Friday, March 24, 2023

What prevents people impacted by unsafe relationships from coming forward? It’s a question we hear often at Project SARAH, New Jersey’s statewide domestic and sexual abuse program for Jewish individuals and families.

The fact is, survivors face monumental barriers to finding help. It can take many a long time to identify domestic and sexual abuse for what it is—abuse. According to therapist Dr. Cheryl Kramer, DSW, there are “Six S’s”—perceptions that might keep survivors in Jewish communities from coming forward:

1. Secrecy—domestic and sexual abuse are not to be discussed.

2. Shalom Bayit—it’s a woman’s job to keep peace in the home; if there is conflict, she must be doing something wrong.

3. Shame—more than doing something wrong, there must be something wrong with the survivor to allow the abuse to happen.

4. Shidduchim—who will want to marry into a family that has been marked by abuse?

5. Social forces—religious observances revolve around an intact family unit.

6. Shanda—a need to be seen in the community as a cohesive unit or risk public disgrace

Project SARAH’s skilled team is trained to meet clients precisely where they are, reducing barriers to care by providing therapeutic, legal and case management support around relationship abuse within a culturally sensitive context. Whether through individual or group therapy, clinicians empower clients to find clarity and name what they have experienced.

Networked with an array of other community supports, programs and donors, Project SARAH’s staff is prepared to link clients to adjunctive services to help with housing, attorneys and even items to help brighten a challenging Yom Tov.

Project SARAH trains kallah teachers, mikvah attendants, rabbis, teachers, and students to identify the signs of domestic and sexual abuse, and to reinforce appropriate boundaries at school and at shul. Often, survivors will reach out to these individuals as a first step toward help. When making the initial call to our intake department, many clients share that they were referred to Project SARAH by a rabbi, friend or member of their shul.

Jen McLean, MS, LPC, NCC is a Project SARAH therapist. Project SARAH can be reached at [email protected] or (973)777-7638 ext. 300.


Please join these efforts to overcome the cultural, legal, religious and mental health barriers confronting those affected by domestic and sexual abuse. To support this critical work, join Project SARAH’s evening of inspiration and song on Oct. 30, at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center. The event will include a delicious dessert buffet with guests of honor Rabbi Andrew and Dr. Sara Markowitz; “Rav Gav” (Rabbi Gavriel Friedman), international speaker; and musical sensation Eli Schwebel (“Stand for You” hit single). For more information, visit www.timetotakeastand.org

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