JWI conference on Jewish domestic violence
Jewish Women International's (JWI) first-ever international conference on domestic violence in the Jewish community began in Baltimore on July 20, 2003. Among its approximately 450 attendees, the three-day conference included Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox rabbis; social workers, artists, activists, and abuse survivors. "Every point of view—orthodox and secular, lay and professional, survivor and service provider, medical and spiritual, gay and straight—was shared and respected among this incredibly diverse group," commented JWI Executive Director Loribeth Weinstein. Nearly one hundred speakers addressed the conference in 44 workshops, on topics from finding funding for programming to a rabbi's role in combating domestic violence.
The conference's principle goal was a "Call to Action," aimed at galvanizing the movement against domestic violence through a statement of principles and a call for personal commitments to fight violence in individual communities. In addition, JWI announced "the launching of initiatives to help young women spot the danger signs of brewing domestic abuse, and to help rabbis better respond to the problem." According to Orthodox Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the conference marked a major change in the way the Jewish community dealt with domestic abuse: "Until 10 years ago domestic abuse was nowhere on the Jewish agenda. We acted as if it didn't exist, yet it was prevalent. This conference is a recognition of our past ignorance and indifference." Organizers hoped that attendees would take the strategies and insights learned in Baltimore back to their home communities, where they could continue to educate still more professionals and lay people to confront family violence.
Baltimore has been an important location in the growth of a Jewish effort to combat domestic abuse. Rebbetzin Hanna Weinberg has been called the "Harriet Tubman" of the Jewish domestic violence movement. Starting with a battered women's telephone hotline out of her home thirty years ago, she has been instrumental in organizing support services ranging from shelters to kosher food to financial, legal, and career advice in Jewish communities around the country. CHANA (Counseling Helpline and Aid Network for Abused Women), a project of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, has also provided an inspirational model of how a Jewish community can address the problem of domestic abuse.
The Baltimore conference, titled "Pursuing Truth, Justice and Righteousness: A Call to Action," marked ten years of JWI's work on the issue of domestic violence. In the decade before the conference, JWI, previously known as B'nai B'rith Women (see This Week in History for September 17, 1984), had published guides to domestic violence intervention for rabbis and for volunteer and professional Jewish communal workers; the organization had also sponsored programs in Israel and Russia, and had received a federal grant to increase awareness in the American Jewish community. Since the 2003 conference, JWI has completed a needs assessment study of domestic violence in the U.S. Jewish community, and has produced a curriculum entitled "When Push Comes To Shove ... It's No Longer Love," targeted to teenagers. JWI is also active in a variety of national and international initiatives to break the silence around domestic violence and increase professional and political attention to this issue.
See also: "Jewish Women International: 7 Years Later", Jewesses with Attitude; This Week in History for September 17, 1984, B'nai B'rith Women Denounces B'nai B'rith International; B'nai B'rith Women; B'nai B'rith Women in the Virtual Archive.
Sources: The Jewish Press (Omaha, NE), Sep 26, 2003; The Jerusalem Post, Aug 25, 2003; Baltimore Jewish Times, July 11, 2003, July 25, 2003; www.jwi.org; Jewish Women's Archive, Women Who Dared exhibit on Rebbetzin Hanna Weinberg: jwa.org/exhibits/wwd/jsp/bio.jsp?personID=phweinberg; Jewish Women's Archive, Weaving Women's Words: Baltimore Stories exhibit on Hanna Weinberg: jwa.org/exhibits/baltimore/weinberg.html.