I walked unsteadily into the battered women's shelter with my baby in my arms. I'd brought a pitiful collection of hastily packed boxes and bags.

Emotionally, a baby is a mother's whole world. Everything else, however needed or longed for, is but embroidery, yet that tiny person needs so very much for his survival. Even now, when I see my seven-year old son he is still my baby, and more than ever, my world. But when he was still an infant, it was as if we shared a pulse, and his vulnerability was so acutely in my consciousness that I prayed to G‑d ceaselessly to protect not only my child but all children from harm, to manifest Himself in the world in such a way as to make anguish naught but a memory for any child.

We had left our home because there was no peace in our lives, and no hope of there being such. There was fear, hurt, and isolation. I was breastfeeding my child, and so I knew I could provide him with both love and nourishment, but to have little else with which to care for him – to have stepped off into a strange land of dependence on strangers – was terrifying.

One need not journey to another country to be a foreignerOne need not journey to another country to be a foreigner, and indeed, anyone who has sojourned in a shelter understands with a trembling heart the profound compassion of G‑d who told the people of Israel - no fewer than 36 times - that we must be compassionate and just towards strangers. Then, I was doubly a stranger because I was in a shelter, and because I was in an isolated city in a distant state from my New England origins.

The woman who took down our history and explained the rules of the shelter was very kind. She showed me the shelter kitchen, she brought me sheets and towels for the room I would share with my child, and she spent time talking with me to ease my heart. Surely she was, a righteous woman, of goodness absolute. Before I retired with my son to our room to sleep, she asked me if there was anything I needed. Stunned and exhausted by the circumstances in which I found myself, I could scarcely answer. What didn't I need for my child? But the young woman's question I knew, was a practical one. what would we need to get through this one, particular night?

Diapers. I needed diapers. I had needed to leave the house so quickly that I grabbed my baby's diaper bag, which had only one diaper left inside, and had left a new package of diapers by the baby's changing table. I had only a few dollars in my wallet, and realized I couldn't go out and buy diapers the next day, assuming I even felt safe enough to venture out of the shelter. Waves of shame joined with the fear and sorrow in my veins and nearly drowned me. My eyes flooded. What kind of mother has no diapers for her baby? The shelter staff member gently put her hand on my arm upon seeing my distress, and told me not to worry. There were plenty of diapers in the storage room. She brought me into a storeroom, went over to a large stack of packages of diapers, and handed me one. I felt absurdly rich, as if someone had handed me treasure, and my gratitude was immense.

No one would yell there; no one would make threats Our bedroom was dreary, with broken shades and rickety furniture, and I was told that if another family arrived during the night, we would need to share it. Still, it would be quiet. No one would yell there; no one would make threats; no one would break anything or call me names a child should never hear. I could hold my baby peacefully in my arms all night long, and my child would not hear violence, nor see things he should not see.

But the next morning, having slept little, I looked around me and felt overwhelmed. The shelter was built into a hill, and had little light. It felt like a portent, as if I were taking my child into a tunnel of poverty that would be even worse than the life we were already living. I couldn't imagine what my new life would be, if this was its beginning. How would I take care of my child? How could I find work and child care and a decent place to live? I had no savings, and no family within thousands of miles. The thought of leaving my beloved infant in daycare all day long hurt my very soul. I had no money for a divorce, never mind for an apartment. I had no money for anything. I had neither the strength, the confidence, nor the help I needed to begin anew. My spirit, ground down by a life with someone who belittled me constantly, was some years away from finding its true strength in a connection with G‑d.

Dry-eyed, stunned into despondency, I called my husband and said I would come home.

I put my son in his Snugli, and carried my few parcels downstairs, including the package of diapers. Then I went to find the new staff person on duty to tell her I was leaving. This time, instead of kindness, I encountered a rasping hostility that brought to mind my life at home. "Are you expecting things at home to be any better today than they were yesterday?" she asked sarcastically. "Has something changed during the night that you are taking your child back to a place you just left?"

"I'm doing what I need to do for now," I answered, shaken.

She looked at me, and shook her head. I didn't know it at the time, but she was a volunteer, and was doing the opposite of what she had been trained to do. I had no way of knowing it then, but I later learned that it takes many tries for most battered women to leave an abusive marriage, and every attempt represents an important step in the process of her becoming strong enough to build a new life.

Will they share her risk by taking her into their homes? Battered women who leave the men who abused them are more likely, instead of less, to be killed by them. To disparage a battered woman for not "succeeding" in leaving at any point is nothing short of criminal, for the challenges she faces are monumental. The very people who judge her for remaining with the abuser are rarely willing to do anything substantial to help her. Will they offer their homes for her to live with her child or children while she gains her bearings after leaving the abuser? Will they share her risk by taking her into their homes? Will they help her find another place to live? A job? Will they help her pay for a lawyer? Will they help her take care of her child while she works? Will they give her money, or lend her money without interest? No. Sadly, most people – thank G‑d, not all - will only judge her from the smug comfort of their own lives.

And then, of course, there are the people who judge her precisely because she does find the courage to leave the abuser. Here, too, they are unwilling to do anything to lessen the burden of abuse inflicted on the woman and her children. Will they challenge the abuser? Will they make it clear to him that his behavior must change? Will they make it clear that abusing a woman or a child is unquestionably wrong? No, no, and no. It is rare indeed, for anyone to challenge an abuser's cruelty to his family, particularly because most abusive men have public images that are upstanding and even impressive. Instead, the battered woman is drowned in judgment as she struggles to create a safe life for her child and herself.

I admitted that no, I doubted that anything would change, but still, I hoped so because it was impossible for me to leave. Then I said how grateful I was that the shelter had taken me in, and even given me diapers for my son.

"What diapers?" the woman asked. "You mean those?" She pointed at the package of diapers.

"Yes," I said.

"A whole package!" she cried. "We don't give out whole packages of diapers! That's against the rules!"

"Well," I said, suddenly worried that I'd caused the nice young woman of the previous evening trouble by mentioning the diaper. "Diapers get used up awfully fast. She didn't want me to run out in the middle of the night."

"A whole package," she muttered. "That's outrageous." She looked at me as if I were a thief.

She looked at me as if I were a thief"You can have them back," I said. "Here." I picked up the package and held it out to her. My mouth was trembling, with shame. It was as if I'd never left my home. Was I nothing but someone to be despised?

"Never mind," she said in a hard voice. "Keep them. You've got them now." She turned away abruptly, went into her office, and began noisily doing paperwork. Why was she there, if she was so contemptuous of people like me? I'll never know.

Life at home did not become more peaceful. On the contrary, it grew worse. Yet I could not find, until a few years later, the courage to again approach that shelter. To go from humiliation to humiliation seemed a futile journey. But eventually, I had no choice but to risk it. Fortunately, by that time I had rediscovered my faith, and it was a ladder that brought me out of the darkness of my life. The second time, again a stranger in a strange land, I found at the shelter compassion and support, and a few very generous friends and family members came forward to help my son and myself. While I cannot say that the years that following have been empty of struggle, still, I learned in my time of exile the urgency and magnitude of God's commandment to welcome the stranger.

Around us - in every community - are battered wives subsisting on crumbs of hope, wandering in a world of fear and shame, waiting and hoping for those around them to remember the commandment to welcome and protect the stranger. I pray that I will always be someone who offers such welcome, devoid of judgment. And I pray, for the sake of all our children, that all people might do the same. There is no dramatic conclusion to my story, only the tender creation of a new life, sometimes tentative, sometimes joyful, and a love of G‑d that carries me through each new day, in the land of our strange, but beloved new lives.

Editor's Note:Below are some of the many organizations working to prevent abuse and help survivors of abuse to heal. This list was orginally compiled by Miriam Karp for a related article on abuse:

The SOVRI Helpline is an anonymous and confidential helpline staffed by trained volunteers who provide help, information, support, and referrals to survivors of abuse. We don't have caller ID. Our volunteers are trained to understand the dynamics of sexual abuse. They also have training in listening and counseling skills, emergency department protocol, legal protocol, post-traumatic stress disorder, domestic abuse, childhood sexual abuse and incest, and recommending appropriate resources. Our volunteers are supervised by licensed social workers with extensive experience in dealing with these issues. SOVRI Helpline is under the auspices of Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan.

The helpline is open Monday-Thursday 9:30am-5:30pm and Friday 9:30am-1:30pm. The phone number is (212)844-1495.

Shalom Task Force Hotline provides information on rabbinic, legal and counseling services for victims of abuse in the Jewish community. (888)883-2323.

Faith Trust Institute is a clearinghouse for information on domestic violence and clergy abuse in the Jewish community. Faithtrustinstitute.org.

Jsafe: The Jewish Institute Supporting An Abuse Free Environment is an organization led by Rabbi Mark Dratch, which provides a certification program for communal institutions, publications and educational initiatives. Jsafe.org

Ohel Children's Home and Family Services of Brooklyn, NY, has therapy and treatment programs for both victims and perpetrators, sensitive to Jewish needs. (800)603-OHEL

The Awareness Center is a coalition of Jewish mental health practitioners dedicated to building awareness in the Jewish community. They also offer an extensive online collection of articles on issues affecting survivors of sexual abuse. Awarenesscenter.org

Association of Jewish Family and Children Services (AJFCA). (800)634-7346. [email protected]

National Center for Victims of Crime (800)FYI-CALL.

National Child Abuse Hotline (800)4-A-CHILD.

National Hotline for Victims of Sexual Assault (800)656-HOPE.

National Organization for Victim Assistance (800)TRY-NOVA.

Find Jewish resources by state at jewishwomen.org/directory/state_res.htm

Sources for internet and general safety include kidsafe.com

Much additional information is readily available online, through family service agencies, and in the library.