By Shoshannah D. Frydman, PhD, LCSW
Executive Director, Shalom Task Force
There are many themes of Chanukah and lessons to inspire our modern lives. We celebrate the Maccabees, a small group of people, fighting back against the large troops of the Greeks. Against all odds, the Jewish people and Judaism triumphed. We reflect on the incredible miracle of the oil lasting eight days and the reclaiming of the Beit HaMikdash. And we rally to the centrality of the menorah, as we light our candles and transform the darkness of the winter nights with the candles’ light. Chanukah allows us to reflect on what it means to transform darkness, pain, and trauma and find healing, future, and hope.
Chanukah is also a time that we celebrate with family. There are many within our community for whom Chanukah is not joyous. For them, the stress of another holiday may be frightening. While at Shalom Task Force we constantly think about and discuss the issue of domestic violence, we recognize that for the larger community, talking about this issue is hard.
What is domestic violence? Why don’t we talk about domestic violence? Why does this issue remain in the dark? And how can we help?
As a simple definition, domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors where one member of the relationship obtains power and control over the other person. This is often thought about as a physical violence, but also includes other types of abuse including emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, spiritual, and technological.
People feel uncomfortable and awkward talking about domestic violence, or people may assume that abuse doesn’t happen in “their community.” The reality is that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are victims of intimate partner abuse in their lifetime. These statistics span all communities, ethnicities, religions, socioeconomic statuses, and levels of education.
We do not hear the stories of victims. There are many barriers to survivors, whether male or female, coming forward, and they may not reach out for help for a number of reasons. Among the reasons is fear of the unknown, fear of further abuse, or even fear of fatality. Many victims may have never lived as an adult without their partner and can’t imagine that there are options. There may be financial barriers and concern that they could not continue to support their children, keep a home, and remain part of their community.
Chief among these factors is a deep sense of shame, isolation, and stigma.
We know that abuse thrives in silence, and it often feels less complicated to remain in the “dark” and not be aware of this pain. Abuse can happen because it exists in the shadows. The perpetrators rely on the fact that victims of abuse — whether victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, etc. — experience such deep shame, confusion, isolation, stigma, and pain that they cannot come forward. Perpetrators rely on the fact that communities don’t know how to manage this pain and are afraid of facing these issues and often do look the other way.
Victims worry that they will not be believed. Victims worry that no one will accept their story and they will be questioned, scrutinized, and judged. And historically this is true. Victims are often blamed and are often not believed. Imagine coming forward with your darkest, most painful secret and to be doubted — or worse, be blamed for it. There is a deep sense of failure, that “it’s my fault.” Furthermore, there still remains great stigma around divorce in our community.
Our job is to bring light to where there is darkness, and to do this as a community. Victims should not feel that they are alone. They need to be embraced, believed, and accepted. They need to know that they will be heard and cared for when they come forward. Unlike our Shabbos candles, we don’t light our Chanukah candles in the privacy of our dining rooms; we light the menorah where everyone can see it. This way, we can collectively fight the darkness, and bring awareness and light to help diminish others’ pain.
When we light our candles each night of Chanukah, we connect to our history of triumph and miracles. We are making a statement that we, too, want to bring light into darkness to those who are the most vulnerable and help them triumph and find hope in the future.
You can help. If you want to learn more about Shalom Task Force’s program, including the confidential hotline, Sarah’s Voice, free legal assistance, host a community education program, or get involved, visit ShalomTaskForce.org, call 212-742-1278, or email at email@example.com. We are currently interviewing for the next class of hotline volunteer advocates.
If you or someone you know could benefit from speaking to a trained advocate, please call our confidential hotline at 718-337-3700 or 888-883-2323.