Caroline Ratner, The Jewish Chronicle, 23rd November 2023

When JWA Shabbat began some years ago, we scheduled it to align with the UN’s global campaign, International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVAW), which takes place annually on November 25. The UN campaign has evolved and IDEVAW now marks the first day of the 16 Days of Activism, during which organisations and individuals around the world call for the prevention of gender-based violence.

On the eve of JWA Shabbat 2023, which takes place this Friday and Saturday, as a women’s organisation supporting Jewish women, do we genuinely feel included in this wider moment?

Following the horrific massacre perpetrated against Israeli civilians on October 7, it was immediately clear that women and children were primary victims of terror, murder, abduction and more. Footage taken by Hamas and shared online by them documents their atrocities for the world to see. I won’t describe the contents, but any rational reading would indicate that rape and sexual violence were inflicted on a number of victims. 

Such blatant and inhuman acts against Jewish and other women created a legitimate expectation by us of public recognition and condemnation by women’s organisations at home and abroad. We were disappointed by the silence, and on October 25, we released a statement sharing not just the impact of the situation in Israel on our clients, some of whom felt unable to leave their abusive situation due to increased antisemitism, but also calling out the public silence from UK-based women’s organisations. Disappointingly, some have become vocal only since Israel started responding to this unprecedented attack.

Recent weeks have seen the emergence of several campaigns on social media to demand recognition of sexual violence and abuse on October 7, including #BelieveIsraeliWomen and #MeToo_UNless_UR_a_Jew. UN Women to date have still not mentioned the sexual abuse of women on October 7 in any of their numerous tweets and publications. 

This Shabbat and over the coming weeks, during the global days of activism, Jewish Women’s Aid will focus on amplifying the voices of Jewish women, our clients, our support services and our outreach and prevention programme. We will warmly welcome support from within and outside the Jewish community. JWA Shabbat is themed “Exploring Healthy Relationships” and is cross-communal, with support from the Office of the Chief Rabbi, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, Reform Judaism, Liberal Judaism, The United Synagogue, Masorti Judaism and the S&P Sephardi Community.

Drawing on our successful work in schools, in youth organisations and on campus, we are inviting our community to join in opening up conversations about what makes a healthy relationship. Resources have been delivered to over 180 shuls and are published on our website ( to enable Jewish people to take part wherever they are. 

At the core is an accessible Shabbat activity which invites participants to discuss a range of behaviours and attributes and see whether they feel they are healthy, unhealthy or abusive in a relationship. One of the most consistent pieces of feedback we receive from the 4,000 people reached through our training and educational sessions is how much they value the chance to discuss these topics with their peers. We call on the community  to take part in this activity.

Let us hope that this time next year, we are all in a better place. Until then, Jewish Women’s Aid will continue our work to support Jewish women affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence and to engage our whole community in the work of shifting attitudes and preventing gender-based violence.

Caroline Ratner is Chair of Jewish Women’s Aid.