Domestic violence can occur anywhere, to anyone. It can involve physical or sexual abuse by a partner, as well as emotional, verbal, or economic abuse. It happens between dating and married partners. It happens to people who are gay. It occurs in every socioeconomic, educational, and religious status.
The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) Chicago North Shore Section, in partnership with SHALVA and J-CARES, has been committed to increasing awareness of domestic violence and providing practical assistance to women of all faiths and backgrounds. Three NCJW Chicago North Shore programs specifically aim to address and reduce domestic violence: Luggage for Freedom, Domestic Violence Courtwatch, and the Silent Witness Exhibit.
"Domestic abuse really afflicts people of all ages, of all races, and of all religions across the board," said Nora Zuckerman, Luggage for Freedom co-chair.
Michele Weldon, author, assistant professor of journalism at Northwestern University and leader with The OpEd Project, wrote on CNN.com, "Domestic violence was not something I ever thought would happen to me. I married a man I knew my whole life; he was smart, handsome, kind, and ambitious. We dated for three years with no hint of violence. That changed four months into our marriage." Weldon divorced her abusive husband 18 years ago.
SHALVA-the Jewish domestic violence services agency and a beneficiary of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago-published a comprehensive research study in 2010 that explored the issue of domestic violence within the Chicago area Jewish community. The results showed that 60 percent of their clients are college educated-and almost 25 percent achieved graduate level education.2
"You cannot blame the person who is in the position of being abused. It's easy to say, 'I'd never stand for that,' but when somebody doesn't have any family support, or has no financial means, they may feel they have nowhere to go," said Joanne Liberman, NCJW Chicago North Shore's Courtwatch chair.
Liberman and numerous Courtwatch volunteers commit hundreds of hours each month observing domestic violence cases in Cook County courtrooms. Volunteers watch the actions of judges, state's attorneys, clerks, deputy sheriffs, advocates, and others toward the complainant and the case.
"For example, did the judge call people by name? Did she have an opening statement? Was she understanding of the case she was hearing? Was the state's attorney ready…were advocates there to provide support?" Liberman said. Volunteers-ideally two per court session-file a report of their observations. Liberman compiles the reports on a quarterly basis and files them with the head judge.
According to Zuckerman, an attorney who worked with the Legal Assistance Foundation at one time, the court system is not always sympathetic to the victims. In her work with the non-profit legal organization, she met women and children living in shelters who carried their few possessions in trash bags.
The Luggage for Freedom program helps provide "a sense of dignity to women and children who are leaving shelters," Zuckerman said. Since 2004, NCJW Chicago North Shore Section has collected new and gently used luggage and backpacks, and filled them with new sheets, towels, stuffed animals, toiletries and other practical items for domestic violence victims. Individuals, small businesses and larger companies donate to the program throughout the year. In October, volunteers and their families spend a day packing hundreds of suitcases and backpacks, and then bring them to shelters in the Chicagoland area. Last year, NCJW delivered more than 150 pieces of luggage and 165 backpacks. In prior years, they delivered as much as 200 pieces of luggage. "It's giving people the things they need. It gives them a little start so they don't feel like they're empty-handed," Zuckerman said.
The Silent Witness exhibit is part of an international program founded in 1990 to remember women murdered by their partners and to promote awareness of the devastating effects of domestic violence. The exhibit features 26 freestanding, life-sized wooden figures, each bearing the name of a woman whose life ended violently at the hands of a husband, ex-husband, partner, or acquaintance.
A 27th figure represents those uncounted women whose murders went unsolved or were ruled accidental, "like the glass for Elijah," said Donna Gutman, NCJW Chicago North Shore Silent Witness exhibit co-chair.
"Seeing it is a powerful experience," she said. The exhibit will be at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, and at St. James Parish in Arlington Heights during the month of October.
NCJW Chicago North Shore Section and NCJW nationally have been committed to advocating for policies supporting the prevention of domestic violence, treatment for victims, programs, for perpetrators and increased awareness of domestic violence issues.
"We don't just serve the Jewish population," Zuckerman said. "We're willing to help anyone who is afflicted by these issues."
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For more information, visit ncjwcns.org.
1 Weldon, Michele, "The rich and famous are not immune to domestic abuse," (June 18, 2013) CNN.com (used with author's permission)
2 SHALVA Executive Summary Research Study, 2010, p. 3
3 SHALVA Executive Summary Research Study, 2010, p. 5