RE-ENTERING THE WORKPLACE FAMILY SECRETS BREAST CANCER AND THE BRCA GENE
JEWISH WOMEN • 1
WOMEN Jewish Women is a collaboration between The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and Mid-Atlantic Media. The acceptance of advertisng does not constitute endorsement of the products or services. The publishers reserve the right to reject any advertisement that is not in keeping with the standing or policies of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Copyright 2015, all rights reserved. Reproduction of any part of Jewish Women without permission is prohibited.
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DEAR READER, Women have long played a vital role in the strength and vibrancy of our community. At The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, there is a storied history of women leading the charge on important issues affecting our community and helping to raise the dollars needed to keep Jewish Baltimore sound. For 70 years, women have banded together through The Associated and worked for the betterment of families and individuals living here in Baltimore, and those in Israel and in Jewish communities around the world who are also helped by our efforts and support. In the early days, women traveled in small groups, going door-to-door seeking donations for the Annual Campaign on G-Day. Today, women of all ages, stages of life and from a multitude of professions are at the table addressing communal challenges and opportunities and charting strategies for the future. There are inspiring women in our midst and we are thrilled that they have chosen to devote their time, their talents and their resources to The Associated. We are pleased to partner with the Baltimore Jewish Times to bring this publication to you. In these pages, you will read about the programs and services addressing the needs of women, learn about a few inspiring women and the work they are doing for our community and discover how you too can get involved with Associated Women. There is a place for everyone in Associated Women and our programs and events offer options to appeal to women at different stages of their lives. We hope that reading about the work we are doing and the opportunities available will inspire you to get involved. We are happy to welcome new women to our sisterhood of donors, doers, volunteers and all-around inspiring women. Learn how you can find your place in Associated Women at associated.org/women. Happy Reading,
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Michele Lax Associated Women President
Nina Rosenzwog 2016 Women’s Campaign Chair
13 Years of Helping Women and Girls
Celebrate Holidays With The Associated Looking for that perfect brisket recipe? Need a new side for the Passover Seder? Want to know what books to read to learn more about the holidays? The Associated has created Jewish holiday resources for the local community. Packed with recipes from community members and Associated professionals, craft ideas, book suggestions and in-depth articles from experts, this web resource is designed to make holidays more meaningful. Check out our holiday packages for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (associated.org/highholidays), Chanukah (associated.org/Chanukah) and Passover (associated.org/Passover). And send your recipes or suggestions on what you would like to learn about to Melinda Michel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baltimore women are increasingly making a difference in the lives of women and girls. Through the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation of Baltimore (JWGF), established at The Associated in 2003, donors are pooling their resources and making important decisions about the programs they want to support. Throughout the process, they are reviewing grants, completing site visits and having meaningful conversations about the issues affecting women and girls in our community. Since its inception 13 years ago, JWGF has made 81 grants, totaling just under one million dollars. “I participate in JWGF because I get to join my voice with 100 other Jewish women to tell our community that we care. Together we provide funding to feed, clothe, educate, train, advocate for, mentor … women and girls. Together we show our power as women and philanthropists,” says Elise Rubinstein, chair of JWGF. The giving circle model multiplies each individual’s contribution, so that a $1,000 gift can turn into $100,000 or more of impact. Over the years, JWGF has funded everything from assisting low-income Jewish seniors to age-in place to career training for underprivileged women in Baltimore City to ensuring that girls in foster care get the services they need. Learn how you can become part of JWGF at associated.org/jwgf.
Have Your Voice Heard Women involved with The Associated have a proud history of taking the lead; they see the pressing issues and work to make a difference in our community. Twenty years ago, for example, Jewish women who were victims of domestic violence felt as if they had nowhere to go for help in the community. Leaders in The Associated’s Women’s Department addressed this issue head on and CHANA was born. Today, there are a number of issues that impact women as parents, spouses, grandparents and children. Associated Women convenes women from various stages of life and all segments of the community to discuss these topics and help arrive at solutions for
the challenges facing Baltimore and the global Jewish world. Equally important, Associated Women inspires Jewish women. Whether it is showcasing the beauty of Shabbat or exploring arts and cultural events at the JCCs and the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, Associated Women have the opportunity to learn, grow and explore our heritage together. As a community, we want Jewish women to have a voice — to let us know what they would like to learn and how they would like to make an impact. We want the programs we offer to address who we are as Jews, as women and as part of a bigger community. We want to know what women inspire you. Tell us what you want to learn, let us know who inspires you so that we can continue to serve the needs and interests of our community. To get involved, please contact Melinda Michel at email@example.com.
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A house full of kids. Or just the two of you. Shabbat is special no matter who’s at the table BY AMY LANDSMAN
WHEN it’s her turn to host Shabbat, Vanina Wolf of Roland Park brings out her good china, her best linens and anything else that might remind her of her family back in France. For her, preparing for Shabbat meals strengthens her connection to her family and heritage. “I feel wrapped in this cloak of warmth. It’s as if all the elder women in my family were with me in the kitchen preparing the meal, and I love that feeling. So I use all the things, not only that I inherited, but also received as wedding gifts.”
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Wolf, the director of the Five Stones Integrative Health Clinic in Towson, and her husband Josh, principal of the Park School Middle School, have a tradition of lively Shabbat dinners with friends dating back nearly 20 years, to even before they were married. “He grew up with this core group of guy friends,” she says of her husband, who was raised in Pikesville. “They have been very close. It turns out they all married fabulous women that I love! We get along really, really well. We clicked.
I think because there’s history. Not just because we started this in 1995, but because the guys have this deep history in Baltimore.” “I’m not from Baltimore originally and neither is another mom, but they made the time for us and they have a lot of stories to share and there’s a lot of jovial conviviality. The moms have a lot of shared values in terms of parenting and cultural interests. And we all love food!” The Wolfs’ three kids, 15-year-old Nöe and 9-year-old twins Jacob and Daniel have been raised with the
Shabbat is special for Vanina Wolf. She and her family are part of a group that has Shabbat dinners weekly.
Shabbat dinners and know all the prayers and traditions by heart. The group started out with about four to six people, at one point it grew to 10. Then the couples started having children, and these days there can be up to 25 people at the meal, depending on who is in town. The kids range in age from six to 15. In the early years, the babies stayed in their car seats while the parents enjoyed an adult meal. For a while, they fed the kids first — perhaps chicken with homemade French fries
and salad, or spaghetti or penne — then the parents would eat. Now everyone eats together. The families share hosting responsibilities. And they like trying new ideas, from backyard bar-b-ques, to picnics at Meadowood Park in Lutherville. “Everybody will bring food and wine and we’ll play kickball with the kids.” Wolf ’s picnic basket always holds wine, challah and candles, and at different times there might be quinoa salad, bean salad, a colorful beet and carrot salad or even fried chicken. Shabbat and family meals hold a special place in Wolf ’s heart. “My great-aunt used to host Saturday lunches in her large apartment on Avenue Kléber, the entire family, we were like 30, 38
people and though food played a central part, it’s not what I remember best. I remember loving hearing the adults laugh and talk and linger at the table. I loved having lots of afternoon time to play with all my cousins. What I treasure now is the multi-generational connection of those events and how it felt so anchoring.”
The Miller Family
While the Wolf family is in the thick of their child-raising years, another local family has moved on, but finds just as much pleasure in their now-quieter Shabbat dinners. Wendy Miller’s two oldest kids are grown and flown — Josh, 27, lives in Los Angeles, and Adam, 25, lives in Baltimore. Her youngest, Erin, 21, is a senior at Indiana University at Bloomington. JEWISH WOMEN • 5
WENDY MILLER’S SLOW COOKER MOROCCAN CHICKEN 6 — 8 boneless skinless chicken thighs 1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed 1/3 cup dried apricots, sliced 1/3 cup raisins ½ cup chicken or vegetable stock 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil ½ tsp ginger ½ tsp salt ½ tsp cinnamon ¼ tsp coriander ¼ tsp pepper 1. In a slow cooker, combine all ingredients. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours. 2. S erve over cooked rice or couscous.
VANINA WOLF’S HOMEMADE FRENCH FRIES 5 cups cooking oil 5 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes 2 Tbsp Fleur de Sel or Sea Salt 1. P eel potatoes and cut into 1 inch cubes. Rinse with cold water, drain and pat dry. 2. H eat oil to 350 — 375 degrees in tall, narrow pot. Oil should be filled 1/3 of the way. 3. Insert potato cubes carefully so not to burn yourself. Oil should cover all potatoes for deep-fry. 4. Stir potatoes to make sure oil can get to every surface (but careful not to over stir or will become mushy). 5. W hen reach a golden brown color, remove with a strainer. Place in dish covered with paper towels to absorb excess oil. Salt to taste and serve immediately. Serves 10 6 • JEWISH WOMEN
Although Wendy Miller’s children are grown, she still makes sure to have Friday night Shabbat dinner, even if it’s just her and her husband.
After many years of big Shabbat dinners at their Pikesville home, most Fridays it’s now just Miller, who stayed home to raise the kids, and her orthodontist husband, Jeffrey. “When our youngest went to college, truthfully we thought we’d have these grand plans about having other couples in the same situation,” laughs Miller. “Come Friday, it’s just nice for my husband and me to have dinner together ourselves.” Since Adam lives in Baltimore, he and his girlfriend occasionally join them. Her kids are where they should be in life, and Miller enjoys being an empty-nester. “I still make the challah. I still light the candles. We still have our traditional Shabbat dinner even though it’s just the two of us.” Miller is co-chair of this year’s Associated Women Lion of Judah Campaign and previous chair of Chapter Two, as well as having served on the Baltimore-Ashkelon
Partnership committee and the Jewish Volunteer Connection Teen committee. Miller likes to cook fairly traditional meals, with brisket and homemade challah. She’s a big fan of her slow-cooker, and likes to grill year round. While the Millers love their time together, they also love when their children are home, and they can have grandparents, family and friends join them for Shabbat. However many people you have at your table, preparing for Shabbat can take a lot of effort. Because she enjoys it, Wolf says it doesn’t feel like work. “It is something we really look forward to, marking the beginning of Shabbat. Immediately, we can start enjoying being present and not feeling the stress of the week.” As her kids get older, there are some conflicts with sporting events or plays; nevertheless, Wolf tries to keep the time sacred, continuing it as an anchoring part of the daily rhythm of the week.
Taking Time Off Re-entering the Workforce After a Hiatus BY BARBARA PASH
Lisa Gorman is familiar with the
situation. As a career coach at Jewish Community Services ( JCS), an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, she has certainly seen it often enough. A woman leaves her job. She is out of work for a period of time, perhaps 18 months, or three to five years or, even, 10 or more years. She then wants to re-enter the workforce. But how successful she is depends on several factors, not least her skill set and the job market. Women take a work hiatus for a host of reasons. “It could be to take care of children or ailing parents. It could be the woman went back to school, or got a divorce and needs the money,” says Gorman. “Increasingly, we are seeing women who have retired and have either outlived their savings or enjoy being active in a job.” Gorman herself had a similar experience. She and her husband
had very demanding jobs, she as the human resources director of a hospital. “We both worked full-time. Neither of us was home with the kids. We were paying people to do our job. “Something had to give,” says Gorman. As it turned out, it was her career. “I took a gap for several years,” says Gorman, who, when she re-entered the workforce, did not return directly to human resources but, instead, parlayed her skills into career counseling. Gorman has practical advice. The longer you’ve been out of the workforce, the harder it is to get back in. If you have let lapse your field’s certification or licensing, you should consider renewing it. You may want to take courses, some of which are online, to refresh or increase your job skills or to enter a different field than your former occupation. “Today’s employers don’t mind you taking a break. What they want
to know is if you have the skills for the position,” she says. “They prefer not hiring someone who has to go through a sharp learning curve.” After a 10-year break to raise her children, Alyson Bonavoglia returned to work in 2014, first as community engagement coordinator for the Jewish Community Center’s Gordon Center for Performing Arts and now as outreach and grant manager for the JCCs of Greater Baltimore. During the break, though, Bonavoglia volunteered in Jewish community activities and education. “My volunteer work pointed me to my next career,” says Bonavoglia, an engineer who decided to stay in the Jewish communal world. She used her volunteering to explain the gap in her resume and to her benefit in her job search. “The transition to part-time work wasn’t difficult,” says Bonavoglia, whose children are now teenagers. JEWISH WOMEN • 7
“I organize my time differently during the week, and responsibilities within the family have been redistributed,” she says, referring to things like meal preparation.
“My volunteer work pointed me to my next career.” — ALYSON BONAVOGLIA
Carly Thompson is a career counselor at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). She
advises CCBC students to take at least one basic technology course: employers in all career fields value a candidate who is familiar with technology and willing to learn new skills. Thompson also advises job-seekers to take a proactive approach to the gap in their resume. List the years you were not employed with a brief explanation. In an interview, be prepared with a succinct response to any questions about the gap, but emphasize your enthusiasm for returning to the workforce. Gorman agrees, noting that you should list volunteer work — community activities, school committees, fund-raising efforts, board memberships — on your resume. If you took courses, even online, list them, too. “Try to account for as much of the time as you can,” says Gorman, and then you can market the transferable skills you learned during your gap to the job market.
That is the route Liz Minkin-Friedman took. A social worker, Minkin-Friedman had headed the Girls’ Project, a program of JCS’ Jewish Big Brother Big Sister League, before taking a four-year break to raise her three children. “I always worked even when I stopped working,” Minkin-Friedman said of her volunteering at her children’s school, Krieger Schecter Day School, and in the Jewish community, where she currently chairs The Associated’s Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development. When Minkin-Friedman decided to re-enter the workforce, she did so by creating a job that fit her skills. She is the director of community outreach and engagement at Krieger Schecter Day School, a title she came up with herself. “I had been doing [the work] pro bono. I went to the head of school and presented a list of my skills and expertise. I said, ‘If you want to keep
Alyson Bonavoglia, a former engineer, changed careers after taking 10 years off to raise her children.
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me around, you need to find a way to pay me,’” says Minkin-Friedman, who did not find the transition to full-time work difficult. “I was used to a busy schedule,” she says of her volunteer activities, not to mention that job is at the school her children attend. Kathleen Dorsey, president of the Baltimore Regional Chapter of the National Association of Women’s Business Owners (NAWBO), sees a different path to employment. After the 2008 economic downturn, she said, the idea of starting your own business rather than searching for a job became an option. “From 2008 to 2010, we almost doubled our membership,” Dorsey says of the organization of, primarily, small businesses. Women tend to go into professional service industries such as accounting, management and marketing, although in-home elder care is a growing field. Her advice: “Be realistic. The amount of time it
Tips for Re-Entering the Work World
1. Remember when updating your resume to list volunteer experience, classes taken, organizations you were involved with and other activities to fill in gaps of employment. 2. Don’t be caught off guard during the interview. Be prepared to discuss in detail how you spent your time away from the workforce. 3. Use your friends, neighbors, family members and past employers to increase your network. 4. Consider setting up informational interviews with interesting employers and professionals to gain insight into new industries or fields. 5. Consider doing temporary work assignments, contract work or even internships to get your foot in the door with employers. Lisa Gorman, Jewish Community Services
When Liz Minkin-Friedman decided to return to work, she went to the head of the school where she was putting in pro bono time. She told him if they wanted to keep her, they would have to pay her.
takes to make a profit is likely double what you expect.” Gorman, too, recommends realistic expectations for re-entering the workforce. Sometimes you may need to come back into a job at a lower level and salary than where you were when you left the job market. Once in the job you can potentially work your way up the ladder. “A teacher who’s been out of education for 15 years may not be able to easily get back into the classroom. Likewise, an IT professional may need some additional training or certifications to get back into the field,” she says. In career counseling, notes Gorman, “We look at what skills, interests and abilities clients have and design a feasible plan that makes sense for each individual.” JEWISH WOMEN • 9
A MOTHER & DAUGHTER CONVERSATION with Myra Gold and Laury Scharff BY ELIZABETH SCHUMAN
uthors, playwrights and comedians are quick to share the funny, quirky and innately human connections between Jewish mothers and daughters. All humor aside, we wondered about how mothers role model tikkun olam — repairing the world — for their children. For insight, hear how a local mother-daughter duo inspire each other. Myra Gold remembers the lifelong friendships she made through her involvement with what was then the Women’s Department. Myra, who served as the Women’s Campaign Chair in 1987 and Women’s Department president in 1989 to 1991, also chaired Jewish Family Services (now Jewish Community Services) and founded Jewish Information Services. She and her husband, Burt, have been married 58 years and have a son, Richard, and daughter, Laury. Her daughter, Laury Scharﬀ, is currently vice chair of the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation, serves on the board of directors at The Associated and has served on the board of Associated Women and Levindale Auxiliary. A former speech pathologist, she is now an office administrator. She and her husband, Lewis, have two adult sons, Adam and Jimmy. Recently, Myra and Laury talked about journeys, cherished causes and family.
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THOUGHTS ABOUT HOW OUR JEWISH COMMUNITY AND THE ROLE OF WOMEN HAVE CHANGED?
WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES OF YOUR MOTHER’S INVOLVEMENT IN THE ASSOCIATED?
When I was younger, Baltimore was segregated – Jewish people lived in one area and everyone around us was Jewish. Everyone knew the same people. Back then, no other city was like Baltimore. Today, it appears as though our Jewish community is less tied to one area and not as cozy. Our community is more spread out. Women didn’t work and stayed home with the children. Volunteering was our work. We met in the middle of the day and wrapped up by 2 so that we could take care of our children after school. In time, we had evening meetings for women who worked.
I remember her friends and how much fun they had volunteering. She was so passionate about what she did. It was never about the recognition.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN THROUGH YOUR VOLUNTEERISM?
We are more diverse and more tolerant of differences.
Mostly, I learned how to deal with people and still get what I wanted … which was a gift to the Annual Campaign. I learned about business and how to talk to people in the way that they responded to, whether it was with a heart-to-heart conversation or about the numbers. I learned not to sweat the small stuff. HOW DID YOUR PARENTS INFLUENCE YOU AND YOUR JEWISH JOURNEY?
My mother wanted everyone to be happy. I think that they wanted me to know the importance of passing on Jewish traditions and to stand up for Judaism. My mother was involved with the Mildred Mindell Cancer Foundation. I remember my mother handling shoe collections for the Mildred Mindell Cancer Foundation. People were always dropping off shoes at our house. DO YOU THINK YOUR ACTIVITIES MADE AN IMPRESSION ON YOUR DAUGHTER?
I became involved (in The Associated) because I was invited by my friend Carole Sibel, z”l’. Laury always saw me doing things all the time. Today, I am very proud that she is taking leadership roles within the Jewish community. WHAT CAUSES DO YOU CARE MOST ABOUT?
Because of my work with (then) Jewish Family Services, I always think about people in need. WHAT LESSONS DID YOU SHARE WITH YOUR DAUGHTER?
I always insisted that she have the skills to take care of herself because you never know what might happen. I wanted her to be prepared to handle anything. Remember that I was there when the women’s movement began. I wanted Laury to be independent and know that she contributes. HOW OFTEN DO YOU CALL LAURY?
I’m not one of those mothers who calls every day. When we have something to say, we call each other.
WHAT WAS YOUR ASSOCIATED JOURNEY?
I joined Young Leadership Council in my mid-20s. I remained involved at the JCC preschool. My journey has been different than my mother’s because I haven’t done one thing consistently. While her path stayed Jewish, mine deviated a bit with my children’s schools. THOUGHTS ABOUT HOW THE JEWISH COMMUNITY HAS CHANGED?
WHAT COMMON THREADS DO YOU SHARE WITH YOUR MOTHER?
We both care about issues related to women and families. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE JEWISH MEMORY FROM YOUR CHILDHOOD?
We had wonderful Shabbat dinners with my mother’s parents. Every Shabbat we would have ice cream at Carvel’s after dinner. When I was about 14, our family went to Israel on a family mission and that made a profound impact on me. Today, we still get together for all of the Jewish holidays. I’ve hosted the Seder for 20 years, with 12 to more than 20 people every year. We look at each holiday as a chance to be together as a family — to come home. WHAT WORDS OF WISDOM DID YOU MOTHER TELL YOU?
She told me to never sit back and wait for someone to do something if you could do it yourself. And she made me write down every volunteer experience when I started becoming active at The Associated and elsewhere. I still have my original list, written on a JFS ( Jewish Family Serviced) notepad. WHAT DO YOU WANT YOUR CHILDREN TO KNOW?
It’s important to make a difference in the world, even if it’s a small one. Once my sons asked about the significance of a JWGF ( Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation) grant when it helped only 40 girls. My response was that that one grant touched the lives of 40 girls. Think of what that means for those girls. WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT YOU?
I live on a farm with four horses. No chickens. Everyone asks about chickens. HOW OFTEN DO YOU CALL YOUR MOTHER?
If I called my mother every day, my mother would wonder why! JEWISH WOMEN • 11
Three Women Discuss Breast Cancer BY ROCHELLE EISENBERG
Jill Mull understands how overwhelming a breast cancer diagnosis can be. Ten years ago, at the age of 32, she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of the disease. Suddenly, this young mother found herself facing a number of decisions that would impact her life. What treatment was best for her? Should she test for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation? How about the best place to buy a wig? And how would she still manage the day-to-day routines of her young children’s lives? Today, Mull, a breast cancer survivor, has a lot to share about navigating the myriad decisions faced
when getting a breast cancer diagnosis. She is using that knowledge as an education outreach patient navigator at Johns Hopkins Breast Center at Greenspring Station, providing much needed advice for women 45 and younger. “Although I may not have a medical degree, I can go with patients to their initial appointment with the medical oncologist as they go over the pathology report. I can provide social and psychological guidance and support.” For example, having gone through chemotherapy herself, she understands the regime. “I know
Jill Mull uses her experience as a breast cancer survivor to provide advice to other young women facing similar diagnoses.
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there are good days and not so good ones. I can help the patients establish a routine. You begin to learn what days will be good to get groceries, what days you can take the kids to their soccer games, and which days you need to rest.” Working with younger women, she says, is important because they often have a different experience. They may be working and raising young children while facing treatment. They may not have peers who had breast cancer to talk to for advice. Mull also can provide them with resources, help them find a wig and connect them to discussion groups with others going through similar experiences. In addition to working with women with a new diagnosis of breast cancer, Mull and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins are promoting educational activities regarding breast cancer risk in the Jewish community. “I think it would be nice to share this with the Jewish community, if possible.” She adds, “It’s hard to see the light at the end of the journey. Or if you see it, the light is so dim, it may as well be dark. I can say, ‘I’ve done this and this is how it works.’ It gives comfort.” “Patients can look at me. I try to bring hope. I’m 10 years out from my diagnosis and living life to the fullest.”
THE DOCTOR Does this gene mutation impact the course of breast cancer treatment?
Does this mutation increase the risk of other cancers?
S Should you be tested?
Traditionally, it was suggested Ashkenazi women who have a family history suggestive of a hereditary cancers — cancer is first degree relatives such as your mothers, sisters or even male breast cancers, especially if they were diagnosed before age 50 — should be tested. But, we are learning that genetics are not so cookie cutter. Individuals should look at their family history. If you are an Ashkenazi Jew, there is evidence that if there is a family history of some of these other cancers (ovarian, colon, pancreatic, for example) you should consider testing. We are also finding that we can’t always use age as a factor. Sometimes, if a person was diagnosed at an older age and it was triple negative, there is a higher risk that she may be harboring the BRCA gene mutation. If you are considering testing, and/or you discover you have the mutation, it is critical you work with a genetic counselor to understand your options.
If you have a mutation, should you test your children?
We don’t recommend testing children under 18. They are not mature enough. Wait until they are of the appropriate age and maturity to understand testing and the results. However, if the gene is in the family, you should make sure you have age-appropriate discussions with your children about family history and risk. And maintain a healthy lifestyle — both a healthy diet and exercise. What do you recommend if a young adult finds out they have the mutation?
Each situation is different, but there are national guidelines on screening and surveillance. Affected individuals are followed more closely and at earlier ages than average risk individuals. They should get MRIs as well as mammograms and have clinical exams twice a year. They should always do self-exams and have appropriate screenings for the other cancers they have an increased risk.
There is a higher associated risk of getting ovarian cancer as well as colon cancer and other gastrointenstinal W malignancies. For men, the mutation can increase their risk of prostate cancer. Also there is some evidence it can increase the risk of pancreatic cancer, as well as melonomas. The BRCA2 mutation increases the risk of male breast cancer and men who have it should be monitored.
What is the incidence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 in the Jewish population? In the general population, the BRCA1 gene is about one in 1,500. In the Ashkenazi Jewish population, it’s around one in 100. In some studies the prevalence of gene mutation has been as high as 1 in 40. The BRCA2 gene is less common. If you have the BRCA 1 or 2 mutation, you have between 45- 65 percent lifetime risk of developing cancer.
It’s really the stage of the cancer, its pathology, the grade and the extent of the spread that determines treatment. However, people who develop breast cancers that have this mutation are at a much higher risk for developing another breast cancer (as high as 65-85%). You may decide to be more aggressive surgically to reduce your risk.
Dr. Dawn J. Leonard is a breast surgeon and the medical director of the Herman & Walter Samuelson Breast Care Center at Northwest Hospital. She is an expert in high risk breast cancer, including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. This mutation, which is hereditary and increases the risk of breast cancer, is found in higher incidences in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. Dr. Leonard discusses this genetic mutation.
Just because you don’t have the mutation, doesn’t mean you won’t get breast cancer. The majority of women diagnosed with breast cancer have no family history or indication of hereditary risk. Following appropriate screening guidelines and keeping open lines of communication with your health care team are essential in prevention and early diagnosis.
JEWISH WOMEN • 13
A personal perspective from Leslie Ries
Leslie Ries hoped that as a mother, lawyer, law school professor and community volunteer, the legacy she would leave for her two daughters was as a loving mother who had a life filled with hard work and care for family, friends, clients and the community. And perhaps a gift for baking with a penchant for anything chocolate. Then, 11 years ago, Ries was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. The third daughter in her family, she was the first to receive a cancer diagnosis. Ries recalls a conversation with her mother and a nurse as she prepared for her first chemotherapy treatment after her lumpectomy. “My mother said that my father’s mother died of breast cancer before my parents were married. She said she had been told by doctors that since it was only the mother’s side that put children at higher risk, and she did not need to be concerned that her children had an increased risk of getting cancer.” When her mother added that it was not just Ries’ paternal grandmother who had breast cancer but also the grandmother’s sister and niece, Ries
A breast cancer survivor, Leslie Ries advocates for more awareness that the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations are at higher incidence among Ashkenazi women.
scientists as increasing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. These mutations are more prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish population than the general population (see doctor article). “When I learned I had a genetic mutation, I elected to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction after chemotherapy. Since I was done having children, I decided to have my ovaries removed.” The testing and her surgical choices afterwards may have saved
“I DON’T WANT PEOPLE TO BE PARALYZED BY FEAR TO GET INFORMATION. KNOWING YOU HAVE THE MUTATION CAN SIMPLY MEAN BEING MONITORED MORE FREQUENTLY AND EARLIER IN LIFE.” knew immediately there was likely a family genetic connection. The test for genetic mutations for breast and ovarian cancer was recently approved, and Ries’ oncologist sent her for genetic counseling and testing. The result: Ries learned she had the BRCA1 genetic mutation. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two genetic mutations identified by 14 • JEWISH WOMEN
her life and dramatically reduced her chances of getting cancer related to the BRCA1 mutation. Although still at risk for a recurrence of the cancer for which she had originally been treated, Ries’ greater concern was her daughters. She learned they should be tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in their mid-twenties.
Worried about her children and many people, especially in the Jewish community, who were not educated about their increased risk, she and her husband, Tom, started a foundation to fund research and education on breast cancer prevention risks. It’s important, she says, to learn about your family history, and if you are an Ashkenazi Jew, to consider testing for known mutations. “Ask questions, find out what your relatives may have died from. If relatives say, ‘female problems’ (which is what people often called any gynecological or breast issue), it could mean breast or ovarian cancer.” She urges internists, gynecologists and even urologists (men can have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation, too) to ask questions to determine if a patient should be tested. “I don’t want people to be paralyzed by fear to get information. Knowing you have the mutation can simply mean being monitored more frequently and earlier in life.” “I was very lucky,” she says. “But if I had known sooner that I was at risk, I would have had the test. I could have been monitored differently and possibly avoided chemotherapy and the trauma of surgery.”
Do Tell / Don’t Tell THE SECRET SHAME BY ELIZABETH SCHUMAN
n the surface, Zach Snitzer seemed to have everything going for him — a loving family, friends, activities at Owings Mills High School and at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills Jewish Community Center. In short, Zach seemed to be a typical, suburban Baltimore teenager. Except he wasn’t. Snitzer had a secret: He was a drug addict. At age 12, Snitzer used pot. By high school, he was using prescription painkillers and had tried heroin.
Finally, after more than a decade of drug use, including stays at inpatient rehabilitation programs, he became clean eight years ago. Today, Zach, 36, helps other addicts and their families as co-founder of the Maryland Addiction Recovery Center, which offers family-focused treatment. His personal and professional experiences add weight to his perspective. “No parents think their child will become an addict,” he says. “It’s a natural human instinct to want to keep it quiet. Parents think that the addiction is a reflection of their
parenting — that they are to blame. “Addiction impacts the family as much as the addict,” he adds. Parents, siblings and the entire family want to keep the problem quiet. Denial, shame and guilt underscore secrecy’s pull in families and the community, whether it’s about a child with an addiction, infertility, financial struggles, mental illness or another seemingly taboo subject. No one wants to appear a failure. “Everyone has secrets,” says Howard Reznick, LCSW-C, senior JEWISH WOMEN • 15
Howard Reznick and Mimi Kraus of JCS both explain that women value relationships and men value careers and when either suffers, one feels shame.
manager, prevention and education for Jewish Community Services ( JCS) and a licensed therapist for 38 years. “Those things that are most dear to us are also the most impactful. As the 12-Step recovery process explains, ‘We are only as sick as our secrets.’” While one might believe that a secret is fairly innocuous, they have power and weight, continues Reznick. “It takes a lot of energy to have a secret. Secrets do not allow us to be fully present with ourselves in the world.” Then, there are societal pressures. “All of us want to put forth our successes. Problems such as depression or unemployment show that we are not functioning well,” explains Mimi Kraus, LCSW-C, associate senior manager of therapy, JCS. Even a subject such as infertility may cause feelings of inadequacy or failure, especially when others ask seemingly innocent questions about when a young couple will start a family. “People may feel ashamed, humiliated or embarrassed. We’re social creatures and care what others think of us,” says Kraus. “We want to present as successful.” She and Reznick explain that conventional wisdom suggests that women value 16 • JEWISH WOMEN
relationships and men value careers — and when either suffer, one’s first thought is shame. In the Jewish community, especially, there is pressure. “All of our successes and failures are magnified,” says Snitzer. “There is definitely a stigma about mental health and addiction from Orthodox to Reform. The first action is always to keep it quiet — to keep it in the family and not share with others.”
a child comes out, it’s a coming out process for the parents,” she says. Dickler found herself altering her expectations of her son’s future — and her family’s future. “At the beginning, I wasn’t comfortable sharing because I was afraid of others’ reactions. I am much less cautious now,” she says, citing sweeping changes in public opinion and national and local governments that have brought gay rights to the forefront. Talking about the issue is cathartic. Both Kraus and Reznick point to the value of support groups. “The benefit of a support group is that what might be outrageous in one social context — a child stealing, taking out a second mortgage to pay for rehab, a spouse in jail — is the norm. Others have been there.” The opportunity to share a secret and not be judged is critical. “Once you share your ‘secret shame,’ it’s no longer a secret,” says Reznick. “You are no longer alone.” Last fall, more than 2,000 young people shared their secrets online in a Millennial Voices project through
“AT THE BEGINNING, I WASN’T COMFORTABLE SHARING [MY SON WAS GAY ] BECAUSE I WAS AFRAID OF OTHERS’ REACTIONS.” — MINDY DICKLER
He adds that addiction has a biological component, much like diabetes or cancer. “You would talk with others if your child had a disease or husband had a heart attack. Hate the addiction, not the addict.” No matter the cause, it’s often difficult to come to terms with a new reality. Mindy Dickler, co-founder of JQBaltimore, a group for Jewish LGBTQ individuals and their families, admits that when her son told her he was gay four years ago, she needed time to accept it. “Just as
the IfIKnew website that invited young adults to complete the sentence: If you knew me, you would know … Responses encompassed friendships, sexuality, fears and secrets. “The project showed what’s on young people’s minds today,” says Reznick. In the real world, it’s helpful to confide in a close, trusted friend. “Remember that the amount of disclosure is commensurate with the level of trust and intimacy in the relationship,” advises Kraus.
“Friendship is based on knowing a person’s vulnerabilities.” One caveat? Not everyone is accepting. Dickler recalls telling friends about her son. While most were supportive, one friend responded, “Do you think it’s a phase?” Recently, that same friend asked, “Is he still gay?” Acceptance runs both ways. A friend entrusted with a secret may want to ensure that his or her friend finds outside support, such as a therapist or support group, and seeks help for any symptoms, such as depression. Regardless of the secret, what matters is sharing — being transparent — with a trusted friend, a therapist, or in a support group. “It’s very difficult for the addict, alcoholic, family or community to get better without transparency,” believes Snitzer. “Once you realize there is a problem, you can ask for help. When people admit that need, they discover that they are not alone.”
When she found out her son was gay, Mindy Dickler, co-founder of JQBaltimore, had to alter her expectations of her son’s and her family’s future.
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? ? What’s Next? BY ROCHELLE EISENBERG
Empty nesting is often the first phase for many baby boomer women as they look forward to their next journey in life. Where once laundry and carpools ruled, baby boomers are suddenly finding they have more time on their hands to do some of the things they put on the back burner. According to “The New Retirement Survey” by Merrill Lynch, baby boomer women view empty nesting and retirement as providing new opportunities for community involvement and continued personal growth. Here are a few ways boomer women can fill their time — ways that offer intellectual, emotional and health benefits.
Volunteering as a docent at the Jewish Museum of Maryland has afforded Wendy Davis with some wonderful opportunities to meet people from all over the world. Like the gentleman from China who came for a visit because he wanted to learn about Jewish culture. After the tour, the two talked for an hour, discussing religion and politics. Or, the Jewish couple — he from India, she from Pakistan — who discovered an old Singer sewing machine in the museum’s permanent exhibit. It reminded the husband 18 • JEWISH WOMEN
of his days growing up in India, where his mother sewed with a similar machine. And, then there was the flight attendant who made a point of checking out other houses of worship and religions when visiting different cities. She ended up buying a mezuzah in the gift shop. “While I am leading these tours and explaining Jewish history to groups, I am also learning so much from the people, learning about their culture, their religion,” says Davis. “I’m also seeing that, despite our many differences, there are many commonalities.” Davis, who began volunteering at the museum after retiring as a speech language pathologist, is one of a generation of boomers who are finding meaning in volunteer work. This generation wants to give back, yet, at the same time, it’s important
to bring their skills, work and life experiences, interests and passions to the volunteer experience. “They want to do something that adds value and gives purpose to both them and the organization,” says Erica Bloom, assistant director of Jewish Volunteer Connection ( JVC). Carol Rubenstein enjoys working with computers. So does Joan Yablon. So when Rubenstein learned about an opportunity to update a database that matched volunteers to projects, she immediately signed on, telling her friend about the project. “When I volunteer, I want to do something I enjoy doing,” says Yablon. JVC offers numerous volunteer experiences that range from one-time commitments, such as helping out at a soup kitchen on Mitzvah Day, to ongoing projects where one commits on his or her own schedule. These
LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES Baltimore Hebrew Institute — Towson University towson.edu/bhi
The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning cjebaltimore.org/adults
Community College of Baltimore County ccbcmd.edu
Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies icjs.org/
Edward A. Myerberg Center myerberg.org
When leading tours as a docent at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, Wendy Davis met a man from India who shared his story of how the Singer sewing machine reminded him that his mother sewed with a similar one.
include Bookworms, where adults read to elementary-age children in area schools, and Playdate Together where grandparents can bring grandchildren to a senior facility and sing songs, read books and make crafts with the residents.
TAKE A CLASS
In addition to volunteering, Yablon and Rubenstein both enjoy learning. It’s why these two friends often search out classes in the community that pique their interest. The two have taken courses covering a range of topics, including foreign films and a course on government and women in the labor force. They both are also taking a six-week course at the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies, which includes two weeks each studying sacred texts and practices of each religion.
Courses for boomers are booming — no pun intended — and Baltimore offers a number of opportunities for continuing education. From the Edward A. Myerberg Center to Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University to area community colleges, boomers can take classes in everything from Impressionism, and jewelry-making to Yiddish and Hebrew. For those interested in delving even deeper into Jewish topics, The Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, an international pluralistic Jewish education program, offers a number of courses that promote a community of Jewish learning. The program is administered locally by the Macks Center for Jewish Education and is designed for adults of all ages. Maureen David took the core course about 10 years ago. “There was such a feeling of camaraderie,” she recalls. “The courses brought meaning and understanding to what we do and explained the theology and history behind many of our holiday traditions. And there was such a diverse group of participants, from all Jewish backgrounds, careers and denominations that it made the discussions enriching.” Melton also offers topical courses, including Beyond Borders: History of the Arab Israeli Conflict, to From Sinai to Seinfeld: The History of Jewish Humor. In
addition, CJE is willing to offer any of the Melton courses from its extensive guidebook if groups of 15 indicate interest. “Learning in general is stimulating. It’s one of the things you should do for yourself,” says Shira Zeliger, director of educational initiatives at CJE.
Women of all ages should participate in an exercise regime, but it’s particularly important for women as they age. Around the time, they reach their 50s, their bodies begin to lose muscle mass, causing metabolism to slow down, explains Amy Schwartz, senior director, fitness and wellness at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore. Resistance and strength training, such as lifting weights, using resistance tubing and taking strength-based classes, are crucial components of a regular exercise routine. Lifting weights improves strength and posture, maintains bone mass and reduces the risk of lower back injury. Like women of all ages, women in their 50s should include cardiovascular exercise, such as walking, swimming and fitness classes, which work the large muscles in their bodies, as well as stretching exercise. Stretching classes, such as yoga and Pilates, help maintain flexibility and range of JEWISH WOMEN • 19
motion in joints and build core strength and increase stability. Physical activity also may minimize the symptoms of menopause and lower the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis. Meanwhile, women in their 60s should not let the aches and pains of arthritis or bad knees be an excuse for giving up on exercise. A decline in strength and fitness isn’t entirely a natural consequence of the aging process — it’s also due to lack of use. Women still need to exercise — the activity may need to be altered. For example, walking may need to replace running. Resistance training, stretching and balance are musts! Think of it this way…Exercise needs to become second nature, like brushing your teeth. Check out the fitness programs for women at the JCC. The JCC also partners with LifeBridge to offer health programs throughout the year for boomer women.
Women’s bodies begin to lose muscle mass in their 50s.
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The Sandwich Generation Tackles Parents And Kids BY ELINOR SPOKES
Heidi Fisher’s father, George Korzec,
a Holocaust survivor who, by her account, is a “tough 90,” was in the midst of a health crisis requiring hospitalization the same week her daughter was due to return to college in South Carolina. Faced with the dilemma of staying at her father’s bedside or assisting her daughter with moving back, Fisher felt completely torn. She decided to wake at the crack of dawn, drive to South Carolina, help her daughter settle in and then fly back to Baltimore; all within 24 hours. Such is the life of a member of the “sandwich generation”: adults in their 40s and 50s with kids living at home and with parents who also need their care and attention. The feeling of being “sandwiched” can be more akin to being squeezed by trying to accommodate the needs of two generations. Feeling that squeeze? You are not alone. In fact, Baby Boomers, the largest segment of the population, are hitting the “sandwich” phase of their lives, with their parents, 85 years or older, who comprise the fastest growing segment of the population. 22 • JEWISH WOMEN
A 2013 report from the Pew Research Center revealed that nearly half of adults in the sandwich generation have a parent 65 or older and are either raising a young child or financially supporting an adult child. Support is available to help cope, navigate and manage the care for two generations, says Debbie Schwartz, LCSW-C, a social worker with Jewish Community Services ( JCS), an agency of The Associated. JCS is dedicated to helping older adults age-in-place with maximum independence and dignity, offering elder care management, counseling and therapy, grief and bereavement and services for Holocaust survivors. (www.jcsbaltimore.org) Assessing the needs of a parent to determine whether they can age in place or would be better served in a senior community is a good first step, says Schwartz. While this question can be a difficult one, she advises that ideally these conversations involve children with their parents. During these conversations, she suggests Janet Livingston speaks with her father, Alan E. Behrend, every day, visits him five to six times a week and manages his finances.
children provide options for them, while respecting their parent’s independence as much as possible. “Sometimes the parent doesn’t want to listen to their children, so involving their doctor in decisions regarding their housing or whether they should continue driving can alleviate the pressure,” she adds. In addition, Schwartz suggests educating yourself on elder care, prioritizing tasks you can handle, delegating ones you cannot, staying organized and finding time in your schedule for yourself.
Arlynne Brown, with son, Allan, and parents, Leah and Irwin Pack, sometimes feels she is being pulled in two different directions.
“We are all going to feel some guilt about spending enough time with our parents, but you have to come to terms with that. If you can’t, counseling might help,” she says. “Taking it day-by-day is the only way to manage this phase of my life,” explains Fisher. Assisting her father and her mother, Anneliese, who, at 84, is battling cancer, has become practically a full-time job. “As time goes on, they have become more dependent on me,” she says. “They try to be as independent as possible, but they have limited ability to be so. I have talked to them about moving out of the house, but they know what makes them happy and I want to respect that.” “I take my parents to most doctors’ appointments because I want to be there to hear what the doctors are saying, remind the doctors of allergies to medications and other potential issues,” she adds. To relieve stress, Fisher works out as much as she can. In fact, out of concern for her well-being, both parents will ask her if she taken time to go to the gym as they recognize the stress she is under. “They sacrificed and did so much for me all those years I was growing up, I want to keep them happy,” she says. Janet Livingston’s 96-year-old father lives in the home where she was
raised and now requires 24-hour care. “I feel lucky to have my dad still with us,” she says. “He took care of me for all these years, now it is my turn.” Using a private agency, Livingston hired home care providers, giving her peace of mind. She speaks with her father every day, visits him five to six times a week, manages his finances and oversees his general well-being. Despite knowing her father is being well cared for, she says she doesn’t like to travel more than a plane ride away just in case of an emergency. She and husband, Richard, are also involved with overseeing care for Richard’s mother who lives in Florida. Coordinating the health care for an aging parent at a distance adds another layer to that already demanding job. A local contact at the Association of Jewish Family & Children’s Agencies (AJFCA) put the Livingstons in touch with Norman and Ruth Rales Jewish Family Services in Boca Raton, Florida, which provided them with a geriatric case manager. The case manager helped assemble a team of health care providers who visit her five to six days a week; monitors the team and Mrs. Livingston’s well-being; and is the family’s point of contact for issues as they arise. “This is a challenging phase of our lives,” Livingston says. “Managing another life while keeping your own household going is stressful.”
She adds, “I am very blessed to have a supportive family and to be able to provide a life for my father. Every day I say goodbye I also say ‘I love you Dad.’ I have done everything a daughter could do and I have no regrets.” For Arlynne Brown, relocating her parents from Delaware to Baltimore became a necessity when a winter storm hit and her parents’ healthcare worker could not get to their home. As her mother has dementia, Brown contacted the Alzheimer’s Association for advice on how to handle the move and a local service to help her find a senior community which met her parents’ health and financial needs. Once her parents moved, Brown became the point person for their care and became their advocate. She met with the facility staff to express her desires for her parents and their care. Initially she struggled with figuring out how much time she needed to spend with her parents, how much help to give them and how much they could advocate for themselves. The Alzheimer’s Association has remained a resource for Brown by providing a script so she could verbalize empathy for her mother. “Once I realized all I needed to do was validate her feelings, it made her feel better,” she says. “I’m learning to set boundaries and to say to my father ‘Is this a problem you can take care of yourself ?’ and help him walk through the steps to solve it so I don’t have to be there all the time,” she states. She says figuring this out has been emotionally challenging and she finds great comfort in speaking to friends who have gone through similar situations with their parents. “More than being ‘sandwiched,’ I feel like I am pulled in two different directions — I think more of an image of being stretched like Elastigirl from The Incredibles,” she says with a laugh. JEWISH WOMEN • 23
A b a n d o n e d y l e n Lo Unworthy
T Alone r apped SURVIVING AN ABUSIVE Silenced RELATIONSHIP Powerless BY SIMONE ELLIN
D d ebilitated e n o s i r p Im
o L Desperate
d Ignored e t a l u p i n a M
Obligated 24 â€˘ JEWISH WOMEN
d Ignored e t a l u p i n a M
she married her ex-husband in 1999, Lauren,* a mother of three, never dreamed she would find herself needing the services of CHANA. “In the beginning, my husband seemed like a nice guy. He seemed devoted, had a lovely, welcoming family and got along great with my son,” she recalls. “I was a single mother and wanted to give my son a daddy.” Lauren says it took about two years before her husband began to show signs of abusive behavior. Unable to find support through her husband’s family and not wanting to burden her own family who lived across the country, Lauren turned to Jewish Community Services ( JCS) and was referred to CHANA. The healing process for her and her children began there. “CHANA is the ultimate Jewish mother,” she says. “They take you in, feed you, get you any help you need and completely validate your feelings.” Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, CHANA helps victims and survivors of physical, sexual, financial, verbal and emotional abuse, neglect and trauma by providing crisis intervention services, legal aid,
individual and group counseling and prevention education. “We provide services that enhance selfworth, give options and support,” says CHANA’s Director, Dr. Nancy Aiken. “We want you to be safe, emotionally and physically. Sometimes people think that if they don’t need a shelter, are financially well off or aren’t planning to get a
these abusive behaviors are seen frequently among CHANA’s middle-aged and older clients. “Being controlling about money, not sharing financial information, asking a lot about what things cost, wanting to see receipts, even when the money being spent belongs to the woman … these are some warning signs that a relationship is
lenced Alone Trapped Powerless
Unheard Restricted Afraid When you go through your story, you feel like it is unique. Then you find out it’s not.
A b a n d o n e d y l one
divorce, they don’t need CHANA. That isn’t true. We can offer support and education, whether you stay or go.” While physical and sexual abuse are the most commonly recognized forms of domestic violence, many of us are less familiar with financial, verbal and emotional abuse. These types of abuse may be more difficult to identify, but can be devastating to their victims. According to Aiken,
unhealthy,” says Aiken. Lauren, who experienced financial abuse, verbal and emotional abuse with her former husband, agrees. “[Financial abuse] is horrific. Someone is controlling you by withholding grocery money. Sometimes there was no money unless I agreed to have sex with him. I tried to work outside the home but my ex would always change his
d e r u s s e r P JEWISH WOMEN • 25
Warning Signs that a relationship may be abusive (From The National Domestic Violence Hotline) •T elling you that you never do anything right • Showing jealousy of your friends and time spent away and/or discouraging you from seeing friends or family members •E mbarrassing or shaming you with put-downs •C ontrolling every penny spent in the household • L ooking at you or acting in ways that scare you •C ontrolling who you see, where you go or what you do •T elling you that you are a bad parent or threatening to harm or take away your children •P reventing you from working or attending school •D estroying your property or threatening to hurt or kill your pets • Intimidating you with guns, knives or other weapons •P ressuring you to have sex when you don’t want to or do things sexually you’re not comfortable with To learn more about domestic abuse, visit chanabaltimore.org, call the CHANA office at 410-234-0030, or call CHANA’s confidential helpline at 410-234-0023.
26 • JEWISH WOMEN
schedule so that I would have to call in and tell my job I couldn’t come. I constantly suffered the stress of being fired. At the beginning of the marriage, I first attended medical massage therapy school, but after I finished and passed the national board exam, he refused to give me the money for my license, so I wasn’t able to practice,” she recalls. “Financial abuse is debilitating. It weakens your self-esteem and causes you to do things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. And it is harder for other people to understand. But when I went to CHANA, they weren’t shocked at all. They helped me to name it.” Adina * was also surprised to find that CHANA had heard stories similar to her own many times over. Adina met her ex-husband through a matchmaker, and after a brief courtship, the couple married and soon had a baby. “The relationship was abusive from the beginning,” says the 36-year-old mother of four. “But I didn’t recognize it. I didn’t see how he was controlling me, twisting my words, manipulating me. I was taught to bend to my husband’s will and told never to complain to friends. When you don’t talk to friends, you don’t know when something’s wrong.” In her marriage, Adina experienced both physical and emotional abuse, but says the emotional abuse was most scarring. Adina went to the rabbis, but soon learned that her husband was consulting them and invalidating her story. “He convinced all the rabbis I was crazy and a bad mother and I lost every one of the friends I made through my marriage. When I asked them to testify for me during the divorce, they all said they couldn’t. ‘It was over their heads.’” She felt stuck, hopeless and alone. Although she had heard about CHANA, Adina didn’t contact them for many years. She assumed they wouldn’t believe her story of abuse either. Finally, on a colleague’s recommendation, Adina decided to give CHANA a try.
“I met with Naomi and she validated me. She sent me to Cynthia [Ohana], who explained the legal aspects to me, and I saw a therapist. When you go through your story, you feel like it is unique. Then you find out it’s not. It took my therapist four years to convince me I wasn’t crazy.” CHANA also helped Adina regain her confidence as a mother. “I remember one Mother’s Day — I was feeling so bad and the doorbell rang and it was someone from CHANA. She brought a package with all kinds of gifts — a cookbook, perfumes, jewelry — I just burst into tears. It was so meaningful to know that someone thought of me and made me feel like a good mother.” Nowadays, Adina, who is divorced and shares custody of their children with her ex-husband, says that though he still tries to control her, she now has the tools to cope. Lauren’s life also changed for the better. She completed certification in pediatric massage therapy for trauma victims and is working in her field. Lauren also volunteers as a speaker for CHANA. “I’m in a new relationship with an old college boyfriend,” she says. “He was always my best friend, and we have a deep bond.” Life isn’t always easy for her and her three children; they struggle with financial issues because her ex still creates problems by withholding alimony and child support. “My children and I love each other and we still receive help from CHANA. All of us have developed coping skills and healing tools. We know how to recognize red flags [in relationships] and we know what to do about them. We aren’t victims anymore. I have taken my experience and turned it around to heal myself and other people. CHANA is completely unique and a precious gem in our community.” * Names have been changed to protect the safety of these women.
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