When Jill Zinckgraf was only 14, before laws had been passed providing aid and shelter for abused women, she was volunteering in an underground safe house in Boston. There she helped care for women and their children seeking refuge from their tormentors.
In the decades since, the Morris Plains resident has never wavered from her commitment to helping women who have been the victims of sexual, psychological, and physical abuse.
Today Zinckgraf is director of public relations and fund-raising for Women Aware, a nonprofit agency based in New Brunswick that operates Middlesex County’s only domestic violence shelter. She also is coordinator of its 100-member domestic violence response team, which is called to the county’s police departments to advise victims of their options.
“The more information a woman has, the less likely she is to drop the restraining order and the more likely it is that she will press charges,” said Zinckgraf.
In Morris County, Zinckgraf volunteers with Jersey Battered Women’s Services and Morris County Sexual Assault Center as an advocate for rape victims.
“People always ask me about my job, that it must be so sad,” said Zinckgraf, a mother of three. “I always tell people I have the best job in the world. I can’t stop the violence and I can’t stop the rape, but I’m the one who gets to help her get her life back together. I’m humbled by the people who come into the agency and the women who tell me some of the most intimate moments of their lives.”
In an appearance Nov. 18 at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick and in a phone interview with NJJN, Zinckgraf spoke of her history and of domestic violence in and outside the Jewish community.
Susan Kohn, the immediate past president of the congregation, said Anshe Emeth has a special affinity for its New Brunswick neighbor. “We donate all the time for the shelter,” she said.
Zinckgraf, a member of Congregation Beth Hatikvah in Summit, emphasized that the Jewish community is not immune from domestic violence, even in her own community.
“All the studies say the same thing, that one out of every four women has been a victim of domestic violence,” said Zinckgraf. “All domestic violence is a violation of someone else’s rights. It is getting control over someone else. There is the hitting, slapping, kicking, and punching, which is easily identified. But, many women have said, ‘But he never hit me.’ That may be true, but has he ever threatened you in any way?”
Statistics, Zinckgraf said, show Jewish women will stay in an abusive relationship twice as long as other women and are less likely to report abuse because they are ashamed of letting others know “they are not married to the good Jewish boy,” Zinckgraf said. She added that Jewish women tend to be more affluent and have more to lose in terms of lifestyle, children, and reputation than do some others.
Jewish women also seem to attach more of a stigma to going to a shelter, she said.
Compounding the problem is that many Jewish women tend to turn to their rabbis, who often have no training in domestic violence, and end up in marriage counseling, which, she said, is not the solution “when a woman is in an abusive situation because…he still controls what happens in that environment.”