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Living In a Metaphorical Sukkah

This year, the Festival of Sukkot falls during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The sukkah, the hut that Jews inhabit during the autumn harvest festival, represents the fragility of life. The winds blow and the rains fall, leaving its dwellers vulnerable to the elements. Luckily, most of us only have to live in a sukkah eight days of the year. Abuse victims live in a metaphorical one every day, never knowing when a gust of abuse will sweep away the sparse protection over their heads.

Judaism's teachings and traditions, since the days of the Torah, have instructed its adherents in human relationships. During the Talmudic era the sages began to address spousal abuse specifically. We Jews can be proud that our ancestors confronted this problem centuries before other societies did. The rabbis acknowledged that this was a problem that existed among our people.

It still does. In the United States, one woman in four will suffer from physical or sexual abuse at some point in her life. The statistics are the same in Israel. Physical and sexual abuse are not the whole story, however. FBI reports do not take into account verbal, psychological, financial, or emotional abuse – controlling, demeaning, and belittling behavior that erodes not only a woman's self-esteem, but her physical and mental health.

These numbers translate to 75,000 Hadassah members who may be suffering silently. Ever wonder why they don't come to meetings? Somebody may be forbidding them from attending meetings, perhaps they are embarrassed because their clothing is old and worn or their partners are telling them that that they won't fit in, that nobody will like them.

(All these reasons are true stories that have been recorded in research.)

Jews have been at the forefront of the human and civil rights movements for centuries. "Justice, justice you shall pursue" is one of our most potent mandates. Pikuah nefesh, to save a life, is of primary importance in our faith. What can we do to eradicate or reduce this scourge?

In this New Year, let us fulfill our Hadassah mission and step up as activists to ensure that our members -- and our neighbors --are safe in their own homes. Become educated. Speak out. Take action.

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