Shalom Bayit Celebrates 30 Years of Empowering Survivors

October 23, 2023

Shalom Bayit Celebrates 30 Years of Empowering Survivors

L-R: Gus Kaufman, Robin Feldman, Patty Maziar, Wendy Lipshutz, Barbara Hillman Levitas, JacLynn Morris, Terri Bonoff

There was a feeling of reverence in the room October 12 when over 250 people gathered for “Empowering Survivors: Celebrating 30 Years of Shalom Bayit.” A program of Frances Bunzl Clinical Services, Shalom Bayit (Peace in the Home) “provides space for (survivors) to voice their truths, to seek safety, to garner strength, and to heal from the traumas of abuse,” said founding Program Director Wendy Lipshutz.

Held at Sandy Springs City Hall during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the event also took place a mere five days after terrorists launched brutal attacks on Israel. The gathering opened with a prayer and moment of silence for Israel, and sent a message of courage and steadfast unity. Guests wore varying shades of purple — the color of Domestic Violence Awareness — and proudly displayed Israeli and Jewish jewelry and accessories.

Left: Madeleine Lawson, Right: Tzipporah Gerson-Miller, Devyn Crawley, Rebecca Brown

The program began with a poignant performance of “Not So Happily Ever After…the very real stories of some American Jewish families” by Mira Hirsch. The play was first commissioned by Shalom Bayit in 1995 and has been used as a teaching tool ever since.

“Not So Happily Ever After…” is grounded in readings from children’s books My Very Own Jewish Home by Andrew Goldstein, A Family Passover by Anne Rosen, and Yom Kippur by Norma Simon. These books describe ideal Jewish households, and are used to provide a stark juxtaposition with real stories of abuse and its after-effects. The audience watched with rapt attention during the piece, and the room was silent -save for the rustling of tissues. Artfully directed by Simonie Levy, and movingly performed by JF&CS staff members Madeleine Lawson; Tzipporah Gerson-Miller, LCSW, C-IAYT, RYT; Devyn Crawley; Rebecca Brown, LCSW; and Chase Byrd; the play was a gripping and impactful illustration of the reality of abuse in the Jewish community, and the need for programs like Shalom Bayit.

L-R: Gus Kaufman, Patty Maziar, JacLynn Morris, Barbara Hillman Levitas

Afterward, the dedication and contributions of Wendy, Event Chair Robin Feldman, and honorees Gus Kaufman, Barbara Hillman Levitas, Patty Maziar and JacLynn Morris to the Shalom Bayit program were honored.

Robin shared that she was “delighted” to be chair of the meaningful evening, before bravely sharing her own personal story of surviving domestic abuse. “I left an abusive marriage 30 years ago this week,” she said, “me and my five-week-old son…I was afraid of being found.” She shared the personal importance of being involved with Shalom Bayit. “I want to ensure that all survivors are able to get the support they need to thrive on their own as they rebuild their lives.”

Wendy received a standing ovation when Robin presented her with an award recognizing her work empowering survivors. “I am humbled and honored to have managed this program for 30 years,” she said. “For as long as it takes, we will continue our work.” She highlighted the continuing education and prevention programming that the program provides and offered resources for support. “The veil of silence has been lifted, but we still have much work to do,” she finished. “We value your support and could not have done any of this work without the individual, founding supporters who we are honoring tonight.”

Wendy then honored each of the honorees with a thoughtful reflection on their specific contributions to Shalom Bayit over the years, all to resounding applause. Gus Kaufman, who brought Wendy in to run the program years ago, is a “lifelong activist and advocate who incorporates his wisdom, passion for justice and integrity into all that he touches,” she said. He was honored for his “tireless dedication and leadership.”

Barbara Hillman Levitas was introduced as a “visionary” and “stalwart supporter.” It was she who approached JF&CS’ then-Executive Director, Gary Miller, to urge the agency to address the issue of abuse. Barbara has continually brought up the importance of prevention, even initiating the idea to educate using theater. That suggestion became “Not So Happily Ever After…,” which has educated thousands over the years. For her “leadership and unwavering dedication” to Shalom Bayit, she was honored.

Patty Maziar’s commitment to “advocacy and education” took the community work of Shalom Bayit “to a new level,” said Wendy. "Through her thoughtful, passionate and tireless speaking, writing and networking she continues to prioritize reaching those in need and challenging the community to improve systems to provide safety and healing for survivors of abuse. For always encouraging us to reach survivors, and all that she gives, we honor her."

JacLynn Morris with her painting, "Flowers Popping"

The final honoree was JacLynn Morris, described by Wendy as the “mother of the Shalom Bayit program.” JacLynn was the first person in the Atlanta Jewish community to share her story as a survivor of abuse. She did so on the front page of the Atlanta Jewish Times in 1992, while also serving as a board member of JF&CS. Her “courage bridged the gap in acknowledgment of abuse in Jewish families with the need for service,” said Wendy. She was honored for her “courage, passion, support, and for speaking out when so many others could not.” A talented artist, JacLynn donated a painting for auction at the event. Titled “Flowers Popping,” the striking floral evoked the concepts of roots and happiness, and all proceeds went to Shalom Bayit.

As sky darkened and the event wrapped up, Terri Bonoff remarked that she was “honored to be able to be the CEO (of JF&CS) at this point in time,” because Wendy and the honorees had made her “so very proud.” Terri thanked those who came from near and far to support the honorees, JF&CS, and Shalom Bayit before bidding goodnight. The warmth of fellowship and sense of community lingered as guests trailed out, impacted and inspired by the good work of the program and the resilience of survivors everywhere.

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