Sisterhood Blog

Rabba, Therapist Team Up To Fight Eating Disorders

By Rebecca Schischa

  • Print
  • Share Share
Courtesy of Aviva Braun
Aviva Braun

Aviva Braun, a social worker and psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders in young women, and Rabba Sara Hurwitz, a pioneering Modern Orthodox spiritual leader at New York’s Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and Yeshivat Maharat, are teaming up for an event that will focus on body image from feminist, therapeutic and Torah perspectives. The event — aimed at bat mitzvah-age girls through college age women, and their parents — will take place at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 12, at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. There will also be a screening of “Hungry to be Heard,” the Orthodox Union-produced documentary about Jewish adults struggling with eating disorders.

“Judaism supports the notion that our bodies are sacred,” Hurwitz told The Sisterhood. “Philo, a Jewish philosopher said, ‘The body is the soul’s house. Shouldn’t we therefore take care of the house so that it will not fall into ruin?’ We have an obligation as a community to help foster a positive body image in our own selves and in our children.”

Braun spoke recently with The Sisterhood about the specific challenges of treating eating disorders in the Orthodox community, Braun’s use of a feminist therapeutic model and her forthcoming book that is part memoir, part recipes.

Rebecca Schischa: Generally speaking, what are the pressures placed on young women in the Orthodox community?

Aviva Braun: The pressures on Orthodox women are about looking a certain way; the pressures to look good and stay thin are very much part of the community. But on the other hand, there are all the ceremonial meals we eat on Shabbat and the holidays, when there’s always lots of food on the table, so the messages Orthodox women get are conflicting. Then there are the pressures to do well at school, and pressures to get married at a young age.

What is the prevalence of eating disorders in the Orthodox community?

There is not a higher incidence in the Orthodox community per se, but the fact that Orthodox women wait longer to seek help means it is really difficult to treat. There’s a fear of being found out, and shame or stigma for the family. Women feel it could affect the status of their family, even shidduch [matchmaking] prospects.

You talk a lot about using a feminist therapeutic model in your work. What do you mean by this?

After receiving my master’s degree in social work, I was professionally trained at the Women’s Therapy Centre Institute in New York, where I studied eating and body image problems from a feminist psychoanalytical and cultural perspective.

The feminist perspective is that women develop eating disorders because they are told by the culture at large to deny their need for hunger, for food and for other things. Women’s needs in general should be shrunk so their bodies become shrunk. … So my therapeutic work is about getting women to be able to identify their hunger.

What are the specific challenges involved with working with the Orthodox population?

This is a culture in which women are encouraged to get married young and bring up children. The role of nurturer is very prominent within the Orthodox community. Women are under tremendous pressures to be superwomen — they are expected to work and cook and clean the house and be everything. And a lot of times, this leads to eating disorders because of this pressure to be perfect.

When I work with Orthodox clients, the challenge for me is about helping them identify their innermost desires and hungers, which have not really been acknowledged much in their lives. And often when women get married young, there’s no time to think about these needs.

In my practice, the only way to start the process of recovery is by my clients acknowledging their hunger for anything in their lives, and this doesn’t have to be about the food.

You’re in the process of working on a book. What’s it about?

It’s basically about my own personal experience of healing from an eating disorder, through baking. Connected to the feminist perspective, the book is … part memoir, part research, part recipes. In Orthodox circles I’ve been in, women seem to fear dessert. I personally believe women should enjoy dessert. To deny themselves dessert is for women to deny one of life’s utmost pleasures.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Sara Hurwitz, Eating Disorders, Bulimia, Aviva Braun, Anorexia

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.