JERUSALEM — On a quiet Jerusalem street, a group of children were baking, playing computer games, and happily scampering on playground equipment. Their mothers busied themselves in the kitchen preparing Shabbat dinner.
Despite the apparent normalcy, the women and children at the Jerusalem Shelter for Battered Women often live in fear of the abusive men in their lives.
The shelter is the largest beneficiary in Israel of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, receiving $45,000 last year through the Jennifer Lalin Memorial Foundation, dedicated to enhancing the lives of needy children in Israel.
The foundation was created at the federation in 1984 by friends of Lynn and Hill Lalin of Highland Park in memory of their daughter, who died of congenital heart disease at age 12. In addition to the shelter, the foundation provides books and educational material and helps maintain libraries throughout Israel.
The shelter also received money via federation through the Karma Foundation, a local family foundation, which supports a children’s tutorial program at the shelter.
Naomi Schneiderman, the shelter’s director of development and outreach, called the federation “one of the shelter’s oldest and most devoted friends.”
“It is difficult to imagine the growth and sustainability of some of our programs, especially our work with the children who arrive at the Jerusalem shelter, without the federation’s critical backing,” she said. “We are enormously grateful to the federation and to the Lalin and Karma foundations for this special connection.”
On a recent visit to the shelter by NJ Jewish News, small rooms were filled with stuffed animals and other toys. Young children seemed to be everywhere.
Social worker Leah Sadras walked through rooms where children’s art work was hung and others where craft supplies were stocked.
“Every woman here has a job,” she explained as some women entertained children and others cleaned up in preparation for Shabbat.
Mothers and children are given art therapy weekly to allow them bonding time together.
“They normally do not have this kind of time because they are so busy and things are so stressful,” said Sadras. “When they are in the therapy room it provides them with special time.”
A woman at the shelter, who can only be identified by her first initial, “N,” said she had been there five months with her daughters, ages five and seven. She fled a violent husband who twice attacked her with a knife.
“I feel lucky to be here,” said N. “I was afraid for my life and that of my girls.”
Her husband, who was sentenced to four years for the abuse and for theft, is now out of prison. She was transferred to the Jerusalem shelter after he discovered her previous location.
“He called and said, ‘I know where you are and I know where your friends are,’” recalled N, who still lives in fear he will hunt her down.
Nonetheless, N is working hard with the shelter staff to get her life together and is training to clean homes so she can move out on her own.
Many of the women had been directed to the Jerusalem shelter by police from other areas of Israel, in order to put distance between them and their abusers. Sadras said that is particularly hard on children who are uprooted from friends, family, and schools.
As many as 100 children pass through the shelter annually, with women typically staying four to six months. Some will decide to return to their husbands. Others with supportive families will go stay with them. Throughout the process, they are provided support and services to reduce risk and help make informed decisions.
Through the Lalin foundation, the Middlesex federation provides the children’s center with books, computers, and tutorial services to ensure youngsters keep up with their schoolwork.
In a phone conversation, Lynn Lalin-Grater said it was important for her late husband and other daughter, Nancy Hart, to keep Jenny’s name alive.
“Helping kids is important and it would have been to Jenny, too,” she said. “She was that kind of kid. Through her living, she left a heritage of life.”
Lalin-Grater said initially the shelter was not a foundation focus, but she came to realize how much help was needed there. Over the years, the family has also donated a library. Lalin-Grater is now married to Gerald Grater, who donated the playground, and the family purchases Hanukka gifts annually for the children.
The night before each of her two grandsons became b’nei mitzva in Israel the family hosted parties for the shelter’s youngsters.
“These are children that really don’t get to go out and have fun,” she said. “Yet they drew pictures and we were all struck by the generosity in their hearts. Jenny would have been 43 had she lived and we really feel this is a real tribute to her life.”