New video portrays domestic violence among Jews

"As Jews we value a sense of family," says one of the rabbis who speaks in the film. "Yet in some families that's a myth." And those myths about Jews "prevent us from recognizing the realities that exist in family life."

Shalom bayit, Hebrew for peace in the home, was a myth in the families of Jae, Marcia and Miriam, three abused Jewish women who speak, briefly, of the battering and emotional abuse they suffered from their spouses.

It's a myth, adds the rabbi, that Jewish men are always faithful to their wives, that Jewish men are not alcoholics and that Jewish families are "always harmonious."

Marcia describes herself as the only woman in Bel Air whose husband had an income "in the seven figures" but forced her to have her shoes resoled again and again, until they couldn't be resoled anymore. Marcia says, she "played the game" for the sake of trying to keep her controlling husband happy and the marriage together.

In a classic example of denial, Marcia says: "He was never violent with me. Just three or four times he shoved me against the wall." She also describes how he would press his finger against her jugular.

Miriam, arguably, had the most abusive husband of the three. She worked, but turned her paychecks over to her spouse. In turn she was given a scant food allowance to feed her family of four.

At one point, her husband decided that her ulcer medicine was too costly and that she would have to take the money to pay for it out of her food budget. When she protested that was not possible, he replied, "That will give you the incentive to get better."

"When I got sick," she adds, "I was always afraid he'd let me die."

When Miriam fled from him, once, to her mother's home, her husband called an hour later to say he had strangled the dog.

Interspersed with the women's stories, various rabbis and a female psychotherapist talk about the importance of reporting abuse. Some women believe, erroneously, that in doing so they are bringing dishonor to the community and even to God, committing hillul HaShem, a desecration of God's name.

But the burden of reporting must not fall solely on the shoulders of the abused, the video stresses. The community must also provide sufficient resources and programs to help the abused individual and her family.

Nor is that solely the job of social service agencies.

"If you're a rabbi, give a sermon on abuse and people will come out of the woodwork" to tell you about their experiences, says one rabbi.

Finally, say the experts, true tshuvah, or repentance, on the part of the abuser cannot be accomplished by words alone. Behavioral changes must take place as well.

The Seattle-based Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence is the executive producer and distributor of the $79 video. Since the video was released last fall, it has been nominated for a regional Emmy and has won three awards at video and television competitions across the country.

"To Save a Life" is designed to be shown in shelters for abused women or in synagogues.

Accompanying it is a study guide for facilitators. The guide warns that the topic may provoke strong emotions among audience members and that information on community resources to help the abused must be made readily available.

For more information or to purchase the video, contact the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence at (206) 634-1903 or at

Shalom Bayit: The Bay Area Jewish Women's Task Force on Domestic Violence, which owns copy of the video, will lead screenings of it. Call (415) 241-8874.