Jews not immune to domestic abuse

As a front-page story in this week's paper points out, prominent cases of murder among Jews has occurred not only in the political realm but within the confines of Jewish homes.

Such cases, to be sure, represent the extremes of domestic violence within the Jewish community. But Jewish social service agencies around the country — and in Israel — report that domestic abuse is much more common than we would like to believe.

Fortunately, due to an increasingly open discussion of domestic abuse within the Jewish community, denial of its existence appears to be breaking down.

Locally, that growing awareness has led to a sturdy support system for abused women. Shalom Bayit, the Bay Area Jewish Women's Task Force, provides a variety of services, including special outreach around the Jewish holidays, a time when abuse tends to rise.

Jewish Family and Children's Services, meanwhile, provides counseling, financial support and day care. More recently, the agency opened the doors of Dream House, a transitional facility for survivors of domestic abuse.

But the Jewish community has begun to look beyond the material needs of battered women to their spiritual needs.

Many abused women suffer a profound loss of self-esteem and faith as the result of their ordeals. Holiday celebrations and healing services formulated especially for them can feel both safe and strengthening.

But as a community we also need to help create a safe place for women who have been abused. By not judging them or the ways they choose to handle their domestic situation, we send the important message that we accept and support those women, or in rare cases men.

At the same time, we need to be careful not to oversimplify the issue of domestic abuse.

Instead, we must recognize that a complex set of situational and psychological factors — some of which may even be beyond the understanding of the couple involved — underlie the abusive relationship.

And we must encourage all parties involved to seek help.