Economic crisis boosts need to focus on domestic violence


Domestic violence is the American epidemic we don’t want to talk about, hear about or know about. But in my 30 years as an advocate for women and children, I’ve never been more concerned about the victims of domestic violence than I am right now. Families already buckling under the weight of domestic violence in the best of times can collapse in times of economic downturn and war.

As Jews, we don’t get to take a vacation from tikkun olam and tzedakah because we find an issue disturbing or because something is affecting our bottom line. We are commanded to repair the world, to help those less fortunate, because it’s the right thing to do. And when our pocketbooks fail us, we still have our conscience and our voice.

If we don’t focus our attention on vulnerable families now — if we don’t encourage our leaders and future president to do the same — we very likely will see increases in the already too costly human price of this national scourge.

The statistics are staggering for this equal-opportunity destroyer. One in four U.S. women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime; one in six will be the victim of an attempted or actual rape; one in 12 will be stalked. Nearly 5.3 million acts of intimate-partner violence occur each year among U.S. women age 18 and older, resulting in 2 million injuries and nearly 1,300 deaths.

A poor economic prognosis matters in a uniquely grave way to women and children in families where abuse happens.

According to a 2004 study by the National Institute of Justice, women whose male partners experienced two or more periods of unemployment over the five-year course of the study were three times more likely to be abused. A spike in cases will be devastating for a system where supply is already not keeping up with demand.

Let’s wake up to what is really going on in families of all races, religions and economic levels behind the closed doors of our apartments and starter homes, mansions and military bases. The recent tragic stabbing death of 29-year-old Sgt. Christina E. Smith was the third off-post domestic violence murder of a Fort Bragg servicewoman in four months. Sgt. Richard Smith, 26, was charged, along with a friend, with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder of his wife. A local police spokesperson responded: “No, gosh, not another one.”

The war matters enormously to our leaders, to our citizens and to the parents and spouses of soldiers who pay the ultimate sacrifice. But it also matters to families of military women like Christina E. Smith. Families already under strain become another, rarely talked about, casualty.

So we’ve got to keep doing what we know makes a difference, such as running domestic violence prevention programs that model and teach healthy relationships for teens, and we need to maintain partnerships aimed at ensuring full funding of the Violence Against Women Act and Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and appropriate funding of the Victims of Crime Act, or VOCA.

Only two years ago, the Lifetime Women’s Pulse Poll, conducted by Roper Poll, revealed the degree to which domestic violence informed the voting decisions of women and men over 18. Ninety-seven percent felt that the issue of domestic violence and sexual assault against women and girls was important and would impact whom they voted for in the election.

Jewish Americans are compassionate, and the more we know about an issue, the more we care about an issue. Let’s come together as one voice and let our leaders know that in the best and worst of times we are not going to let domestic violence continue. That we hold them, and ourselves, accountable for making it stop.

Loribeth Weinstein is the executive director of Jewish Women International

Tough neighborhoods, hard times feed cycle of poverty


French Teens in L.A. Share Their Fears


From a distance, the 23 teens hanging out in the Adat Ari El courtyard in Valley Village look like American high school students on a break between classes. A thin, bespectacled boy in a sporty T-shirt sings along with the J.Lo and Ja Rule tune on his headphones, while a pretty girl spoons peanut butter out of a jar to share with her friends. A car pulls up at the front of the building and a petite girl in a floral tank top and low-rise jeans hops out and joins the group. Yet, her telltale greeting, a smooch on both cheeks and a hearty "bonjour!" distinguish these students from their American counterparts.

The teens are visiting Los Angeles on a three-week French Jewish exchange program called CAEJ (Centre Anglo European Jeunesse Juive/British European Center for Jewish Youth). While visiting places, such as Universal Studios, Dodger Stadium, Hurricane Harbor and the Museum of Tolerance, the students stay with Jewish families, practice their English and soak up Jewish American culture. But while searching for celebrities and bonding with new friends, the students can’t help but remember the anti-Semitic experiences they’ve had back in France.

When discussing his life in Rueil Malmaison, a Paris suburb, 16-year-old Oliver Dahan’s usually goofy antics disappear. "In France, you can’t wear a kippah if you don’t want to be hurt," he says. Dahan then recounts the story of some friends who dared to don their yarmulkes on the street. "The [Arab] people came to fight them and they had to run fast." Carole Teboul, 16, from Paris, says that she always hides her Star of David necklace under her shirt when she rides the subway or the bus at home. "Sometimes old men or old women will yell, ‘Kill all Jews!’ when I’m on the bus. They are very narrow-minded," she says.

Laura Schusselblum, 16, hails from the northern city of Strasbourg. "I live in the Jewish quarter of my town. A lot of synagogues have been burned. We have one or two Jewish cemeteries and they put graffiti on the tombstones. It’s like the intifada. It’s very hard to live," she says sadly.

Some of the students admitted they felt safer as Jews on the streets of Los Angeles. The teens link the violence against Jews with angry Arab activists. Most have negative associations with Muslims, although Schusselblum said that the few Muslim students at her school are "very nice." Jean Charles Aouizerate, the 23-year-old chaperone for the group, says, "It disturbs me that we talk about Arabs all the time. We put them all in the same bag and it doesn’t seem right."

Through CAEJ, the students are able to escape the religious hardship at home and experience Judaism in another part of the world. CAEJ was founded in 1966 by Charles Labiod, a Parisian Jew of Tunisian descent, who is an active member of the French Jewish community. Labiod is a member of the Consistoire Central de France, an umbrella organization that unites many synagogues countrywide. Labiod founded CAEJ when he learned that Jewish adolescents on foreign exchange programs were often placed with non-Jewish host families. Since then, he has organized programs for Jewish youth and families from France. Participants can travel to England, Israel, the Alps and Los Angeles.

In a recent visit to Los Angeles, Labiod addressed congregants at Adat Ari El about Judaism, France and Israel. "[President Jacques] Chirac likes the Jews in France," he said. "He is very proud and protective of the Jews. As for Israel, it’s like the crusades of South Africa. He believes Israel will just fade away and disappear." Labiod is clearly baffled that Chirac makes such a huge distinction between Israel and Jews at large.

The students concurred with Labiod’s assessment. While they say that their experiences with anti-Semitism are disturbing, many of them refuse to remain passive. During the government elections a few months back, Dahan remembers seeing graffiti around his town that said things like "Death to the Jews."

"When I see this stuff, I erase it or scratch it off," he says, "I’m not afraid of getting caught."