New era dawns in Pittsburgh

New era dawns in Pittsburgh

So what would draw me, a PR consultant and pro-bono domestic violence advocate, and five organizational directors from the Pittsburgh Jewish community, to a two-day marathon of discussions, training sessions and lectures about semantics, tikkun olam, manhood, videos and football games, college students and an MVP? It’s not fantasy football or even how to win at the office football pool.

It’s a dream come true — a wave of cultural change hitting Pittsburgh that will no doubt continue as long as men in the Tri-State area pick up the gauntlet and join the millions more across the country and world to change what should have never been permitted in civilized societies. Crimes of domestic abuse have been labeled for far too long as a “woman’s issue” when they’re a “man’s issue,” according to Dr. Jackson Katz. author of “The Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and How All Men Can Help” and “Leading Men: Presidential Campaigns and the Politics of Manhood,” Katz, whose videos can be found online, is a force for our times.

Deep awareness crept into our consciousness as a result of Jewish Domestic Abuse Task Force programs in 2008 and 2010, both at the JCC and both covered significantly by the media. As a result, active JDATF leaders from Ladies Hospital Aid Society (LHAS) jumped into action, put a strategic plan together and within a few months had raised tens of thousands of dollars to fund a traveling teen dating abuse prevention program. In three years, the LHAS members joined the Demi Brae Cuccia Foundation and presented their prevention programs jointly to more than 70,000 high school students in and around the Allegheny County. Dr. Katz himself was honored two weeks ago at the Center for Victims “Peace It Together” dinner.

Three times in two days Katz discussed the “epidemic levels of sexual violence” in society; he even kicked off the “Man Up: A Men’s Leadership Program” challenge.

My male colleagues from the JCC attended the “Man Up” workshop that Friday morning. Among the list of people called to action were educators, coaches, faith-based leaders, domestic violence advocates, parents, community leaders and employers. Their task was to reshape the way men and boys think about women and girls.

“Pittsburgh has the opportunity to go further than most cities in terms of truly changing the social norms that feed our ongoing gender violence problem: strong women’s organizations; a growing recognition among men in community, political and business leadership that domestic and sexual violence are men’s issues; and a willingness across ethnic and racial lines to see the interconnections between gender violence and all sorts of other significant and persistent social problems,” Dr. Katz shared while traveling to his next appearance.

“I was encouraged and energized by my trip to Pittsburgh; I hope the ‘Man Up’ event marks a turning point for a significantly increased presence of men in the movement to end gender violence.”

This is the dawn of a new era, an era of positive change. The energy is everywhere, including during Torah study, morning minyans, Shabbat services and anywhere men gather to talk about the latest news. There is just no way our community of male rabbis, communal workers, brotherhoods and men’s clubs can avoid the excitement of the possibility of safety and peace for the women in our midst.

(Rochelle Sufrin, a domestic violence advocate and program director, is co-chair of the JWI National Council of Domestic Violence Coalitions and former interim director of the Jewish Domestic Abuse Task Force of Pittsburgh. She serves on the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence Task Force.)