Ask Ayallah Greenberg if she knew at a young age that she’d one day live in
Safed – and her answer would be an unequivocal yes. The 31- year-old native New
Yorker fulfilled that dream with her husband and two young sons in October, and
now she’s on a mission to make a difference in the lives of the local female
It may seem like a tall order, but Greenberg, a social worker
and psychotherapist, is attempting to spread awareness about domestic abuse
among Safed’s English-speaking female population.
Her vehicle is Healing
Empowerment Resources and Support for Jewish Women (HERS), the agency that she
recently created to provide support, education and counseling.
to think there was a need here,” Greenberg says during an interview at the
Ascent Hostel, where she worked for a summer as a teen.
asked myself, ‘who are you to say no to this?’” Eager to dispel the dangerous
myth that abuse doesn’t occur in religious communities, Greenberg set to work on
a brochure she is now trying to circulate in the community. And she’s making
some headway: “Reclaim Your Home” gives examples of the different types of
domestic abuse that occur, and she is now working to make the brochure available
at local mikvaot (ritual baths).
Working and living in Safed is a
homecoming of sorts for the Brooklynraised Greenberg. It was during the summer
of 1998, when she worked at Ascent, that she fell in love with the
“It was a very life-changing experience and I felt like I was
coming home,” she said.
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When she began dating her now husband Izzy over
11 years ago, she told him about her desire to live in Safed one day.
much of her 20s, Greenberg lived in Toronto, earning her bachelor’s and master’s
degrees in social work. She amassed experience working in distress centers,
women’s shelters, and with teenage mothers.
In 2009, Greenberg, Izzy (a
native Torontonian) and their young son Schneur spent a “pilot year” in
Back in Toronto shortly thereafter, Greenberg gave birth to her
second son, Yosef, now over a year old, and this past October they moved to
Safed, where Izzy runs a marketing business.
Now settled in Safed,
Greenberg says she’s out hitting the pavement to make connections with women in
the community, rabbis and other community leaders. She recently conducted a
seminar on healthy dating and relationships at a local seminary for young
She wants to make it clear that she doesn’t think violence against
women is a bigger problem in Safed than in other Jewish communities around the
world. What she is trying to convey is the fact that, religious or not, the city
is certainly not immune to domestic violence.
She is targeting Safed’s
English-speaking religious community, which she says is currently experiencing a
growth spurt in the area.
Some women have already approached Greenberg
seeking guidance for problems at home, but she refuses to discuss any of this in
detail, mindful of maintaining boundaries.
She says she needs to respect
the privacy of clients who are living in a relatively small community where
everyone knows everyone.
“It’s a very spiritual place,” she says, adding
that while it’s not mainstream religious, it does see “a lot of people returning
to Judaism.” Indeed, the hilly northern city is a distinct mix of hassidic
Kabbalists, secular Jews drawn to an alternative arts-based culture, and other
A Lubavitch Jew herself, Greenberg advertises her services
on her website as coming from a “Torah-based, hassidic and feminist
perspective.” She says her approach is to empower women to make healthy life
choices for themselves and their families.
She wholly believes in the
sanctity of a Jewish marriage, comparing it to a painting and says she provides
“tools that are the bones, the framework that will hold it up.”
Your Home” quotes from the Torah: “A husband should love his wife as much as he
does himself, and respect her even more than he respects himself.”
the most part, she says, she’s received “very, very positive feedback” in the
community, including encouragement from a rabbi who is also a social worker in
Greenberg is determined to avoid too much exposure or
alienation, recalling a controversial domestic violence awareness campaign in
Toronto years ago that featured billboards depicting photos of a woman with a
Her brochure features only literature and images of a
butterfly and outstretched arms. While she felt the Toronto campaign was
effective, she wants to avoid alienating women who may already be reluctant to
speak out or seek help.
“I don’t want these women to see me as ‘other,’”
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