Friday, May 06, 2005

10 Years For Domestic Abuse Prevention Group

10 Years For Domestic Abuse Prevention Group
Rochelle C. Eisenberg
Staff Reporter
Baltimore Jewish Times - May 06, 2005

Standing in front of an audience of more than 300 attending CHANA's 10th anniversary event, Dr. Amy Robbins Ellison began to speak. It was last Tuesday evening, May 3, and the room was very quiet.

Beginning her keynote address, Dr. Ellison rattled off a list of her impressive credentials - assistant professor of anesthesiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, director of cardiac anesthesia at the medical center, accomplished cellist, involved in her synagogue. She even joked that she skipped kindergarten.

But then, she turned more serious, adding, "And I was battered for 10 years."

It was this contradiction - between successful, self-assured, intelligent professional, and woman who allowed her husband to strike her, many times in front of her daughter - that resonated with the audience. It was a clear message that domestic violence knew no bounds.

The program, held at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School in Pikesville, commemorated CHANA's success over the past decade addressing and providing services for domestic abuse in Baltimore's Jewish community. CHANA is an agency of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Since its inception, the organization has fielded 1,500 calls on its hotline, provided counseling for hundreds of Jewish women and addressed more than 1,000 youngsters on healthy relationships.

Tuesday's event highlighted CHANA's impact on the Jewish community in what was once perceived as not a Jewish issue.

"It took time before we could admit we had a problem," said Rabbi Menachem Goldberger, spiritual leader of Congregation Tiferes Yisroel in Upper Park Heights. "I learned that violence does not discriminate," referring to the fact that it hits all elements of the community, including Reform, Conservative, Orthodox and unaffiliated in all economic strata. "We learned how hard it is for a women to reach out."

Rabbi Goldberger was one of five men recognized for their contributions to CHANA. Other honorees included Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Howard Brown, Rabbi Moshe Hauer and attorney Larry Feldman.

Brenda Brown Rever, CHANA's founding chair, introduced them, emphasizing that although men participate in the organization in smaller numbers, they have played an important role in providing spiritual guidance, legal assistance and funding for the program.
Then, Deborah Weiner, a reporter for WBAL-TV, introduced Dr. Ellison. Ms. Weiner's interest in domestic violence was piqued two years ago when she ran a news segment on CHANA for WBAL. When she interviewed a "survivor," she said she was amazed at how much she resembled any typical Jewish woman.

During her introduction, Ms. Weiner mentioned that she left her family playing charades prior to attending the program. She then used that game as a metaphor for domestic violence. "In many ways, survivors are forced to play a game of charades," she said.

When Dr. Ellison took the podium, she spoke about how she left her abusive husband. It all began on a Labor Day weekend, after an incident in which her husband blackened her eye.
"My mother-in-law had the courage to call the police and enable myself and my daughter to leave and seek refuge at a friends home," she said. "Although she knew it was only after my father-in-law's sudden death two months ago, my mother in-law stepped in and came to my assistance."

But, Dr. Ellison added, that this was not the end of the story. When the three-day weekend was over, she returned home with promises from her husband of change.

But change did not come, and finally, she left for good. After 18 months and 13 protective orders, she was extricated legally from the marriage.

It was the impact of abuse on her daughter that stays with Dr. Ellison.

"It is hard to forget that so much violence was witnessed by a very small child," she said. "The only concerns she should have is who to play with tomorrow and what did she want for lunch. Instead, she was planted directly between her parents, her spindly arms trying to stop the onslaught."

Now happily remarried, Dr. Ellison ended with a poignant poem written by her now 17-year-old daughter which focused on attempts to love a parent who abused.

CHANA began as an idea within the Associated's Women's Department approximately 11 years ago. Ms. Rever was president of the Women's Department at the time and served on the board of the House of Ruth. The Associated was interested in adding new projects.

"I asked Carole Alexander if Jewish women ever used the House of Ruth," Ms. Rever said. "She told me she had calls, but that the cultures were extremely different and she couldn't remember any residents."

While exploring the issue of domestic violence with area rabbis and Jewish Family Services, it initially didn't seem as if many Jewish women were in abusive relationships, according to Ms. Rever. It wasn't until they spoke with Rebbetzin Chana Weinberg that it became apparent that there was a definite need.

Women from the religious community were contacting Rebbetzin Weinberg and she had established an underground network, providing housing outside the community.

"Prior to CHANA's start, I personally never knew anyone who was abused. That's how deep the secret was," said Ms. Rever. "Once it formed, people came to me to tell me they had been abused. People I never would have suspected."

Much has been accomplished since the organization's inception. Dr. Leigh Vincocur, incoming chair for CHANA's advisory board, said, "We now have a grown-up program. Our next step is to start planning focus groups with clients, clergy and board members to create a five-year strategic plan."

However, in any long-term plan, Rabbi Weinreb, echoed a sentiment Tuesday evening shared by speakers and audience members alike. "We wish and pray fervently," he said, "that CHANA becomes extinct."

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