April 13, 2024
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April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Project S.A.R.A.H. Speaks: From a Board Member’s Perspective

In 2005, I was newly retired. My fellow congregant, Esther East, director of Jewish Family Service of Clifton-Passaic, home to Project S.A.R.A.H., approached me at Congregation Beth Aaron and said, “We could use you on our Project S.A.R.A.H. Consortium. “We work with families throughout New Jersey who are impacted by domestic abuse. We have an active lay board that supports our efforts and we could use your support. Come and give it a try!” Esther introduced me to Elke Stein, the director of Project S.A.R.AH., along with the other members of the Consortium, and I was hooked. The rest is history!

Project S.A.R.A.H.’s Consortium supports the efforts of the mental health professionals. We lay members have no contact with clients and are not privy to any client’s personal and confidential information. Our role is to help organize educational meetings and training sessions for rabbis, parents, schools, shuls, mikvah attendants, camp counselors, youth leaders and whoever else would benefit from the wealth of information Project S.A.R.A.H. seeks to share with our community. We act as a sounding board and support team for this vital social service.

Another way we support Project S.A.R.A.H. is by helping plan the annual Project S.A.R.AH. breakfast, our main fundraiser of the year. In 2005, the main focus of Project S.A.R.AH. was addressing domestic abuse in New Jersey’s Jewish community. Jewish women (and less often, men) who were experiencing physical abuse at home were our first concern. We also offered individual therapy to victims of emotional and verbal abuse and helped women understand that their husband’s extremely controlling behavior was abusive. Our individual and group counseling, anger management groups, one-time pro bono legal consultations and other family-directed services were in place. Our board worked to raise community awareness and to teach the community that yes, these behaviors sometimes affect Jewish families, even in our own sheltered communities. Our yearly ‘Many Voices, One Message’ ad is endorsed by most rabbis in New Jersey, with emphasis on our communal leaders expressing zero tolerance for domestic violence. These activities remain the basis of our mission. What would be next?

Project S.A.R.AH. keeps expanding their scope to address our community’s emerging needs in a changing society.

The Magen Yeladim Safety Kid program helps elementary school children understand ways to protect themselves against sexual abuse. Our trained facilitators present this program to parents, school faculty and school children. If an incident has already occurred or a potential danger is suspected, Project S.A.R.AH. offers advice and strategies to cope with the situation and provide healing and guidance to help prevent further abuse.

Enlisting actors from Yeshiva University and Stern College, we produced a series of widely used videos that accurately portray Orthodox Jews who exhibit controlling and jealous behaviors, are addicted to pornography and cross the line of pursuing someone by stalking them. They highlight for young adults in our community the warning signs of behaviors that may lead to abusive relationships. Project S.A.R.A.H. also partner with “Flowers Aren’t Enough,” a compelling one-woman show illustrating the effect of domestic abuse that is presented regularly to junior and senior high school students in our community. Trained facilitators engage students in small group discussions after the programs to offer psychoeducation and help them process the concepts they just witnessed.

The shul safety program for children is one of our newest projects. Kudos to Congregation Rinat Yisrael, which agreed to pilot development of this program. Every individual, adult or teen, having direct contact with children in the shul will receive training geared to preventing child sexual abuse. With support from the staff of Project S.A.R.A.H., the shul leadership formulated a comprehensive safety policy. This sends a strong message about the shul’s priorities and also helps potential perpetrators know that the shul has zero tolerance for abuse. It also allows the shul to proactively enhance the safety of its community while giving it a framework with which to respond if an allegation of abuse should arise. The synagogue safety program extends from adult shul members in key positions to the entire janitorial staff, who will receive their training in Spanish. We are grateful to Congregation Rinat Yisrael for their extraordinary commitment in helping develop this complex program. Our hope is that all the other shuls in the area will sign on to make shuls in our area as safe as possible for children.

Cyber bullying awareness and prevention is the latest program geared for children in grades five through eight. We encourage you to invite Project S.A.R.A.H. to bring these valuable programs to your school and shul.

The team at Project S.A.R.A.H. is available to provide support and counseling. They can be reached at 973-777-7638. Please join us at the upcoming Project S.A.R.A.H. breakfast, Sunday, April 22, at 9:30 a.m. at Keter Torah.

By Mollie Fisch

Mollie Fisch is a Project S.A.R.A.H. Consortium member.

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