Over one-third of Jewish women who reach out for assistance in leaving abusive relationships with Arab men grew up in Orthodox Jewish families, an anti-assimilation group said Tuesday.
The Yad L'Achim said that some 35% of the girls and young women it is helping to extricate from relationships with Arabs come from religious and haredi homes.
The organization's counter-assimilation department explains that this phenomenon cuts across all sectors, without exception. Victims include girls from prestigious seminaries, and even those in elementary school.
The report also said singled out four situations where within religious communities where young women were most likely to become romantically involved with Arab men:
1. Drivers hired to transport students to school or camp. In many instances, there is no responsible adult supervision to keep an eye on things, allowing for small gestures between the driver and the student that can evolve into terrible tragedies.
2. Workers in supermarkets. Girls who are sent to the store to do the family shopping encounter Arab workers offering friendly assistance, and enter into conversations that can develop into relationships. In some cases, the victims are inexperienced cashiers. In others, it's women at home receiving deliveries.
3. Construction workers. Yad L'Achim is involved in a number of very difficult cases that began with casual contact between girls who were home alone and laborers doing renovations or at nearby construction sites.
4. Pharmacists and doctors. These are respected professionals, who are viewed as trustworthy.
Suri Kostlitz, coordinator of Yad L'Achim's counter-assimilation department, said that the innocence of religious young women and their sheltered upbringing makes them more vulnerable to be drawn into unhealthy relationships. Other factors that make them easy targets is that they are taught to be obedient and respectful, making it more difficult for them to say no to adults.
When there is a crisis in the family or the girl suffers from low self esteem, the situation is ripe for disaster.
The report recommends to parents and school staffers that they keep an eye open to warning lights that require immediate attention. These include: sudden absences from class; poor performance at school; fatigue and inability to concentrate; a tendency to isolate; refusal to consider or even hear of shidduch [marriage match] offers; an increase in the amount of time spent on the phone; an exaggerated concern with outer appearance.
Other even more alarming signs: Interest in the Arab sector, in their language or music, and, of course, hints or signals from the girl's friends or people in her immediate surroundings that something is amiss.
How should parents respond upon learning that their daughter is headed in a dangerous direction? Yad L'Achim stresses the importance of acting quickly.
"You have to understand that in the case of haredi girls, the distance between marrying a ben Torah [yeshiva student], and emerging from this sad episode, and moving to an Arab village, with all that entails, is not great," says Rabbi Shmuel Lifschitz, one of the heads of Yad L'Achim.
"Often, rescue becomes possible when a family member detects that something is off and contacts us. The earlier we enter the picture, the greater the chances of success."
Professionals at Yad L'Achim stress the importance of acting correctly. "When there is suspicion of such a relationship, or when it's been confirmed, the initial response is very significant," Rav Lifschitz explains. "It is incumbent upon us as parents to show our daughter that we are here for her, at her side. She will receive all the assistance and support she needs. The door is always open."
"You have to know how to ask the right questions, while giving her hope that this is one-time thing, a passing phenomenon. In no circumstances must we point the finger of blame. This doesn't mean we approve of what's happening or give it legitimacy, chalilah, rather that we recognize that this is the only way to save her. We can be sad and angry in our hearts, but have to understand our daughter, and identify with the distress that led to the tragedy."
Another important tip from Yad L'Achim to family members, teachers or anyone else who encounters this phenomenon: "It's critical to preserve the honor of the girl and her family and not spread the news around."
"More than anything, it's important to create in the girl a strong motivation to get treatment. Even if seems that she is over the unhealthy relationship, we as parents must not be lured into a false hope that things will be okay. Without help, without treatment, there is no way she will come out it on her own and be able to lead a healthy, happy life."
In addition, Yad L'Achim highly recommends that parents speak with their daughters on developing self-awareness and forging healthy relationships with friends. "We can't just shut our eyes and hope for the best," says one official. "It's perfectly legitimate for us, as parents, to want to know where our daughters are going and with whom they are socializing. With sensitive awareness, as we express our confidence in them, we can prevent many tragedies."
Rabbi Lifschitz sums up the key message of the professionals: "It is crucial for parents to radiate love and concern toward their daughters, to give them the genuine feeling that they are important and significant to the entire family.
"Above all, we must embrace the ways of our forefathers and daven all the time to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, our Father in Heaven, that He should have mercy on us, and save us from difficult moments and guide us, so that we may merit blessed future generations who remain true to the path."