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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 3/24/06

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An Agunah’s Wrenching Cry For Help

At the tender age of 18, I came to these shores from Eretz Yisrael for the Yomim Noraim. A shadchan insisted I meet a bochur from a well-connected family, who was about ten years older than me. We met a few times, and he made a good impression. The references I had were closely tied to the family, and they naturally gave glowing reports. My mother was still in Israel, taking care of my younger siblings.

When I agreed to marry this young man, my future in-laws promised to cover all the expenses of the wedding and to furnish our apartment. Right after sheva brachos, my father-in-law called and asked, “How many chairs do you want?” I told him that since I liked to have many guests, ten would be nice. He answered, “Okay, I’ll go down to the basement and find some chairs for you.” His basement was used as a shul and was furnished with whatever he could salvage from the street. Whenever I went to my in-laws’ house, all they offered me was bread and margarine. When my mother-in-law came to visit, she would inspect my kitchen and give me the third degree about my food purchases.

But having stingy in-laws was the least of my problems – for I found out soon after the wedding that my wonderful, most special chosson was a fraud. Patiently and willingly, I worked to support us. My husband, who had been out of school for many years, had not yet found an appropriate profession. Had he spent his time learning our holy Torah, I would have accepted the situation. But that was not the case. Five years and four children later, he was still sleeping much of the day away and was constantly “too tired” to attempt anything. Meanwhile I was working full-time, whether pregnant or with little babies at home.

I begged our local Rav for help. I begged my husband’s illustrious family for help. They owned a business in town yet never offered to help in any way. The few times my husband was hired as a mashgiach, he would turn every penny he’d earn over to his parents – supposedly because they supported him when he was a child.

Eventually, I resigned myself to being the breadwinner. When the Rav advised my husband to stay home and baby-sit for his children, there wasn’t too much objection on his part – he could stay home and sleep all day. I would return home to find my babies crying in their cribs, in the diapers I had left them in many hours earlier. He’d paid no attention to their special needs: one was allergic to milk, another could not have soy, etc. They were always getting the wrong formula. I prepared food that only needed warming up, but he said that was too much work for him. To say he neglected our children is an understatement.

There was no shortage of verbal abuse. Everything I did was criticized. My husband was not ashamed to curse and threaten me in front of the neighbors. Though he was unwilling to support our family, he had no problem dictating how I should spend the little salary I received.

After a couple of meetings with our local Bais Din, a divorce was agreed upon, and we were instructed to go to a certain Rav in Flatbush who would arrange the Get. I showed up, but he didn’t. At this point, my Rav gave me permission to change the locks on my door and lock him out of the apartment, in order to shake him up and make him submit to the Bais Din’s ruling.

That evening, he and his three brothers-in-law broke down the door with a crow bar, and then called the police. This was their way of making Shalom Bayis. These three “helpers” are all business owners, and in five years not one offered my husband a job or financial help. When my oldest son needed shoes and my mother-in-law had promised for ten months to buy them, it was a neighbor who finally did – not bearing to see him hobbling in the courtyard with shoes three sizes too small.

My husband then sued me in court, listing all kinds of outrageous accusations. I couldn’t afford a lawyer and had no one to advise me on how to arrange visitation. I kept getting court papers which I didn’t understand and kept missing court appointments. It was all I could do to continue working and taking care of my children, alone.

Meanwhile, my husband regularly showed up at our children’s schools to take them to stay at his parents’ house for days on end. My second child, a daughter who was just beginning to speak, wouldn’t speak for five days following a visit with her father. On top of this, my in-laws regularly took the time to call and harass me about my spending habits (for food to feed my children, mind you).

At some point, my husband picked up our son from kindergarten and did not bring him back for a few months. No matter how much I begged my in-laws to return my son to me, they wouldn’t let him come home, even for a visit. He was being held hostage.

Following five years of misery with no one to help, and now despairing of ever getting my son back or my life in order, I made the decision to return to my mother in Eretz Yisrael. At least I’d have family supporting me while I worked at getting my son, and a Get, from my husband.

Without consulting any Bais Din, my husband reported me to the authorities with the claim that I had kidnapped his American-born children and left the country. For the next four years, he did not allow my son to contact me, nor did he visit or contact our other three children. At about that time, my husband received an inheritance from an uncle who had passed away in Europe. He squandered much of it on private investigators to find me and have me extradited to face kidnapping charges. He paid them to stalk and hound my mother, a poor almanah (widow). The phones were tapped, mail was traced, and all her activities were monitored. Needless to say, I have had to avoid seeing or contacting my mother and my siblings. So, even here, in the Holy Land, I am once again alone, without support.

To this day, I have had no contact with my oldest son. He celebrated his bar mitzvah without me. What kind of celebration was it for him without his mother? All the while, my husband’s family continues to support him, covering up his failings. They place all their energies into finding me, to make sure I will be put away for a very long time.

Over the years I have appealed to the Bais Din and leading community members, asking people to speak to my in-laws and pressure them to convince my husband to give me a Get and to cancel the arrest warrant. My family and friends have been continuously begging the Bais Din to at least issue a letter stating that they agree with the decision of a Bais Din from Eretz Yisrael.

I also have spoken to the heads of an Israeli Bais Din, who investigated the matter and even traveled to New York to meet with my husband and with the Bais Din here in America. Promises made at those meetings have never materialized. The Israeli Bais Din, however, sent letters out to the local community, requesting that anyone in a position to influence my husband to give the Get and to cancel the State Department’s action should take steps to do so.

My friends – for nine years I have gone from one solitary-confinement situation to another. Is this called living? My future is bleak. Please, please help me!

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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