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shalom bayit in south africa

The history of the Shalom Bayit Project and its work on domestic violence in Johannesburg and South Africa.  

The Shalom Bayit project was initiated in 1994 after we listened to a presentation at a convention by Ronit Liv Ari, a member of the Na’amat organisation in Israel. She spoke about domestic abuse, mainly the abuse of women in Israel, with reported cases of 200,000. This was a shock to those attending the convention because we believed that Jewish men do not abuse their partners!! As we realised later, domestic abuse occurs in all ethnic and faith communities and within all socio-economic groups. 
Our first hurdle was to convince people that domestic violence does occur in Jewish families just as it occurs elsewhere, and therefore it must be happening here in South Africa. 
After some preliminary research it was agreed to form a Shalom Bayit sub-committee, under the aegis of the Co-ordinating Council of National Jewish Women’s Organisations. This council represents 5 major Jewish organisations, namely WIZO, The Union of Jewish Women of South Africa, The Union of Orthodox Synagogues, The United Sisterhood of the Progressive Jewish Women, and Emunah. The Sephardi Ladies’ Group were also invited to participate. 
It was necessary to involve the Jewish Community Services as the professional arm of this committee. Once we established parameters with the social workers, we held our first seminar. We were travelling along an uncharted road and did not know what to expect. We invited three speakers and a rabbi, and to our surprise over 100 women attended. A few women from the audience stood up and bravely related their experiences. This made it clear to the audience that, like everywhere else in the world, we also had domestic violence in the Jewish community in South Africa. 
Since that first foray into the unknown (for us) we organised seminars involving social workers, psychologists and lay persons. We then included many rabbis, who now recgnise that Jewish communities, like others, have the problem of domestic violence. We organise these forums at least twice a year.
The Jewish Community Services have worked with us over the years and organised support groups, which are an important part of their brief. Whenever we have meetings or seminars, a social worker who specialises in domestic violence attends these. 
Recently however, it was agreed that we would separate the two bodies, because of organisational practicalities. The Jewish Community Services now run seminars for professionals, and Shalom Bayit concentrates on those for lay people. Shalom Bayit has an arrangement with a social worker in private practice to attend our seminars and meetings and we remunerate her from our funds. 
In 2003, after Judith Harrisberg, an invaluable member of the Shalom Bayit Committee, passed away, funds were endowed to Shalom Bayit by her family, enabling us to establish the Judith Harrisberg Memorial Fund. The fund is managed by a separate body of trustees and is chaired by the Chair of the Shalom Bayit Project and involves relevant academics, members of the Harrisberg family and a social worker. 
The fund mainly supports postgraduate research which contributes to understanding abuse and the services and support needed by those affected by domestic violence. Last year we awarded a bursary to a doctoral student for her research on domestic violence and the abuser. We hope this research will throw more light on what provokes a person to be violent towards his partner. 
We also invite overseas speakers to South Africa to impart their expertise to the Jewish and general community. We recently hosted a renowned Israeli/American playwright and actress (brought over by the Israel Cultural Fund) who performed to packed audiences in Cape Town and Johannesburg. She also performed her 55 minute monologue to some Jewish schools and in townships, and will return in 2012. 
With assistance from the Harrisberg Foundation, the Director of Jewish Community Services attended seminars and conferences in the USA on domestic violence, and these confirmed that South Africa does not lag behind in knowledge and skills. 
The following words of a woman survivor of domestic violence attending one of our seminars has tremendous relevance for our organisation and adds credence to our work with domestic violence and woman abuse: 
"We have been pummelled, punched, kicked and pushed out of a moving car. We have had our hair pulled and been sworn at, and all in front of the children! We ask only that we be believed, that we be helped to stop being victims, and to end this abuse." 

Written by Irene Zukerman, Chair of the Shalom Bayit Project, Johannesburg