Sunday, April 30, 2006

Domestic Violence: Signs stirring controversy in Jewish community

By Sandie Benitah
Toronto Town Crier Newspapers, Canada
April 26, 2006

Driving along Bathurst, between Finch and Drewry, motorists can’t help but notice the billboard featuring the face of a battered woman whose blackened eyes are closed with shame.

The woman is Jewish and the billboard is meant to send a clear message that no community or culture is exempt from the horrors of domestic abuse.

"There is a Jewish woman you know being abused," it says across the poster.

Battery against women is always a touchy subject but campaign organizers said they knew the Jewish community would be particularly sensitive about it.

The billboard is one of three such signs the Jewish Women International of Canada organization has scattered along Bathurst St., targeting high-traffic Jewish neighbourhoods. This is the first time the Jewish community has been targeted with this issue, said Penny Krowitz, the executive director of the non-profit group, which specializes in raising awareness about violence against women.

"There’s the added stress of our cultural norms," she said about the shame Jewish women feel about being battered. "In the Jewish culture, it’s the woman’s responsibility to keep a peaceful home and so there’s a tremendous amount of shame and a lot of self-blame."

Krowitz said the group is looking for funding to launch a statistical study into domestic abuse in the Jewish community. She said there are no current statistics to prove battery is more of a problem in this community than any other, but that doesn’t mean the subject shouldn’t be broached.

"One of our goals is for women to understand that it does exist in every community. Every woman tends to think they’re the only one this is happening to," she said.

There has been a backlash from some members of the Jewish community.

Krowitz has received a couple of emails from people putting down the campaign over concern it could spark anti-Semitic responses from other communities.

"There are anti-Semitic people, whether we discuss this or not," she said. "I don’t for a minute think it’s enough reason to be quiet. The safety and security of women is the most important."

Before the campaign hit the streets, Krowitz said she lost some sleep over it, worrying about how the community might respond. Despite the negative emails, she’s been pleasantly surprised.

"I anticipated a lot more negative response," she said. "We considered it very carefully and were very thoughtful about how we approached it. We looked at every avenue, met with focus groups and met with different groups in the Jewish community."

Some restaurants and synagogues have even put up smaller-sized posters in their establishments.

The billboards, which will be up for three months, went up just before the Jewish holiday of Passover — a festival of freedom.

The JWIC paid for the campaign with a large donation from an anonymous donor. They’re hoping for more funding so they can expand their campaign to other Jewish communities across the country.


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