cause Challenge.

Here's Sanctuary for the Abused's post for this cause:

I recieved this book to read and review a while ago and just recently finished it.

This book was chock-full of raw emotions. At first it was a switch to read a book written as if someone had opened up their private journal to the world. In a way, Vanessa Vega had done just that.

The book is about her journey through group and private therapy for being a 'cutter' (self-injurer) and having an eating disorder. So much isn't understood about cutters and the public tends to blame them for a lack of self control. In actuality its an attempted by an abused person to externalize their inner pain.

I highly recommend this book, not because it normalizes cutting or eating disorders but because it cuts right through to the underlying driving factors making someone do these things: abuse, abandonment, perfectionism, low self-esteem and self-hate. It does what a book about abuse should do: Let Other Sufferers Know They are Not Alone.

Here's what had to say -
Texas teacher Vega's horrific account of her lifetime of self-abuse alternates between an intimate diary of pain and a healing dialogue with her counselor.

...Vega portrays herself as a child so eager to please her exacting parents that she began to punish herself for her perceived (by them, but mainly by herself) shortcomings. She would hit herself until she passed out, and cut or starve herself to cause a punishing pain that allowed a release to anger and frustration she was not allowed to express. Her mother's diabetes, her parents' divorce and abandonment by her father led to mounds of guilt, and Vega's abuse of diet pills put her in the emergency room.

By the time she seeks therapy she is in her mid-30s, married and no longer able to control her increasingly dire self-mutilation. Her work is cleanly wrought and raw with emotion, especially the passages that take place during group therapy with several other deeply troubled women. ...her aim is admirable and true: to share her story so that kindred readers will seek help.
Click here to learn more and purchase this moving & very personal book.


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Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse-Free Environment

FROM JSafe's Website:

Shanda! Shame! Chillul Hashem!

Domestic violence and child abuse exist in the Jewish community; they cross all socio-economic levels and religious denominations. They exist despite the denials, despite the skepticism that such ugly behavior can exist among our people always so proud of our exemplary home-life; despite the fear that exposing them will bring Jews into disrepute; and despite the apprehension that our reputations will be tarnished. Such fears dare not allow our people to suffer violence and abuse!

By continuing to deny and refusing to act we shirk our responsibilities to our daughters and sons, our mothers and sisters, our fathers and brothers. The problem is systemic.

The Jewish community has no single hierarchy or unifying infrastructure that enables it to set standards for training or to hold professionals responsible in these areas. There is no standard for institutional protocols and response. Thus, the response of rabbis, teachers and counselors to survivors of abuse is only as good as their training and experience in identifying and dealing with these issues. Too often, it’s inadequate.

Please take time to check out the Resources and Links on this wonderful site!

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Friday, September 21, 2007


Unbelieveably powerful fictional piece on abuse.

A man comes home from work early to surprise his wife with flowers and candy and finds that she's already got something planned? The computer is on and there is note written on it. He sits down in front of the computer and notices his handgun on one side of the computer and on the other side, an empty container of pain pills. He reads the message:

By the time you read this I will already be dead, so don't get too excited. Don't bother looking around the house for me either. Of course I didn't want my body where my children may see, for they have already seen enough. They have already had to endure far too many years of seeing their mother being tortured by the man they are supposed to look up to. But even though I know I am going to hurt them dearly, I cannot live like this anymore. So, I am taking these pain pills, prescribed for the kind of pain you inflict and I am going somewhere to take a nap. Don't bother looking for me, just sit there and do something that you haven't been able to do for the last ten tears? Listen to me. Now that I had to go and kill myself to get your attention, the least you can do is finish reading this letter. I have been writing it over and over in my head for years.

Every time that you beat me I had to rewrite it to add to the horror. Besides I didn't want you to find me after I died because the thought of you touching me even after death turns my stomach. I refuse to let you touch me again, in life or death. I chose to die because I promised God when I married you that I would love you for life. And since I am more afraid of him than you, I chose death. I cannot love you anymore so I have to leave this place.

As I look around to this house, you know its funny but I can remember the good times that we shared together. Before the babies, before the drinking, do you remember? I do, and it was good back then. It was almost good enough to give me a little hope that we could get back to those times. And they were good times. I guess I have to settle with the fact that no matter what's going on right now, you once loved me, and even you can't deny that. I think what hurts more than my ribs that are stinging me right now is the fact that I still love you. That realization is stronger than any fist you could ball up and hurl at me.

Knowing that my love for you causes a stronger and more lasting pain is much worse than a swift kick in the groin from your steel toed shoes. But this is a pain that I can take care of, something that I can remedy. I am not into pain, even personally inflicted kinds, so I had to relieve myself.

Even as I stood in the mirror this morning admiring the black eye that you gave me last night I knew you would never touch me again. And as I sucked blood from my split, swollen lips I knew I couldn't stand another blow from you. Not because of the fact that you promised with tears in your eyes that you would never do that to me again. Nor the fact that you put your hand on the Bible and swore to me that you were going to get help. Not even the fact that you got down on your knees and swore to God that you would never lift a hand to me again.

Well, your prayers were answered and no, you will not be touching me again. I guess I just had to play God and make sure of that myself.

Last night when I picked myself off of the floor and fell into your arms it wasn't because I wanted to, I just couldn't stand. It wasn't because I wanted you to hold me, as you may have thought. You picked me up carried me to our bed and lay on top of me and kissed my swollen face so soft and gentle.

Even though you brushed my hair from eyes and kissed my eyelids, I didn't feel anything. And even though I may have moaned when you licked me between my thighs, I really didn't feel any kind of pleasure. And when you put yourself inside of me and I grabbed your butt and said your name a few times, I was just helping you get it over with. I moaned because your weight was on my stinging ribs. So what that you asked me what the fuck I was doing when I scratched your back, I felt the urge. And when you went to sleep, I laid there under you because I couldn't move. When you finally rolled off of me you were limp and you left your condom inside of me. The condom you searched all over for because you didn't want me to bleed on you like I did last time you kicked me.

I woke up before you this morning and cooked your breakfast like I always do. I hoped you enjoyed the piss in your oatmeal and the blood I sucked from my lip mixed in your jelly. I watched you spread it on bread that I wiped my ass with before I put it in the toaster. I don't even want to tell you what I did with those sausages. I spit in your coffee and watched you eat, noticing the look on your face because you knew something wasn't right. And when you got through with your breakfast, I put your dishes in the sink but I wrapped the knife you used this morning in a napkin and put it in my pocket.

After you left I laughed. I laughed all the way to the bank and took out every penny and took advances on all our credit cards. I donated half of the money to a woman's shelter, all one hundred and twenty-thousand of it.

Now, you can pay back all the other women like me, those who had the strength to leave their man. Let those women get a pool table or something, hell, they deserve it. I took the rest and put it away for my children. I left some money for Greg so that he can pay for the counseling he's going to need to reverse the damage of seeing his father slamming his mother into the refrigerator. I sent the rest to Dana in college so that she would never need to come back home when she graduates. You are never going to touch my children again, I made sure of it. No, I am positive that you will not touch them again. So, I figured that with me gone you would run over to your little woman's house and tell her the good news. So I went over there this afternoon and I killed the bitch. I stabbed her little backstabbing ass dead in her heart with the knife you used this morning. And since there was a lot of screaming and shit I knew that the police would be there soon so I took that nasty ass condom you left inside of me and stuck it up in her ass. I know you didn't actually kill her but you might as well have. It's your fault that she's dead, so why should anyone else take the blame but you. And since you killed her after you just got through fucking her it won't seem premeditated so you will probably just get manslaughter and spend the rest of your life in jail.

They probably won't sentence you to death. But you will be OK. You got your high priced lawyers to defend you. The same lawyers that bribed a judge when they had you on charges of embezzlement from your firm. Remember you gave me those documents to shred? Well, I shredded most of them. I got up this morning and mailed the others I had saved out in the garage to the State's Attorney.

And since you've already killed someone you probably are going to jail for a long time anyway, so those papers are probably going to do much damage. But I had already mailed them before I thought about it.

Damm, you haven't been this quiet in a long time. In fact, I can't even remember when you've been so quiet before. I guess if all that I had to do was die to shut you up I should have killed myself long time ago. So, since I got your undivided attention, for a change, let me tell you what I want you to do. On one side of the computer screen there is a gun with one bullet in it.

On the other side is the telephone. You could A: call the police, turn yourself in and go to jail for the rest of your life. Or, B, you can take that gun and join me. It's up to you.

Don't worry about Greg, he is with your mother, you won't be seeing him again. You already killed your girlfriend so she'll do you no good either. You are about to lose your business and you are going to jail. Your wife will be mysteriously found dead in your office tomorrow morning. My body is still bruised and battered from when you beat me and your skin is under my fingernails from where I scratched your back last night. So shit doesn't look too good for you now. But as you said last night before you threw me into the wall I am a bitch. Well, ain't this a bitch. Oh, I know that you didn't think that I was going to die all by myself now did you? I already killed you motherfucker. You can either go to jail and get fucked up your ass for the rest of your life and have your man beat you around your jail cell like you did me. Until you die like me, after becoming the bitch you claimed me to be. Or you could take this gun and put one in your dome and kill yourself, it doesn't matter to me. Remember we said until death do us part right.

Moments pass. There is a click.

One gunshot breaks the silence and his body hits the floor. The roses he brought begin to rise in a pool of blood that spreads across the floor like a fan.

His wife steps out of the closet she was hiding in and calls the police. She steps over her husband, sits down at the computer and deletes the message on the screen. She brings up the suicide note that she wrote for him earlier. She gets rid of the empty pillbox and calls her mother-in-law to check on her children.

She hangs up the phone and calls his other woman and hangs up. The women calls back several times but she didn't answer. The police will assume that husband must have called her before he shot himself. She practiced all the lines out loud. When she heard the police pull up she kneeled beside the man that had once promised God that he was going to love and cherish her and felt nothing. That man was gone long ago and this body belonged to someone whom she didn't even know. She didn't feel any pain besides the tingling of her ribs.

She had no regrets either. She put him out of his misery and ended her own misery with just one bullet.

Yet, she knelt there and screamed like her life was over.

~Author Unknown~

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cry of the Oppressed

by Alison Iser

This monthly reflection is about the cry of the oppressed found in Exodus 22:20-23. This passage is found in a section of Torah known as Mishpatim, or Judgments. According to Sorel Goldberg Loeb and Barbara Binder Kadden in their book Teaching Torah, mishpatim are those laws in Torah which could be arrived at by human reason.

20You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. This does seem like common sense. We experienced oppression. We know how awful it is. We shouldn't treat anyone else that way.

21You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan.
If we shouldn't treat strangers badly, we certainly shouldn't treat those who live amongst us badly, particularly if they are already in a difficult situation.

22If you do mistreat them, I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me.
Well, we all want to believe that God hears our cries.

23And My anger shall blaze forth and I will put you to the sword, and your own wives shall become widows and your children orphans.
God takes oppression so seriously that he will kill oppressors and make those closest to them vulnerable to the same oppression perpetrated by their husband or father.

This portion of mishpatim seems pretty straightforward. I was interested in exploring this portion because of the work that I do. My work used to be focused on answering the cry of the oppressed, quite literally on a crisis line for victims of domestic violence. Now, my work focuses on equipping rabbis and other Jewish leaders to answer the cry of the oppressed, or hopefully to prevent the oppression.

So many rabbis do act on behalf of the oppressed, but sadly, sometimes it is a rabbi who is causing the cries. Recently I received an email stating that yet another rabbi, a leader in his community, had used his position to prey on others. I don't know if the women he sexually and spiritually abused are widows or orphans, like those mentioned in verse 21. It doesn't matter to me.

According to Nehama Leibowitz in her book, Studies in Shemot, it shouldn't matter to anyone because the prohibition to oppress wasn't meant to be limited to strangers or to widows or orphans. According to Nehama, Rashi said the same applies to all persons, but the text spoke of what is usual, since widows and orphans are weak and abuse of them is common.

It is interesting that the text points out who is usually the target of oppression, but does not point out who usually is the oppressor. If it is the vulnerable in society who are the easiest prey for mistreatment, then one may surmise that it is those who have power and privilege who can most easily become oppressors.

What makes the news of another rabbi who is a sexual predator so disturbing and seemingly not so commonplace is that we expect our rabbis to be better than that. We expect them to use their power and privilege to fight oppression, not to perpetrate it.

We expect the abusers to be found amongst those who are not observing mitzvot, those who lack the discipline of devout observance, those who do not have a clear spiritual path. We expect our rabbinic leaders to be answering the cries of the oppressed, as partners with God, not causing the tears. Sadly, this is not always the case.

Interestingly, the commentators I read seemed more realistic about their expectations. They did not believe that our experiences with being oppressed would stop us from being oppressors. They saw the reminder about being strangers in Egypt not as a call for empathy, as I thought, but as a warning about the consequences of mistreating strangers a warning we're reminded of 36 times in the Torah.

According to Harvey Fields in A Torah Commentary for Our Times, Nachmanides saw the repeated reminder as a warning about how God works on behalf of the oppressed and is clearly on their side.

This seems on target because sure enough this portion of mishpatim is clearly a warning as it includes the threat of death. Unfortunately, it seems to me that this harsh warning is not preventing oppression, even by those who clearly know better.

This makes me wonder about the part of the text that reads I will heed their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me. Perhaps what we are really being told is that we need to emulate God. We need to listen. We are told three times in Genesis that we are made in the image of God. (1:27, 5:1, and 9:6). If this is the case, then perhaps it is the aspect in each of us that mirrors God that needs to hear the cry of the oppressed.

As soon as they cry out to Me... It's so easy for us to make that a capital "M" and wash our hands of the responsibility. What if we choose to make that a lower case "m"? As soon as they cry out to me... It's no surprise that a common thread amongst predators is that they demand silence and secrecy from those they oppress. They rely on the oppressed not to cry out. This was the case with the rabbi mentioned earlier. He demanded secrecy from the women he abused. The women cooperated initially, but recently came forward with their stories. The ironic part is that predators don�t have to demand silence and secrecy from the rest of us. The community often remains silent without ever being asked by the abuser. That deafening silence is one of the reasons why it is so shocking to hear that a rabbi is a sexual predator. When crying out is unwelcome, the oppressed get the message. If and when we do finally hear, it is shocking because it seems so rare, so unlikely.

However, we have learned throughout history that silence does not protect us. In this passage, the threat of punishment isn't just directed at the person who directly treated others badly. According to Ibn Ezra, the verb "ill-treat" is plural those who see the ill-treatment and are silent receive the same punishment as the one who performs it.

The Stone Edition of the Torah explains the logic behind this group punishment by stating the very fact that a community permits individual members to persecute the helpless is in itself a crowning insult. It shows the downtrodden that even those who do not actively taunt them do not care about them. Again, this logic seems simple enough to reach through basic human reason.

Yet so many of us who believe that it is wrong to oppress others and who would refuse to directly mistreat the stranger, the widow, or the orphan, stand passively by when our leaders do so. We stand by even though we too are culpable for these crimes. Is it because we don't hear the cries of the oppressed? I think that is true sometimes. Sometimes we want so badly to believe that this doesn't happen, that we encourage silence.

Or do we stand idly by because we hear so very many cries? It is easy in this world to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of pain and misery and oppression. It can be easier to tune it all out or to address one piece and not the others. That is an understandable response.

Of course, I don't have any easy answers to offer you about this, but here are my thoughts...When it comes to the issue of sexual abuse by clergy, we need to make it easier for the oppressed to cry out. We need to heed their cries when they do. That means we need to believe them.

We need to be careful stewards of the power and status we grant to others knowing that it can be used for great good or for great harm. When it is used for great harm, we need to remember our responsibility.

As soon as they cry out to God, to me, to any of us. For we were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Alison Iser, M.A. is the Director of the Jewish Program at FaithTrust Institute. Alison has extensive experience as a community educator, trainer, and advocate for both secular and Jewish domestic violence programs. She is a contributor to JWI Resource Guide on Domestic Abuse in the Jewish Community and is one of the editors of a "A Journey Towards Freedom: A Haggadah for Women Who Have Experienced Domestic Violence."


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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Religious Split
Jewish women abandoned but unable to remarry.


Susan Rosenfeld's marriage wasn't what you'd call romantic. She was thrown up against a wall, doused with a bucket of cold water in bed, and, toward the end, became her husband's punching bag. "Since I wear long sleeves, no one really knew," she says. Looking back, Ms. Rosenfeld regrets keeping the abuse a secret. But "in the Jewish community, you don't call the police on your husband."

In her mid-30s, Ms. Rosenfeld hopes to remarry and build a new life for herself. But as an Orthodox Jew, a civil divorce is not sufficient. For Ms. Rosenfeld to be officially released from her vows, her husband has to grant her a Jewish bill of divorce, called a get. The document, which certifies the termination of the marriage--the Aramaic text declares "you are hereby permitted to marry any man"--not only allows women to remarry, but ensures that future children will not be deemed mamzerim (bastards able to marry only other mamzerim).

Two years have passed and Ariel HaCohen, Ms. Rosenfeld's husband, has refused to grant her the get. This makes Ms. Rosenfeld an aguna--literally, an anchored woman--trapped in a dead marriage.

In the 12th century, a rabbinic court might have sentenced Mr. HaCohen to flogging. While according to Jewish law the get must be given without coercion, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides justified flogging as merely beating the evil inclination out of the recalcitrant husband, reminding him of his own desire to do the right thing.

Procuring a get used to be easier than it is today. Rabbi Mendel Epstein, a legal advocate in New York rabbinic courts, explains that, in 19th-century Europe, if a man refused to comply, the pressures of social ostracism would overwhelm him. "Today, he can just pick himself up and move to another community." Not only was there less mobility in the tight-knit communities, but divorce almost never occurred. Women became agunot most often as a result of husbands who went to gather firewood and never came back.

Today in Israel, where there is no distinction between civil and religious divorce law, advocates estimate that there are 10,000 cases of women refused divorces. But in the U.S., Orthodoxy has no centralized legal body, so the number of agunot is impossible to calculate. But it's clear that the problem is acute: Every advocacy organization I spoke to had a backlog of dozens of cases.

Disputes rage over who can fairly be classified as an aguna, what methods are appropriate when dealing with recalcitrant husbands and, most significantly, when--and if--Orthodox rabbis will reform this broken system. Dr. Susan Aranoff, a prominent advocate on behalf of agunot and a professor of economics at Kingsborough Community College, argues that the refusal to change betrays the spirit of Judaism. "I think in general the Orthodox rabbinate today is insecure and they have a fear of . . . creativity in Jewish law."

There is a way around the get trap: annulment. Rabbi Michael Broyde, a law professor at Emory University and a member of the Beit Din of America, one of the largest rabbinic courts, argues that cases where annulment is appropriate are extremely rare, and include sexual incapacity. "The more core the defect is to a marital relationship, the easier it is to prove annulment," says Rabbi Broyde. The challenge is proving that the defect was present at the time of marriage and that "had one party or another known about it, they wouldn't have entered into the marriage," he says.

Ms. Rosenfeld can get her marriage annulled on the grounds that she didn't know about her husband's violent temper when they were married. But few Orthodox men would be willing to date a woman with an annulled marriage. Still, there aren't many other options at this point. Four months of trying to convince the rabbi who performed Ms. Rosenfeld's marriage to persuade her husband to grant her a divorce went nowhere.

Ms. Rosenfeld is more than willing to go to rabbinic court, where a panel of three rabbis would hear the case. She spent months trying to get her husband to appear at such a hearing. But while there are many reputable rabbinic courts, the only one her husband will go to is notorious for allowing extortion. Josh Ross, who heads the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot, which has held several rallies on behalf of Ms. Rosenfeld, tells me that in these rabbinic courts, "the wife has to give up almost everything she is really entitled to in order to obtain the get."

While Ms. Rosenfeld is held hostage, Mr. HaCohen can go about his life as usual. He can even remarry another woman without giving Ms. Rosenfeld the get, and his children would not be deemed mamzerim.

Ms. Rosenfeld remains committed to God and Judaism: "Even the thought of not eating kosher wouldn't enter into my mind. Because this is who I am." But she has lost faith with the rabbinate: "I can fill the room with hundreds and hundreds of rabbis, who will all say, 'We're so sorry, but there's nothing we can do.' "

Ms. Weiss was a Robert L. Bartley Fellow at The Wall Street Journal this summer.


Hat tip to Josh Waxman

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