“I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t think you can help me.”
An agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, CHANA offers support, education, and legal advocacy for women and men in abusive relationships, as well as victims of elder abuse.
When CHANA executive director Lauren Shaivitz addressed the audience at the organization’s first-ever signature fundraising event on Oct. 30, these were her opening words:
“I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t think you can help me.”
Two small sentences, packed with so much weight and meaning. They represent the common internal conflict facing an abuse survivor seeking help. Acknowledging a problem and denying the possibility of a solution in the same breath, they are the words of someone seeking help even when they don’t necessarily believe it is possible.
But help is here, and CHANA is raising awareness that the wider community has a role in it.
It Can Happen to Anyone
More than 280 supporters attended the sold-out event, titled “VOICES: An evening of hope, vision and inspiration,” at the Suburban Club in Pikesville.
The evening’s keynote speaker was Cheryl R. Kravitz. Kravitz is president of CRK Communications and an author who writes for national and local magazines, newspapers, and broadcast media. She also serves on the board of the Maryland Network to End Domestic Violence and the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council for Montgomery County.
“Never lose sight of the fact that right now someone is experiencing domestic violence,” Kravitz told the audience.
And might not be who you think, she said.
Three decades ago, Kravitz was a young wife in her 20s in an abusive relationship. Nothing she did was right in the eyes of her former husband, she said. Her self-respect was in shreds.
But she did not leave. “We were too well known, too respected” to let anyone know about her secret, she said. Her husband, a Yale graduate, was executive director of the JCC in Hyde Park, Chicago, then the executive director of the Tulsa JCC in Oklahoma. When he moved their family to Tulsa, Kravitz was isolated from the family and friends she had in Chicago. She wore long sleeves and turtlenecks to hide the marks he left after the beatings.
Kravitz described the harrowing violence she survived on the night before she left him: how he grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the floor, kicking her as she tried to crawl away. He then grabbed her arms and stuck them in the oven, burning them on the hot rack that had held dinner.
Kravitz finally left with the help of a friend who was paying attention and who had the courage to intervene, she said.
The More Critical Question
“Why do they stay?” Lauren Shaivitz told the gathering that this is the question that often accompanies stories of domestic violence. A lawyer and licensed social worker, she has served as executive director of CHANA since 2018.
The answer: “Fear, isolation, lack of financial resources, shame, a feeling that no one will believe them,” she said.
But the more critical question than why victims stay, she continued, “is what can you do to keep victims fully supported so that they feel empowered. We all have a role in creating a safe place for victims.”
Shaivitz highlighted the day-to-day work of CHANA’s staff. which offers the men and women who come through its doors not only emotional support, but safety planning and legal advocacy. CHANA also offers education so that young people can learn to recognize unhealthy relationships.
“CHANA has worked hard in the last 24 years to build understanding and awareness,” Shaivitz said after the event. “The Jewish community is not immune to abuse. We get calls from congregations, schools, and rabbis who spot red flags and want to talk it through with us.”
What are the signs of relationship abuse? “Does the person seem like they are withholding information, are they not free to be themselves?” Shaivitz said. “The biggest factor that underlies domestic violence is power and control, and the biggest red flag is seeing someone who does not exercise a right to self-determination. There are three most important values behind what we do — safety, self-determination and confidentiality. Everything we do at CHANA is to preserve those three values first.”
A Product of Vision
Rabbi Moshe Hauer, spiritual leader of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion and a CHANA board member, shared some words of Torah at the event.
When Cain killed Abel in the Book of Genesis, said the rabbi, he created the first incident of domestic violence. When God came and asked what happened, and Cain answered, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain had in effect established what the Hauer called “a wall of silence,” setting a pattern that has lasted for generations.
“The wall isn’t the denial,” said Hauer. “The wall is the question ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’, which we as a community must shift around [by affirming] I am my brother’s keeper. I am my sister’s keeper.”
CHANA also used the occasion to introduce the Nancy F. Aiken Visionary Award, in recognition of the leadership of CHANA’s former executive director, Nancy F. Aiken, and Hauer spoke about Aiken’s 18 years of service.
“We have to work to make people who face domestic violence understand that they have a community. It is [Aiken’s] vision that has grown this organization, what it does, what it addresses,” said Hauer. “It is a remarkable, remarkable privilege to have worked with a remarkable partner, guide, and teacher.”
Brenda Brown Rever presented Aiken with her award. Brown Rever founded CHANA after she realized that shelter and culturally sensitive services were needed for Jewish community members who were not accessing the services of the House of Ruth, where Brown Rever served on the board.
At the time, there was “a lot of denial about domestic violence,” said Brown Rever. “Twenty-four years have made a difference between life and death, a difference between feeling desperate and hopeless.”
After the presentation, Aiken said she was honored and overwhelmed. “I am acutely aware that I did not get here by myself,” she said. “There are hundreds of people to whom I am grateful, including the many people who are here tonight.”
The first goal was to raise awareness about domestic violence as part of the national recognition during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, said CHANA Board Chair Jeff Rubin.
But the event also set the stage for the organization’s future efforts, he added.
“We will celebrate our 25th anniversary a year from now, and we hope to have this [VOICES] event every year,” he said. “There was a tremendous outpouring of support. The Jewish community has turned out in force.”