Nearly 20 years ago, a small group of women from The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore gathered together to talk about what many considered an unthinkable problem: domestic violence in the Jewish community. Sadly, there were neighbors, friends and relatives in Baltimore who were struggling with this issue and felt that they had nowhere to turn. CHANA changed that.
A program of The Associated, CHANA offered women support, guidance and protection, coupled with sensitivity to issues that were specific to observant Jewish women. The name CHANA was chosen because it means “grace” in Hebrew, and it embodied the way in which clients were treated by the remarkable women who started the organization. CHANA professionals and volunteers responded with urgency in times of crisis and always did so with great compassion.
For the women who have turned to CHANA since its earliest days, the organization has offered a lifeline in tumultuous times. We have heard from thousands of women that the services offered by CHANA literally saved their lives. As members of a community that deeply values every life, we know that our work has been both vital and transformative.
Through the years, CHANA has grown exponentially — an unfortunate outcome of both increased awareness in the community and a rise in incidences too. Today, CHANA has a very professional staff of six full-time and six part-time employees, led by a superb executive director who is both dedicated and tireless in her pursuit of justice for our clients. Over the years, we have created a Jewish crisis response to those faced with a variety of abuse in their relationships. CHANA has grown to add the Shofar Coalition, prevention and healing services for childhood trauma and sexual abuse, as well as the Elder Project, education and intervention services for older adults, to our scope of practice.
The expansion of CHANA’s reach is a testament to the driving force of lay leadership. Last summer, a strategic planning team found a way to do the impossible: put exact words to CHANA’s experience of nearly 20 years and chart where the community needs the program to go in the next decade. Our first step was creating new descriptive and dynamic mission and vision statements. Additionally, a list of 12 Jewish values was developed to illuminate the way in which our involvement in CHANA is fulfilling the moral imperatives central to our heritage.
I wish we lived in a world in which CHANA’s services were not needed, but that is, sadly, a pipe dream. Instead, as chair of CHANA’s board, I remain committed to working with professional and lay partners to ensure that these life-changing services are in place for those who need them and that we will continue to meet these problems head on.
We should all take great pride in the fact that our community has been able to offer the services provided by CHANA for nearly 20 years and will continue to do so as long as there is a need. It indicates that we are willing to face some harsh realities in our community and that we are able to serve the critical needs of those impacted by sexual abuse, trauma or domestic violence. If we do not uplift, support and care for the vulnerable, we cannot truly be a strong community.
Alyson Friedman is chair of the board of CHANA, a program of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. To learn more, visit chanabaltimore.org.