Freedom and Empowerment

Yesterday marked the end of a time of mourning amongst the Jewish people. 

Historically, the three-week period following the fast of the 17th of Tammuz is one in which many tragedies befell the Jews, culminating with Tisha B’Av, the day on which the Temples were destroyed as well as many other calamities in Jewish history, both ancient and contemporary.

This year the Three Weeks have taken on an added dimension of sadness and alarm, as rockets from Hamas hit Israeli cities, soldiers fell in Gaza, and Jews all over the world worried for the fate of their homeland. How appropriate that on the very same day on which we closed this mourning chapter and returned to lighter, happier activity, a ceasefire was declared and our IDF soldiers returned home from Gaza to their families.

While the transition from mourning to joy is more often gradual than abrupt — and we remain prepared for changes in the current climate — we nonetheless experience a deep sense of pride and empowerment as we witness the streets of Southern Israel fill with laughing children who only days ago were confined to playing in bomb shelters due to constant missile fire.

In this spirit, we want to share with you the recent empowerment story of M.S., a 43-year-old mother and grandmother who was finally freed from an abusive marriage of 22 years. M’s husband’s position of professional power allowed him to manipulate the system in his favor for years. But M.’s Yad L’isha: Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center advocate found the key to putting an end to this injustice.

We pray that we may continue to witness the emergence of agunot from helplessness to freedom, as well as the restoration of peace and quiet in our land. May this year’s Tisha B’Av be the last of mourning and may next year’s be a day of joy and celebration.

“From now on, I’m free.”

In the aguna cases that come to Yad L’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline, we witness recalcitrant husbands using the get as a tool of power and manipulation against their wives. In the case of M.S. (pictured, on left), a 43-year-old woman from Holon, her husband had multiple sources of power to use as tools to ensure his wife remained alone and isolated.

M. is the mother of three children, ages 22, 19, and 17. She works as an assistant in her local kindergarten. When she married her husband, a police officer, 22 years ago, she soon began to learn that the man she thought she had known and loved was a fraud, a compulsive liar who would abuse and degrade her for many years to come.

In his career as a police officer, M.’s husband was caught several times committing fraud and altering documents. On many occasions, M. attempted to report his violence, but he would access the reports and edit them in his favor. When she sought legal counsel, little headway was made, as they could not believe her version of events in light of these altered reports – though he did indeed serve jail time at one point for violence committed against her and their children.

Four years ago, M.’s husband left their home, as well as his job, in order to move away and live with a new girlfriend. Not long after, it was found that he was abusing this woman as well, and several months ago he was sent back to jail for that offense, for which he is still serving time.

Two months ago, M. turned to a social worker for help, not knowing just how crucial a step that would be toward her freedom. To her great fortune, the social worker had just recently received educational material from Yad L’isha in the mail and had been extremely impressed with their work. She referred M. to Yad L’isha, where her case was accepted by Devorah Brisk, a staff advocate in the Tel Aviv branch. Devorah convinced M.’s husband and his lawyer that M. was serious about finally receiving her divorce, and that Yad L’isha intended to stand behind her until she was freed. Amazingly, he agreed to grant her the get.

But on the day that their case came to the rabbinical court, M.’s husband changed his plans. “I have no reason to give a get,” he said. “And you can’t do anything about it! You can’t even send me to jail, I’m already there!”

Devorah pointed out that even in prison, as a recalcitrant husband, he could be denied basic comforts such as access to leisure activities, cigarettes and other items, as well as be subject to sanctions such as solitary confinement for up to a week. She made it very clear that she would leave no stone unturned until she saw all of those things happen. M.’s husband turned to the prison guards that escorted him into court and after consulting with them for just one moment, turned back around and agreed to give M. her long-awaited get.

M. emerged from the court overwhelmed with emotion, tears streaming, expressing thanks to Devorah and Yad L’isha. “After suffering so much for so long and carrying with me such a deep sense of injustice, I am so thrilled to have my story validated,” she said. “From now on, I’m free.”

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