“But You Don’t Look Like an Agunah”
Oped by Dina Raz Golan
Ynet | February 13, 2019
My name is Dina and I have been an aguna for 17 years. For 17 years my husband has kept me undivorced, in the chains of marriage; for 17 years he hasn’t seen his daughters or paid child support; for 17 years I have not found a solution and my life has been standing still, as I am unable to remarry or have children.
I got married at the age of 21. I had taken the standard route of the religious Zionists: ulpana and national service, after which I met my friend’s cousin: Erez Golan. We got married and built a home in Ofra, and I gave birth to two beautiful girls, but the relationship between us started to suffer and then the violence began. Erez decided that he wanted to emigrate to the United States because the situation at home was so bad. I didn’t want to go, but we consulted with Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and he said maybe this will repair our relationship and, he pointed out, we can always come back. So we rented a house in New Jersey and Erez got a job as the community’s superintendent, but the violence didn’t stop; on the contrary, it got worse.
One day, after a severe episode, I took the girls and ran to the rabbi’s wife. She and her husband brought Erez in for a lecture and sent him for treatment, but I had already decided I wanted to end the marriage. Erez agreed, and suggested I go back to Israel to start the process – he said he would come one month later to give the get, and of course he will pay child support and do anything else that had to be done. He even escorted us to the airport. Our oldest daughter was five, and the youngest just two and a half.
We never saw him again.
Upon my return to Israel, I discovered that I was drowning in debt. It turned out that Erez had not paid the mortgage on our home, and that he also had a registered business in Israel which had accrued debts. Suddenly, creditors from all over the country were knocking on my door. And all the while, Erez kept telling me not to go to the courts if I wanted the divorce to go smoothly. I opened a divorce file at Rabbinate, but Erez didn’t respond. Time passed, he continued to ignore my attempts to reach him, and the debts continued to accumulate.
Eventually, I had no choice but to go to court. The judge handed down an exceptional decision allowing me to sell the house in Ofra in order to pay part of the debt. That’s when Erez suddenly woke up and started responding, through lawyers. This is when the real saga began- a saga which includes my paying $10,000 to a man from Jerusalem who claimed that he knew how to free agunot. This man told me and the court how he went to Erez and how Erez had threatened him and even punctured his tires… stories with no basis in fact, which never happened. He simply took my money and the money of other women.
After a few years I came to an organization in the US called ORA. They tried to help me, attempted to get child support in the States, and even held demonstrations outside of his home. Eventually it was discovered that he had remarried after faking documents, and that he and his new wife had two additional children.
In 2012, Rabbi Abergil issued a warrant for Erez’s arrest on the charge of bigamy. I felt like I won the lottery! I thought someone would enforce the warrant, but nothing happened. All those years, I was left hanging. And then, nearly four years ago, a friend asked me why I’m not going to Yad La’isha, the Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline for Agunot.
I had never heard of this organization before. Yad La’isha was established by the Ohr Torah Stone network specifically to help trapped women like me. Since its inception, the organization has freed nearly 1000 agunot. I look forward to the day I will finally be one of them.
Yad La’isha assigned a PI to my case and discovered that Erez and his new wife changed addresses every few months, and that at some point, he had left the house and just disappeared. Since then, we have tried many things, some of which I can’t talk about and some of which are still in the works. Unfortunately, the last photo I have of Erez – which probably isn’t even his name anymore – is from 20 years ago. If I’d only heard of Yad La’isha a few years ago, when I was still somewhat in touch with him, I know that I would be a free woman today.
Last year, I went along 200 other women on the “Women Moving Mountains” desert hike which was run by Yad La’isha to raise awareness and funds for helping clients like me. I was surprised to discover the wide range of women who participated and the number of various companies who sponsored the event – especially companies like Maccabi and Hapoel, which are considered “masculine.” This shows that the issue is important to them too. One of the most powerful experiences I had there came from exposing myself, and from the responses I received. So many women said to me, “But you know even look like an aguna!” And I answered, “What does an aguna look like?” An aguna looks just like me – and she looks just like you, too. Becoming a chained woman is something that could happen to anyone.
I’m not losing hope. I still dream of hiking the Women Moving Mountains event in 2020 as a free woman.
This year’s Women Moving Mountains will be taking place on March 7-8. The 24-kilometer hike through the Arava desert includes overnight accommodation, refreshment stations, exquisite meals, a concert by Dafna Armoni, discussion circles and fantastic female camaraderie. All of the proceeds from the hike go to Ohr Torah Stone’s Yad La’isha to better represent chained women in the rabbinical courts and empower them to begin new lives.