Remembering Hanna Weinberg, pioneering advocate for domestic abuse victims
For women in the Orthodox Jewish community, domestic abuse is still too often suffered in silence. Hanna Weinberg, who died January 23 at age 84, was called the "Harriet Tubman" of the Jewish domestic violence movement. She spent much of her adult life establishing safe houses for abuse victims. She also served as a consultant during the creation of CHANA (Counseling Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women) in Baltimore, (named after Baltimore Jewish community leader Annette F. Lieberman, whose Hebrew name was Chana.)
The daughter of Rabbi Yaakov Yitzhak Ruderman, who founded Baltimore's Ner Israel Rabbinical College in 1933, and the wife of Rabbi Yaakov Weinberg, who taught at the college, Hanna became a Hebrew teacher and coordinated volunteer services at a Jewish convelecent home. But when women began coming to her husband with harrowing stories of abuse, she found her calling as an activist.
"My father told me that in Europe, the windows were over a courtyard, and you could hear the slaps and screams and dishes breaking. `What did you do?' I asked. He closed the shutters. My work with domestic violence has been about opening the shutters."
And open them, she did. Hanna knew that if she was to change perceptions about domestic vioience within the Orthodox community, she would have to find ways to work with that community. She started by finding two homes outside the Jewish community that could turned into shelters, where women could go without fear of their husbands finding them. "They were regular homes," she said. "I never advertised, and nobody knew where they were."
Hannah was a narrator in JWA's Weaving Women's Words: Baltimore Stories oral history project and JWA's Women Who Dared exhibit of contemporary Jewish activism. She shared stories of how shocked people were that domestic violence even exisited in Jewish homes. "I had a woman who came to me at 12 o'clock at night. Her nose, it looked horrible. It turned out to be broken because I took her to the hospital. I had a man who would help me sometimes with these cases. I asked him to come at six o'clock in the morning to take her home...He called me up afterwards...and he said `How is this possible? I'm sitting next to this man in the synagogue for 13 years. He is so sweet tempered. If I hadn't seen it for myself, I wouldn't have believed it.' Many, many times, people couldn't believe it until they were up against it."
In her own way, Hanna saved many women and families from lives of silent suffering. And in doing so, she made rabbis, teachers and even law enforcement officials realize that when a woman from "a good family" speaks of violence, closing the shutters is never an option.
To read more about Hanna Weinberg's work, her Jewish background, and her path to activism in her own words, visit Women Who Dared.