Commemorating 30 Years of the Shalom Bayit Program

February 13, 2023

Commemorating 30 Years of the Shalom Bayit Program

February 2023 marks the 30-year anniversary of the Shalom Bayit (Peace In the Home) program. Thirty years of support, counseling, and advocacy for victims of domestic violence. Thirty years of Wendy Lipshutz, Program Director, and her team listening and helping vulnerable adults, children, and teens, live free from abuse, supporting people unable to leave, walking with survivors as they heal, providing tools and emotional support and building awareness and education about the age-old problem - abuse and violence in the home.

Shalom Bayit started with a shocking article in the Atlanta Jewish Times in 1992. JacLynn Morris, a past JF&CS board member, published her personal story of abuse. It was the first time in Atlanta anyone had publicly acknowledged that family violence indeed happened in the Jewish community.

At the same time, Barbara Levitas, a lifelong active member of Atlanta’s Jewish community, was involved in child abuse prevention and working on getting programs about abuse into synagogues and Temples. She encouraged JF&CS to do something to address the issue of domestic violence.

The JF&CS clinical team subsequently conducted a survey of their clients to determine if adults and children were being affected by this abuse. The answer came back with a resounding Yes. There was definitely evidence of emotional and physical abuse in the Jewish community. With that evidence, a grant from the State of Georgia and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta doubling the amount requested from the Agency, Wendy Lipshutz LCSW, was brought in to be the Program Director in February 1993.

Wendy and a team of passionate community leaders organized six community-wide conferences addressing abuse through a Jewish lens. The purpose was to break though denial about abuse in Jewish homes, to make it safer for people to come forward and get help, and to encourage others to create safety and support for survivors while working to prevent abuse in the community. Shalom Bayit applied for and received Federal funds, and continues to do so 30 years later. Shalom Bayit has also hosted many Passover seders and other meetings for survivors of abuse, developing personal prayers that provided hope for their situations.

Three years into the program, Shalom Bayit received funding to hire another clinician, and the program continued to grow. An ongoing support group, individual supportive counseling, long term therapy, and prevention programming have continued to be at the heart of the program to this day. Fifteen JF&CS clinicians provide therapy for survivors in the Shalom Bayit program, and services also include parent coaching, art therapy, support groups, and yoga therapy. Judy Spira, LCSW; Tzipporah Gerson Miller, LCSW; Rebecca Brown, LCSW; Kyra Jones, MSW; together with Wendy constitute the core of Shalom Bayit clinicians. They focus on counseling for adults and children, as well as outreach and prevention for teens, young adults, and the broader community. Shalom Bayit provides thousands of hours of counseling to hundreds of survivors and their children every year.

Memorable Moments in Shalom Bayit's Story

The Shalom Bayit tree was planted in October of 1998. It was both Sukkot and Domestic Violence Awareness Month at the time. A healing service, written by survivors involved with Shalom Bayit, was attended by program participants and attendees walked away with hope in their hearts of what the tree would eventually grow into.

“Years after it was planted, clients commented on the tree,” Wendy said. “They would express how happy they were to see it growing and thriving, and how it gave them hope.”

Today, the tree serves as a vision of resilience and strength to all who witness it. A bench is nestled underneath its comforting branches for all those who need to rest. A plaque in front of the tree outlines its mission and purpose: In memory of women and children who lost their lives to domestic violence and honoring the courage of our survivors.

The tree survived major renovations to the campus in 2015 due to a generous donation from the Helen Marie Stern Fund — created in memory of Wendy’s friend, Helen Marie Stern — which not only preserved the tree, but allowed us to build a garden around it.

“This beautiful tree is symbolic of the work we do in Shalom Bayit for domestic abuse survivors,” Wendy said. “It provides a beautiful symbol of stability, strength, and renewal every year, and reminds me of the strength of each survivor and family with whom we work. My hope is that those who view the tree as it blooms each June will recall the strength, fortitude, and resilience of those who survive domestic violence and continue to thrive.”

Shalom Bayit Tree
Shalom Bayit Tree

Community of Caring

In 2018, at JF&CS’ Community of Caring event, Shalom Bayit was showcased as a program that has made a tremendous difference in many survivors' lives. Two brave clients shared their stories of abuse and how Shalom Bayit had helped them.’

“I think Wendy saved my life,” said Robyn, a client in the video.

Robyn's Shalom Bayit Journey

The Reality of Abuse

“The trauma of abuse impacts people throughout their lives. Whether as a child, or as an adult, it tears them down so much,” said Wendy.

“They may have lost all of their finances as well due to divorce or missed educational or work opportunities because of the controlling relationship – it derails their lives,” she explained.

“Our mission -prevention, education, and challenging the denial in the Jewish community, as well as supporting all abuse survivors to find their voices continues to drive our work” she said.

There are many Jewish women, and women from all backgrounds and walks of life, who seek support from Shalom Bayit due to abuse they suffered at the hands of people who were well connected in the community. Shalom Bayit partners with each survivor to help her find her voice, supporting her in making decisions about how to live a safe and fufilled life.

“We are also working on helping people to understand what abuse is, and the importance of everyone participating in preventing abuse. Power and control dynamics come in many forms and stay with someone for years.”

JF&CS is the only Georgia organization specifically focused on reaching survivors in the Atlanta Jewish community. But you don’t have to be Jewish to get help. Domestic violence can happen anywhere, to any of us, regardless of education, profession, financial status, mental or physical ability, race, religion, or lifestyle. We are proud of the diversity of those with whom we work, from all communities.

Why don’t they leave?

People always ask: Wendy pushes back and says why does this person keep being abusive?

According to Wendy, many women do courageously leave abusive relationships. Those who don’t leave are often afraid for their lives. Many abusers say, ”if you leave me, I will hurt you or your family, I am going to make sure you have nothing. I will take the children, your money, or your home. I will have you deported."

Often, the abused person hopes the person will change – and maintains hope that if they try hard enough, their children’s father will change and the children will grow up in an “intact” home with both parents. Many have no place to go if they leave. Others are told by the abuser and by others that if they leave, they, not the abusive partner, would have broken up the family. Degrading messages by abusive partners are frequently internalized and lead many to feel like something is wrong with them, and they don’t deserve more.

Wendy often hears clients say, "I went to my family members and they said they would not help me unless and until I left him." But leaving is not always a realistic choice and abusers can become even more violent and controlling when their partner tries to leave. Or the abuser promises to be better. Statistically, it takes nine tries for a woman to leave their abusive partner for good.

How people can help

Listen to abuse survivors, believe them, do not judge them. They are in a relationship where they are always told they are wrong. Be empowering, do not try to tell them what to do. Help them regain their voices. Ask how you can help. That is one of the most important things we can do for them.

There are never enough resources for survivors. Most women who have left abusive relationships are now supporting themselves and have nothing. Now, they must support a family. Abusers often use the court system to continue controlling and abusive behaviors for years after a divorce is finalized. There is a huge need for legal assistance, and limited resources for legal aid.

Wendy reports that one client was trying so hard to make her marriage work, and eventually realized she needed to leave for her safety and her children’s well-being, as he continued to be abusive. We supported her through counseling, for her and her children, divorcing an abusive husband, and we were always a constant – kept her grounded. The agency was also supportive to her with career services and financial assistance.”

The client shared the long-term difference JF&CS has made in her family’s life, stating how moved she was by “The goodness our agency puts in the world where help and kindness are not always easy to find.”

“Abuse survivors are incredibly strong and some of the most resilient individuals I have had the privilege to know," said Wendy.

On October 12, during Domestic Violence Awareness month, Shalom Bayit will be offering a special event to commemorate its 30-year anniversary. For more information about the event, please contact Wendy Lipshutz at

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