Clergy, therapists in S.F. tackle domestic violence

And in November, Emanu-El will host a follow-up "mobilization meeting" for rabbis and lay leaders to broaden the net of education and awareness.

"No community wants to air its dirty laundry. That's something we need to get over," she said. "If we are blind, it's one more dead end for a family in crisis."

The rabbi, who has worked in battered women shelters, served on the clergy advisory board for the "Power to Change" conference, which took place Thursday of last week at the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.

The full-day conference, which was aimed at religious leaders, educators and public health professionals, attracted some 270 participants. It was sponsored by numerous Bay Area groups, including synagogues, churches, the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services and the public health departments of Alameda and San Francisco counties.

An array of religious groups were represented, including Baptist, Muslim, Buddhist, Episcopalian and Methodist. Rabbis from around the Bay Area attended, sharing ideas with one another and coming away with a resource guide containing vignettes of how rabbinical colleagues around the country have dealt with domestic abuse.

Among those on hand at the event were former abusers, including one minister now working to combat the problem within his own congregation. From the audience, he spoke of the importance of forgiveness and of addressing all parties involved in the domestic violence cycle.

Powerful reminders of where the cycle can lead were omnipresent.

Along the edge of a large conference room stood wood cutouts of female figures. Pasted to their chests were personal stories of domestic violence. Some stories ended in death at the hands of an abuser, a somber reality that led conference participants to share a moment of silence.

At a panel discussion titled "Perspectives on Domestic Violence," representatives of various communities shared similarities and differences in approaching the problem.

"We share with a lot of religions the need for women to come into their own power," said Mintz, who serves on a Jewish community task force on the issue.

Rabbis and Jewish educators often overlook abuse within Jewish homes because the families seem to be fine on the surface, San Francisco psychotherapist Julie Robbins said.

Robbins herself used to believe domestic violence didn't touch Jewish families. That myth was shattered when Robbins discovered a friend and "pillar of the Jewish community" was an abuser.

While her views on the issue have shifted, Robbins said many Jews don't want to believe the problem affects their own community.

"They want to protect the image of the Jewish family as sacred," said Robbins, who works with victims of domestic violence.

Rabbi Dan Goldblatt, spiritual leader of Danville's Congregation Beth Chaim and the panel's moderator, agrees the Jewish community has yet to fully acknowledge the issue.

"We have to learn to deal with the shame of both the victim and the abuser," he said.

Shalom Bayit, a Bay Area Jewish group dedicated to aiding victims of domestic violence, closed the conference with a healing service. Rabbi Miriam Senturia, of Ruach Ami: Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, also led a prayer.