Shoshannah D. Frydman
PhD, LCSW, Executive Director, Shalom Task Force

The Power of The Community: Being the Shamash

2020 Support Menorah Created by Shalom Task Force

In a recent blog of mine, I discussed some of my work with survivors of domestic violence and how the community has great power and potential to impact positive change. It is important to discuss practical ways we can all be part of this change. One of the most significant barriers to accessing assistance is that survivors fear that they will not be believed and do not know where to go for help.   

Chanukah is a time of illumination and a declaration of hope during the darkest of times. When we light our candles each night of Chanukah, we connect to our history of triumph and miracles. Our job is to bring light to where there is darkness, and to do this as a community. Survivors should not feel alone. They need to be embraced, believed, and accepted.  They need to know that they will be heard and be cared for when they come forward.  

We can be the Shamash, which originates the light.   

How do we do this? How can we each be a shamash, the light that gives light to others?  

  1. Increasing the light.   

When we light the Menorah, we do not start with eight candles, but we start with a single candle and add on. Let us take small steps- attend an educational program about domestic violence, learn how to better support a survivor, share this article in your community.    

1. Illuminate the survivor’s path. 

As a helper, a shamash, we are there to support the survivor. It is natural to enter a rescuer role when supporting someone, and to want to swoop them up and assure them everything will be OK, or to tell them what to do. Although it is difficult to see someone get hurt, ultimately, the survivor has to be respected and allowed to make decisions for themselves. It is important for you to support them through their own journey, rather than directing them.    

2. Practice supportive statements.  

Learn to say- I believe you, this is not your fault. You did not do anything to deserve this, I support you, you are not alone; These simple words validate the Survivor. They are afraid that they will not be believed, and worse, will be blamed. By acknowledging that you believe them, they can continue to come to you for support.   

3. Steer clear of saying statements that may be experienced as being blamed-   

Do not say: “Are you sure?” Or “I can’t believe it”, What did you do? Survivors question themselves enough. Even if you feel shocked, your role is to be a supportive friend, not the judge and jury on the case. Although you may have not have meant it by your question, asking “what did you do” translates to the survivor as “it is your fault.”  

4. Ask: How can I be helpful?   

As part of a support system, we need to help the survivor as they want to be helped, and not how you think they should be helped. By giving the survivor the power to determine what help they need, it empowers them and helps them regain their strength.   

5. Make support a public activity:   

Unlike our Shabbos candles, we do not light our Chanukah candles in the privacy of our dining rooms; we light our Menorahs where everyone can see themWhile abuse thrives behind closed doors, it is our job to be the menorah in the window, shining our collective supportive light. Again, start with small steps. Inviting a speaker into your community, planning a chessed project or sharing a social media post, all send a strong message.   

6. Know about resources-   

It’s okay for you not to know exactly what to do, but being able to help connect the survivor to those who do is critical. Learn more about how Shalom Task Force can help, and we can connect you to find your local resources so that you can help refer someone in a time of need. Having a resource at your fingertips to help a survivor is critical to bringing light back into their lifeCall Shalom Task Force’s Confidential Hotline with the survivor to help receive support and referrals for the next step.  

7. Support should not be seen as a miracle   

The entire holiday of Chanukah revolved around miracles, a once in a lifetime, life-changing act of unexplainable experience. Support should not be miraculous; it should be part of the fabric of our community. It is up to us to make that happen.   

When we come together, we are part of the solutionBy supporting community-based programs, survivors are given the opportunity to come forward and get the help they need. We often think that as individuals we cannot really make a difference, but we can.    

Shalom Task Force is here to do this with you- let us come together to spread light.    

Shalom Task Force has been offering support and education to the Jewish community for the last 27 years. If you or your loved one has questions or concerns about relationships or are currently in an unhealthy or abusive relationship – we are here for you. Please call, text, or WhatsApp the confidential Shalom Task Force Hotline at 888-883-2323 or chat with a live advocate at shalomtaskforce.org.  

About the Author
Shoshannah D. Frydman, Executive Director of Shalom Task Force, holds degrees from the University of Maryland School of Social Work and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York/Hunter College School of Social Work. With over 15 years of experience working with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the Jewish community, Dr. Frydman has written and lectured frequently on the subject of intimate partner abuse, and has been honored for her work by the Jewish Communal Service Association and the New York Board of Rabbis. If you or a loved one is in an abusive or unhealthy relationship, please call Shalom Task Force's confidential hotline at (888) 883-2323
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