In 1985, after a group of thirteen Orthodox Jewish women* learned that domestic abuse was occurring in Jewish homes in other parts of the country, they were motivated to explore whether the same problem existed in Chicago’s Jewish community. After learning that it was happening here as well, SHALVA began as a grass-roots project by these 13 women. The Chicago Women’s Aid Society provided funding in the first year to get the agency off the ground. The founders learned all they could about domestic abuse, and in that first year, they set up a shelter and helped 24 families.
Passionate volunteers spent the first months seeking opportunities to meet with rabbis, police forces and emergency room personnel to educate them about domestic abuse. In 1988, SHALVA was established as a full service agency to help Jewish victims of domestic abuse and the first paid employee, Sherry Dimarsky z”l, was hired as Executive Director in 1989. The founders were quick to recognize that abuse did not discriminate; calls came from all ages, all socio-economic backgrounds and all denominations of Judaism. SHALVA reviewed the program and decided to close the shelter and focus on its clinical programming. As a result, Project Hope was developed – a free program of comprehensive counseling services and educational programs.
Early on, women found their way to SHALVA’s doors through word of mouth and advertising. By 1993, SHALVA helped hundreds annually and assisted 200 families in that year alone. Staff and volunteers persevered with outreach programming in the mid to late 1990’s, including developing new programs for students that focused on friendships, bullying, adolescence and self-esteem. Even so, by the late 1990’s, many still did not want to believe that domestic violence could happen in respectable Jewish homes, nor did they want to speak about it. The need for SHALVA’s services was increasing but many did not believe that need.
In 2010, SHALVA commissioned a research study that would conclusively dispel the myth that Jewish women do not experience domestic abuse. The research validated women’s experiences and provided insight into the needs of the Jewish community and the work yet to be done.
SHALVA’s continued educational programs and trainings have created awareness and legitimized the discussion of intimate partner abuse. We look forward to the future where all women and their children have the peace and safety they deserve.
* SHALVA’s founders: Edie Davis, Chani Friedman, Tamar Friedman, Batshie Goldfeder, Hadassah Goodman, Risa Gross, Shoshie Kahn, Craindell Mannes, Sarah Rosby, Fayge Siegal, Devorah Stern, Shulamis Weinfeld and Hedy Well.