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Federations in Action:
JUF Chicago and Maslan say NO to Violence

Maslan, inconspicuously situated on a quiet street in Be’er Sheva, is a support center for battered and sexually abused women. As you walk through the door, the immediate impression you get is that of a warm, cozy home. From its humble beginnings in 1988 as a small rape crisis center, it has since become the largest women’s center in the Negev, but you would never guess that just from being there.

“MASLAN is not only a rape crisis center, it also takes care of everything immediately after and beyond that as well, such as medium term accompaniment to hospital or the courts, legal aid, and long term treatment and therapy,” says CEO Liza Nikolaichuk. Liza, Maslan’s driving force, is a bubbly, vivacious woman, who views everyone she works with at Maslan as her extended family. It is not uncommon for Liza to sit with a distraught victim until well into the night, or even to make rounds collecting food and clothing for women and children cut off from all family support.

Liza immigrated from the Former Soviet Union 16 years ago. A psychologist by training, she began working with the children of newly arrived Russian immigrants. “One night,” she recalls, “one of my patients, a fourteen year old girl, rang me up. It was 2:00am. She told me that her step-father was trying to rape her. My husband and I got up, drove over, and took her back home. We broke all the rules.” A neighbor, after informing Liza that what she was doing was illegal, took her to Maslan. “I fell in love with the people there,” says Liza. “It is because of them that I am still a patriot and a Zionist!”
 
Maslan’s uniqueness lies in its long term vision of prevention through education. The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, recognizing the need for Maslan in its Partnership 2000 region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish and Shafir, is sponsoring its Kiryat Gat and the Region Say NO to Violence program. When it comes to ‘development’ in the Negev region, JUF Chicago takes a holistic approach. “Environment is also social,” says Linda Epstein, Israel representative of JUF Chicago, “people themselves are an element of their environment, and they need to be strong and independent.”

Maslan runs numerous workshops in the region, educating children and adults against domestic violence and sexual abuse. Programs are tailored to suit different ages and educational contexts. In kindergartens, for example, Maslan volunteers may use puppets to teach children about the importance of personal space, while using theatre to reach out to high schools and youth groups. With its strong focus on the general community, Maslan also runs seminars and workshops for teachers, social welfare professionals and even the police.

One particularly successful project is the Young Ambassadors Against Violence program. Group leaders run focus groups in schools and informal education programs, where youth learn about communication, relationships, self esteem, and leadership. “A teenager going through something will not go to a parent or teacher, most likely, he or she will talk to another teenager,” says Gil Haftsadi, coordinator of the Young Ambassadors program. “We give them the ability to direct their friends to the right places for help, or to approach these places themselves.”

The effects of the program are already being felt. “Thanks to these workshops, a lot of youth are turning to us for help or legal advice”, says Liza. “We’ve even had mothers approach us, after being encouraged by their children.”

At the end of the program, groups take on a project to fight violence in their own environment. One group, for example, printed a series of educational flyers worded in language that young people could relate to, and distributed them in pubs, clubs, and universities. The messages proved to be highly effective. Not only were the posters read, they became a topic of discussion in their own right. “Volunteers were telling me that instead of throwing these flyers away, people were actually folding them up and putting them in their pockets.” Liza said.

Yonatan Fraiman, aged 19, is one of Maslan’s most dedicated teen volunteers. “As the only child of a single mother, I really connected with the agenda of supporting women,” says Yonatan, “I started as a participant in a Young Ambassadors program. We talked a lot about being teenagers in a sexual context, peer pressure, sexual rules, etc. These groups offered us an intimate place to share what we were going through. I became a different person.”
 
A turning point for Yonatan was learning that one of his classmates had been sexually abused. “We see these things on TV, and we never realize that it’s a very common issue. I decided I wanted to do something about it.”

Yonatan started a blog to educate readers against sexual violence. He was overwhelmed at the large number of girls who contacted him for help. “There is one terrible story I will never forget,” he says. “One girl, from a kibbutz in Northern Israel, wrote to me that she was sitting naked in her bedroom, with the door locked. Her step-father was waiting for her outside. She said that she didn’t know what to do. I felt so helpless”. He immediately called Liza, who gave him the numbers for her to call to get help.

In any school hosting a youth program, Maslan also trains teachers in dealing with abuse effectively. “Many teachers are afraid to approach this topic,” says Gil. “In one school nearby, one young girl finally got up the courage to approach a teacher about what was happening to her. The teacher replied ’I’m sorry, but I teach Math, I do not deal with these sorts of things.’ 

“There is generally a reaction to rape that we are fighting; the myth that the girl actively participated in a rape, or even provoked it,” says Liza. “When such an incident occurs, many teachers will say “Well, with that girl being the way she is, it’s no wonder.”

In its efforts to reach out to everyone, Maslan carefully tailors its programs to suit the cultural needs and sensitivities of minority communities, such as Ethiopians and Bedouins, and will often collaborate with their community leaders. “We explain the difference between the way things are done in their home countries and the way things are done in Israel. In some of these cultures, forcing a wife to have sex is not considered a crime,” says Michal Mizrahi, Maslan’s legal aid coordinator.

Maslan also operates a 24/7 emergency hotline in nine languages: Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Amharic, Tigray, Spanish, French, English and Italian. “We base our multicultural approach on the fact that during a time of great pain or a tragedy, people revert to their mother tongue,” says Liza. “Our main slogan is that no one is alone.”

Maslan’s multicultural approach has seen great success. Over 50% of the people who turn to Maslan for help are new immigrants. Schools and religious institutions which initially had reservations about hosting educational programs have asked Maslan for more. Liza proudly displays a Shana Tova message she received from a Bedouin Sheikh, written in painstaking Hebrew. “He is one of my greatest allies,” she says, “The Sheikh has given an order for awareness about domestic violence to be raised in the mosques, after prayers”.

In its first year, the JUF Chicago Kiryat Gat and the Region Say NO to Violence program has already held 300 workshops for children, youth, parents, and professionals. Maslan normally charges a fee for their programs, which enable them to provide subsidized counseling and legal aid.  “JUF Chicago has enabled us to reach a wide range of schools and community centers, which otherwise would not have been able to afford to have an educational program,” says Gil. “We are able to simply focus on education, without worrying about financial issues.”

Representatives of JUF Chicago recently participated in a teleconference with MASLAN professionals. “Both communities understood that they dealt with the same challenges, and there was a great exchange of ideas,” says Gerry Showstack, point-person for Maslan. One Chicago Jewish organization, which works on raising awareness amongst youth, has asked Maslan for help in reaching out to the tight-knit Russian speaking communities in their city. “Working with JUF Chicago really is a partnership,” says Gerry.

The Jewish Federation of Chicago has a strong vision for the future: “It’s true that we came to this with a focus on vulnerable populations, but everybody knows that domestic and sexual violence is not limited to these communities,” says Linda Epstein. “We’re confident that this is the kind of program that can help Israeli society as a whole.”

By Devorah Nutovics

To learn more about Maslan, click here.

Maslan staff (Left to right): Gerry Showstack – Resource Development; Yonatan Fraiman - Maslan Volunteer; Gil Haftsadi – Educational Coordinator; Liza Nikolaichuk – CEO; Michal Mizrahi – Legal Aid Coordinator

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Michal Mizrahi holding the month’s schedule for Maslan’s 24/7 Emergency Hotline, manned exclusively by volunteers. “The volunteers are our crowning glory,” says Michal, “We are very proud of their dedication.” Maslan’s volunteers field approximately 9,000 calls a year.

Artwork by a woman receiving treatment at Maslan, after being a victim of abuse for many years.