Aguna – the Musical
After obtaining the liberating Get from her violent husband, Sarit Asayag returned to her family in Kiryat Malachi and wrote a play about her experiences for female-only audiences
By Asher Kasher for Yediot Syndication | 9 October, 2020
Sarit Asayag from Kiryat Malachi has found one of the more creative ways of coping with the awful crisis she went through while struggling to release herself from the bondage of being an aguna. “A Woman, a Guitar, and a Suitcase” is a show for women only that Asayag (40), a mother of four, is currently producing, in which she relates her painful experience. “As much as it hurt, I try not to overburden my viewers,” she says. “My goal is not to show them how hard it was, my goal is to empower them and familiarize them with this issue in the event that they God forbid reach the same humiliating low point I reached.”
Between Life and Death
She was born in Kiryat Malachi’s Chabad neighborhood and studied music in the city’s music conservatory, playing the guitar and drums. “My family is very musical,” she relates. “I never really conformed. I got an undergraduate degree, I also liked to travel abroad a lot.”
When she was twenty-six a friend suggested she meet a Canadian businessman from Montreal, who was two years her senior. “I flew to meet him in New York and really liked him,” she remembers. “We married and I moved to Montreal. Everything was fine the first year. There were no signs in the beginning of the hell that came later.”
“He would be violent and then apologize and try to reconcile me with presents. In the beginning I believed he was genuinely sorry. Financially we were doing really well and it was very convenient for me to believe that everything was going to be alright, our social standing in the community was great. You don’t storm out under those conditions.”
When did things change for you?
“When the violence continued. He was a very dominant, very respected figure, and it was hard to ask for help. I had only one friend who helped me at the time and she helped keep me sane. Things just got worse. Then I became pregnant for the fourth time and I just couldn’t take it anymore.”
“I collapsed physically. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was hanging between life and death and he didn’t even want to call an ambulance. The doctors thought it was something physical of course and couldn’t find anything. I understood that this physical collapse was caused by mental stress.”
Did he stop after that?
“Not at all. Until one time I called the police and he ran out of the house. I filed for a religious divorce and only then did I realize that Canada requires a civil divorce, but of course I couldn’t obtain one faced with his battery of lawyers and character witnesses. I could only obtain a Get from the rabbinate if I had a civil divorce, and he refused to divorce me. I was on the verge of giving up. This lasted for years.”
During this time did you continue to live together?
“No. He moved into a hotel and then to an apartment but he stopped giving me the money I was entitled to. I also knew I was followed everywhere I went.”
Give Me Your Hand: Yad La’isha
Asayag’s salvation finally came about through help she received from Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad La’isha: the Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center, the largest organization in the world working to release women who are agunot or refused a Get. She learned about the association after “a good person in the community told me about them. Without them I would never have received a Get.”
How did it come about?
“My ex-husband came to Israel on a visit, while I was with the children in Canada. The Canadian rabbinate reported this to Yad La’isha and they filed for a departure prohibition order against him. In the meantime he claimed he was a tourist and a Canadian citizen and there was no legal justification for detaining him. The situation was saved by Dvora Brisk, my champion rabbinical court advocate from Yad La’isha, who discovered that my ex-husband had forged a death certificate to hide any connection with his Israeli citizenship.
She didn’t give up and with the help of documents I sent her she showed the police and the rabbinical court that he had forged his own death certificate and that the departure prohibition order remained in force until he signed a Get for me.”
And that’s how it ended?
“Ended? Suddenly in the middle of the hearing he decided he wanted me to immediately come to Israel to receive the Get. Then he changed his mind. He agreed, and then refused. Yes, no, yes. Finally he gave in.”
And was it over then?
“No. After he signed the rabbis called, the rabbinical court advocate was on the line, everyone was crying, congratulating, but as long as the signed Get hadn’t reached me nothing counted. And it ended up not arriving as it got lost in the mail and was then no longer acceptable…”
“You have no idea. Only after days of tension the mail arrived and the Get became effective. A little later I received my civil divorce from the Canadian courts, and only then did I take our children and come back to Israel, to Kiryat Malachi of course, to be near my family.”
After returning to Israel Asayag began to process the trauma she had been through. She surrounded herself with supportive women – her social worker and psychotherapist Adina Pertsovsky (“the one and only – I’m here thanks to her”); Tirza Karniel, one of Yad La’isha’s staff social workers; and Limor Price, her mentor from the Noshmim Lirvacha program (“which has been by my side me since I got back to Israel”) – and began to fuse everything into a show.
“Yad La’isha has a theater group called Playback under the tutelage of Ayelet Ben Ari, and she guided me throughout the process of my show. I would just like to mention that I conduct Playback workshops throughout the country.”
Have you put any shows on yet?
“Before Covid-19 I put on one show, which got great reviews. I am waiting to put on another show as soon as I can.”