Rediscovering colour

How support from JewishCare enabled one woman to start again

I was 24 years old, married and had been living in Israel for 16 months when my husband and I relocated back to Australia. My parents were in Sydney, and we came to establish a new life. I remember moments of aggression, but how do you put your finger on it, how do you define it? Is this normal? Is this abnormal? I remember being heavily pregnant in my ninth month of pregnancy and being physically shoved. And then it was very slow, the progression of violence and aggression was slow. It was unpredictable in many ways. On the outside, we lived a normal religious life, which is idyllic in many regards. But behind closed doors, I was walking on eggshells. What would tip him over the edge, and what that would mean? Would he just yell at me? Would he throw something at me? Would he hit me? Or punch me? Would he shatter something on the floor? Would he humiliate me in front of my friends? Would the neighbours hear and knock on the door? Would my kids say don’t hurt Mum? And while it progresses slowly, it gradually becomes your normal.

As a religious woman, the family unit is important. But there is always a turning point. When you’re sleeping in your child’s bed as a means of protection because you feel safer there that’s not a great place to be as an adult or parent. One Friday night after a particularly ugly incident I was in my daughter’s room crying and she took my face in her hands and said “mummy, I’m sorry you don’t know this but Abba’s hit Mummy’s – that’s just how it is”. She was trying to placate me about the ways of the world, and relationships and how relationships are meant to be and that I should just suck it up and that, that was my reality. This was the eye-opener I needed. I knew I had to get out of the marriage because I was not going to create and be part of the creation of a new cycle of violence, against women. I wasn’t going to raise my two daughters in a context where they Navigating domestic violence Aged & Community Care 18 19 thought that what I was accepting is appropriate and okay and that this was what their future would, in turn, hold for them one day.

I saw the ad for JewishCare’s Domestic Violence Support Group for Women on the back of the school newsletter. I cut it out, put it in my bag and waited till the last date to register. I work in community care, and I’m not used to being on the receiving end of support services. At the same time, I knew that I could not navigate leaving this marriage on my own. Meeting the JewishCare caseworker the next week I was very tight-lipped. I’m sure she would attest to that. Because where do you start? Where do you begin with the story of your life and how you want to unpick it and put it back together differently. Going down this road is not about anyone winning. Everyone has lost; there are no winners. But moving forward, there’s plenty of opportunity for growth and change and reflection.

The support group was life-changing, it’s something very, very special to be able to turn up to a support group and talk about your experience at a Shabbat dinner, where ironically, every member of the support group had had terrible experiences, despite all of us being at different religious levels. There was a common thread there regarding context and cultural sensitivities. There were six of us and it was a place where we would turn up every week, feel comfortable and safe, peel another layer off, and share a little bit more. Often you see someone else’s story in your own story and realise that you know, you’re not alone. There are times when you’re isolated and so sure that there is no one else in the world that could ever understand what you have been through, what you’re going through, what’s running through your head, when your heart races, when you hear that key in the door, and he’s coming home because you have no idea how the environment is going to change, it might be nothing, but conversely, all hell could break loose. It was also where we learned about other services out there and we had to find the strength to access them.

I set a goal with my caseworker. It was to leave my relationship with my children by the end of the support group. An incredibly lofty goal I thought. There are so many giant leaps that must be taken to get to the point of leaving a domestic violence relationship. But the first step was to have a safe place to go with my children. I didn’t even know what it was to look for a rental property. I know it sounds bizarre, but these are the sort of simple life skills that you might not have when you’re trying to leave a relationship like this. One step at a time, my caseworker Bianca and I chipped away.

Another vital step is telling people that you are leaving a domestic violence relationship. It’s family, it’s friends, it’s co-workers. It also creates a support system for you to lean on. And your people need to know because people want to help. You’re so isolated from your whole world, and you’re scared to let anyone in because it is so black and people want colour, people like colour. Every little step took so much strength and so much courage and you don’t know it, unless you’re in it, that’s the bottom line.

JewishCare showed me that there would be people around me. And they escorted me as I prepared to take each step. My case manager was incredible in terms of support organising transitional housing within the eastern suburbs so I could stay connected to our community. The women in the support group helped me set up a home. I had one woman and her two lovely children who came to my place to help prepare the rooms for my girls, and they decorated the room beautifully, and this is just the stuff that makes a world of difference. And they knew because they had been through it. They knew what my kids would need to feel safe and comfortable. The night we moved in I couldn’t believe that I was finally safe and in a safe place. And this was the new beginning that we needed. Being able to break that cycle for them so that my daughter would never say to me again, “daddy’s hit mummy’s, it’s just what they do”.

It’s been three years since that support group. And it’s a testament to the outstanding work of JewishCare and caseworkers Bianca and Nomi that our group is still in touch and has formed a lifetime friendship with each other. We have watched each other’s lives begin again and continue to support each other as we grow stronger. I’ve met someone new and will be married shortly. If not for JewishCare, if not for that little ad in the school newsletter on the back page, if not for Nomi and Bianca being so welcoming and easy to talk to my life might be in a completely different place.