By Shoshannah D. Frydman, PhD, LCSW
Executive Director, STF

I recently wrote about my experience working with survivors of domestic violence and how the community has great power and potential to effect positive change to create support and safety. We all want to do this, and it is important to discuss practical ways we can all be part of this change. Some of the most significant barriers to accessing assistance are that survivors fear that they will not be believed and that they do not know where to turn for help.

We celebrated Chanukah last week, a time of illumination and a holiday that declares our hope during the darkest of times. When we lit our candles each night of Chanukah, we connected to our history of triumph and miracles. In the spirit of Chanukah, it is our job is to bring light to where there is darkness, and to do this together as a community. Survivors should know they are not alone. They need to be embraced, believed, and accepted. They need to know that they will be heard and be cared for when they come forward.

We can be the shamash, the candle that originates the light.

How do we do this? How can we each be a shamash, the light that gives light to others?

Increasing the light. When we light the menorah, we do not start with eight candles, but with a single candle and add on. Take small steps — attend an educational program about domestic violence, learn how to better support a survivor, share this article in your community.

Illuminate the survivor’s path. As a helper, a shamash, we are there to support the survivor. It is natural to enter a rescuer role when supporting someone, and to want to swoop in and assure them everything will be OK, or to tell them what to do. Although it is difficult to see someone get hurt, ultimately the survivors must be respected and allowed to make decisions for themselves. It is important for you to support them through their own journey, rather than direct them.

Practice supportive statements. Learn to say, “I believe you. This is not your fault. You did not do anything to deserve this. I support you. You are not alone.” These simple words validate the survivors. They are afraid that they will not be believed, and worse, will be blamed. By acknowledging that you believe them, they can continue to come to you for support.

Steer clear of saying statements that may be experienced as being blamed. Do not say: “Are you sure?” or “I can’t believe it, what did you do?” Survivors question themselves enough. Even if you feel shocked, your role is to be a supportive friend, not the judge and jury on the case. Although you may not have meant it by your question, asking “What did you do?” translates to the survivor as “It is your fault.”

Ask: How can I be helpful? As part of a support system, we need to help survivors as they want to be helped, and not how we think they should be helped. By giving the survivors the power to determine what help they need, it empowers them and helps them regain their strength.

Make support a public activity. Unlike our Shabbos candles, we do not light our Chanukah candles in the privacy of our dining rooms; we light our menorahs where everyone can see them. While abuse thrives behind closed doors, it is our job to be the menorah in the window, shining our collective supportive light. Again, start with small steps. Inviting a speaker into your community, hosting a virtual educational event, planning a chesed project, or sharing a social media post all send a strong message of your support.

Know about resources. It is OK for you not to know exactly what to do — but you are able to help connect the survivor to those who do. Learn more about how Shalom Task Force can help so that you can help refer someone in a time of need. Having a resource at your fingertips to help a survivor is critical to bringing light back into his or her life. Call Shalom Task Force’s Confidential Hotline with the survivor to help receive support, safety planning, and referrals for the next step.

Support should not be a miracle. The entire holiday of Chanukah revolved around miracles, a once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing, unexplainable act. Support should not be miraculous; it should be part of the fabric of our community. It is up to us to make that happen.

When we come together, we are part of the solution. Through our support of community-based programs, survivors are given the opportunity to come forward and get the help they need. We often think that as individuals we cannot really make a difference, but we can.

Shalom Task Force is here to do this with you. Let us come together to spread light. Shalom Task Force’s mission is to combat domestic violence and help foster healthy relationships in the Jewish community. If you or your loved one has questions or concerns about relationships or you are currently in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, we are here for you. Please call, text, or WhatsApp the confidential Shalom Task Force Hotline at 888-883-2323 or chat with a live advocate at ShalomTaskForce.org.

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