Tirtsa Karniel

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Tirtsa Karniel is a staff social worker at Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center & Hotline, where she works tirelessly to rehabilitate and empower agunot, while the center’s advocates wage the legal battle to free them from their chains.

Tirtsa Karniel is being honored at the 2020 Virtual Gala for her unending commitment to her clients, whose circumstances have grown more dire and complex as the pandemic rages. As we honor her, we are also honoring the myriad members of the OTS family who have also given of their professional social work or psychological skills to help those adversely affected by COVID.

As a social worker, I always saw the personal connection I develop with my clients through regular, in-person meetings as central to my ability to help them process trauma and develop tools move on with their lives.  In many cases, COVID-19 has exacerbated the plight of women I work with; they are in very desperate situations and I had to urgently develop new ways to help them. 

In addition to meeting with clients over the phone, we began a brand new writing workshop, entirely online, which is giving women an opportunity to express themselves – their fears, and their hopes, within a supportive atmosphere of other women who understand their struggles.

With one specific client who is willing to meet in person (with masks, of course), I tried a new type of art therapy I had never done before. Her husband is a drug addict who refuses to give a get and never shows up for the court hearings. She was feeling trapped and powerless. She and I began using clay as a therapeutic tool. While we talked, her hands worked with the clay. Over several sessions, she created a bird, and began to express her desire for freedom. As she painted the bird with vibrant colors, she spoke about wanting to find ways to express her own colors, to find herself.

At the same time that Yad La’isha continues to advocate through legal channels, we are constantly striving to find new ways of giving women the support they need to find sources of strength, so they will be able to move on with their lives once they finally secure a divorce.” 

Yad La’isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline provides legal representation and therapeutic support to hundreds of agunot (women whose husbands refuse to grant a get (a Jewish divorce) each year, helping them secure their freedom from abusive marriages and develop the self-esteem and tools they need to hold their heads high and rebuild their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the struggles of the agunot we help – women already under significant stress. Many agunot feel truly afraid and alone – afraid that they will be unable to extricate themselves from marriages which have been abusive and traumatic, afraid that they or their children will get sick, and anxious about whether they will be able to work and how they will support their families. Yad La’isha’s attorneys and social workers are with them every step of the way, using every means available to advance their cases while providing constant therapeutic support to help them navigate this incredibly challenging time.

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