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Speech by Sheiny New, Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence

Speech by Sheiny New, Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence

07 July 2011

Working Together to Break the Cycle of Shame - The Victoria Police & The Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence

The Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence was established 15 years ago by professional Jewish women who were prepared to publicly speak out about the realities of domestic violence in the Jewish community. This was as courageous as it was groundbreaking because the culture of silence surrounding spousal abuse has a long, relentless history. When Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski , a highly respected Rabbi, psychiatrist and author of “The Shame Borne in Silence”, asked his uncle if family violence occurred in the shtetle –the small idealized Jewish villages in Europe such as Anatevke - portrayed in Fiddler on the Roof. -His uncle replied, “of course it did, my darling, we just closed the shutters.” Well, it was time to open those shutters.

These women initiated many firsts including sitting down with dedicated and caring police officers such as Sgts David Shephard and Roger Child as Dave quietly shared with us that crimes of any kind but especially family violence were dramatically under reported in the Jewish community and he wasn’t really sure why. WE understood why. We understood the shame, the fear of stigma, that anyone would find out what was REALLY going on behind her closed doors- her carefully constructed façade of the perfect Jewish family.

It is not unheard of in some parts of our community for women to have 14 children – or more. If she disclosed, where would she go? How would she provide for her children? Shelters aren’t an option for religious women. How would they get kosher food?

As a young girl she dreamed of the time that her Friday night table would gleam with a snowy white table cloth, flickering Shabbat Candles as her beloved would turn to her and sing YOU are my woman of valour- your worth is far beyond that of rubies. Where did it all go wrong? Why couldn’t she fix it?

Australia may be the lucky country but Victoria is the blessed state.

This is a truth that we acknowledge on a daily basis in the work that we do. We Jews are an ancient people who have resided in many countries the world over since the destruction of the Second Temple approx 2,000 years ago. The highest accolade that can be bestowed on a country or government is that of  “Medina Shel Chesed”- a compassionate state. A state which creates policy to support and protect its most vulnerable citizens and institutes procedure to stare down the bullies.

Politics and floods and the politics OF floods aside –the lead role former Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon played in spearheading cultural and attitudinal changes in the police force must be acknowledged.

We see the initial scepticism in the eyes of victims as we describe the role of the designated FVLO or Family Violence Liaison Officers stationed at local police branches. These officers specialize in responding to disclosures of violence and abuse and following the Police Code of Practise work to facilitate a best possible outcome for that couple and family.– Yes, scepticism first- but then a dawning hope- maybe, maybe this time there really is a chance….

We explain that The Family Violence Protection Act of 2008 has been expanded to include emotional, psychological, financial and sexual abuse. She no longer has to show up in hospital beaten to a pulp for anyone to believe that she is the victim of an insidious crime.

In these past 15 years we have been privileged to work with quiet champions such as

Sg Peter Benjamin, Sg David Sheppard, Sg Roger Child, Inspector Margaret Lewis, Sg Lisa Prince- well maybe not so quiet!

They are kind, compassionate and completely dedicated to creating change for vulnerable women and children and occasionally, men.

But their commitment is extended to our diverse and multi faceted community as a whole. I will never forget the sight of Sg Lisa Prince shlepping a heavy, rickety kosher bbq so that Jewish kids could participate in the annual Glen Eira Street Beat Youth Festival at Caulfield Racecourse,- nor the sight of Mount Scopus students happily munching on Solomon’s hot dogs wrapped in Glick’s bread dancing to the beat of the (very loud-very fun) police band. My kids have come back from school eagerly reporting back on Sg Prince’s presentation regarding the dangers of drugs and alcohol. “She’s really funny, Mum!”

I would also like to make mention of men within the Jewish community who have stood up to be counted: Rabbi Meir Shloimo Kluwgant, past president of The Rabbinical Council of Victoria and Jewish Taskforce Rabbinical Liaison, Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, President and Rabbi Ralph Ganende Vice President of the RCV amongst many but these rabbis are White Ribbon Day ambassadors.

They share a vision and energy to move the Jewish community into an exciting era of social awareness and responsibility. These are the indicators of true leadership.

I am sure his successor will prove to be the same but Mr. George Lekakis, OAM of the Victoria Multi Cultural Commission was truly a man of his time. He had a terrific grasp of the cultural sensitivities of family violence & sexual assault in multi cultural communities long before many others. It was largely thanks to this understanding that the State of Victoria partnered with The Jewish Taskforce in a number of innovative and creative school programs designed to promote healthy relationships and strategies to keep even young children safe from sexual predators. We wish him well and may he go from strength to strength.

I would like to conclude on a personal note-

My first serious relationship - with a caring but slightly obsessive officer began over 20 years ago.

At first I couldn’t figure out HOW he always seemed to know where I was! Was he following me? It felt a bit like stalking…He would leave little “I’ve got my eye on you” notes at the most unexpected times. It was exasperating at first but then oddly reassuring. With my lousy sense of direction, I often got lost- but somehow, -I was found. Sadly, I finally had to end the relationship. My husband was getting resentful on so many levels. Farewell Senior Sergeant Ron Ritchie. I feel like I know you well. Godspeed. Pun totally intended!

 

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