Finding Shalom in Shabbat
by Carrie Seleman
Celebrating Shabbat is about ending the week with intention and prioritizing your most important relationships. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month – a time to acknowledge that for many, their home life may be difficult and potentially unsafe. With the following blog by OneTable community member, Carrie Seleman, we invite you to learn how to advocate for members of your community who may be in need of support.
Shabbat: a time for rest; a time for reset; a time for peace. It seems inherent, right? We say, “Shabbat Shalom!” without a second thought because, of course, The Day of Rest is by definition peaceful…unless it’s not.
This Shabbat is the last one of October, a month dedicated to domestic violence* awareness. The story in this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, shares the origin story of Rebekah and Isaac’s relationship. Rebekah gives consent to leaving her homeland to be married off to Isaac, and we see the first mention of spousal love in the Torah. How ironic to be reading this portion as we close out a month that highlights that not everyone has a loving relationship or partnership, that not everyone has agency over their own lives like Rebekah did.
Approximately 30% of women and 25% of men experience domestic violence. That statistic is the same when looking just at the Jewish community. Generally, trans and non-binary folks experience domestic violence at significantly higher rates than those above.
There’s a Jewish concept called shalom bayit, peace in the home. A lovely concept on its face, it can be weaponized, pressuring a victim of abuse to turn the other cheek in order to limit any “exacerbation” of violence or anger within the home. It can also create a false sense that domestic violence couldn’t possibly exist within the Jewish community when this is such a pillar of our relationships. Jewish Women International’s (JWI) 2021 National Needs Assessment brought out the facts: many Jews are suffering in a cycle of domestic violence. We don’t want to believe that our friend, colleague, or the person sitting at our Shabbat table is or has been trapped in the cycle of abuse, but I promise that you know someone Jewish who has been affected by domestic violence. It might even be you; those of us who can identify domestic violence in someone else’s relationship can struggle to identify it in our own homes.
Shalom bayit can be wonderful if we live it to its purest intention. So how can we use this Shabbat to start bringing peace into every single Jewish home? How can we ensure that every Jew has agency over their own lives the way that Rebekah did? I have a few suggestions, and I would love to see your additional ideas in the comments so that they are shared with our OneTable community.
- Advocate for change within your community.
- Bring an educational program to your community, talk to local community leaders, and advocate for others to raise awareness about domestic abuse.
- Have the ability to identify domestic violence. Here are some resources to help you do that:
- Read JWI’s 2021 National Needs Assessment.
- Read Shalva’s About Domestic Abuse.
- When you’re ready to get culturally-sensitive help:
- JWI has a master directory of Jewish domestic violence programs throughout the United States.
- Jewish Women’s Archive has a list of #MeToo resources.
- As important as it is to help those who have already experienced domestic violence, it is just as important to prevent domestic violence from happening to any others.
- Plan a Shabbat dinner for just you and your partner using OneTable’s Healthy Relationships Guide.
- Use JWI’s Shamor L’Amour resources to hold a healthy relationships Shabbat dinner for your family or friends.
*The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence defines domestic violence as “the willful intimidation as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. Frequency and severity of domestic violence can vary dramatically, but the constant of domestic violence is one partner’s consistent efforts to maintain power and control over the other.”
Carrie Seleman (she/her) is an attorney representing youth who are in the child protection system. She previously worked with survivors of domestic violence to help them get orders of protection. Carrie is also the president of Chicago Young Women’s Impact Network for Jewish Women International, the leading Jewish organization working to end violence against women and girls.