by Rabbi Dev Noily
Keeping our community one that is safe for everyone, and where people facing abuse can find support, is a priority for Kehilla. Our Board recently reviewed and revised our policy for responding to abuse. The purpose of this article is to share some of Kehilla’s history around responding to abuse, and to explain the change in our policy. Though I’m not addressing it directly here, I’m holding the pain and rage that so many of us are experiencing in response to the #MeToo movement, the Kavanaugh confirmation outrage, and the continuous violent objectification of women by the President. If you would like some support, witness, or company in these times, I invite you to be in touch with me, or with another member of our Spiritual Leadership team.
As a spiritual community Kehilla is committed to acknowledging the presence of domestic violence in the Jewish community and in our congregation, to supporting victims / survivors of domestic violence and facilitating their safety and healing, and to helping abusers recognize abusive patterns and learn not to be abusive. We seek to promote the end of abuse, to help prevent future abuse, and to support people to build the skills for healthy interpersonal and organizational relationships.
In the early 1990s, Kehilla adopted a policy to address domestic violence and abuse(1) within our community. It was a groundbreaking move for a synagogue to make, and Kehilla was able to do it because a number of people who are leaders in this field are part of our community, including Naomi Tucker, David Lee and Paul Kivel. Along with Kehilla’s spiritual leaders and devoted lay leaders, including Rabbi David, Julie Patrusky and Steven Falk, they worked over three years to develop a policy for Kehilla to responsibly respond to domestic violence and abuse when it arises within our community.
Kehilla’s Committee Against Abuse (CAA) was formed, which helped to create our guidelines, coordinated community education about abuse, facilitated processes to address abuse taking place within our community, and coordinated healing services for people who have experienced abuse. For the past several years, Julie Patrusky and Steven Falk have done a beautiful job of co-chairing the committee.
As our community grows and changes, we’ve identified some important updates to how we carry out this part of our mission. Since the CAA was formed, our spiritual leadership team grown, and has gained significant training in pastoral care, including how to address issues of abuse in our community and when to make needed referrals. We also have, and continue to build, strong relationships with professionals who have expertise in this field.
Given this shift in Kehilla’s growth and capacity, and the deeply personal and confidential nature of issues of domestic abuse and the safety concerns for people who experience abuse, Kehilla’s board has revised our guidelines on abuse to shift the contact point for people experiencing abuse from volunteer members of the CAA (our old policy) to our clergy (under the new policy). The clergy will consult confidentially with experts in the field, including some who are members of Kehilla and some who are part of our rabbinic/professional networks, to support a path of greatest safety and healing for our congregants, and to advise us about making referrals. The revised language in our policy is as follows:
Kehilla Committee Against Abuse
Kehilla reaffirms its commitment to having a Kehilla Committee Against Abuse. This committee of concerned Kehilla members will promote awareness of and education about issues of abuse, and about Kehilla’s policies and guidelines.
Responding to Abuse in our Community
Kehilla’s clergy, in consultation with community members who have expertise in the fields of domestic violence and abuse, will oversee the implementation
of these guidelines, and will work to determine the best way to maintain the safety, confidentiality, and healing of abuse survivors associated with our congregation.
The clergy will help determine how the community can best promote tikkun (healing or repair) for both survivors of abuse and for those who have abused, teshuva (redirection for and contrition by one who needs
changing) for those who have abused, and tzedek (justice) for the survivor, guided by the principles of restorative justice. The clergy will consult with designated Kehilla members who have professional expertise in this field when issues of abuse arise among our congregants. If concerns about abuse involve Kehilla’s clergy, congregants are encouraged to go to Kehilla’s Board Chairs or to Kehilla’s Executive Director with those concerns.
The CAA will continue to be responsible for community education and programs about abuse, and will continue to partner with the clergy on Kehilla policies and any religious services that address issues of abuse/ healing from abuse. One recent result of this collaboration is the inclusion on our High Holy Day Al Cheit forms of phone numbers/crisis lines and websites where people experiencing domestic violence can get help.
Our community is deeply grateful to the visionary people who developed our policy against abuse, and who have continued to lift up the reality of abuse, to challenge the myths that abuse doesn’t exist in certain families or communities, and to support people who are experiencing abuse.
If you are experiencing abuse in a relationship, please be in touch with one of our clergy members, or with one of these organizations:
www.thehotline.org – National Domestic Violence Hotline 1−800−799−7233
www.shalom-bayit.org – Shalom Bayit (East Bay) 866-SHALOM-7 /
(866) 742-5667 or (510) 845-SAFE
www.womaninc.org – WOMAN, Inc. in San Francisco / (415) 864-4722 24-hr support line www.asafeplacedvs.org – A Safe Place (Oakland) (510) 536-7233 www.thehotline.org/help/for-abusive-partners/ National Domestic Violence Hotline (for abusive partners)
1. Domestic violence is an escalating pattern of power and control in an intimate relationship. One person systematically controls the other through several means, including intimidation, threats, insults, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, economic control, isolation or physical violence.