Saturday, December 5, 2009
While it was very moving to talk to the Mitchells and very exciting to talk to Tim Gunn, I was there to participate in Time to Talk for a full three hours, so I did get to talk to a few other amazing people. During my time there I got to talk to Loribeth Weinstein, Executive Director of Jewish Women International. JWI is the leading Jewish organization dedicated to empowering women and girls – through economic literacy, community training, healthy relationship education, and the proliferation of women’s leadership.
4 years ago, JWI founded the National Alliance to End Domestic Abuse, which provides training to professionals who often work in under resourced organizations. Their curriculum on teen dating abuse is soon to be distributed to United Synagogue Youth and JYOs through out the country. According to Loribeth, this curriculum will reach more than 14,000 Jewish teens across the country. Think about that – 14,000 more teens that will go into relationships aware of the warning signs of relationship abuse, or learn to recognize the subtle signs of a unsafe relationship.
“JWI is a more than century old organization that is dedicated to service and philanthropy initially, but especially the very razor sharp mission of ending violence against women. We have about 50 thousand members around the United States.” Loribeth explained. “We work here in the states, and we are also the catalyst for domestic violence resources in Jewish communities around the world. We strengthen women’s lives through economic literacy, financial security, and work to build an empowered new generation of girls.”
So Loribeth and I chatted a while about the topic of teen dating violence. I asked her to explain what approach JWI takes when it comes to this issue. “ After doing a decade’s worth of work centering around domestic violence and serving the Jewish and secular communities with education and resources, we stepped back and said, (about seven years ago), what is it going to take to create a world where we are less about saving lives, and more about preventing the abuse in the first place? So, we identified working with teens as really important, doing preventative education and healthy relationship training in schools and religious institutions… it’s kids coming together to talk about domestic violence. Because when kids are not familiar with the language, you have a hard time taking it on. You just don’t know how to talk about it. We found that young people didn’t have a voice for expressing how they felt about power in relationships, about equity in relationships, or what truth is in a relationship.”
As my conversation with Loribeth went on, the enormity of the job this woman has taken on as the director of such a substantial institution started to come into focus. There are so many aspects of domestic abuse, from physical, to emotional, to financial, that when you throw cultural definitions in there, you really have a complex problem with no concrete solution. A patriarchal culture, like that of Judaism has both positives and negatives. “That attachment, that patriarchy, can be very dis empowering to women,” Loribeth states, “a man who takes care of his daughter, and says, ‘Honey, you will never have to worry about money, I'm going to take care of you and someday your husband is going to take care of you’ is a problem - Imagine a young woman, who is academically accomplished, because the Jewish culture is very much about education for our daughters, but she’s economically illiterate. Which means that, they do themselves a disservice just entering work life, but also in a relationship, because they are expected to be taken care of financially. And money is power. Resources are an exit strategy to anything in life. You want to change a job, you want to get out of a bad relationship, with out money and resources of your own, you can not do that. We see women who are going through terrible divorces, who have no money of their own, their husbands are substantial bread winners and the money is in their husband accounts. So, disentangling yourself from a relationship that may not be physically abusive, but rather emotionally and financially debilitating, requires significant resources.”
So what is to be done about this? “We’ve developed teen programming, and a very lengthy program for girls on dating violence and healthy relationships, and because its geared toward younger girls, it’s based on the foundations of friendship, self esteem and healthy relationships. Later, as they build their relationships with members of the opposite sex, or get into romantic relationships with members of their own gender, they are modeling those relationships on things they have seen in the friendship world they have grown up in. This also ties in to the epidemic of bullying in middle schools. This is important because all of this ties in to the building blocks of healthy relationships. We have a Strong Girls program as well as a Good Guys program that works with young boys and builds on the same kind of conversation training and role playing that really helps in those first stages of transforming relationships. We bring this curriculum into the youth serving organizations of the Jewish communities. The topics change year to year. This year the topic of collaboration is healthy relationships. We plan to unveil this to about 14,000 young people starting this December. This is one of the largest target groups on this subject, ever. Imagine those 14,000 kids talking to their friends and families about what they are learning about healthy relationships. Think about how many people that will reach. ”
Overall, I enjoyed talking to Loribeth emensely and learning more about the JWI. I always say knowlege is power, and I am very impressed with the efforts of JWI in the fight against domestic violence. For more information on JWI and their programs visit http://www.jewishwomen.org/.