On the second day of Rosh HaShanah, I spoke of the nature of fear in our society. I tried to illustrate how isolating fear can be, especially when people consider the presence of racism or domestic violence to be problems rather than people. By putting names and lives together with our genuine concerns, we can begin the process of healing.
From each attempt to teach, I also learn.
In the course of the sermon, I used materials provided by Jewish Women International (formerly BBW), including the horrifying story of the death of one of their members. This woman's death resulted in the project on domestic violence which has found its way into synagogues, centers, schools and social service agencies across the country. The woman and her circumstances were named in the published materials and in my sermon.
What was not included in the material was the information that the surviving family members are active in the area Jewish community. The recapitulation of their tragedy reopened wounds for them and for the people around them. Members of our congregation called my attention to it, very gently and appropriately, and to the extent that amends are possible, I (and other local rabbis who discussed the topic) have attempted to make them.
What was not included in my sermon was the lesson this new sensitivity brings me. The effects of domestic violence never disappear. From the specific case in my sermon to the poignant calls and letters I and others have received in the wake of the sermon, it is clear that both the victims and the perpetrators of domestic abuse walk, like our father Jacob, with a constant reminder of their struggles. Whether I name a family or not, the mention of this unnecessary cycle of love and pain inflames heartache barely kept at bay.
I also learned a related lesson. Another congregant gently expressed her hope that I would make it more clear that help is available and that the cycle can indeed be interrupted. My promises of confidentiality and support were heard, I hope. Please also hear that a variety of opportunities for counseling, healing and resolution are available. Whether the need is for spiritual counseling, personal or family therapy, legal advice or respite or some combination our resources are deep and most often effective when any of the parties involved is willing to change the pattern of interaction.
In the end, nobody can know the personal anguish of the person victimized by his or her own anger, or by someone else’s. Neither can we erase the past. But we can, as a community, empower those who hurt to change the course of their own future so that pain is a memory rather than a way of life.