Rabbi Danny’s remarks at the Community March and Vigil Against Domestic Violence

Today, as our synagogue marched with our friends from the Islamic Center of Boston to arrive here at the First Parish Church in Wayland, we carried with us a Torah scroll that survived the Holocaust. In my Jewish education growing up we always talked about 4 primary categories who were involved in this period of history. There were perpetrators committing the crimes, victims suffering from them and a few righteous people who stood against the violence and did what they could to save lives in the face of utter devastation. But most of the time we ended up talking about the fourth category, the bystanders. These people knew what was going on in the cities and countries where they lived, but they did nothing. They remained silent in the face of this horrific moment of history. They closed their doors and pretended nothing was happening.

As we come together to raise awareness about domestic violence we must acknowledge that all too often our society is characterized as bystanders while these crimes take place. We hear shouting and noise from a next-door neighbor, and we bolt the door rather than offering the necessary help. We are concerned about toxic relationships, but we don’t want to ask for fear of getting too involved. And we ignore the obvious and tell-tale signs, because we are scared of what we will hear.

As we seek to raise awareness about domestic violence, today is about saying I will not be a bystander. We must make that commitment to ask the difficult questions, we must refuse to ignore the signs that are in front of us, and we must be willing to intervene when necessary. Most importantly we need to say loudly to all of the victims we will listen to you, we will believe you, and we will help you to get out from the situation you find yourselves in.
Not being a bystander means actively opening the door to encourage people to speak up and feel safe to share what they are experiencing. This needs to be a subject that we talk about so that people feel able to come forward to escape the trauma they are experiencing and to ensure that the next generation is educated to know this type of behavior is never acceptable.

And today, I, by definition, stand up here as a man. And as a man I must acknowledge that we men are all too often the perpetrator or the bystander. The overwhelming majority of domestic violence cases are perpetrated by men against women. When one looks at the statistics they are truly frightening. 1 in 3 women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner and on average every day there are 20,000 calls to domestic violence hotlines nationwide. This is a real problem in our society and it is a problem that we must be willing to talk about and address.

For all the progress that our society has made in the direction of inequality and women’s rights we clearly have a long way to go. In our male dominated world, it is women who far too often find themselves as the victims. It seems necessary given the current debate to overtly state that I do not feel like a victim, and when I look around I have to acknowledge that most of the perpetrators look like me.

But how did we get here, what has led us to this situation?

From a young age our boys are told: “Be a man” and “Man up”. But what do they really hear when these phrases are uttered. These words perpetuate an image of male machismo. Men are defined by physical strength, by a lack of emotional connection, and by the brushing aside of feelings and obstacles. The image of manning up is the physical action hero. Is this what we want our boys to become? Is this the message we really want to be giving our children? Do we really believe this is what it means to be a man?

But there is another way, there is a need for a long overdue reframing of what it means to be a man. We could say that being a man is about approaching the world with care, compassion and kindness. When we tell them to man up we could be suggesting that they need to get in touch with their emotions and not be afraid to display them. And we need to be clear that domestic violence against a partner is never the manly, the macho or an acceptable thing to do.

This issue is of the utmost importance, because ultimately it is about pikuach nefesh – saving lives. We have an obligation and a responsibility not to be bystanders, but to be among the righteous who help end the specter of domestic violence that blights our society. The churches, mosque and synagogues that have come together today are making a statement that we are safe space. We will be that place where you can come forward in confidence and share what needs to be said. We will not be bystanders, we will be among the righteous who make a difference.