“I was abandoned by my husband while pregnant with our firstborn. He didn’t live with me and had nothing to do with his son, but he refused for four years to give me a divorce. Why? Perhaps jealousy, anger, I don’t know. I was only 26 years old! I wanted to have more children and create a family. It was only because of Yad La’isha’s expert representation in the courts that today I am free.” –M.C.
Jewish law stipulates the husband must grant a divorce (get) to his wife without coercion. Thus, women who want to initiate a divorce, whose husbands are missing or disabled, or who are married to abusive, violent or stubborn men remain bound to unviable, unhealthy marriages. These powerless women are called agunot – literally, “chained women.”
Each year, 2,400 women join the circle of agunot and mesuravot get. Many of these women do not have the financial or emotional wherewithal, legal representation, social clout or political influence to fight for their freedom. Ohr Torah Stone established Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline in 1997 specifically to help them and indeed, any woman in need can turn to the Center for help, regardless of her age, background or religious orientation.
While today there are other organizations which also assist agunot in various ways, Yad La’isha remains the largest, most comprehensive and most experienced support center for agunot in the world, providing not only legal support in the rabbinical and civil courts, but also the services of in-house social workers and personal coaches who support clients emotionally and empower them to rebuild their lives.
Six advocates and two social workers staff branches in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Beersheba and maintain a presence in Israel’s North, enabling Yad L’isha to serve an average of 800 women annually (approximately 650 women receiving free legal counseling and 150 clients receiving representation at any given time).
Approximately 60 women each year gain their freedom due to Yad L’isha’s representation – women like Esther, whose husband left her to live with another woman somewhere in Eastern Europe; like Dina, whose husband broke a whiskey bottle over her head and stabbed her with the broken remains; or like Miriam, whose schizophrenic husband was declared incompetent to give her a get. Women like Galit, who suffered an abusive marriage for 40 years until she could take it no longer, and women like Michal, who eloped with her husband at the age of 16, only to discover five years and one child later that he was a pedophile who had been molesting her 10-year-old sister.
“For five years I lived in limbo. I was terrified of returning to my violent husband, but the courts wouldn’t order him to grant me a get. Had I not been directed to Yad La’isha, I would still be living in fear and terror today.”—L.S.