Direct Us Toward Liberation

Found In: Healing from Trauma & Abuse, Rosh Chodesh

This program is an opportunity for Rosh Hodesh Groups to engage with the stories of women from many countries who have faced domestic violence and to contribute to the well-being of women having just escaped such cruelty.

Please ask participants to bring 1-5 items to donate to the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County (or a local alternative). A wish list can be found  at http://www.dvccc.com/youcanhelp/wishlist.html and includes such items as paper towels, new clothing and toiletries for women and children, and non-perishable food items.

If you do not wish to ask for donations, and there is a budget for the Rosh Hodesh group that could be used to purchase such items, that is also an option. A third option would be to ask others in the congregation, or perhaps children in the Hebrew School, to bring items in ahead of time.

These items will be used during the program and then donated to women and children in need.


Opening Prayer  by Rabbi Sheila Peltz Weinberg

Many Rosh Hodesh groups have long-standing practices to open their gatherings. If you wish to supplement your opening practice with this prayer, please do so.

Dear God, God of our mothers and fathers,
Renew us this month and this year
Direct us
Toward goodness and blessing
Toward the joyful
Toward liberation and challenge, as well as
Toward patience and consolation
Toward becoming ever more human beings.
Let us become capable of supporting ourselves,
Our families and friends,
Let us serve our community in dignity.  

Direct us
Toward life and peace
Toward observing our blindness
Toward struggling with our goals
Toward forgiving ourselves and each other.

You brought us near with an intention
You gave us the awareness of the cycles of the moon.
May we use this gift as an opportunity
To understand what you intend for us.
Thank you for inviting us to share your holiness and
This holy moment of the New Moon.

Stories of Five Women
The following are stories of immigrant women with whom HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) Pennsylvania has worked over the last five years. Each of these women suffered from domestic violence. You are invited to read some or all of these stories. Please allow a period of silence following each story before proceeding to the next.

Reena* came to the United States with her husband and was allowed to apply for permanent residency with him when his employer petitioned on his behalf. However, throughout their marriage her husband proved abusive, controlling everything from how she cooked and dressed to the way she flipped light switches. He kept her from visiting her family in India and forced her to repeat every conversation she had with them. He hit and strangled her repeatedly in front of their young daughter. After being trapped inside her home for several days, Reena managed to call the police and move to a domestic violence shelter with her daughter. Her husband divorced her without her knowledge and removed her from his permanent residence application. Reena, who had been trained as a dentist in India, was paid at a low rate, and off the books, for her work as a dental hygienist. Thanks to help from HIAS PA, Reena was able to establish proof of income, gain public benefits for her daughter, and begin to work legally. She will be eligible to seek permanent residency in three years.

Ellen, like many people, enjoys travelling. She came to the United States as a tourist from the Caribbean and met her future husband, a US citizen, in Philadelphia. When Ellen’s visa expired, her husband convinced her to stay, but he soon began to use drugs and became emotionally, verbally, psychologically, and sometimes physically abusive towards Ellen. He kept her up at night by flicking the lights on and off, pushed her out of bed, called her a racial slur, and threatened to kill himself to make her obey. Although he sponsored Ellen for permanent residence, he was compromised by drugs at the interview and was unable to answer questions. As a result, the case was denied and Ellen was placed in deportation proceedings. Ellen tried to leave her husband, but he stalked her. On her own with no family in the United States, Ellen did not know how to proceed. HIAS PA was able to help Ellen obtain permanent residence and receive cash assistance, food stamps, and medical assistance while she sought financial independence. Ellen will be eligible for citizenship in three years.

Joni grew up in Chile and came to the United States with her partner. When her partner proved abusive, Joni took their two American-born children and separated from him. With no money, Joni climbed back to her feet and found a job that would provide for her family. She met another man who was good to her and became a father figure for her kids. When they decided to buy a home together, Joni used her savings but her partner’s name, because he had documents and she did not. Once they moved in, Joni’s partner changed. He drank heavily, yelled at the children, and became controlling, not allowing Joni to leave the house except to go to work.  Threatened with being kicked out with nowhere to go, Joni sought to reconcile, but when he became physically abusive, she left. Joni was afraid to seek legal help but went to the police nonetheless. Thanks to assistance from HIAS PA, she received a work permit, and is on the path to citizenship.

Esther is from Ecuador but has lived in the United States for more than 20 years.  She speaks English fluently, and many close members of her family have permanent, lawful immigration status here. Due to circumstances beyond her control, Esther was never able to obtain lawful status through family members. As a young woman, Esther became involved with an American citizen with whom she had a child. Her partner abused alcohol and started to abuse Esther verbally, mentally, and physically.  He insulted her with racial epithets.  He repeatedly forced her out of their home when she was pregnant, leaving her with no option but to sleep outside. He dragged her by her hair, grabbed her by the throat, and strangled her. Although he was arrested and jailed for one incident, and he and Esther split up, he continued to threaten Esther with deportation and taking custody of their son. A priest connected Esther to HIAS PA. Esther finally has a work permit, a path to citizenship, and the ability to live legally in the country that she has known as her home for nearly half her life.

Anabel came to the United States nearly 15 years ago from Brazil, escaping a life of abuse in her native country. She met and married her husband, an American citizen, just before his military deployment. He proved verbally and economically abusive and pressured her to engage in sexual acts contrary to her religious and moral beliefs. Anabel’s husband would not help her cover basic expenses and attempted to get her fired from a new job that she was very excited about. Anabel was forced to rely on friends and acquaintances for food. Her husband did not assist her in legalizing her immigration status, and after his deployment he proved unfaithful. This exacerbated Anabel’s existing depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. After working with HIAS, Anabel is now awaiting her interview for permanent residency.

*All names in these stories have been changed

Speaking and Listening
Please allow a period of time for each woman to respond to the stories. As a suggestion, you might invite women to sit in dyads or triads to discuss their reactions and then take some time to discuss together. Alternatively, allow for quiet meditation and reflection.

Blessing of the Gifts

  • Have each woman place donations in the center of the gathering

  • Compose blessings related to each object. This can be done individually, in pairs, or in small groups. Two examples are below, but participants should use any form for blessing that speaks to them.

A Blessing for Shampoo
Simple Cleanliness
Sweet fragrance
Dignity and renewal

A Blessing for Socks
Socks seem so basic, but not every person is blessed with basics. I pray that the woman who receives these socks will feel a tiny piece of home and comfort return to her. I pray that she will be able to relax and smile for a moment. I hope that she is blessed with warmth.

  • Share blessings and pack up donations in bags or boxes to be transported

Closing Prayer by Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael 

Holy Mother, Shechinah Soul,
Rachamema
Compassion fills Your womb of love
T'hallelu-hah!

Holy Mother, Shechinah Soul,
Mikor Hayim
Fountain of Life flows from You
Uv'shavtem mayim.

Holy Mother, Shechinah Soul,
Shechinat-El
On wings of light we soar to You
Natchil l'hitpalel.

Holy Mother, Shechinah Soul,
Eheyeh Asher eheyeh
You were, You are, You'll always be,
Gam anachnu nihiyeh.

Holy Mother, Shechinah Soul,
Melechet Shamayim
You rule skies and earth with a gentle hand,
Borchi et Yerushalayim.

Holy Mother, Shechinah Soul,
Rachmana Ya
You heal the wounds of a heavy heart,
Ayl na r'phana la.

Holy Mother, Shechinah Soul,
Be'er l'chai ro'i
I drink deep of Your love
Ki At emadi.


Created by Rabbinic Intern Emily Cohen on behalf of the Greater Philadelphia Jewish Coalition on Immigration and HIAS PA, May 2014