TORONTO – March 8 marked an important date in both Jewish and secular calendars. For just over a century, International Women’s Day (IWD) has celebrated the female population from around the world, serving not only to empower women and commemorate their triumphs, but also to recognize the adversities they still encounter in both Western and developing nations.
In honour of IWD 2016, Na’amat Canada organized an educational event called “Words not spoken – Not a sexy subject” in order to raise awareness and dispel myths concerning domestic violence in the Jewish community. The event opened with a short dramatic play and was followed by an informative lecture, which attracted over 70 women from all across Toronto.
Penny Krowitz, executive director of Act to End Violence Against Women, was the featured speaker at the event. “We want to make an impact on people in terms of their awareness…because we want to show responsibility for our loved ones – we want to show responsibility for ourselves,” she told The CJN.
According to Krowitz and Na’amat Canada Toronto’s president, Gerry Anklewicz, there are many misconceptions with regards to abuse within the community. One specific myth is that domestic violence does not occur, whereas another one is that the only form of serious abuse is physical.
As a part of the presentation, a theatrical skit was performed by five Na’amat volunteers in order to illustrate the many types of abuse that exist. Some examples include emotional abuse and degradation, strict financial restrictions and withholding of information, rape, physical assault, and family abuse.
Krowitz explained that many people do not believe that domestic violence is a reality in the Jewish community because of the Torah’s philosophy of shalom bayit. The ideal of shalom bayit promotes the concept of domestic harmony and the eternal connection between the husband and wife.
“I always say that shalom bayit is a double edged sword because shalom bayit also creates a household. When there isn’t true shalom bayit in the home, the woman generally takes it upon herself that it’s her fault,” Krowitz said. “No matter how smart or how educated, we Jewish women think it is our responsibility to make sure the home is run the way it should be and that everybody is happy.”
Anklewicz expanded, “If you come into a relationship and you are a strong woman, but you are told that your cooking doesn’t measure up, your hair doesn’t measure up, your choice of clothing… You begin to feel that maybe you aren’t the person you thought you were.”
Krowitz says that some 25 per cent of women have been abused within the Jewish community in Canada – a staggering ratio that is no different than the rest of society as a whole.
The women’s rights advocate ended her sobering talk with a Q&A session from the audience. Many women were still confused since derogatory, isolated comments from men could be interpreted as abusive; however, Krowitz explained that violent behaviour is patterned, and one-time incidents cannot determine the general state of a relationship.
According to Krowitz, domestic abuse begins rather subtly and then starts to grow until it eventually peels away a woman’s self-esteem. Generally, it will not start with a man physically assaulting his spouse. Because women start to become accustomed to their husbands’ abusive behaviours, they are often left feeling helpless, specifically with regards to their children and financial affairs. It then becomes more difficult for a wife to leave her abusive spouse because she fears that her money and children will be withheld from her.
Krowitz and Anklewicz both agreed that it is imperative to educate children on abuse in order foster a heightened sense of awareness.
“We need to educate our daughters, granddaughters, our sons and our grandsons. They are the ones that really need to be educated because they are the ones that if they grow up realizing that women are equal and worthy, then that is going to lessen the problems,” said Aklewicz.
Women that are suffering or have suffered abuse can contact Act to End Violence Against Women (905-695-5372) or Jewish Family and Child Services (416-638-7800).