By Kathleen M. Ron
The Project for Single Mothers in Distress is one of several programs offered under the umbrella of the "Mother to Another" initiative in Kiryat Malachi, which was created by Jewish Federation Orange County in partnership with 14 other Federations of the Western Region of the United States. In Orange County, the Project has received pacesetting support from Blossom Siegel and from the Beatrice and Leon Friedman Charitable Foundation, through grants to Jewish Federation Orange County. Among the other programs offered at Beit Noam are "Warm Home", a project for teen girls at risk; parenting classes for dual-parent families; and several projects for families in distress with special attention to the cultural and language diversity of Kiryat Malachi's population which encompasses Israelis from European backgrounds as well as large numbers of immigrants from Ethiopia, Bukhara (former Soviet Union), Iraq and Morocco.
This morning, I had the privilege to meet two remarkable women who are transforming their lives through The Project for Single Mothers in Distress in Kiryat Malachi. Coincidentally, both are named Tzipi, the diminutive for Tzipora, Hebrew for "female bird". Perhaps, though, it is no coincidence, as they share a common, yet tragic, history as the subjects of domestic violence; and they share a common and hopeful vision of a "better nest" for themselves and their children now and in the future. That vision is becoming reality day by day, week by week, in the search for self, for empowerment and for the skills and tools of parenting that they receive through The Project for Single Mothers in Distress.
Tzipi S., at right in the photo, still has difficulty with her hearing in one ear, a long-term side effect of a violent blow to the head by her husband, a drug user. She described the fear her children felt, and the surgeries to repair broken bones caused by the beatings she suffered. At the age of 34, with three children then aged 10, 9 and 4, she knew no alternative to a life of fear and violence. Despite her fervent pleas, her husband wouldn't stop taking drugs. One night, the violence escalated to a new and more terrifying level, as her husband attacked her with a knife. Bleeding profusely from the wounds on her neck and face, she grabbed her children and ran to the nearest police station. "The police informed me that she was almost delirious with pain and loss of blood, yet her only words were 'please save my children'. Not 'save me' but 'save my children'," recalls Tali Zeno, her social worker.
Tzipi S. continued, "I woke up in a hospital in Beer Sheva, where I then lived. My parents lived in Kiryat Malachi, and they were so afraid my husband would come to the hospital and try to kill me, that they took responsibility for me, checked me out of the hospital and said they would care for me at home where they could insure my safety. They saved my life." She had been ashamed to tell her parents that her husband abused her, she said, and only when she ended up in the hospital with such a severe injury and a threat of greater violence, could she admit to the truth. Her parents placed the three children in temporary care with a close relative, and made her recovery their priority. Her husband, meanwhile, was jailed on several charges, and subsequently committed suicide while in custody. As Tzipi's condition improved, she was reunited with her children, and her parents' home became theirs as well. "Because of my parents, I have a home today."
Yet all was not well. "My kids didn't do their homework. They were failing at school. There was no joy in our home. My middle child became hyperactive, and even tried to run away." She sought help through Kiryat Malachi's Department of Social Services, and was referred immediately to the Project for Single Mothers in Distress. Noted Tali, the social worker, "Tzipi S. came to the group with so many of the issues we see amongst single mothers in distress - family violence, a feeling of helplessness in parenting - but she also was saddled with guilt about her husband's suicide. She was in conflict with her children, who wanted to have some connection with their grandparents and family on her husband's side, while she wanted to cut the connection totally."
Today, Tzipi S. has a new life. She absolutely glows when speaking about her children. "There is happiness in our home now." She describes how, through her sessions at the Project, she learned how to help her children settle down, and to accept that her husband's suicide was his issue, not hers. "Our group [at the Project] is like a family," she says. Most of all, she says she came to terms with her children's need for family connection, and dropped her resistance to their relationship with their father's family. In the process, she became strong and independent, deeply aware that she had a life to live and an ability to contribute something special to her family and her community. Today, she volunteers at her children's school several hours a week as a way of giving back, and continues to attend sessions at the Project to further her potential as a single parent.
Tzipi B., at left in the photo, lived on a moshav (a cooperative farming community) in southern Israel. A long history of domestic violence culminated in a terrible fire that destroyed her home on the moshav, though thankfully neither she nor her 3 children were seriously hurt in the blaze. Her youngest child was then 8 years old. While the moshav provided Tzipi and her children with a place to live, some furniture and the basics of life, she felt "tagged as 'the unfortunate one' " in this small agricultural community. She felt she had to start a new life in a new place where her sad history would not be known. She moved to Kiryat Malachi, and searched for work and for a way to learn how to overcome the challenges of her past, how to step into a stronger role as parent. At the time, there was no Project for Single Mothers in Kiryat Malachi. Tzipi B. says, "I traveled a long time -- taking several buses as there was no direct bus -- to the city of Kiryat Gat, where the Naamat organization had opened a center for single mothers." That center became a model for the eventual center that opened at Beit Noam in Kiryat Malachi, where today Tzipi B. is a counselor and group leader. "I share my history with the women, and they know I am one of them. I tell them, 'this is where I was, and this is who I am today because someone cared enough to help me break the cycle of distress.' "
Tzipi B. went on to describe the range of subjects covered in the sessions. "We always have topics that we must address - how and where to look for a job, dealing with government offices to obtain your rights, etc. - but sometimes the sessions begin with a member of the group sharing an issue like 'my child did this or that and I don't know how to handle it'. And we go on from there." Added Yaffa Cohen, Director of the Department of Social Welfare in Kiryat Malachi, "Perhaps that session might focus on parenting issues, educational problems and related issues like ADHD. We focus on empowerment. What you, as a single mother, need to know about education, health, how to do a personal budget and your banking - practical issues - but also what you need to know about your connection to the community." Added Tzipi S. with a smile, "they also think about how to make us feel good about ourselves - like organizing a "spa day" at Hamei Yoav [a nearby hot springs center]."
Tzipi S., Tzipi B., and so many women like them, have experienced the worst of times. Through The Project for Single Mothers in Distress, they access their power and potential to create the best of times, for themselves and their children.