During the Jewish festival of Sukkot, those observing the holiday are urged to remember the biblical stories of Abraham and Sarah’s great hospitality. With tent flaps open wide to a vast desert landscape, they welcomed community members and strangers alike to their dwelling, treating each guest with respect and dignity and forging meaningful personal connections.
As we celebrate Sukkot this week, we can’t ignore how the pandemic has made it difficult to open our figurative tents and welcome people in. Without regular in-person social interaction, we don’t know with much certainty who in our community is “managing” or “doing OK” and who is not. While this social isolation is hard on all of us, it can be disastrous for survivors of domestic abuse.
The Silence of Social Distancing
Even before the pandemic, some survivors would disappear into their homes, having limited contact with friends and acquaintances. Others found ways to move through the world holding a terrible secret while managing children, work and a host of other obligations and commitments.
Our current reality, however, has intensified the profound silence surrounding many abuse survivors and created situations that are becoming increasingly difficult and, in some cases, dangerous. Moreover, essential social distancing measures have disrupted some of the few supports that abuse survivors might have had and interfered with even those casual opportunities to connect in an office break room, a busy neighborhood playground or a post-worship social gathering.
Reaching Out and Maintaining Connections
Sukkot challenges us to think about how we can be welcoming during a pandemic and, by extension, how to maintain connections when we cannot gather. We know it’s common for abuse survivors to constantly hear from a current or ex-partner that they are worthless and their lives don’t matter at all. Creating opportunities for people to connect—and also find help—is a step toward counteracting those devastating messages and affirming that every individual is seen and valued by those around them.
With this in mind, we hope you will consider ways to increase social contact in your community and spread the word that help is available for survivors of abuse. Here are a few ideas:
- Reach out to people beyond your close circle of friends to say hello and see how they are doing.
- Look for ways to replace social interaction that normally happens at work, in your congregation/organization or other spaces with an online gathering from time to time.
- Join your congregation—or any group you are part of—in efforts to call members periodically to see how everyone is doing. If that isn’t happening, look into initiating an effort.
- Use social media to share messages from domestic abuse prevention organizations like JF&CS Journey to Safety, Jane Doe Inc. and the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
- Look for places (websites, chat boxes in online gatherings, your email signature, etc.) to post helpline information for people who have a controlling or abusive partner or former partner.
We hope you will join us in finding ways to open our community tent flaps wider and perhaps even leave a lasting impression on someone passing through our lives, even if they are not a close connection. Working to make people—especially isolated survivors of abuse—feel seen and valued is at the heart of the kind of hospitality that Sukkot reminds us to embrace. This message feels more important now than ever before.
JF&CS Journey to Safety focuses our outreach and awareness-raising efforts on the Jewish and Russian-speaking communities AND welcomes survivors from all backgrounds who are seeking support and assistance. For help, please call 781-647-5327 and ask for Journey to Safety or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elizabeth Schön Vainer is director of JF&CS Journey to Safety.
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