HIGHLAND PARK – Cara Brookins decided she needed to “rebuild her broken family” after she escaped from her marriage, so she watched YouTube tutorials, obtained a small bank loan, and engaged her four children — at the time all under 18 — to help her build their own five-bedroom home.
Brookins and her eldest daughter, Hope, will be featured at SHALVA’s annual luncheon on Wednesday, June 20, at The Standard Club.
SHALVA means tranquility in Hebrew. Established in 1986, it was the first independent Jewish domestic violence agency in the country.
“One in four women have been, will be, or currently are being abused — and the Jewish community is the same,” said Carol Ruderman, SHALVA executive director.
The Highland Park resident has worked in non-profit management for more than 20 years and served as the regional director of the American Cancer Society. She told DailyNorthShore why she was drawn to join SHALVA four years ago.
“I feel very passionate about SHALVA, as every woman deserves the right to be safe in her home and relationship,” said Ruderman. “It feels good to be working for the Jewish community as well.”
Ruderman explained that SHALVA was created by 13 Orthodox Jewish women who formed a small shelter when they realized there was a need in their community. The shelter later closed, as the supportive services, counseling and community education were the main focus of the organization.
The goal of SHALVA’s outreach programs is to raise awareness about SHALVA and to increase understanding about domestic violence, domestic abuse, and intimate partner violence, which are all used interchangeably.
“Half of our clients experience some kind of physical violence, and it’s not always being punched,” said Ruderman. “It can be throwing a computer across the room, pulling someone’s hair, or putting your hands around someone’s neck without really strangling, but just the threat of violence. Then the rest is psychological, sexual and financial, and we often say the bruises inside are often harder to heal than the bruises outside.”
Ruderman said some clients are in an emergency situation, while others are planning to leave. There are other shelters in the area that SHALVA will refer people to, as needed. Often SHALVA will help clients make a plan to stay with family members, or if necessary help pay for hotel stays.
“We work on safety plans with the women and do whatever it takes throughout their time with us, because it can change,” said Ruderman. “They might think they’re safe at the beginning, but they’re really not.”
SHALVA also has a 24/7 crisis hotline to connect abused women with therapists.
“The counseling is longterm and it’s free of charge,” said Ruderman. “We follow a feminist or empowerment model, so we follow the woman’s lead on what she wants to accomplish. We don’t necessarily tell her to leave the relationship. If that’s what she wants to do, we help her get there, and it can change over time.”
She added that SHALVA has people coming for 10 years, as domestic abuse is a trauma that doesn’t go away. Because clients often blame themselves, SHALVA helps them gain confidence by building up their self-esteem.
“We say they’re on a healing journey, but it’s really a success when women can stop blaming themselves and feel good about themselves,” said Ruderman.
Ruderman explained that domestic violence doesn’t discriminate and occurs in all sections of Judaism, as well as all economic levels.
“You would be surprised that domestic violence happens in very wealthy families on the North Shore,” she said. “Sometimes our clients live in a nice house and have money, but they may not have access to the money, as the abuser controls it all.”
In Brookins case, she had a job and was able to get credit, but a lot of SHALVA’s clients are not as fortunate in that aspect.
In 2007, Brookins began building her 3,500-square-foot home in Arkansas with her children, who at the time were 17, 15, 11 and two. The family worked day and night to complete the home in nine months, so she wouldn’t default on her loan. Brookins was determined for her children to learn never to give up on their dreams.
She wrote about their experience in the book Rise: How a House Built a Family, published by St. Martin’s Press (January 24, 2017), which is being optioned to become a movie. Brookins has also authored seven other books, according to https://carabrookins.com/ .
Ruderman said Brookins wasn’t ready to come forward with the story until years later. One of the highlights of the SHALVA luncheon will be seeing pictures of the house going up with Brookins and the kids hard at work.
“Cara is a great mother and role model who really did something amazing, and her daughter Hope will add so much to the luncheon,” said Ruderman. “The impact of domestic violence on the children is also very difficult.”
The SHALVA annual luncheon will be held on Wednesday, June 20 at noon at The Standard Club in Chicago. For more information visit: shalvaonline.org.