When Myrna Wertheimer talks about the violence inflicted on women and girls, she refers to “survivors” rather than “victims.”
Hoping to lend a massive show of support for those survivors, Wertheimer is cochairing — with Beth Levithan — the One Billion Rising for Justice rally in West Orange, part of a global campaign to raise awareness and end violence against women and girls.
The National Council of Jewish Women-Essex County Section is cosponsoring the Friday, Feb. 14, event with an array of Jewish and community organizations. It is one of an estimated 10,000 events being planned that day under the banner of V-Day, a global movement to end violence against women and girls
The free rally will address domestic violence, rape, teen dating violence, human trafficking, mutilation, and slavery. It will include music, dancing, speakers, and resources.
“In numbers, there is power,” said Wertheimer, an NCJW board member who lives in Livingston. One in three women globally will experience violence in her life, hence the one billion figure, but rallying people to combat gender atrocities, she believes, can bring down that statistic.
She has been in the fight since 1987, working as a volunteer and then cochairing the Community Forum organized by NCJW-Essex County, “bringing domestic violence in the Jewish home out of the closet,” as she said. She also founded the Teen Dating Abuse Project for the NCJW Center for Women. In 2007, with Levithan, who lives in Short Hills, she cochaired the NCJW production of The Vagina Monologues showcasing the kinds of abuse experienced by women.
V-Day founder Eve Ensler wrote The Vagina Monologues and parlayed its success into an activist movement for women’s empowerment.
“Fast forward to 2014, the One Billion Rising video was sent to me asking me to chair this event,” Wertheimer said. “Watching the video was powerful…. After volunteering for 27 years in this fight, I could now join women, men, and teens from around the world to advocate for the end to violence against women and girls, finally a chance to join the largest mass action to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves…. I called Beth Levithan to work with me once again, and she said yes.”
Wertheimer said she has seen many, many cases of abuse — and survival. “One woman had been in a marriage for 23 years, fearing for her life, afraid to leave her abusive husband because he threatened to kill her and their children. When I met her, she showed me a scar that went from ear to ear across her neck. It was the day he took that knife to her throat that she finally left.”
Another woman, she said, “was brutally raped. She thought she could not go on. Her counselor helped her learn she had to defeat her attacker, to take away the power he had so he did not destroy her. She told me: ‘You can survive rape and can have a good life.’”
Levithan, the newly named chair of the board of trustees of the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, got involved with the issue through her involvement with the Rachel Coalition, the domestic violence project of the Jewish Family Service of MetroWest.
“One Billion Rising is a continuation of the awareness campaign we started years ago with Vagina Monologues,” said Levithan. “What an eye-opening experience that was for so many people! OBR will continue our quest to make people realize what is going on all around them, from domestic violence to trafficking and rape.”
One by one, she said, “friends are getting friends and colleagues involved. Our committee of 40 special women is reaching out to organizations, many of which have become supporters for this event, and they will encourage their members to join us.”
The rally is also sponsored by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Rachel Coalition, Saint Barnabas Medical Center, NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking, The Healthcare Foundation of NJ, JCC MetroWest, Jewish Family Service of MetroWest NJ, Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled, Jewish Women’s Foundation of NJ, Jewish Women International, Daughters of Israel, NCJW-West Morris Section, Hadassah, Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Family Connections, Partners for Women and Justice, Essex County Family Justice Center, Temple B’nai Abraham and its Sisterhood, and the Dance Theater of Harlem.