SHALVA is proud to be a member of the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV). Chloé McMurray, Chief Capacity Building Officer, recently interviewed Viki Rivkin, Outreach and Education Legal Liaison with SHALVA, for their newsletter, “A New Perspective”. Each issue highlights member program or a survivor on what it is like to exist in GBV advocacy spaces with a culturally specific identifier.
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
Chloe: So I heard that SHALVA is one of six Jewish specific domestic violence agencies in the nation. Do you feel like that affects or amplifies the work you’re doing?
Viki: I am unsure about that statistic. I’ve heard that, too, but there are programs that are embedded in Jewish family services too. I know there aren’t many—Shalom Taskforce in New York, there’s one in San Francisco, but they don’t do counseling. Our work is not more impactful than any other agency just because we’re culturally specific, but we are certainly unique in that we provide culturally specific services that others don’t. What makes us unique is that we are trying to provide, just like every DV agency is, a space that people feel safe to come talk about their most intimate problems and concerns in their lives. Just like Mujeres Latinas or KAN-WIN, we’re here if someone has a connection to their culture and their culture impacts their experience in the world and as a survivor. We offer that extra sense of safety and comfortability.
I’ve often asked myself, “what is it about us?” Well, it’s hard to say exactly what it is. We are part of the Jewish community and have an understanding of being in this community and culture (not that we all grow up the same or have the same experiences). I like to think that we feel like a cozy home for our clients.
Chloe: From my time working in services, I know how important that is to survivors. I worked with many queer and male-identified survivors in East Tennessee and know how important and sometimes more helpful it was for those survivors to see themselves in the staff or, at the least, feel seen by staff in their whole identity. So, does that go hand in hand with survivors who identify both religiously and culturally or racially as Jewish? Or is it sometimes more one than the other?
Viki: That is so interesting. I will answer it this way: I think because Judaism is a religion and a culture, we see anyone who self-identifies as Jewish. It doesn’t matter how you practice your faith—orthodox, conservative, reform or unaffiliated—we serve everyone and anyone who identifies as Jewish or is in a relationship with someone who is Jewish. I would also say that there is a cultural component. Judaism is a religion—and within that, is also a very rich culture. And we provide services to those who identify across the broad spectrum.
Chloe: You seem so passionate about your work. Tell me—what makes you most proud to work at SHALVA?
Viki: I love that we provide free counseling services for as long as our clients need, and in fact we see many go in and out of counseling as needed. It’s really based on an empowerment model of “What is it that the client needs” and all services are centered around that. Some clients come in and they take a few sessions, and they feel like they have it figured out. For others, they need more counseling—they need the legal liaison or referral attorney—and we give them choices. We don’t ever tell them what to do. The way we work with our clients makes me the proudest because when you’re a survivor, so much of your choice is taken away from you. SHALVA really puts in extra effort to put the choice back in the survivor’s hand.
Chloe: That is really special. I think that’s at the heart of trauma-informed care, too. So switching gears a bit. What are some of the challenges of working at SHALVA? Have you ever been treated poorly because of the cultural specificity of your agency? Either by another community agency, funders, etc. What are some the ways this has presented?
Viki: Stereotypes of Jewish people are that everybody’s rich or well educated, or that Jewish women are bossy or materialistic. It’s an ugly stereotype. There is a need to acknowledge that wealth doesn’t prohibit abuse. Just because someone is wealthy doesn’t mean they don’t or won’t need access to services.
As far as community members go, I don’t think we’ve really seen that—at least not in our faces. We do trainings with hospital staff and police departments and we see good outcomes from those. We try to go to places in the city with a higher Jewish population. For instance, in West Rogers Park there are more Orthodox Jews living there who observe Shabbat. And then we get to educate medical staff or law enforcement on questions like, “Well, why wouldn’t they call on a Saturday? Why wouldn’t they come to the ER on a Saturday?” Well, it’s Shabbat. It’s more about getting the broader community to understand the culture better, but we’ve really never been met with hostility. It’s about learning and teaching.
Thank you again to ICADV for this opportunity and for the work they do on behalf of survivors of domestic abuse throughout the state of Illinois.