This past January, Sanctuary for Families’ Economic Empower Program (EEP) held its semi-annual graduation ceremony to celebrate the achievements of fifty-one strong and inspiring women, all survivors of domestic violence. With friends, family and Sanctuary staff in attendance, the women accepted their diplomas – thereby marking the start of a new stage in both their personal and professional lives. To honor the occasion the class elected fellow graduates to speak on their behalf. Naomi R. was one of the four women who spoke that evening. She was both one of the youngest women and one of the first at-risk Orthodox teens to graduate from EEP.
Read her graduation speech and learn more about Sanctuary’s work with Orthodox Jewish women below.
My name is Naomi and I am proud to have the opportunity to speak to you this evening.
To my dear teachers, classmates, directors and family that came today and to all involved in caring for us and making sure we are all okay on a day-to-day-basis-I would like to start off by saying thank you. Thank you, for investing your time and effort into every single one of us that will all be okay, cheering us on by laughing, and crying and for validating us when times were tough.
To my fellow classmates who have encouraged me whether it was a hug a nice word or gesture, you are all responsible for helping to restore my faith in myself. To Rocky, you have been a big part of my support throughout this program. When I felt discouraged you were there to pick me up. Let us not forget about our wonderful volunteers who have practiced interviewing with us, tutored us- and to all the firms who have given us the opportunity to set foot inside the corporate world of business, you too have helped me gain the confidence to stand up here and tell you my story and my journey of growth and my belief in myself as a person.
From the very first day, I was honestly skeptical about the whole program and how it worked. As I looked around and saw the many different faces I began to realize how, no matter the background, color, or race- that I was not alone in this struggle. Looking back now, I recall Sarah saying to us at orientation, that some of you will graduate and the person sitting next to you-may not. This made me feel uneasy, yet a part of me began to feel comfortable with the fact that I and no one else would be responsible for getting through this program.
I also realized that some of my fellow participants were mothers – and that I was one of the younger participants in the program. As the program went on I found myself stepping out of my comfort zone and came to discover how strong, capable, and motivated I really am. This led me to write a letter to myself which included ways to cope under stress, bad days, and negative feedback. I made sure to include a reminder to myself that a bad day-doesn’t mean a bad life. Alas, day in and day out of interactions with my teachers who really loved and believed in every single one of us no matter where we came from-all that love would change the world I see and experience.
Not only was it the Economic Empowerment Program staff, it was also my fellow classmates. If they believed in me, then I must believe in myself and walk away from my anxiety because I am not my anxiety! Before I knew it, I was being gentle with myself and soon enough I began to accept myself. After a while I was actually having fun laughing with my teachers and I even learned some Spanish!
Some of the things I got from this program are that, although I graduated from high school, my knowledge of computers was limited, so Microsoft Word and Power Point meant a lot to me. I learned how easy it is to dress and act professionally and I got a taste of what it’s like to be in the corporate world thanks to Goldman Sachs and Linklaters.
Now I am able to think on my feet, type at a speed of 50 words per minute, and voice my opinions without being judged for it. I have learned to be patient with myself. Another lesson I’ve learned is that there are kind hearted people. I think that a specific example was, my intake interview with EEP, where I met this selfless man named Angelo (who was so enthusiastic about the use of coffee in America). He restored my faith by telling me that just because I’ve quit a number of jobs or switched schools, it doesn’t mean I’m a quitter like I always thought I was.
To conclude – in all that I have gained and learned, what I will take with me is not to take things too seriously, to enjoy every opportunity that comes my way in terms of education and self-growth, and that saying “I got this” really helps (thank you Miss Lee, the computer teacher). So I’m going to end by saying that I’m so grateful for this incredible opportunity and the friends I have made and the personal growth I’ve achieved.
The Orthodox Jewish Domestic Violence Initiative
Sanctuary launched The Orthodox Jewish Domestic Violence Initiative in 2015 in response to an increasing number of calls for help we had been receiving from Orthodox Jewish women. Desperately seeking help with civil and religious divorces from abusive spouses, these women had virtually nowhere to turn for free, high-quality legal services. As New York City’s largest non-profit agency dedicated to providing services and outreach to abuse victims and their children, Sanctuary recognized the need in these often insular communities, and hired a family law attorney and a case manager, both from the Orthodox community themselves, to lead our work.
Since 2015, The Orthodox Jewish Domestic Violence Initiative has served over 100 women and teenage girls. Services include legal representation in complex divorce, child custody, child and spousal support, and safe visitation cases, as well as representation in the Beit Din religious courts. In addition to legal representation, staff assist with several of the urgent non-legal needs seen among these women—many of them in dire situations with multiple dependent children and tenuous housing situations, serious food security concerns, and extensive abuse-related trauma.
Over the last year and a half, Sanctuary has also begun to serve at-risk teenage girls who have grown up in ultra-Orthodox homes but who have strayed from the traditional paths dictated by their families. Shunned by their families and communities, they are at grave risk of drug and alcohol abuse, and deeply vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Thanks to Sanctuary’s holistic service model and network of partners in New York City, staff have been able to provide critical support to these young women as they begin to rebuild their lives. Naomi R. was one of these young women. She and seven others were part of the January 2018 Economic Empowerment Program graduating class. Today, Naomi and her fellow graduates are on their way to achieving both personal and professional success. As we continue to test and expand our services to the Jewish Orthodox community, we look forward to seeing what she and others achieve with the skills they’ve developed while at Sanctuary.