Ending Abuse in Bukharian Jewish Families

Bukharian-Jewish women in Queens, New York, have started a grass-roots group, Beit Shalom, to combat domestic violence, a pervasive problem among immigrants who began arriving in the States from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan about 10 years ago, after the breakup of the former Soviet Union. Their community in Queens now numbers some 60,000. With support from the New York Women’s Foundation, Beit Shalom offers workshops and lectures by mental health professionals on such topics as violence while dating and the impact of family abuse on children and teenagers.

When asked what made the Bukharian community particularly vulnerable to this scourge, Renee Banerjee, Program Director of the New York Women’s Foundation, cited problems specific to immigrants, such as language and cultural barriers, that cause stress in families. In New York, she said, the sex roles of this traditional culture have been turned upside down,

“The women have to work. And the men seem to have a harder time finding jobs than their wives.” Banerjee also said that the rabbis were still enforcing a very male dominating ethos.

At first, when people heard about Beit Shalom, said Rita Kluyov, executive director, “they wouldn’t come to the programs. Up to now, nobody talked about abuse, which happens a lot in our community, and includes physical, financial, and verbal,” Kluyov said. “In the Bukharian community, there is only your family. But now, I’m telling you, it’s a big change.” The average lecture now draws more than 200 people, and the Shalom Task Force Hot Line, a crisis hotline founded by Orthodox women, now has a Bukharian speaking volunteer.

Except for Kluyov and a secretary, Beit Shalom, located in a small office in Kew Gardens Hills, is run entirely by women volunteers, who presently number 22, “They are trying to build women leaders in the community,” Banerjee said. “They’re thinking big, to build public awareness that domestic violence is a bad thing.”