Building Aguna Advocacy Ambassadors, One Kilometer at a Time
On International Women’s Day, 300 Israeli women chose to forego discounted shopping trips, motivational lectures, or gift bags, choosing instead to literally go the distance on behalf of other women who need their help and support.
The Second Annual Women Moving Mountains Desert Hike (in Hebrew, “Eshet Hamidbar“) took place on March 7th and 8th and challenged these women to hike through 24 kilometers in the Arava desert over 24 hours. In doing so, they came face-to-face with a serious issue that the Jewish people should have eradicated long ago: women who are chained to abusive and unviable marriages (agunot and mesoravot get).
The average Israeli woman thinks that it won’t happen to her, but the staff members, clients, and former clients of Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline for agunot know that there are no guarantees, and almost any Jewish married woman could find herself in a situation where her get (divorce certification) and freedom are being held over her head. In the Women Moving Mountains hike, women from all walks of life, aged 16 to 75, learned what an aguna is, what her struggle looks like, and how each and every one of us can help her on her journey.
A., an Eshet Hamidbar participant and former aguna who had been released from her marital chains just two months before the hike after 9 years of frustration and uncertainty, shared her experience with the group: “This hike through the desert is similar to an aguna‘s journey through captivity,” she said. “An aguna also wanders through a barren wasteland and cannot see the end on the horizon. She gathers her strength to persevere, cuts herself on stones on her way and is energized by stops on the side of the road that motivate her to continue fighting for her freedom. Thank you, Yad La’isha, for illuminating our paths and making our deserts bloom.”
Refreshment stations, overnight accommodations at the Antelope Ranch, an evening concert by Israeli singer Dafna Armoni, a nighttime dance party, and a discussion circle with participating agunot – past and present – as well as Yad La’isha advocates and social workers completed the experience. “The most powerful moment for me took place during the dance party,” says Netalee, a participant from Beesheva. “Suddently, the music stopped and I could hear someone shouting. I realized she was saying the blessing, ‘Baruch Matir Asura – Blessed be He who releases the bound’ and explaining that it was in honor of L., a Yad La’isha client and Women Moving Mountains participant who had finally received her get less than 24 hours earlier. The blessing is traditionally recited during the morning prayers to express one’s joy on awakening from slumber, but was imbued with new meaning through L’s public display of gratitude for her newfound state of independence.”
Another poignant moment took place during the awards ceremony at the finish line, when Yad La’isha thanked Gilat, another former client, who not only participated in the hike for the second year in a row but raised over 7,000 NIS for the event. Gilat was an aguna for several years before finally receiving her get in May of 2017. She is a proud mother of five and has recently embarked on her own business entrepreneurship; she is an inspiration to people everywhere.
“Each one of you 300 warriors are our new ambassadors”, said Pnina Omer, Yad La’isha’s director, as the participants prepared to go home. “We are counting on you to tell the entire Jewish world how each one of us can make a difference in an aguna‘s life. Believing her story, lending her a helping hand, understanding the importance of legislation, and knowing where to refer her can do a world of good. Together, we will overcome this for the sake of our daughters and the continuation of the Jewish people.”