Our story began on a blind date. I was 20 years old and he was 26. What I now identify as abuse started early in our relationship. It was emotional and subtle. He would tell me that I looked “too Jewish” and comment on my short hair and weight. I wanted to be acceptable to him, so I started to diet, grew my hair and dressed to his style.
He was very controlling right from the beginning, making all the decisions of what we would do, where we would go and who we would see. I began to try things with him that I had never done before. Our relationship was on and off for two years until we got engaged. I got pregnant while we were planning our wedding. I was 23 years old.
We lived an extremely insulated life. He did not want me to work, and I did not have a car, so I became completely dependent on him. After our baby was born, his need to control intensified. He did the laundry and shopping, managed the money and made all the decisions about our life together. I was responsible for looking after the baby, but he was very clear in his expectations of how he wanted things done.
Visitors were minimal, because he didn’t want germs in the house. My family and friends were only allowed to come over when he was at work. We did not leave our baby with anyone, as he trusted few. He controlled everything and told me that I was not capable. I believed him. Our physical relationship was also dictated by him.
There was no questioning him, as he believed that he was always right. I was afraid to challenge him.
After many years, I was finally allowed a car. He would threaten to remove the starter cable if I wanted to go somewhere that he didn’t agree to. The car was for driving the kids (we had three by then) and shopping for the house. He controlled the money and gave me enough for groceries and if the children needed something. He expected dinner to be on the table at a certain time, and if the children started acting up, he would say that he did not want to eat with them. He was very harsh and blunt with his words and expectations. His behaviour was often threatening, however the abuse was never physical. He was overly protective and attentive to the children and very controlling with them as well.
I never identified my marriage as abusive, because it was what I had seen growing up in a Jewish home where verbal and emotional abuse happened every day and physical abuse often became a reality. This was my “normal” Jewish household with my parents and in my marriage. I think that I knew deep down that it wasn’t. Nobody ever talked about it, and I didn’t tell anyone about what I was living in my marriage, because at that point I hadn’t named it. Abuse didn’t happen in the Jewish community, and it was never discussed.
Later, after I left him, I found out that many people were aware that something was not right. Many years later, his mother told my daughter that she understood why I left.
The catalyst to my leaving was when my daughter started to act as a referee between us. This was the behaviour that I used with my parents, and I realized that I was watching my life replay. I was becoming more aware that my children were not seeing and learning healthy things from our relationship. I have always said that the greatest gift I gave my children was leaving their father, because this empowered them as well.
When I decided to leave, I didn’t know where I would go, what I would have or how I would live because he controlled everything. What I did know was that I had to save my soul. I began to realize that I was not isolated and alone and that there was lots of support available once I became open to accepting it. I began to own my choices and stand proud in who I am without apologizing.
I took back my voice and found the person I had lost so many years before.
*Lisa Hoffman is a pseudonym.
See also cover story
A domestic abuse checklist
The best way to help the community acknowledge that domestic abuse does occur in the Jewish community is to shatter myths about what abuse is and is not, and to educate people that abuse is not limited to physical abuse, which can include slapping, grabbing, pinching, punching, kicking, shoving or dragging.
You may be in an abusive relationship if your partner:
• Embarrasses, calls you names and puts you down in public
• Uses intimidation, anger or threats to get his way
• Makes you feel helpless and dependent
• Does all the decision-making
• Controls and withholds money
• Denies access to medical treatment or services
• Calls you repeatedly or shows up unannounced to make sure you are where you said you would be
• Checks cellphones, emails or social networks without permission
• Exhibits extreme jealousy, insecurity and erratic mood swings
• Makes false accusations
• Blames you, drugs or alcohol for saying hurtful things or physically abusing you
• Pressures you into sex acts you’re not comfortable with
• Isolates you from friends or family
• Doesn’t treat you as an equal partner
• Threatens to keep your children from you