Written by Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein
Another version of this post was first published on the Academy for Jewish Religion website.
Sitting in a private bathroom stall on Rosh Hashanah at my synagogue, I notice a sign for a hotline for domestic abuse. I am saddened that we need such signs. I am relieved that we are beginning to acknowledge that domestic abuse happens even in the Jewish community. I am hopeful that other women will know they are not alone.
Now it is Sukkot, zeman simhatenu, the time of our joy. It is time to celebrate. On Sukkot the commandment is to sit in our sukkah, a fragile temporary booth open to the elements. Despite its fragility, I love to sit in my sukkah, watching the evening sky, the moon rise, and the geese fly overhead. It reclaims a sense of peace, wholeness. It wasn’t always so.
Not everyone feels joy at Sukkot. If you are sitting in that bathroom stall, reading that sign, scared to go home, you may be thinking “what does this joy have to do with me? Does Judaism have anything to offer me?” Yes!
On Sukkot, we have an extra reading, Ecclesiastes, which offers another message. Sometimes joy isn’t the only response. And that is OK, even wise. “The heart of the wise in is the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of joy” (7:4).
Ecclesiastes teaches something else. There is nothing new under the sun. There is a time to be born and a time to die. A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. A time of war and a time of peace. A time for everything under heaven. Good things and bad things happen. (See Ecclesiastes, chapter 3).
Now you may want to scream, “For everything? There is no appropriate time for domestic violence, for rape, for murder!” Ecclesiastes isn’t condoning everything. It is acknowledging that there is good and bad. It is like the sign in the bathroom. Domestic violence and rape happen. It is not new. We acknowledge that it exists and as a community provide support, and a safe, confidential, non-judgmental response. We actively work to prevent it. We train clergy, staff, educators, mikveh guides to recognize the signs of abuse. This brings us comfort. We are not alone. You are not alone.
Sukkot falls during October this year, and October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I am sad that we need such a month but the statistics are daunting. According to the Centers for Disease Control, intimate partner violence results in nearly 2 million injuries and 1300 deaths nationwide per year. 85% of the victims are women. One out of four women report being abused by a partner. It doesn’t matter what ethnic group, what socio-economic strata, what educational level you have attained. It exists in all segments of the Jewish community.
Domestic violence isn’t always easy to spot. Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior an abuser uses against a victim to exert power and control. This can include physical, sexual, psychological, spiritual and/or financial abuse.
Judaism does have resources to offer survivors. There is a richness and depth in our tradition that can provide strength and courage and turn our darkness into joy. It isn’t easy. It takes work. One of my favorite prayers is the Hashkivenu. We ask “Ufros aleinu sukkat sh’lomekha, Spread over us the shelter, the sukkah of Your peace.” These four words acknowledge that peace, life, safety and security are fragile. They come from God. The rabbis recognized this when they composed Hashkivenu. Those fears of the night persist today.
Jewish Women International included that image in their misheberakh prayer. “May those who have been harmed find pathways to understanding and wholeness and those who have caused harm find their way to repentance and peace. May our community be a source of support for those who have suffered in silence or shame. May those whose homes have become places of danger find their way to a sukkat shalom, a shelter of safety.”
May this become Your will as we celebrate Sukkot. Then when we sit in our sukkah or even in our bathroom, it will be a zeman simhatenu, the time of our joy. Amen.
If you are being abused and need support, or know someone being abused, or you are clergy needing resources call the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). The Shalom Task Force, 888-883-2323 offers referrals to specifically Jewish programs in your local community.
Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein, a Mikveh Guide at Mayyim Hayyim, is a graduate of the Academy for Jewish Religion. She serves as the Principal of Congregation Beth Israel in Andover, MA and on the Jewish Domestic Violence Coalition. She blogs as the Energizer Rabbi.