Honoring the Shalom Bayit Roots

September 05, 2023

Honoring the Shalom Bayit Roots

The Shalom Bayit program (Hebrew for “peace in the home”) has served the Atlanta community by helping survivors of domestic abuse for the past 30 years. This October 12th, we are celebrating this milestone anniversary with the Empowering Survivors event. During the event, four unique “founding supporters” will be honored alongside program director, Wendy Lipshutz, who has led the program for the entire 30 years.

Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize award recipient and Kenyan social activist, once said, “A tree has roots in the soil yet reaches to the sky. It tells us that in order to aspire, we need to be grounded and that no matter how high we go, it is from our roots that we draw sustenance. It is a reminder to all of us who have had the success that we cannot forget where we came from.”

Planted more than 25 years ago, in a piece of ground on the Jewish Family & Career Services (JF&CS) campus, stands a Vitex tree, otherwise known as the Shalom Bayit tree. As all trees do, it relies on its roots for strength and nourishment to prosper.

So too does Wendy and the Shalom Bayit program. She is never neglectful to credit her “roots,” particularly the four supporters who helped her get the program started three decades ago. She acknowledges that each played a distinct role in directing and nurturing the program into what it is today. In her own words, she talks about each as the “heart and soul” of the program, and the sustaining force behind it.

JacLynn Morris:

JacLynn, whom I refer to as the “Mother of the Shalom Bayit Program,” was the first person in our community to publicly share her personal story as a Jewish survivor of incest in 1992 – on the front page of the Atlanta Jewish Times. At the time, she was a board member of Jewish Family Services (the predecessor to JF&CS). Her courage made the gap in acknowledgment of the issue and the need for services real and encouraged the agency to act.

She brought together others in our community to create two different prayers connecting Jewish holidays (Passover and Yom Kippur) with themes of abuse. Through her passion, she opened a door for other survivors, particularly in the Jewish community, to come forward. She continues to remain an inspiration and a voice for survivors.

Barbara Hillman Levitas:

Prior to the start of Shalom Bayit, Barbara was involved in work to prevent child abuse. As a board member of the Children’s Trust Fund of Georgia, she asked her synagogue to sponsor a program on the topic of child abuse and was told, “No, abuse is not an issue in the Jewish community.”

She then approached Gary Miller, Executive Director (later CEO) of JF&CS, to begin to address the issue of abuse. Barbara was a visionary, a stalwart supporter of Shalom Bayit’s creation, mission, and initial funding. She was also a leader of our programming for years to come. She initiated the idea of creating the play, “Not So Happily Ever After,” co-chaired two Shalom Bayit community-wide conferences – always focused on prevention – and encouraged others to be involved. She has personally supported me in my work for the past 30 years, and her dedication is unwavering.

Gus Kaufman, Jr.:

I first met Gus when I was an MSW (Master of Social Work) Intern at a domestic violence shelter in Cobb County, Georgia. He had just co-founded Men Stopping Violence in Atlanta. As an activist and advocate to change systems that allowed abuse to continue, he provided an Atlanta Jewish voice to explain ways in which we allowed abuse to occur and had no systems to provide adequate safety for survivors of abuse. When JF&CS decided to start the Shalom Bayit program, the Director of Clinical Services at the time, Rhoda Margolis, reached out to Gus to ask for suggestions of someone to manage it. That connection led me to return to Atlanta to run Shalom Bayit.

Gus was a member of our committee from the very beginning; he always provides a voice of conscience — a broad, global perspective on the importance of social change and commitment to justice in our work to end abuse. He first connected us with the broader group of people working to address issues of abuse within the Jewish community nationally, from which we grew and benefitted through wisdom and speakers at our community conferences. A commitment to justice — as a context for addressing domestic violence — is one of the gifts Gus brings to our work.

Patty Maziar:

Patty attended our first Shalom Bayit conference in 1994 and took on leadership in so many ways from that time forward with the program. She has chaired our Shalom Bayit committee and was also a conference chair.

She spoke on numerous occasions about how her commitment to Shalom Bayit stemmed from personal knowledge of several friends and family members who had experienced abuse within the Jewish community. Patty’s commitment to advocacy and education took our community work to a new level. Whether it was advocating through letters and phone calls for legislative changes for survivors, advocacy at the State Capitol, spearheading work to create and share a newsletter about topics related to domestic violence, or giving a D’Var Torah at her synagogue on multiple occasions – tying together Jewish teachings with issues of abuse.

Patty stretched me and grew our program. Through her speaking, writing, and networking, she has always made it a priority to reach the community to improve systems (be they governmental or within Jewish institutions) and create safety and healing for abuse survivors. She is tireless and passionate; never hesitating to push me – and us – to do more to reach the victims and survivors in our community.

Wendy will also be honored and recognized for her 30 years of dedicated service to the program. If you would like to join us at Empowering Survivors: Celebrating 30 Years of Shalom Bayit, you can purchase tickets now. If you want to sponsor the event and support the program's continued work, those opportunities are available too.

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