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London: Jewish Women’s Aid

London’s Jewish women have successfully launched plans to establish England’s first refuge for Jewish women and children who experience domestic violence. “It’s one thing to tell someone that they shouldn’t go outside the community for help,” lane (not her real name) told LILITH, “but having said that, it is wrong that there are no services provided within the community.” lane, a Jewish woman, a survivor, and now a member of Jewish Women’s Aid (|WA), a group of over 200 women culled from all sectors of the Jewish community who have pooled their resources to support victims of domestic violence.

Since mid-1992, staffers in London’s Jewish social service agencies started to share their concern informally about increased violence in Jewish homes. “Twenty-two known cases of domestic violence were identified within their current case loads, and 24 other instances over the last two-year period were cited. They estimated that 20 women would have used a refuge,” explained Judith Usiskin, the founding chairperson of Jewish Women’s Aid. Three hundred thousand Jews live in the U.K., with over 200,000 of them in the Greater London Area. “Additionally, a telephone help line in Leeds for Jewish women who suffer violence had been receiving an increased number of calls from its national advertising.”

In November 1992, )WA organizers held a public meeting in a large Reform Temple to gauge support for a Jewish women’s refuge, Judith Usiskin reflected that, “The turnout was a surprise from women who hadn’t been to the synagogue for years, to women with shaitels (wigs) from Stamford Hill (the large ultra Orthodox Chassidic community) who had never been inside a Reform Temple. But they were able to talk to each other.”

Phyllis Agam, a London architect, echoes this diversity. “I was also attracted by the loose hierarchy and the cross section of women lawyers, accountants, social workers, media professionals, religious and secular. We will ensure that the policies and procedures being developed are sensitive to the needs of the Orthodox women who may come to the refuge.

In lune 1993, IWA was officially inaugurated, and electing officers with a clear mandate to secure funding for a permanent refuge – in the interim, a temporary refuge will open in the next few months. A free confidential telephone help line in London was launched in November 1993 to provide a “listening ear” for women and direct them to other available resources. A public education campaign is underway and |WA plans a national course to train rabbis and their partners. “Rabbis are often the first port of call for a women in distress,” notes Judith Usiskin, “and they should be given the resources and training to recognize abuse and deal with it appropriately.”

Esther Cohen, a probation worker in inner London, is aware that the community is scared to acknowledge any flaws in its foundation. “There are refuges for Chinese, African and Hindu women, but, at some level, English Jewry does not want to acknowledge its ethnicity. We look British, we want to be British, and we desperately want to fit in.”

Jewish Women’s Aid will give victims of domestic violence their own place to fit in.

For further information, contact IWA, BM |WAI. London, WC1 3XX, U.K.