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Seizing the moment, taking a stand

To this day my body has an immediate visceral reaction--trembling, sweaty palms, pounding heart--to raised voices.

I grew up in an abusive home. My father regularly berated me, my mother, and my sisters by shouting a litany of things we hadn't done or had done wrong. To this day my body has an immediate visceral reaction--trembling, sweaty palms, pounding heart--to raised voices. To this day being more than 50 years later. 

It's this personal experience as well as the expansive perspective that I have in my role as senior director of Community Services for Jewish Child & Family Services that causes red flags to go up whenever there is public strident rhetoric about sexual assault, harassment, and inter-personnel relationships. And there have been plenty of incidents to stir the pot in the not too distant past--Bill Cosby, Penn State, Stanford University, Ray Rice, and our recent presidential election to name just a few. 

The public rhetoric can empower the large numbers of women, men, and children who experienced or witnessed some form of abuse at some point in their lives to finally share their stories. When author Kelly Oxford posted the message "Women: tweet me your first assaults," over 27 million people responded or visited her Twitter page in just a single weekend. But for others, all the chatter can trigger renewed traumatization and feelings of shame. 

Moreover, the unhealthy impact doesn't end there. Each time an individual's wellbeing is threatened, an entire family is affected and each time a family's overall health and welfare is shaken the strong fabric of our community is compromised. 

To be clear, we do want a Jewish community that welcomes robust conversation. We take pride in the tremendous work that has been done to encourage abuse victims to come forward, teach children that it is okay to tell when something just didn't feel right, and enable bystanders to feel more comfortable intervening than watching unhealthy interactions. 

But our responsibility doesn't end there. We need to create more intentional opportunities for open dialogues, to be prepared to offer patient answers to questions like "why didn't she report?" or "why would he decide to now share what happened decades ago?" 

We must be aware that topics like assault, rape, and abuse are very likely to stir up a range of different emotions. We need to maintain adequate services so that anyone who seeks help for those emotions or experiences assault, abuse, or trauma can easily access sensitive, effective support. We absolutely must ensure that prevention efforts such as the Safer Communities initiative that JCFS facilitates in synagogues and schools are prioritized and fully funded. 

We shouldn't hesitate to convey distaste for sexist comments and to hold abusers accountable for their behavior. It was not until I was a grown woman, a wife, and a mother that I found the strength to respond to one of my father's tirades with eight simple words: "You will not speak to me that way." That was all it took to put an end to the intimidating yelling. 

I think about how different it might've been if, as a young boy, the seeds that blossomed into my father's full force bullying had been interrupted by someone who named it as inappropriate.  Might I have been spared a lifetime of trembling, sweaty palms, and pounding heart?   Yes, all the rhetoric is cause for concern.  But it is also fuel to catapult our longtime communitywide commitment to safe, healthy Jewish homes and families forward. 

There are so many ways to hop on the bus. If your congregation has not participated in the JCFS Safer Synagogue Initiative, call us to get going. If you are a professional seeking education, make sure you are receiving updates about our JCFS Community Services Professional Training Initiative. Invite SHALVA to lead an Adult Education session or Response to talk with teens about healthy relationships. 

Expand your knowledge by reading the enlightening information on websites such as Rape Victims Advocate, Children's Advocacy Center, or Zacharias Center.

If we hesitate individually or collectively, we'll miss out on this this moment of potential. It's time to be bold, take a few leaps, and change the world.

Amy Rubin is the senior director of Community Services for Jewish Child & Family Services.

Jewish Child & Family Services is a partner in serving in serving the Jewish United Fund.

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