South Charlotte

Fighting abuse from Jewish perspective

Marsha Stickler wears three purple wristbands, representing three people close to her who were victims of domestic abuse.

"Two are dead because of abuse," said Stickler, "and I should put on a fourth."

Stickler, 63, is a self-described "professional volunteer" and the chairwoman of Shalom Bayit of North Carolina. Shalom Bayit is a Hebrew phrase that means "peace in the home."

"It was a fluke," said Stickler of how she got involved in being an advocate for domestic-abuse victims. Years ago, she read in the Neighbors section of The Charlotte Observer about a transitional house for domestic-abuse survivors. At the time, she didn't know anything about domestic abuse but knew about public relations and thought she could help.

As Stickler came to understand the subject, she communicated regularly with Rabbi Jessica Spitalnic, former associate rabbi at Temple Beth El. With Temple Beth El's support, a Jewish community-wide committee put together a well-thought-out, well-planned, and well-publicized event, said Stickler.

"Eight people showed up," said Stickler. "We were all aware that it was a hidden issue."

Stickler attended workshops to become more knowledgeable about domestic abuse and volunteered with the victim assistance arm of United Family Services. She served as an advocate and accompanied women into court.

"I was horrified to learn that everyone knows someone who is currently being abused," said Stickler. "One in four women has experienced intimate-partner violence in her lifetime."

The abuse is not limited to violence. According to the website, "Domestic abuse is a pattern of coercive behaviors used to establish power and control over an intimate partner. It occurs when one person in a relationship systematically uses physical, sexual, emotional or financial force as a way to dominate their partner and get their way."

In 2006, Stickler and a group of volunteers founded Shalom Bayit-NC.

"We met with every school director, every rabbi," said Stickler. The group's mission includes "fostering social change and community response necessary to eradicate domestic abuse in our Jewish community."

In 2009, Shalom Bayit-NC received funding from Temple Beth El and the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte to provide domestic abuse education training for the clergy. As Stickler talked to the different Jewish agencies in Charlotte about this program, she was struck by the fact that at one of every four agencies, someone shared a story of abuse - either their own, a sister's or a child's, said Stickler. In all, 20 Jewish agencies endorsed the program.

Temple Beth El created a Resolution on Domestic Abuse, and Stickler chairs a sub-committee on Temple Beth El's Social Justice and Action committee.

"There is not a more passionate advocate for a cause than Marsha Stickler," said Rabbi Judith Schindler. "Day or night, she is there to assist a victim of domestic abuse who makes their way to my office seeking support."

"Jewish women tend to stay three times longer than other faiths," said Stickler. "The Jewish-oriented reasons are: Shalom Bayit - they are responsible for peace in the home, Jewish men don't do this, and it would bring shame to the community."

Shalom Bayit-NC volunteers work to eradicate domestic abuse through education.

"If you want to be helpful, you have to know something," said Stickler. "You cannot understand this subject unless you've immersed yourself."

Shalom Bayit-NC implements many programs, including: co-authoring the first community Resource Guide for Clergy and first Resource Guide for the Jewish community; creating and operating the first support group for abused Jewish women; creating a group in which volunteers offer one-on-one support for Jewish victims and their families; coordinating teen programming for Hebrew High about healthy/unhealthy relationships; creating information sheets to be placed in women's restrooms; and monthly articles for Jewish publications.

"Sadly, domestic abuse exists in families across the spectrum of religious faiths," said Schindler. "I'm grateful that Shalom Bayit has created training for clergy and congregations to respond."