Domestic violence continues to be a prevalent issue in the Jewish community. Tahel is a crisis support center in Israel, founded in 1993, in an effort to help women and children who suffer from violence and abuse in the Orthodox community. Recently, Tahel held its second international conference in Jerusalem, bringing together Jewish community organizations, professionals, and leaders to discuss ideas and information about abuse in Orthodox communities around the globe and to explore improved responses and treatment.
I was honored to be invited back. Along with my partner Aliza Goldring and my associate Rachel Marks, I attended and lectured at the three-day conference, titled “Shedding Light on the Darkness of Abuse.” The intensive conference dealt with all forms of abuse and violence in the Jewish community. Held at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem, it was attended by over 500 esteemed professionals, including judges from New York and Israel, doctors, rabbis, community leaders, attorneys, teachers, social workers, psychotherapists, educators, academics, and child-welfare professionals from the U.S., the U.K., Switzerland, South Africa, Australia, and more.
One track of the conference was geared towards rabbis and educators; another track was specifically geared towards attorneys and rabbinical-court advisers; and a third track was geared towards mental-health professionals. The sessions focused on building safe communities and educational environments, building safe synagogues and yeshivas, treating complex trauma, treating child and adolescent trauma, the rabbinic role in domestic violence cases, legal dilemmas and solutions, and much more.
Among the many lectures were the opening remarks by the chief Ashkenazic rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau, in which he emphasized the important role of rabbis in dealing with victims of abuse and the importance of growing awareness of these issues in the religious community; a keynote address by Assemblyman Dov Hikind, titled “The Politician’s Role in Combating Abuse”; a thought-provoking lecture by Dr. Michael Genovese on integrative medicine in treating trauma and abuse; a discussion by Lawrence Braunstein, Esq., titled “Who Gets Burned When You Get Burned Out”; and remarks by Mary Jo Barrett, MSW, who discussed professional ethics and boundaries. It was an honor to be among these esteemed speakers at this momentous conference.
Last year, at the inaugural conference, we were invited to speak about domestic abuse as it relates to divorce. Specifically, we addressed the devastating crisis of women being left as agunot and the problem of withholding a get in a divorce action as a form of abuse. We also led a discussion about shocking and cruel behavior exhibited by divorcing parties in the throes of a custody dispute.
This year we were asked to speak about domestic violence and its legal ramifications, as well as laws around the world pertaining to the get. Among the topics we presented were the history of the justice system’s response to domestic violence; the prosecution and adjudication of domestic-violence cases; laws, policies, and practices for domestic-violence cases; the get law in New York; orders of protection; ramifications of domestic violence on custody; and various domestic-violence statistics and trends.
The Yashar organization was presented for the first time at the conference this year, and I am proud to say that Rachel Marks and I are members. The organization was started by New York attorneys with the goal of solving the agunah crisis through prevention. Among other things, the members of Yashar are seeking to draft a universally accepted prenuptial agreement specifically designed to protect spouses from becoming agunot upon the dissolution of the marriage. In this way, Yashar is seeking to open up the dialogue on agunot and effectuate change in the form of prevention.
Sensitivity to the unique issues and challenges presented in domestic-abuse cases is of paramount importance to their fair disposition. It is imperative that we do everything in our power to protect the children and victims of domestic abuse so that they can move forward with their lives as survivors and not be further victimized by the legal system on top of the abuse they endure from their abusers.
Bringing together knowledgeable and insightful members of the community to discuss these issues and share ideas and possible solutions was a clever way to open up the discussion and promote awareness of the dangerous problems facing our community so that we, as a community, can take steps in the right direction towards protection, rehabilitation, deterrence, and ultimately prevention.