Stand up and speak out. End the cycle of abuse
Soon we will be reading the Torah portion of Vayishlach. It is a portion filled with events of triumph as well as failure. We learn the stories of Jacob wrestling with G-d and his reuniting with his brother. We also learn about the rape of Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah. Though Jacob can prevail or at least hold his own in wrestling with G-d and engaging with his brother Esau, he appears unable to control the physically violent behaviors of his sons. He cannot empathize or express compassion toward his daughter after she was raped. This is a story about a family in crisis due to a sexual assault. Revenge, violence and mayhem follow. Two of the sons go on a murderous rampage while the other brothers take women and children as slaves. Violence begets more violence.
How does this story connect with our lives today? October was a bad month for many families in America. There were two school shootings. One victim was a lovely 24-year-old teacher. The other victim was a veteran of two tours of duty in Afghanistan. He was not afraid to rise up and step forward, and by inserting himself between the shooter and children, many lives were saved. The two perpetrators were barely in their teens. One, a 12-year-old, used a gun he had brought from home. We have to ask a question: Did these children grow up in homes where violence was the norm? What were the examples at home and how did these children learn to cope with their feelings of hurt, disappointment, helplessness and anger? Studies show that violence in the home is passed on from one generation to the next. What would it be like to live in daily fear of a parent, a spouse, a sibling or one's own child? A Rabbi in our community has spoken very eloquently about living with a brother who was violent, threatening and very disturbed.
Statistics show that one in four women is a victim of violence. That is to say, if you have a daughter, niece, sister or granddaughter, there is a significant chance that one of them will endure abuse of some sort, especially now that we are in the age of bullying over the internet and dating violence.
I can only imagine the very sickening feeling men must have when they hear about young boys who were sexually abused by coaches and teachers, and clergy who they trusted. Corey Feldman, a TV and movie actor, has just published his autobiography. It deals with sexual abuse he endured as a child actor in Hollywood. His friend and fellow actor Cory Haim also had been abused. Both began using drugs, and Haim may have died from his drug use. Both were raised in Jewish homes. Current studies show that abuse leaves scars that can last a life time. Depression and drug use are expressions of the emotional turmoil victims experience.
How does one even begin to approach the issue of abuse? Is it a problem that can even be fixed? Can we accept the reality that abuse happens in the Jewish community, in the suburbs and in our neat and comfortable corner of the world? Will we become insensitive when we hear about one awful situation after the next?
This problem can be addressed and I know we can be part of the solution. On Tuesday evening, November 12, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta's Women & Philanthropy Division and The Shalom Bayit Program of Jewish Family & Career Services will host a program on domestic abuse and intimate partner violence. The program will take place at the Greenfield Hebrew Academy at 6:30 and feature a performance and discussion. To purchase tickets, visit www.JewishAtlanta.org/ShalomEvent. For information about Shalom Bayit, visit www.ytfl.org/shalombayit.
When we talk openly about abuse, victims can feel secure and seek help. In removing the veil of silence about abuse, we create safe communities in which victims of abuse can heal and feel protected. By standing up and speaking out, we can help break the cycle of abuse and in turn may help to save a life.