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August 19, 1988 - Image 22

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-08-19

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Opening
The Curtain

Child abuse is coming out of
the Jewish community closet

RUTHAN BRODSKY

Special to The Jewish News

K

aren S. is 22, nice looking
and bright. She attended
college for two years before
she married a young busi-
nessman. Her mother-in-
law did all the planning for the small
wedding which took place in her in-
laws' temple.
Karen is a quiet person who
makes pleasant conversation with
neighbors and shopkeepers but has no
real friends of her own or family
that's close by.
In recent months, Karen has been
distraught. She's having problems
with her 14-month old son whom she
sometimes forgets to feed and often
carries around like a rag-doll. When
the toddler gets a little cranky or a
bit excited, Karen tries to make him
behave by slapping him — sometimes
rather hard and for more than a few
slaps.
Karen S. is not a real name, but
Karen S. is real. She's a composite
that characterizes adults who neglect
or physically and emotionally abuse
their children.
Karen S. is an adult who still re-
quires mothering and needs to be
taught parenting. There was no role

24

FRIDAY, AUGUST 19, 1988

model for Karen S. She reached young
adulthood without learning how to
nurture others or how to set limits for
herself. She is isolated, lacks a sup-
port system and feels deprived.
Moreover, she has few skills for ex-
pressing her feelings except through
losing control.
Only sketchy data exists about
parents like Karen because the per-
vasive attitude is that Jews don't
abuse their children. This myth has
become so deeply ingrained within
the Jewish community, as well as the
general population, that no one even
bothers to look at the Jewish com-
munity for child abuse and other
kinds of family violence Betsy Giller,
co-author of one of the rare studies
dealing with family violence in the
Jewish community.
Giller and Ellen Goldsmith
surveyed 209 congregants at nine Los
Angeles synagogues in 1982. Thirty
percent of the families surveyed
reported family violence. There were
118 reported cases of child abuse, in-
cluding four cases of incest, 22 cases
of spousal abuse and 11 cases of
psychological abuse and controlled
isolation.
"We found no difference in the
distribution of violence between Or-
thodox, Conservative and Reform

families," reports Giller. "And there
were no differences related to socio-
economic levels other than higher-
income families had more instances
of violence than lower income
families."
The study also showed that while
62 percent of the respondents believ-
ed that family violence was a problem
in the general population, only 30
percent believed that it was a problem
in the Jewish community.
"What made this noteworthy is
that many of the people who reported
violence in their own family did not
see family violence as a Jewish pro-
blem," says Gillet "Even many who
had been abused did not see it as a
problem. And almost nobody reported
any of the abuse to the police or to
other professionals, thus perpetuating
the myth that Jews just don't do that
sort of thing."
The Jewish community is ever so
slowly coming to terms with the myth
of the perfect Jewish family. It wasn't
that long ago when New York
headlines shouted the story of Joel
Steinberg, a lawyer, and Hedda
Nussbaum, a book editor, who were
charged with the beating death of
their adopted 6-year-old daughter.
The girl was found brain dead in their
upper-middle class Greenwich Village

apartment, after having apparently
been beaten for weeks.
"There are 1,001 stories that tell
about the poor Jewish immigrants
who came to this country and the
stress they faced in terms of change,
status, class, and economic condi-
tions," says Marcia Spiegel, a member
of the continuing education faculty at
the University of Judaism, Los
Angeles. "Their stress then, just as
our stress now, was cause enough for
child abuse.
"Literature by Jewish authors is
replete with scenes of family violence
in Jewish homes. And what about the
scene in Woody Allen's movie Radio
Days in which the rabbi hits the kid
and sends him flying across the
room?"
Spiegel finds that many incidents
of abuse come from families who are
highly regarded and very active in
Jewish community life. She tells the
story of one family in which the
mother is a Hadassah chapter presi-
dent and the father very active in the
synagogue. However, the woman has
never been able to control her anger.
She doesn't beat her children, says
Spiegel, because she's afraid she'll
lose complete control and really hurt
someone, so she has the father whip
the kids with a strap when he comes

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