The 300-plus crowd at Jewish Women’s Aid’s annual lunch heard heartrending testimony from women and children who had fled domestic violence.
There was silence in the banqueting suite at Lord’s cricket ground as JWA trustees and staff read out statements from those helped by the charity. A 55-year-old said: “The physical abuse gave me something to concentrate on, because the pain was unbearable. But it was the emotional pain, the belittling and the stalking that made me try to kill myself. I could run from his slaps but not from his words.”
In other testimony, a 36-year-old recalled that, when pregnant, her partner “looked me straight in the eyes and said: ‘I hope you die in childbirth and leave me my son to myself’”.
Also read out were the words of a 12-year-old, who approached JWA after a talk at school about domestic violence. “It sounded a lot like the stuff my mum’s boyfriend did, but I wasn’t sure, so I asked lots of questions. Then at the end, she [the JWA volunteer] came up to me and asked if there was anything else still worrying me. It was such a relief to tell someone.”
The lunch raised £110,000 for the charity, which has seen demand for its services rise by more than 50 per cent over the past year — from 139 women to 210.
JWA’s Emma Bell attributed this “to increased awareness of the issue and of our services, particularly in Manchester, where we now have a part-time worker covering the north. Over 50 women received counselling from our counsellors and 48 children were supported by our children’s worker. We’ve also reached out to more young people than ever before through our schools work — 2,809 children attended our sessions this year, compared to 2,146 the year before.”
The guest speaker was American Holocaust expert and Jewish studies academic Professor Deborah Lipstadt, who changed her travel schedule to Israel for her niece’s batmitzvah to accommodate a stop-off in the UK.
Professor Lipstadt spoke of the reluctance of Jews to savour the positive aspects of identity and practice, criticising those who focused purely on such negatives as antisemitism and anti-Zionism.
“Even Jewish comedians are uniquely miserable as only a Jew can be,” she reflected. “We focus on the ‘oys’ and not the joys.”
She was “more concerned about antisemitism now than I have ever been. Those who would have apologised for antisemitic slip-ups now defend them. But antisemitism is too often the first mechanism used to motivate young people to fulfil our traditions. We cannot give the oppressor power over our identity as Jews.”