Judaism December 31, 2017: Adventures and disasters in online Jewish dating for marriage

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EDUCATION

Adventures and disasters in online Jewish dating for marriage

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

The Jewish community is always lamenting the high intermarriage rates especially in the United States and Canada destroying the continuity of the Jewish religion, but there are deeper reasons why the rate continues to get higher. Enter the world of Jewish online dating for marriage, the last hope to find your Jewish soul mate, beshert or simply marry within the religion. The various websites include those that allow the single to meet individually other eligible singles. Others have personal matchmakers working to find you a potential match based on a set of criteria you provide. Both kinds of sites boast their success rates and the number of matches. What they never boast or advertise is the numerous horror stories that make any Jewish single understand why nearly half of North Americans choose intermarriage.

Intermarriage has increasingly become a problem in North America. The most recent survey conducted by Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project published in the fall of 2013 determined that 44 percent of American Jewish choose to marry someone outside the faith. The poll claimed the rates were higher for Jews who identified with the Reform or Reconstructionist movements, much less among Conservative Jews and almost non-existent in the Orthodox community. In Canada, the community likes to believe the rate is lower than their American counterparts, but not really. According to the Jewish Federations of Canada — UIA’s 2011 National Household Survey, “The intermarriage rate for couples under 30 years of age is 43 percent. More than 72,000 Jews live in intermarried households in Canada, including 15,490 children, more than half of whom are being raised without any religious affiliation.”

I am a Jewish woman in her mid-thirties, who for various reasons chose not to get married as the stereotypical 26-year-old as the majority of my peers did so conveniently many within weeks of each other. I wanted more in my 20s; I wanted graduate degrees, I wanted a career, professional notoriety, and for a while achieved the influence, I wanted. I also experienced personal disappointments, mental abuse, sexual harassment, and the dark sides of interpersonal and professional relationships, unfortunately in the hands of Jewish men. The bad experiences only pushed me further away from pursuing marriage.

There is something about the mid-thirties that makes every woman desperate to find a man to marry, to have children, even if that was never their priority. Opportunities were more tempting to date outside the religion, but as someone who came from a traditional Jewish home, went through the Jewish school system and even pursued graduate work in Judaic Studies, it never seemed an option I wanted to explore. For the past few months, I sunk so desperate as to attempt online Jewish dating for marriage and Jewish matchmaking services, with deep reluctance and not much hope and for good reason. In my journey, I met Jewish men from around the world, but particularly the US, New York, and Canada. I will be blunt you hear horror stories about online dating, and I believe I experienced some of the worst because the experience nearly killed me.

At the matchmaking site, I first encountered a matchmaker who found everything about my profile wrong, from my photo to my about me section and even my instructions to the matchmakers as to my criteria for a potential match. The matchmakers volunteer and come from a variety of professions one of mine was a lawyer, who approached matchmaking as only a lawyer could. From the start, she sent me potential matches without any thought to my criteria, a first look that makes you question the whole dating pool.

When I talked with my matchmaker in the mandatory phone interview I had bad flashbacks as a novice undergraduate having my papers reviewed by my professors explaining why I received that bad grade, but this was my dating profile and my personal views about my life. First, she told me I had to get my hair and makeup professionally done and have a professional photographer take the photos. She told me I was not getting a good response from my photo, ironically she did not realize the photos were from my 20s, I really do not look that different except for my hairstyle, and it was probably me at my peak and at the time I paid the most attention to applying a lot of makeup. She called my profile too arrogant for its bluntness, which was meant to weed out the weak and abusive men, and for my academic and career-mindedness. In other words, she wanted me to entirely dumb myself down for these men and bimbo myself to please them.

Our society frowns at body shaming of this sort, most advice tells women to be themselves, and definitely not change physically, intellectually or belief wise for any man. Jewish matchmakers, however, believe in the backdated notion that women need to sacrifice their integrity to get a man. To please her, as a writer I channeled my inner sarcasm and came up with a profile that included flippant lines like “Gone With The Wind inspired me to study real Jewish southern belles during the Civil War, the Jewish Scarletts, and Melanies. As for me as I am as fiery and determined as Scarlett, but as sweet, caring, and compassionate as Melanie.” With a sappy conclusion, I wrote “I am looking for my own bashert to make this journey through life even more meaningful,” although feminism teaches young women that life can be complete without a man.

All this to the please the males on the site, and what a dating pool it was, in a complete double standard the men were not forced to adhere to the physical ridicule the women were. I was looking for men older than me primarily. I was sent men upward to 50 who had never been married, who looked much older and generally creeped me out. The ones who were divorced and with children were even worse, one claimed to be very religious but had left his wife with five children under age 13 and was now looking to marry another woman and have more children with and then repeat the cycle.

The younger ones in the later thirties and early forties had secrets in their backgrounds; if you did a background search, they either were listed as married or had criminal records or families with ones. Many routinely lied about their professional degrees and jobs. One guy, who was one of six siblings from a religious family, had three of the siblings with criminal records. None of the men were lookers, and most of were not even interested in accepting a potential match, even when on paper it seemed perfect they refused, making a woman question them, their motives for being on the site and even their sexuality.

My worst encounter was with a local man who I previously encountered on another matchmaking site. Months earlier I initially refused him after his acceptance because he lied about his looks, weight, jobs and that he was a fulltime undergraduate student again as he was approaching his mid-forties. Here again, matchmakers other than my own were suggesting this same guy. I thought I had been too shallow the first time, and I thought I should have given him the benefit of the doubt I was wrong.

He was still lying about being over 300 lbs, and that he now needs two years to graduate. With talking to him I found out he been fired from a job that he had no qualifications for and should have been grateful to have instead he challenged every one of the institutions time-honored traditions. He failed to see he was wrong at all ever, just talked about himself and pretty much to himself. Two phone calls and emails were enough, but his matchmakers misinterpreted talking twice on the phone as a reason to be roped into marriage and started to stalk me and call me at all hours to force me to go with him. When I complained about it to the site’s support, I was the one kicked off the site, because one can never complain about the amazing Jewish men and their matchmakers.

The second dating website eliminated the headache of matchmakers but left one more vulnerable to the crazies. From the start, I met one man who lied about being disabled and claimed he wanted to marry me but conveniently wanted me to pay for everything. Another man was a grieving overweight widower with children in his mid-forties, who thought I was older than I claimed by a year made an issue about it even though he was still 10 years older than I no matter what, and he was hiding a criminal past. I met another local guy, who knew all my peers from school, which goes against one of my rules of dating, he kept pursuing me by email even though I was not interested, and when I said we knew too many common people he flipped out and had a meltdown practically confessing his past sins on my email account. Never mind, discussing the countless other men whose stories and encounters I experienced that are not worth repeating.

Beware, however, the guy who pretends to be sweet complimentary and flattering. He contacted me the moment I started on the site literally. He was a little younger than me, which goes against another dating rule of mine, but seemed too nice not to talk to, we shared similar academic interests, he was religious, had attended a Yeshiva, made aliyah in his 20s, served in the IDF, but from the start there were red signs. He Facebook friended me after the first call, was telling me he loved me in the first week and saying he wanted to marry me within days. He was showing me all his graduate school essays for my critic, and I also suspected my rewrites. Soon, however, his multiple daily emails were becoming too demanding and time-consuming. For the first month, I kept him at bay, while I searched for someone more worthy and more compatible with me.

Getting kicked off of the matchmaking site, somewhat made me more desperate suddenly I was taking seriously the love declarations of the younger graduate student lothario who claimed to want marriage but seemed to be only desperate for sex. I committed to him, and he even bought me an engagement ring, we started planning a spring wedding, but the early issues only increased. He would email non-stop during the day, while he was at work, even while was in class and expected me to babysit him as he went home each night and then talk to him on the phone each evening. He had hissy fits if I did not answer within minutes. I was soon accounting for every break. My life was not my own, my work was going to the wayside, everything I built up my entire adult professional life. I had no time watch TV, to eat, or even shower.

Years before I knew a man who thought, I was unreasonable when I wanted a response to a single email within the professional 24-hour period or at least 48 hours and got annoyed if I emailed after 48 or 72 hours again. He was oversensitive as to what boundaries were; he should have known and experienced the chocking control I was without barely a minute to myself than he would have known the definition of harassment. I looked forward to Shabbat, not for the religious joys of the day, but because it gave me 25 hours of peace and not hearing from the guy I now felt trapped with.

It was not only his time control, the guy had sexual fetishes, he would not stop bothering me with, and drove me crazy explaining and talking about them. As I got deeper, his control extended to his sexual overtures. In the era of the #MeToo movement, he forced me to send explicit photos over the internet he used for a sexual act, or else he threatened to break up with me and end our engagement. It was my main boundary he crossed it, I never forgave him for it, and began distancing myself from him. I felt sexually assaulted and abused, and still, he was trying to force me to send more photos. The whole short and the now abusive relationship was taking a serious toll on my health. Finally, after one recent Shabbat he told me erev Shabbat he returned my ring for financial reasons, a ring that cost less than $2000, to begin with. Enough was enough, returning my engagement ring behind my back was the last straw. Over two months and 5000 emails later I ended it, but I remain with a deteriorated health, physically bruised and hurt by his deceit and abuse.

In a mere few months of online Jewish dating, I feel more beaten up then the years of normal dating. I always questioned privately intermarriage even as some of my peers from Jewish school chose that route. I was equally appalled at the intermarriage rate from the 2013 Pew poll as I reported about it in an article. I firmly believed in Jewish continuity through marriage, after my experiences I have greater sympathy and understanding for intermarriage, as see my peers who intermarried are happier than I am or even my peers who married within the religion and maintain a hypocritical showbiz relationship with Judaism.

My foray shows there are problems with the Jewish dating pool, abuse, insanity, and criminality, much can be attributed to the men as much as their parents especially the mothers who raised them to treat a woman as objects without any respect. Equally at fault are the matchmakers, whose mindsets are back 100 years before the emergence of the feminist movement and Betty Friedan’s “The Problem That Has No Name.”

I begin to question the commitment of Orthodox rabbis to Jewish continuity, when the rabbi I contacted after being kicked off the matchmaker site, never responded to me although I pleaded and pledged my dedication to marrying Jewish, but was now without options to find a Jewish mate and needed his help. The community, the rabbis, the matchmakers, the parents not only educators are responsible for the rising intermarriage rate. When they make it unappealing and impossible for a Jewish single to find a Jewish mate, the single Jew stops caring and dealing with the problems and decides on the easier route intermarriage rather than remain single trying to find another Jew.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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Judaism April 16, 2017: Valmadonna Trust Library finds permanent home at National Library of Israel

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JUDAISM

Valmadonna Trust Library finds permanent home at National Library of Israel

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

After nearly eight years of uncertainty, the Valmadonna Trust Library has found a permanent home. The National Library of Israel announced in a press release on Wednesday, January 18, 2017, that they purchased from Sotheby’s Auction House 8,000 rare books and manuscripts that were a part of the Valmadonna Trust Library; the largest private collection of rare Jewish books. The National Library bought the collection with the help of two private collectors, couple Dr. David and Jemima Jeselsohn. Neither the Library or Sotheby’s disclosed the purchase price, but the sale ensures a majority of these rare invaluable books to Jewish history will permanently be available to scholars. The collection was considered “the most important private library of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world.”

The National Library of Israel announced the acquisition in a press release. The director of the National Library of Israel, Oren Weinberg made the announcement. Weinberg expressed, “The acquisition of the Valmadonna and its arrival in Jerusalem present a tremendous opportunity for the National Library of Israel to further realize the vision of its renewal, as we will open access to these exquisite cultural treasures for researchers and the general public in Israel and across the globe.”

David Jeselsohn, the private collector, who jointly purchased the collection, also issued a statement. Jeselsohn wrote, “This joint acquisition was done primarily to ensure that the outstanding collection of Hebrew books will find a home in the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, and be made available and accessible to anyone interested in the treasures.”

Unfortunately, The National Library did not purchase the entire 13,000-book and 300-document collection; they only received approximately 10,000 of the books and manuscripts. In 2015, Sotheby’s auctioned off nine items in a highly-publicized auction. Additionally, according to the Israeli paper Haaretz, the deal with the private collector gives the National Library only 80 percent of the Valmadonna Library, while the Jeselsohns’ will receive the remaining 20 percent of the collection.

The collector and custodian, Jack Lunzer had always hoped the collection would be sold as a unit, but the price was too high and twice before the collection was divided it could not garner a sale at auction. Lunzer told the New York Times, “These are my friends. I’ll be happy if they are well-kept and respected. Every one of these books is crying its own tears.”

Among the nine items sold in the December 2015 auction include the cornerstone of the collection, the early 16th century Complete Babylonian Talmud printed by Daniel Bomberg in Venice that brought in just over $9 million alone and purchased by Leon Black, “the founder of Apollo Global Management, a private equity firm.” Additionally, the second most prized book of the collection was sold, the Hebrew Bible from England the Pentateuch with Haftarot and the Five Scrolls, a manuscript from 1189 was sold for $3.6 million.

The Bomberg Talmud is from 1519 to 1539 and one of 14 sets surviving, and Daniel Bomberg, a Christian from Venice printed the first complete sets of Babylonian Talmuds. The Bomberg Talmud “is considered to be one of the most important documents in the history of Hebrew printing.” Stern commented that the Talmud “changed and revolutionized the way Jews studied this book.” The Talmud was the treasure of Lunzer’s collection; it took him 25 years to convince Westminster Abbey in London, who owned it for centuries to sell it.

Lunzer first discovered the set in 1956 during an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum celebrating the 300th anniversary of Jews returning to Britain however, Westminster was unwilling to sell the Talmud set. The British government, however, was trying to block the sale by a New York auction house of the Abbey’s 900-year-old charter dated December 28, 1065. Lunzer was able to purchase the copy of the charter, and he offered it up as a trade to which Westminster Abbey agreed. Lunzer finally acquired the Talmud set in 1980, and there had been a ceremony celebrating the occasion in the Abbey’s Jerusalem Chamber. The Talmud is valued at $5.7 million, but it was sold for $9.3 million, Sotheby’s said it was “a new world auction record for any piece of Judaica.”

The second most valuable item in the collection and was sold in the Dec. 22 auction was the Hebrew Bible from England, the Pentateuch with Haftarot and the Five Scrolls, called by Lunzer Codex Valmadonna I. The handwritten text was created in 1189 in York, a year before the destruction of the Jewish community there were most of their books were looted and sold to Jews abroad. After the coronation of Richard I in September 1189, first Christians began rioting against the Jewish community in London and then spreading all throughout the country, York being the “culmination.” The Pentateuch is the only known surviving Hebrew text from the time before King Edward I expelled the Jewish community from the country in 1290. The text was dated 15 Tammuz 4949, 2 July 1189. The Bible was estimated to sell for between $2 and $4 million and did not disappoint selling at a just over $3.6 million.

Still, the Library acquired many important and rare books from the collection. According to the National Library, part of their collection will be “an incunabula of the Pentateuch, printed in Lisbon in 1491; one of only two surviving copies of a Passover Haggadah printed in Prague in 1556; An Ashkenaz Siddur printed in Venice on parchment in 1549; The Plantin Polyglot or “King’s Bible,” printed in Antwerp between 1568 and 1573; and more than 550 broadsheets dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries.”

The collector Jack Lunzer was a British industrial diamond merchant. Lunzer was born in 1924 in Antwerp, Belgium, but he grew up in London, England. Lunzer had been suffering dementia for years, and he died in December 2016 at 92. Lunzer amassed the single largest library of Hebrew manuscripts during the last seven decades; no other collection at any institution rivals it. Lunzer was not the originator of the library, his wife Ruth Zippel’s family was, and they acquired almost all the Hebrew books printed in 16th century Italy in the early 20th century. Lunzer and his wife took the collection hidden in a Milan basement during World War II to London in 1948 after they married.

The trust incorporated in Liechtenstein technically owns and controls the collection. Since Lunzer started suffering dementia, the trustees have control of the collection. His eldest daughter, Margaret Rothem and his other four grown daughters are the beneficiaries, but they did not have an official say as to the library’s fate.

At the end of World War II, when Lunzer started to build and expand the library, there were only a few hundred books. At the time, Lunzer collected the books, mostly in the 1960s and 70s, they were quite cheap, he amassed them through auctions, book sales, and many came from purchasing the collection of his former liturgy teacher, Solomon Sassoon. The library is named after a small Italian town with a connection to the Zippel family. Italy is considered “the cradle of Hebrew printing.” Lunzer took 50 years to create his collection that he kept in his London home and organized by region published, before their 2009 move to Sotheby’s.

The collection originally compromised 13,000 books and manuscripts all in Hebrew, and it represents millennia of the history of Hebrew manuscripts. Among the types of manuscripts and books in the library are “Mishnaot, Siddurim, Haggadot, Alef-bet tables, and ephemera,” some of which are printed on rare “blue paper, vellum, and silk.” There are 1,500 different Haggadot alone in the collection. Well used the books and manuscripts were hardly in mint condition when purchased. Lunzer wanted to make his books as perfect, and he purchased multiple copies as possible and rebound them. Sotheby’s described the library as “boasting rarities dating from the 10th century to the early 20th century from Italy, Holland, England, Greece, Eastern Europe, the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, India, and China, documenting the spread of the Hebrew press and the dissemination of Jewish culture around the globe.”

The majority of the books come from Italy, Spain, Turkey, Portugal, and Amsterdam, medieval Jewish centers, where scholarship flowed. Most of the manuscripts were created on vellum or silk paper, the illuminated ones are decorated with gold leaf, have painted scenes or “intricate borders and illustrations.” The earliest codex in the entire collection is a Franco-German copy of the Pentateuch written in an Ashkenazic script during the tenth or eleventh century,” which also happens to be “one of the earliest texts of the Five Books of Moses written anywhere in Europe.” Rothem describes the library as her father’s “life’s work.” Since his wife died in 1978, it preoccupied him for than anything else, and he often studied their meanings.

The books reveal more than just a history of Hebrew manuscript, but also delineate Jewish history for the last thousand years. The gaps in time and geographical areas show as the New York Times pointed out “implicitly mark periods of decline,” where Jewish communities were “exterminated” or their books burned. Lunzer specifically looked to recount Sephardic Jewish history, the expulsion from Spain to Italy and then the Ottoman Empire and Amsterdam. Christopher de Hamel, the former head of Sotheby’s Western Manuscripts division, commented to Tablet in 2009, “You suddenly begin to glimpse what it means to gather the written Jewish heritage.”

The library possessed “nearly half” of the 140 incunable books from early 15th-century printing and two-third of Hebrew books printed in the latter half of the 16th century. Sotheby’s describes, “The term “incunable” comes from the Latin for swaddling clothes or cradle and is applied to books produced during the “infancy” of Western typographic printing.” Although printing began in 15th century Germany, Germans would not allow Jews in the guilds and work the printing presses, and therefore only when printing came to Italy and Rome did Jews began printing Hebrew books using even the “same print shops” as their Christian counterparts.

The early Hebrew printing shops were located in Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula, before the Jewish expulsion from Spain in 1492. The early books included primarily religious texts; Bibles, and legal texts and Biblical exegesis, but some secular texts as well. The Valmadonna Library includes the last printed Hebrew Bible in Spain before the expulsion. The library is not just compromised of religious Hebrew texts, but also “Latin books by Jewish authors and Christian texts of Jewish interest.” The majority of Jewish texts, however, were religious, and read and studied often, Jewish texts had an additional problem Christians censored or burned their books, making the sheer number the Valmadonna Library has from that era that more incredible.

The library has been at Sotheby’s since 2009 when Lunzer first tried to sell it as a whole. It was exhibited there and available to scholars organized by country of origin as it had been in Lunzer’s home. At the 2009 exhibit, 4,000 people visited it each day of a 10-day exhibit in February. Sotheby’s tried to auction the entire collection twice before resorting to breaking up the collection and auctioning off the most prized items in December 2015. In 2009, Sotheby’s tried to sell the collection with an asking price of $40 million and again in 2011 for a price of $25 million.

There were two caveats for its sale at the time, the collection could not be broken up, and it had to be accessible to scholars. Lunzer said at the time, “I would like our library to be acquired by the Library of Congress. That would be my great joy.” Lunzer also had expressed, “It would be the crown of the Library of Congress to have these things, and for the Jewish community in America. The world would gasp.”

The collection has always been too expensive and expansive for any person or institution to purchase in its entirety. Sotheby’s came close once to selling the whole collection twice. In 2010, there was an anonymous bidder “who met or exceeded the base asking price of $25 million,” but the sale fell through because they would not abide by the two stipulations. Many institutions have tried over the years to purchase the library. The Library of Congress wanted to purchase the collection back in 2002 offering $20 million just as Lunzer had hoped for the 350th anniversary of Jews arriving in America. Accounts varied about the sale’s collapse, from financial backers withdrawing funds to the trust asking more money.

Individual collectors might have the money, but do not have the space to house such a large library in its entirety. The senior Judaica consultant at Sotheby’s Sharon Liberman Mintz told the Forward the size “has made it difficult for any one person to absorb. And for the institutions, it was a big sum of money.” Sotheby’s and the trustees decided the only way to sell the library was by breaking it up. Redden said, “I think people respect the fact that we tried to sell the collection as a unit.”

Scholars have been worried about the Valmadonna Library since it was transferred to Sotheby’s in 2009. The new sale does nothing to elevate scholars’ concerns, since key items from the collection have been already sold, and it is still broken up in the deal. When Sotheby’s auctioned off some the most important books in the collection, academics were concerned about it being sold separately and saw it as a loss for further research.

Brad Sabin Hill, the curator of the I. Edward Kiev Judaica Collection at George Washington University, spoke to the Forward in December 2015. Sabin Hill lamented, “It would be a terrible loss to the Hebrew booklore to have the rest of the printed book collection dispersed. I would consider that to be unfortunate.” Commenting in 2010 to the Forward David Stern, a professor of Classic Hebrew Literature at the University of Pennsylvania also criticized the dispersion of the collection. Professor Stern said, “While we do not yet know what will happen to the library, its possible disappearance as an integral collection would be a colossal loss to Jewish culture.”

The sale in December 2015 ended the complete access to 12 of the most prized books when nine of the manuscripts were sold. The nine books in Sotheby’s auction represented the “rarest and highest-priced books” of the collection. Scholars, who had been conducting research, lost access to these books, but it is not only a loss to them but also the entire academic community. Although the majority of the collection was sold to the National Library of Israel, a research institution, scholars still lost access to many important and rare books and manuscripts from the collection, severely hampering research into the history of books, but also the Jewish history of the times.

The books have arrived in Israel in February, but will not be visible to the public for another three years. The National Library of Israel plans to put the collection on display in 2020 after their new building is completed. Currently, the new structure is under construction and will be located next to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. Before the collection can be exhibited it will be cataloged in the intervening time. In 2020, the National Library is planning an event for the collection’s opening to the public. Although the library is missing some of the treasures, Lunzer would have found it reassuring that the majority of his collection ended up in a Jewish institution that values the historical relevancy of the books and will make sure future generations of scholars have access to these important books vital to Jewish history.

Bonnie K. Goodman BA, MLIS (McGill University), is a journalist, librarian, historian & editor. She is a former Features Editor at the History News Network & reporter at Examiner.com where she covered politics, universities, religion and news. She has a dozen years experience in education & political journalism.

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

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POLITICS

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.