People sometimes look at the Jewish community as a bastion of wholesome family life, and in many cases, that's true, says Lucy Steinitz, director of Jewish Family Services for Baltimore and surrounding counties.
But as with most stereotypes, it isn't always true. Twenty percent of the center's counseling caseload concerns incidents of domestic violence, including physical and sexual abuse, says Steinitz, who is speaking tonight in Arnold at the first annual meeting of the county's United Jewish Appeal Federation.
"Oftentimes, people can't believe physical abuse happens in the Jewish community," she says. "But it's likely that the same kinds of problems exist in Arundel's Jewish community."
Steinitz is meeting with the federation, which consists of the county's three synagogues and seven Jewish community groups, to help the local group find ways to deal with Jewish community needs.
Last year, the federation's concern was matching synagogues with a handful of Russian Jewish immigrants in Anne Arundel County. This year, the group is extending its range to more widespread problems in the Jewish community.
The federation's first task it to determine exactly what the needs of the county's Jewish families are, and that can be a hard thing to do, says Sheiala R. Moskow, a member of the federation's publicity committee.
"It's hard to pin down. No one [other than Jewish Community Services] keeps statistics on how many of the people they treat are Jewish," Moskow says. "Some people really believe there are no problems in our Jewish community here in Arundel. I personally don't believe that."
Steinitz says it's important to have a Jewish resource that acknowledges serious needs in Jewish families and that can channel helpful resources.
"My expectation is that the Jewish community in Arundel, as the Jewish community everywhere else, is experiencing a growing amount of separation and divorce, with effects on the children," says the director of the 135-year-old service agency.
The elderly Jewish community also has growing needs, Steinitz says. Because Jewish people tend to have fewer children and live longer than the population as a whole, the Jewish community is disproportionately aging.
Adding to the elderly people who have lived in the county all their lives are many elderly folks who have moved here to be with a son or daughter. "These people in their 70s and 80s are totally without the natural supports they had in their former community," she says.
The county federation, formed last year to help the Jewish community in the county and state, as well as overseas, last year raised about $20,000 for various causes, says Jeffrey Layne, the organization's treasurer.
"With Dr. Steinitz's appraisal, based on her knowledge of what services have been requested in the past, we want to help our local county population," Layne says.
"We're at the very beginning, as a young organization, trying to find its way," Moskow says. "There are a lot of things we would like to do if we had the money to do it."
Locally, the group has raised money to support the religious day school in Annapolis, as well as the Russian Jewish families (two of whom were adopted by county synagogues). Moskow has helped take some of the Arundel immigrants to English-language class at night.
One decision the federation must make this year is to what extent the county wants to link up with a larger network, as opposed to developing independent social services.
Steinitz will explain different models of services that a local Jewish community can develop.
"If they decide to have services independently, we can talk about how to establish information or consultation and referral networks. Or they can contract with another agency to provide services," she explains. Howard and Harford counties both recently contracted with Jewish Family Services in Baltimore to develop offices in their respective counties.
Says Moskow, "We decided the time had come: We needed to have our own local United Jewish Appeal, mainly because before we were contributing to Washington and none of the money was coming back into the county. We're trying to remedy that."