Judaism August 18, 2016: How a tragedy in Montreal should bring attention to domestic abuse in the Jewish community

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How a tragedy in Montreal should bring attention to domestic abuse in the Jewish community

By Bonnie K. Goodman

On Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016, a chapter in a tragedy in the Montreal Jewish community came to an end, but a discussion and new awareness have to begin. Wednesday, Montreal police arrested 80- year-old Salomon Abeassis for arson and first-degree murder of his longtime wife, Teresa Cohen’s, 75, death. This couple lived in the same rented house for over 30 years on a quiet street in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Cote St Luc. The neighbors’ thought they were such a nice quiet couple but underneath the perfect veneer, this woman presumably lived with the silent problem in the Jewish community, domestic abuse.

On a quiet, sunny Sunday, July 10, a fire broke out in the upstairs duplex on Guelph in Cote St Luc. The downstairs neighbor and longtime landlord heard the screams coming from upstairs tried to go upstairs to help first through the front stairs after the husband supposedly buzzed her in and then through the back stairs. It was front the back window, she saw the horrid sight, the wife was on the floor of the kitchen ablaze; there was no way the neighbor could do anything to help. The neighbor called 911, but they took 20 minutes, and in that, the time, the wife suffered alone. Cohen was taken to the hospital, in critical condition with terrible burns all over her body, her life hung in a balance a day later, on Monday, July 11; Teresa Cohen died from her injuries and with her what happened and her true story of suffering.

What set this story apart was how heinous the crime was, police say a liquid accelerant was poured on Cohen supposedly by the accused, her husband, the only other person in the house at the time and then set on fire. The crime first appeared to look like a suicide, because the wife had recently had hip replacement surgery and lost some mobility. The neighbor said they were always so quiet and that Abeassis helped his wife after she broke her hip in March, taking her to doctors’ appointments. For over a month doctors protected the husband preventing the police from questioning him, as he remained an important witness. Abeassis was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation, something people are released from the hospital in a day maximum, but for five weeks, he was kept sheltered, doctors say he was in a coma. In no other case would that happened except he was an eighty-year-old supposedly nice Jewish man with no prior criminal record.

Finally, on Aug. 5, doctors gave police the green light to question Abeassis. Upon his release from the hospital, he was arrested and “escorted” by police to the courthouse where he was formally charged. Abeassis was brought in a wheelchair and had problems hearing the proceedings against him; he seemed confused as he was represented by his legal aid lawyer and charges were formally brought against him. He will be kept in custody until his next court date in October and has conditions; he cannot contact two of his daughters or their families.

As a journalist, I write about the news often, and the news is hardly pretty, but this story hit me hard, partly because it was in my community, practically in my backyard, I know the street well. More importantly, it touched me because it was a tragic story and end to domestic abuse. I was in a relationship where I was mentally abused and controlled for years, everyone around me told to get away from him, that one day he would do real harm to me. Then he tried to, although not the same, I akin what he did to me as a man with the same rage that tries to kill a girlfriend or wife. I occasionally allude to what happened to me in some of my articles. Guess what he was a nice Jewish man, with a good reputation. No one could have ever imagined how he terrorized me and wanted to destroy me, I was even in denial, I could not see what he was doing to me. I came from a good family; I was sheltered, and I was too trusting.

This woman probably suffered for years from her husband’s abuse living with it in silence afraid of the shame it might cause her family, what others might have thought. We will never know if her daughters, knew anything, wanted or did not want her to leave him, what we know is nobody helped her, and she died a horrid death. This man she lived with, was married to maybe 50 years, raised four children is not just accused of killing her, but obliterating her in every way possible.

Living in the community and with many of peers living there as well, possibly even knowing the family, with one of the daughters a teacher at a local Jewish day school, I was shocked that nobody commented on the incident. The local Jewish press also covered the story to a minimum; the mainstream press covered the story because it was a possible murder in a quiet suburb that rarely if ever sees murders, and because of the sensationalism and shock of the crime, the victim, and the suspect.

I had to repost on my social media the local media’s take on the story after the arrest. I was practically stoned for posting. My peers who would comment on everything, every little event, thought it was inappropriate to comment on this incident. They said it was “disrespectful” “not right to comment” “because we don’t exactly know the situation and we can’t speculate,” because it could be “taken out of proportion,” and a “tragic story that does not need people dissecting it.” Irrelevant, was although “They seemed to be very nice people from a nice family,” they were not religious.

This was a heinous, heinous crime. It happened in our backyard literally, in our community. We live in an age where we comment on every tragedy in the news, but they are far away, with the news media defining who is the enemy it is OK to remark and to take sides. We routinely comment on the domestic abuse cases of celebrities taking sides, giving our opinions. If the Jewish community experiences anti-Semitism, there is no stop of responses from the community and the Jewish media. Why do we have to ignore this story, is it because we feel uncomfortable and if we do not talk about it did not happen. Our problem is in when we know the people and they are in our community we do not want take sides, the black and white becomes gray.

Teresa Cohen most probably experienced domestic abuse, she kept silent, and she paid for it in the most horrendous way possible, her life, supposedly by the hands of someone she lived and built a life with for the majority of her life. To keep silent is what is disrespectful, showing neutrality is practically condoning what happened. There is a denial that domestic abuse is not a problem in the Jewish community it is. For Teresa Cohen not to have died totally in vain, we need to do more to make aware and help those suffering domestic violence in the Jewish community, in our community. We need to make sure these women do not end up with the same or similar fate.

Domestic abuse has long been a silent problem in the Jewish community the prevalent attitude is “Oh it doesn’t happen – there’s no abuse in the Jewish community.”  Just last year the Canadian Jewish News did a cover story entitled “Domestic Abuse is a Jewish Issue, Too.” Generally “one in four women experience domestic abuse during their lifetime” and according to the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse’s statistics the rate of abuse in the Jewish community is the same between 15 and 25 percent of women experiencing abuse. At Montreal’s Jewish women’s shelter Auberge Shalom Pour Femmes, 20 percent of those at the shelter are Jewish while 35 percent participate in their “external services” to helped abused women.

Religious reasons are often behind the denial about abuse occurring in the community. Penny Krowitz, the executive director Act To End Violence Against Women (ATEVAW) told CJN, “For most people in our community, they don’t believe it happens to us. They believe the Jewish community is immune to such things, because of our tremendous value on family and shalom bayit.”

The other part of denial comes from the women experiencing it themselves, because Krowitz points out, “women often think that if their husbands aren’t hitting them, they’re not being abused.” Domestic abuse is all encompassing and is “defined as an imbalance of power when one uses threats or physical force to create fear, control or intimidate another.” Krowitz says the majority of domestic abuse in the community is “verbal, emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual, sexual – it’s not visible abuse.” Like me when Krowitz first spoke to a sisterhood about domestic abuse she thought, “The community is going to kill me.”

We have to stop emphasizing the perfect Jewish appearance of being the being the perfect mother, wife, and family living idyllically. The concept and ideal of shalom bayit are often the reason Jewish women do not do anything to get out of their abusive relationships, because as Krowitz indicates, “she is ashamed that her home is not a place of peace, and she feels like it is her fault.” The second obstacle is shandeh – “the shame of admitting, disclosing, that your home is not a happy place. That your husband doesn’t treat you well, that you are frightened, that you walk on eggshells.”

The abuse happens in every socio-economic sphere of the community and among different levels of religious observance, it does not just happen in families where they are not that religious as one of my peers implied. In fact, Orthodox tradition dictates that Jewish women take a submissive role in the patriarchal relationship making the imbalance of power ripe for abuse. Not helping the issue is religious courts most often side with the husband. Jewish women need their husband’s permission to acquire a get a Jewish divorce, if not and a Jewish woman leaves she is considered an “agunah, a chained or anchored woman.”

We still have this belief both religiously and socially that divorce, being single is a stigma, that if we do not have that perfect life, there is no place for Jewish women in the community. Maybe if there was more awareness, less focus on image and less shame associated with leaving than Jewish women would leave their abusive husbands and not end up like Teresa Cohen. She had four grown daughters, and grandchildren, but died alone, and the minute she was set on fire, she was alone with no one to help her. The same way we talk about the larger atrocities that have befallen the Jewish community, we have to speak of the smaller ones to never to forget and never let it happen again.

News July 13, 2016: Tenors politicize Canadian anthem during MLB all-star game add all lives matter

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NEWS

Tenors politicize Canadian anthem during MLB all-star game add all lives matter

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Social media quickly took notice when The Tenors changed the lyrics of the national anthem at the MLB all-star game while a member of the group held up an 'All Lives Matter' sign.

CBC

Music group The Tenors politicized the Canadian anthem, O Canada during the 87th Major League Baseball All-Star game on Tuesday evening, July 12, 2016, at Petco Park in San Diego, California. The group hailing from British Columbia interjected the words “all lives matter” in the anthem. The anthem was not televised on American television only Canadian, but still managed to cause an uproar on social media.

The Tenors changed the lyrics from “With glowing hearts we see thee rise, the True North strong and free” to “We’re all brothers and sisters, all lives matter to the great.” While member Remigio Pereira held a sign reading, “all lives matter,” while the back of the sign said “United We Stand.”  The audio was not very clear but still caused an outrage. Fox that carried the All-Star Game was on commercial break when the Tenors sang the Canadian anthem.

The Juno award winning Tenors are composed of four members, Clifton Murray, Fraser Walters, Remigio Pereira and Victor Micallef. The group is popular in Canada with their albums going multi-platinum. Despite their former esteem, Canadians were upset by the group’s decision to politicize the Canadian anthem during a sporting event.

The statement “All Lives Matter” is politically charged and is often mistakenly used as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, much to the chagrin of Black Lives Matter supporters. The phrase has gained traction recently but has a resurgence after police shot and killed African Americans Alton Sterling and Philando last week and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests.

The group denounces the statement believing it undercuts the Black Lives Matter movement which emphasizes that black lives are in peril from police, and more likely to be cut short in the United States as a result of inherent and rampant racism. Using the phrase “All Lives Matter” in response shows a misunderstanding of racism. Race Theory scholar David Theo Goldberg says, “All Lives Matter is a “racial dismissal, ignoring, and denial.”

Despite not being televised in the U.S., there was an outrage all over social media for the change in lyrics. Canadians taking to Twitter called the rendition “very disrespectful,” “wrong,” “dishonoring the anthem.” The group also received numerous “angry messages” and posts on their Facebook page. Both on Twitter and Facebook fans were calling for a Canadian boycott of the group. Major League Baseball was equally blindsided by the politically motivated lyric change, with Spokesman Matt Bourne commenting they “had no idea.”

Hoping to quell the anger, the Tenors issued an apology statement on social media. The group pinned the whole fiasco on member Pereira calling him a “lone wolf” who decided to change the lyrics and hold up the sign without the knowledge or approval from the rest of the group.

The Tenors called Pereira’s actions “disrespectful, and misguided lack of judgment” and “the other members of the group are shocked and embarrassed” by Pereira’s “actions “to serve his own political views.” The tenors also suspended Pereira from the group “until further notice.”

The complete statement reads as follows:

The Tenors are deeply sorry for the disrespectful and misguided lack of judgment by one member of the group acting as a ‘lone wolf’ today during the singing of the Canadian national anthem at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in San Diego.

The other members of the group are shocked and embarrassed by the actions of Remigio Pereira, who changed the lyrics of our treasured anthem and used this coveted platform to serve his own political views.

Our sincere apologies and regrets go out to everybody who witnessed this shameful act, to our fellow Canadians, to Major League Baseball, to our friends, families, fans and to all those affected.

The actions of one member of this group were extremely selfish and he will not be performing with The Tenors until further notice.

Afterward, Pereira attempted to explain his motivations in a series of tweets on Twitter but stopped short of apologizing for his actions. Pereira said, “I’ve been so moved lately by the tragic loss of life and I hoped for a positive statement that would bring us ALL together. ONE LOVE.”

Continuing in a different direction with his message, Pereira wrote, “from the bottom and all corners of my heart, be good to one another, love one another. Let us all live in peace, it is everyone’s birthright.” Pereira’s explanation shows he did not have a grasp on the negative connotations from the “all lives matter” statement.