JWI Leads Efforts to Reauthorize Violence Against Women Act


The Violence Against Women Act was drafted by Sen. Joe Biden in 1994. It was passed by Congress and signed by Pres. Bill Clinton on September 13, 1994. It needs to reauthorized this year.

Almost 45 Faith-Based Organizations Sign Onto Letter in Support of the Bi-Partisan Legislation

— by Ann Rose Greenberg

Jewish Women International (JWI) is spearheading efforts to unify the faith community in support of the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) during this session of Congress.  More than 40 national religious institutions and organizations, representing tens of millions of individuals and families across the United States,  have signed a letter to Members of Congress to ensure that VAWA —  our nation’s single most effective tool in responding to the devastating crimes of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking — is reauthorized this year.

“As people of faith, members of the clergy, advocates, and anti-violence professionals, it is critical that we bring our collective voices together to advocate for VAWA’s lifesaving programs and services,” said executive director, Lori Weinstein. “In these tough economic times, the reauthorization of VAWA is essential and cannot be taken for granted. The faith community will stand strong to ensure the passage of strong, bipartisan legislation.”

More after the jump.
“The organizations that have signed on to this letter represent diverse religious traditions,” said Miri Cypers, JWI senior policy and advocacy specialist. “It is encouraging that we can come together to support legislation aimed at improving the federal government’s response to violence against women and girls. We recognize that this reauthorization process affords us a unique opportunity to increase the faith community’s leadership in passing legislation that is more responsive to the changing needs of victims of violence.”

Since the original passage of VAWA in 1994, the legislation has dramatically enhanced the nation’s response to violence against women. More victims report domestic violence to the police; the rate of non-fatal intimate partner violence against women has decreased by 63%; and VAWA saved nearly $14.8 billion in net averted social costs in just its first six years. But violent crimes against women are still perpetrated each day. According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 women has been raped in her lifetime and nearly 1 in 4 women has been a victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

JWI also convenes the Interfaith Domestic Violence Coalition, a national effort for faith based organizations, many of which have signed on to the letter, to come together to provide policy and legislative guidance on domestic violence issues. The coalition advocates for national legislation and public policies that protect all people from domestic violence, with particular concern for women and children. It represents many faiths and denominations and millions of congregants spanning the Jewish, Muslim, Bahá’í, United Methodist, Catholic, Evangelical, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Latter-day Saints, Seventh-Day Adventist and Unitarian Universalist communities.

Jewish Women International is the leading Jewish organization empowering women and girls through economic literacy, community training, healthy relationships education, and the proliferation of women’s leadership. Our innovative programs, advocacy, and philanthropic initiatives protect the fundamental rights of all girls and women to live in safe homes, thrive in healthy relationships, and realize the full potential of their personal strength. For more information, please visit www.jwi.org or contact us at 800.343.2823.

Academic Transfer


In order to understand her identity, an Irish Catholic student at the University of Virginia had to follow her passion: a major in Jewish Studies

Editor’s note: Anne Grant worked as editorial assistant for the Philadelphia Jewish Voice during the summer of 2011. She had to step down in the Fall when she returned to her studies in Virgina, but she continues to “tweet” for us. (Follow #PJVoice on twitter.) She was a great help, and we are still looking for someone to continue her work for us.

Anne’s story is reprinted courtesy of Anne Grant and Slate following the jump.
“You’re running away from who you are,” a family member warned me before I left for a spring break trip with my university’s Hillel. I couldn’t blame him: I am a blue-eyed, baptized Catholic, the product of a lifelong religious education set in classrooms with crucifixes hanging on the walls and statues of the Virgin Mary standing in the doorways. Most of my childhood classmates came, as I did, from large Catholic families with conspicuously Irish and Italian surnames. Despite my total immersion in all things Catholic throughout my upbringing, however, I always felt acutely estranged from both the Church’s religious precepts and Catholic culture overall. But on the cusp of that trip, I felt for the first time that, rather than escaping from an identity, I was actually starting to figure mine out.

A few years before, a totally unexpected encounter with the Jewish Studies department at University of Virginia turned into a consuming intellectual passion. Now, three years and many experiences with Jewish life later, I have found that Jewish Studies has become much more than simply an academic pursuit for me. In the strange, twisted, but amazing trip that has been my college experience, Judaism has provided me with the friends, mentors, values, and spiritual community that I didn’t even know I had been seeking. What started as an avowedly intellectual interest has influenced the entirety of my life.


I grew up in a very loving, very religious Irish Catholic family in the Philadelphia suburbs-the kind that flies a surprisingly tasteful flag featuring the scene of Jesus’s birth, illuminated by a spotlight, outside our front door during the Christmas holidays. During my childhood, my parents brought my three siblings and me to Mass every Sunday, where we squirmed and giggled our way through the weekly sermons. Cultural Catholicism pervaded our lives, from the elaborate religious rituals that we regularly observed to the social conservatism of our parents.

In ninth grade, I was enrolled in a strict, all-girls’ Catholic high school-a world of assigned lunch table seats and abstinence-only sex education. Rather than bulldogs or wildcats, we were, unfortunately, the Marians. Marians were required to observe all sorts of rules, the most undeniably humiliating one being the requirement to introduce formal dates to a welcoming line of benign but intimidating nuns.

We still had fun, of course. My friends and I invented imaginative games in our Latin class and threw the occasional breakfast tailgate at my parking spot before homeroom. We joked incessantly about our mandatory yearly assemblies with a local pro-life, chastity-promoting Catholic organization, from which we always received bright red stickers that asserted, “I’m Worth Waiting For!” But, though frustrated with Catholicism, by a large majority we identified with the politically and socially conservative views of our parents. I discussed with pleasure “building a wall” for the “illegals” and withholding taxes for the wealthy, and my government class contained one endearing but lonely liberal-a spike-collar-wearing Hillary Clinton devotee with multiple piercings and a pink streak in her hair.

When I started my first year at the University of Virginia, I felt ecstatic to finally experience freedom. Like so many of my peers’ college choices, my own decision to attend U.Va had been uninformed; I had no idea what I wanted to study or who I even was. My chance introduction to Judaism occurred when one of the first students I met, on one of my very first days at school, invited me to attend a Shabbat dinner at U.Va’s Hillel. Being a spacey 18-year-old with virtually no social inhibitions, I agreed.

At that time-before the Hillel’s new multimillion-dollar addition was completed-Shabbat dinners took place on long, crowded tables on old hardwood floors in two rooms featuring posters about Israel and ceiling-high bookcases filled with texts about Judaism. The warm lighting, the books, and the other students who seemed suspended in that hazy, magic time between the end of the school day and the weekend ahead-it all seemed so homey. I was utterly, inexplicably besotted. Of course, I was also utterly, comprehensively Catholic.

But, as I now realize, this new exposure to Judaism coincided with the emergence of some festering issues with Catholicism’s theological precepts. That fall, I enrolled in a course about the Hebrew Bible-during which it dawned on me that no one, including me, had to read the Bible as God’s Word. Still, I wasn’t sure what this meant for observance. During my Bible professor’s office hours, I would interrogate the petite, bewildered woman about her belief in God and Christianity. Repeatedly, she replied that she couldn’t share with me her own personal views, only the academic discourse.

The following semester I enrolled in a Jewish history course. I was astounded by the Jewish historical narrative and Jews’ contributions to intellectual and cultural life despite one horrendous instance of persecution after another. The American Jewish immigrant experience seemed particularly fascinating: Yiddish theater, Tin Pan Alley, you name it-for whatever reason, I was into it.

With the help of my obliging Jewish history professor, who took the time to respond to my theological queries during office hours with even more thought-provoking responses, I began to make peace with the religious teachings of my upbringing and explore new religious philosophies. And then he made an unexpected suggestion: that I consider majoring in Jewish Studies. Having no better ideas at the time, I decided to pursue it.

The next year, I became even more involved in Jewish life. I started going to Shabbat dinners every Friday night with my growing network of Jewish friends, several of whom I met in my quirky, close-knit beginners’ Hebrew class. One weeknight at Hillel, I was startled to find myself teaching a recent convert how to braid challah. I also took an incredible class about Jewish philosophy with a soft-spoken professor who explained the development of Jewish thought from Spinoza through post-Holocaust thinkers. From him, I learned for the first time about the compatibility between atheism and Jewish religious observance. Now, here was a philosophy that I could get behind! As a lifelong skeptic, I loved Judaism’s encouragement of theological inquiry, of questioning rather than knowing the answers. In addition, as I read more about Jewish thinkers who had existed on social and religious margins because of their Jewishness, I felt an odd affinity with them. In my (somewhat dramatic) perception, I was the ultimate Jew: a non-Christian, non-Jewish insider-outsider who perilously straddled the lines of membership in both communities. I didn’t fit anywhere.


Through Hillel, I also formed close friendships with several older, intellectual Jewish students, who began to influence my increasingly left-leaning views with their advocacy of typically liberal political causes and interest in tikkun olam.

One spring, I accompanied them to Miami for one of Hillel’s weeklong service trips-the group’s only non-Jew. I didn’t really know why I wanted to go on a specifically Jewish trip, but I’m glad I did. While in Miami, we spent time at the Jewish Federation there. As we sat in the Federation’s conference room, festooned with blue-and-white crepe decorations, we listened to speeches about Israel advocacy, social justice, and the 4,000-year-old Jewish legacy. Surprised at the fervor of these talks by wealthy and influential Jewish leaders who were mostly middle-aged men, I looked around at my group quizzically, but no one else even batted an eye. Despite my friendships with everyone in the group, I was suddenly aware that I lacked the exposure to the kinds of people and conversation that my Jewish friends had. No matter how much I learned in school, I could not replicate the actual lived experience of American Jews without having grown up as one.

I began to hate explaining that yes, I am a Jewish Studies major but, no, I am not actually Jewish. When my parents’ friends brought it up at dinner parties or during holidays when I went home for break, I tried to change the subject immediately or talk about my siblings’ lives instead. I think that many of these people from home suspect that I am using my academic life as an act of rebellion, the intellectual’s equivalent to selling drugs or getting a navel ring. (I would argue, though, that selling drugs seems a lot more profitable to me than majoring in Jewish Studies.) And all along, I kept vehemently claiming that the religion itself did not interest me.

During my third year in college, I enrolled in a class about Jewish ritual. I had to: It was a required course. Sitting in the back row with one of my equally disinterested friends, I felt only annoyance. I would have rather taken a class about Israel or Zionism, and here I was wasting time learning about Jewish weddings, bar mitzvahs, and the like.

As the class progressed, however, I had to admit that I liked the way our professor elucidated the connection between important life events and their physical recognition with rituals. Once, this professor assigned us a short paper with which we were to record our observations of an on-campus Jewish religious event. I took the assignment in a different direction by composing an affectionate portrayal of Jewish life as I had come to know it with a description of Hillel’s Yom Kippur services. I talked about my Hillel crew-my friend whose parents begged her to show up on Friday evenings and High Holidays in the hopes that she would defy the crushingly majority-Christian demographics of U.Va and one day meet a nice Jewish boy. I also talked about my token “intellectual” Jewish friends, the “eat-and-run” crowd of scruffy, Doonesbury lookalikes who showed up for High Holiday dinners and left conveniently before services. I went on and on, comparing the march of students to services from Hillel to that of kids on the way to a much revered but dreaded summer camp tradition. Once again, as a student of Jewish history and culture, I observed these Yom Kippur services from within the community but ultimately outside it.

I expected a C or C-minus with instructions to follow directions next time, but instead I received an A+, with a request to attend my professor’s office hours sometime. I began visiting her often; we talked about religion and identity in depth, and I began to consider the obvious benefits of participation in a spiritual community.


I admit that my situation is an odd one. Having traveled to Israel and completed most of my Jewish Studies course requirements, I am embarking on my last semester at U.Va and feeling very much a part of the Jewish community. I’ll be finishing an undergraduate thesis about the U.Va Jewish community, and I plan to apply to graduate school for Jewish Studies in a year or two. When in conversation with someone about Jewish life or Jewish traditions, I often accidentally say the word “us” or “we” when referring to the Jewish community. If I find a guy at U.Va inexplicably unattractive, I sometimes find myself explaining to my friends that he is, regrettably, way too goyish-looking. When Friday afternoons roll around, my friends-Jewish and non-Jewish-know to expect a probably bossy-sounding mass text message from me inviting them to Hillel that evening. Unlike most of my Jewish friends, however, I don’t receive any pressure to go there, or to fast on Yom Kippur, or to meet a nice Jewish boy.

And I have come to increasingly dislike Christmas-the buildup, the hype, the packed malls, and the materialism. (As Jewish holidays literally celebrate suffering, I think they would be a welcome and interesting change for me!) And I have made the decision, however reluctantly, to formally convert in the future. But, while this certainly sits toward the top of my to-do list post-graduation, I am not looking forward to the process. Conversion seems like a formality, a “box-checking,” to publicly legitimize the group affiliation that I felt very strongly and naturally from the beginning of my relationship with the Jewish community.

I do sometimes worry that some karmic Christian retribution will one day bite me in the tuchus. What if one day I have children and end up producing little self-hating Jews who bury themselves in Philip Roth and major in Christian Studies in college? What if they only support Israel so that Jesus has a place to land during the apocalypse? For now, though, I have enough on my hands with my own identity.

Anne Grant is a student at the University of Virginia.

How Does Jesus Look to You?

Rembrandt’s
Head of Christ
Philadelphia Museum of Art

— By Hannah Lee

When I learned that the National Museum of American Jewish History would be collaborating with the Philadelphia Museum of Art on an interfaith forum and conversation about the Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus exhibit at the art museum, I was eager to sign up.  So much has been written about this exhibit, both in secular press (New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer) as well as the Jewish press (Tablet and Forward).  It is a topic that is not surprisingly fascinating to Jews, as Jesus was born of Jewish parents and so much strife over the centuries have been waged in his name by descendants of his apostles.  It was thrilling to be in the audience  with members of the other faiths, in a harmonious conversation about a religious icon and symbol, because we usually only are taught by members of our own faiths.

Larry Silver, Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania, moderated the interfaith panel discussion, and he launched it with a query from his curator friend who asked, “why not the head of Christ?”  He proceeded to answer it himself by pointing out the works of Rembrandt represented a movement away from iconography towards a more human portrayal of Jesus, and the face is the window onto the human soul.  He then presented to us in the audience and the panel members (on a separate monitor) about 13 paintings of Jesus, only one of which was by Rembrandt.  

More after the jump.
Regarding Matthias Grünewald’s The Crucifixion, from 1515, Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, noted that it was not beautiful in the same way that the Holocaust is too grotesque, too harsh for beauty.  Professor Silver commented that Jesus was twice the size of every other figure in the painting and Jayne Oasin, Associate Priest of the Associated Parishes of Saint Stephen in Riverside and Beverly in New Jersey pointed out that the light highlighted the darkness.


Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion, Art Institute of Chicago

Regarding Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion, from 1938, Reverend Oasin noted that the painting has all the woes of mankind, and it reminds her of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Chancellor Eisen taught that at the turn of the 20th century, there was much identification by Jews with the life and death of Jesus.  This was exhibited by Martin Buber and later by Elie Wiesel who wrote about Jesus in the Holocaust.  “Jesus had become the universal figure of suffering,” not as Savior.  The figure in green in the right foreground is often depicted by Chagall as the Wandering Jew who needs to flee from calamity.  Zakiya Islam, a Muslim woman and a Ph.D. candidate in Religious Studies at Temple University taught that a tenet of Islam is that in times of suffering, one is to run away.

Regarding a local painting by Thomas Eakins, The Crucifixion, from 1880, Chancellor Eisen noted that Jesus has no face, because the human soul is no longer there and because of the failure of ethics and goodness.  Reverend Oasin said that we can no longer turn our face away — the viewer’s eyes are riveted  to Jesus in the middle ground — reminding us of our sin, our inhumanity.  James Redington, a Catholic and Jesuit priest, pointed out that death had occurred through strangulation, as Jesus in the painting has pushed his back up against the cross in an attempt to breathe.  Ms. Islam said that there is no mention of the Crucifixion in the Koran.  There is suffering and struggle, but there is no focus on any specific suffering.  While Jesus, called the Spirit of God, and Mary are much beloved in Islam, there are no images in the Muslim religion.  Chancellor Eisen taught that while moderns refer to the Enlightenment as bringing light into the world, the previous Dark Ages, to the pre-moderns, their religions had already brought light into the darkness of the world.  In fact, to the religious, the modern world contains a little less light than much earlier in our history.

Regarding William Holman Hunt’s Jesus, Light of the World, from 1854, Reverend Oasin asked if Jesus is knocking on a door?  Ms. Islam said that this painting resonated with her, as Jesus is depicted with a mystical air (unlike the later, more human depictions of Jesus).

An amazing painting for the Jews in the audience was Maurycy Gottlieb’s Christ Preaching at Capernaum, from 1879, because Jesus is a Rabbi who is preaching at a recognizable synagogue (Capernum is on the Sea of Galilee in Israel).  Reverend Oasin pointed out that Jesus has his arms outstretched, as Christians do to celebrate the Eucharist (unlike the Kohanim’s spread-finger stance for blessing the congregation).

Regarding Caravaggio’s The Supper at Emmaus, from 1601 (a favorite scene of Jesus appearing three days after Resurrection at an inn in Emmaus), Reverend Oasin noted that Jesus is beardless, fuller than to be expected (for someone recently back from the dead), and on the whole, fairly feminine.  Jesus is a woman, she exulted!  Ms. Islam said that the Ascension is very important in Islam, quoting from the Koran, “God said, ‘I have brought him to me.'”

Warner Sallman’s Head of Christ, from 1940, would be recognizable to just about any modern-day person, even one who is not a Christian.  It is the most popular depiction of Jesus.  Reverend Oasin, who is black, reminisced that when she was a girl, this painting showed her that Jesus does not look like her, does not look at her.  Father Redington called this the Protestant Jesus.

One member of the audience commented that Rembrandt’s compatriots were the early readers of the Bible. No, said Professor Silver, the Gutenberg Bible was printed in 1450 and by 1637, there was already the Dutch State Bible in translation.  He added that by the 1520s, Martin Luther had already translated the Bible into German and today, we are witnessing the 400th anniversary of the King James’ edition of the Bible.  Chancellor Eisen taught us that the Calvinists loved the Old Testament and Rembrandt had lived around the block from Spinoza and Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel.  Another person from the audience noted that Grunewald had the rare blend of symbolism and realism and Professor Silver concurred that it was a blend of the glorious and the suffering.  Reverend Oasin pointed out that people come to religion for comfort, so they do not relish a focus on harshness.  Chancellor Eisen taught that the artist acts in the role of spiritual narrator, thus art is a gift from God.


Rembrandt’s Head of Christ,
Philadelphia Museum of Art

A Jewish member from the audience asked about the depiction of challah in the scenes with Jesus’s final days. Wasn’t it Passover?  “No,” said Professor Silver, “by the second century, the Last Supper had been uncoupled from the Passover Seder.”  John, the most anti-Semitic of the Gospels ensured that references to Jesus’s Jewish roots were eradicated  or at least minimized.  Reverend Oasin added that John was also the most anti-dark of the Gospels, with his numerous equations of whiteness to goodness.  When she teaches her seminarian students, she tells them they can teach about John, but they have to unpack him (of his baggage).  Professor Silver proclaimed the Dutch of Rembrandt’s day very inclusive.  The artist even painted the Ethiopian convert with Jesus, not just once, but twice.

Another member of the audience asked about the ladder in Chagall’s painting and was it a sign of hope, amidst the dire symbols in the rest of the painting.  Well, replied Professor Silver, a ladder can go down as well as up and a ladder usually is simply the means to remove the mortal remains.

After a brief intermission, there was the keynote lecture by David Morgan, who has a dual appointment in the departments of religion and art, art history and visual studies at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.  He commenced with a rhetorical question: what does it say that a painting is of Jesus? Does he look like us? A likeness can be the resemblance of an image to an original  based on features they share.  Drawing on neuroscience, our brain looks for resemblances, matches in our surroundings– “our brain wants to see order in the world.”  A likeness is also the result of a powerful drive to emulate an archetype, such as a baby swan that mimics the preening of its parent or a pedestrian to a store mannequin.  The engine is the desire.  Third, to Christians, the image of Jesus presents what he was like, a recognition of an affinity between his appearance and what the faithful believes, knows, feels, and sees within themselves about him.  It is an intimate connection that the devout viewers feel between Jesus and themselves.  The basis of likeness is an archive of images composed of all the images people have ever seen in an endless chain of reference.

The Gr&uumlnewald paintings we’d examined earlier in the program were unique in balancing the majesty and the personal. Traditionally, artists relied on iconography– the halo, cross, banner, book, instruments of his passion or other references to biblical narratives or events- to identify Jesus and his power.  In contrast, Rembrandt focused on the face in painting a modern portrait.  The artist takes his historicity seriously, endowing Jesus with a new kind of reality, as a personification of humanity.  The facial features included: a broad forehead, shoulder-length hair that is parted in the middle, a long, symmetrical nose, a short, cropped beard, widely-set eyes, the appearance of ears, and a solemn, serious expression.  Rembrandt appropriated a contemporary trend in depicting Jesus close-up, in a head-and-shoulders pose, and with eyes that address the viewer.  He also “located Jesus before the viewer as a contemporary person.”    The artist may be said to have contributed to the 20th century preference for portraying Christ in poses that highlight a direct engagement of the personality over the traditional symbolic devices used to convey theological meaning.


Janet McKenzie’s
Jesus of the People,
Haggerty Museum of Art

Professor Morgan then displayed a variety of paintings of Jesus from the Warner Sallman iconic image of 1940, to the 1977 Zeffirelli mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth (in which the actor portraying Jesus looked like my brother-in-law).   In recent decades, the likeness of Jesus is no longer asserted as a universal type, but as ethnically specific.  We now have the Korean Jesus in traditional Korean garb (dopo overcoat and gat top hat); the Asian Indian Jesus with transfigurative blue skin, the beach bum Jesus, and the dark-skinned, female Jesus, the winning entry in a cover art contest conducted by National Catholic Reporter an independent newsweekly and one of the best-known Catholic publications in the country, at the advent of the 21st century.  Painted by Janet McKenzie of Island Pond, Vermont, the winning painting of Jesus of the People, shows “a robed and haloed Jesus.  Against a pale pink background are a yin-yang symbol, intended to represent perfect balance, and a feather, symbolizing the American Indian spirituality…”

The visual archive that Professor Morgan referenced earlier is so strongly entrenched that when he displays iconoclastic images of Jesus–  such as an obese Jesus-  even hard-core Calvinists (with presumably less fixation on imagery) reject them.  “We have our own images, even if they’re suppressed.”  Ms. Islam noted that Muslims do not have a tradition of imagery, but they do have the narrative.  When they come to the West, they too become influenced by the archive of imagery.

Despite the despair depicted by Chagall in his White Crucifixion, Chancellor Eisen in his parting remark said that it is hopeful that we can have an interfaith conversation about Jesus.  May the harmony and respect on display at the program carry forward into other realms of our contemporary world.