By Debra Rubin/JNS.org
As the director of a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, Naomi Taffet sees a lot of women in tears. But once a year, on Mother’s Day, she has a chance to witness what she calls “happy tears.”
That takes place when Taffet, executive director of CHANA-Counseling, Helpline & Aid Network for Abused Women in Baltimore, delivers a large bouquet of Mother’s Day flowers, courtesy of Jewish Women International (JWI), to the CHANA safe house.
Through its Mother’s Day Flower Project, which for 15 years has been sending bouquets to shelters for battered women, JWI aims not just to brighten the day for these women, but also to increase awareness about domestic abuse and raise money for its yearlong activities. Those include setting up and supporting children’s libraries in battered women’s and homeless shelters, advocacy efforts such as support for the Violence Against Women Act, and educational programs.
More than 1 in 3 women and more than 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey.
“For us, every woman who buys a card and every man who buys a card and every woman who receives a card is one more person we can bring into consciousness” about domestic violence, Lori Weinstein, JWI’s executive director, says. “That is an added benefit. We’ve raised the numbers of people who are engaging in this issue.”
The flower project is a simple one. For a $25 contribution, a donor designates her mother—or another woman of her choice—to receive a specially designed card. While this year’s card was created in-house, Israeli and American Jewish female artists donated their artworks for previous years’ cards, according to Weinstein.
Donors also have the opportunity to submit a message to be sent to the shelters. These are included on an inspirational poster sent along with the flowers. Last year’s poster, for example, featured a Yiddish poem, “Mother,” in translation, in addition to such messages as, “Don’t give up! I was in your shoes 20 years ago and I never gave up. My life is great now…” and, “Your courage is inspiring.”
For the past five years, OPI Products has been contributing makeup and toiletries to be delivered along with the flowers, which go to 200 shelters nationwide, the majority of them not Jewish. In addition, other groups—synagogues, Hillel chapters, Sigma Delta Tau sorority and Moishe Houses—have signed on as partners for the project and publicize the effort.
“I have always believed
that through color I can make a difference in the lives of
women,” Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, OPI’s executive vice president and
a former JWI honoree, says. “Tzedakah is part of my life and who I am. Making mothers feel good on Mothers Day is such a privilege.”
“Every year we get scores of letter from shelter directors, residents of shelters just thanking us for thinking of women who are struggling to be the best mothers they can on a holiday that is very difficult for them,” JWI’s Weinstein says.
Taffet recalls one woman telling her she never had received flowers, and the floral arrangement made her feel like a “queen for the day.”
“The mothers are always so touched by the thought that it’s one of those good deeds, one of those mitzvot, that one person is giving another person a gift, but it’s anonymous,” says Taffet, whose shelter accommodates just one woman (and sometimes her children) at a time.
At Womanspace in Lawrenceville, NJ, which accommodates up to eight women and 17 children, the flowers are displayed in a dining area. “To know that someone is thinking about them is important,” says Reyna Carothers, director of emergency services at Womanspace, which also holds a Mother’s Day tea party.
“It’s very healing,” Lori Butterfield, director of development for the Cleveland Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center, says about the JWI project.
“I think one of the most important things for a woman is that it validates that someone appreciates she is a parent,” Butterfield says. “When a woman is in an abusive situation, sometimes her skill as a mother is questioned by the batterer. For them to receive such a wonderful gift, especially those women living in a shelter and taking steps to take care of their children, it really validates that they’re doing the right thing.”
Giving a single bouquet of flowers, along with some toiletries and makeup, doesn’t seem as though it can make much of a difference to women struggling to reinvent their lives, she says.
“But to women who had to leave their homes and don’t know their future and just know they needed safety for themselves and their children, it means a great deal,” Butterfield says.
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