WINNIPEG — The executive director of Jewish Women International of Canada (JWIC) is looking to Winnipeg’s Jewish community to serve as a role model and national leader in raising the awareness of violence against women in Jewish society.
From left are Al Benarroch of Winnipeg Jewish Child and Family Services; Penny Krowitz, executive director of Jewish Women International of Canada; and JWI Winnipeg representative Mary Ann Rosenbloom at a recent meeting of the Winnipeg’s task force to end violence against women.
“It has to be a sustained effort though,” Penny Krowitz told representatives of several community organizations at the recent inaugural meeting of the Winnipeg Jewish Community Task Force to End Violence Against Women, held at the Asper Jewish Community Campus.
“This won’t work if it turns out to be a one-off program,” she added.
The campaign is being led by Jewish Child and Family Services and JWI of Winnipeg. Representatives from the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, the Rady Jewish Community Centre, the Gray Academy of Jewish Education, JSA-Hillel, Congregation Etz Chayim, the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre and Chabad also attended.
“Ending violence against women has been our primary focus for the past four years,” said JWI Winnipeg leader Mary Ann Rosenbloom, who is also a member of the JWIC board. “With Penny available to help kick this off, we felt that this was the right time to engage the wider community.”
Krowitz said that until the mid-1980s, little was known about domestic violence in the Jewish community. “Until B’nai Brith Women [JWI’s former incarnation] became involved, Toronto’s Jewish Family & Child Services saw very few cases,” she said. “Now, the JFC [Jewish Family and Child] has a constant domestic-abuse caseload of about 350 women and five social workers on staff to help them.”
She noted that JWI’s Toronto chapter operates two shelters for Jewish women fleeing abusive home environments, while Winnipeg’s branch has an arrangement with the local shelter Alpha House for Jewish women.
“Jewish women who have been abused are referred to JWI in Toronto by JFC,” Krowitz said. “We have volunteers who befriend the women, take them out to appointments with doctors and lawyers, babysit for them and generally care about them.”
Although there are no specific figures for abuse in the Jewish community, Krowitz reported that one in five Canadian women has been or will be abused at some point. “We believe that the numbers in the Jewish community are about the same,” she said.
She pointed out that domestic abuse is about control – not anger – and that it can take many forms. While such abuse is often associated with physical violence, she said, the abuse/control can be emotional, financial, sexual and spiritual.
“There is a very fine line between acceptable and abusive behaviour,” she said.
According to a 2004 JWI report, abuse cuts across all age, religious and socio-economic groups; Jewish women wait longer than non-Jewish women to seek help because of concerns over losing their children and their financial status, as well as feeling ashamed; and Jewish women are reluctant to seek help from non-Jewish agencies.
Jewish women stay in abusive relationships up to 10 years longer than non-Jewish women, Krowitz noted.
“We found that some women will approach their rabbi if their rabbi has spoken publicly about the issue already,” she said.
“There was one rabbi in Toronto who contacted us after a couple of women in his congregation approached him. He didn’t know what to do. We educated him, and he spoke about the issue in a sermon around Chanukah. He and the JFC received several calls right after that.”
She also spoke about a JWI Toronto program aimed at sensitizing high school and university students to the problem.
One of the observations made at the Winnipeg meeting was that there were few men in attendance. Krowitz pointed out that domestic violence is more of a men’s issue than a women’s issue, as men are the abusers in 95 per cent of cases.