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July 28, 2014 / 1 Av, 5774
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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities

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And Heaven Decreed…

Dear Rachel,

I’ve written to you a number of times regarding Bat Melech, the only shelter for abused Chareidi women in Israel. In those letters I described in detail how my wife and I would witness the after-effects of the abuse, speak to the residents and staff, and of our horror at the stories we heard.

In the letters I wrote and you published, we described the devotion of Bat Melech’s staff, their warmth, concern and deep dedication to the women and their children. We also conveyed the helplessness of the families as well as our deep anger at the indifference exhibited by some so-called “leaders” (both community elders and rabbis), and we related to you a number of happy endings.

The following is a true story of severe and steady abuse, and of Heaven’s sweet justice. Please read on.

Together with her four children aged three to ten, Miriam (not her real name) arrived at the Bat Melech shelter for abused women approximately six months ago. Her arrival was prompted by her husband’s call to her parents, ominously warning them that they better pick their daughter up immediately. Should they delay, he warned, they may very well find a “body” instead of their daughter. The parents called Bat Melech and asked for help.

Miriam, a very intelligent woman, was an experienced and well-liked kindergarten teacher who left her profession approximately a year prior to coming to Bat Melech. Her resignation was prompted by a very ugly incident perpetrated by her husband who came to her place of work where he cursed, threatened and humiliated his wife in front of the children, a number of parents and the entire kindergarten staff. An utterly mortified Miriam quit her job and soon evolved into a recluse, refusing to leave the confines of her house.

When Miriam arrived at Bat Melech, her whole body ached, her walk was pained and her breathing labored from a severe beating she had been dealt by her husband two months earlier. X-rays revealed a number of broken ribs, and yet Miriam refused to file formal charges against him. (In a phenomenon that keeps repeating itself, abused women – despite being plagued by constant physical abuse – continue to live with the illusion that things will get better.)

During her stay at the shelter, Miriam progressed very slowly through a long and intensive rehabilitation process. Bat Melech’s dedicated staff, supervised by Sla’yit, was in daily contact with both the husband and rabbanim whom he was consulting, mostly to coordinate his visits with the children and to determine a future course for this family.

While Miriam slowly regained her strength both physically and emotionally, it became apparent that her husband was in dire need of extensive psychological help; in fact he actually began psychiatric therapy. Though she was unconvinced that her husband could be cured and was likely to change, Miriam was willing to give the union another chance and try to rebuild their shattered marriage — with the explicit condition that should the therapy regimen prove to be a failure, she would immediately be granted a get. Seeing how Miriam was willing to try again, Bat Melech’s loyal staff walked her every step of the way, infusing her with constant and steady encouragement.

However… on the morning in which the couple was to meet in Beit Din in order to sign the sholom bayis agreement, G-d decided otherwise. While hanging laundry, the husband fell out of the window and died!

The staff immediately mobilized and left no stone unturned in helping Miriam and her children cope with the latest twist in their tragic lives. Adding to this incredible tragedy – though Miriam was at the shelter when it occurred, the husband’s family accused Miriam of “murdering” their son. (Where were they, I wonder, while their angelic son beat and abused his wife over the years?)

As halacha required, Miriam sat shiva for her husband (part of the shiva in the shelter and the rest back in her own home) while her children divided their time between the husband’s family and their mother — an arrangement mediated by Sela’yit (the shelter’s supervisor) and arrived at following a fierce battle by the husband’s family to keep the children.

In the ensuing days, Bat Melech received complaints from a number of rabbanim speaking in defense of the husband and claiming that Bat Melech was technically responsible for the husband’s death. They maintained that the kollel man, a learning-partner to many known rabbanim who were impressed with his learning acumen, could not possibly have done what his wife accused him of. They in fact had lent a willing ear to his constant complaints of how much he was suffering from his wife.

It seems the rabbanim never realized how psychologically demented the man was and how urgent was his need for psychiatric intervention, nor were they aware of the severe physical and emotional abuse he visited on his wife and children (a reality that sadly escapes many too often).

As of this writing, Miriam is quite happy and healthy, baruch Hashem. Every day that passes sees her getting stronger, though the road ahead is still a very long one. Today Miriam came to the shelter to retrieve her belongings and thanked the Bat Melech staff before returning home. Her children, noted as a special case, continue to be administered to by the shelter’s social worker until further notice.

Isaac Kohn

Dear Mr. Kohn,

Man may be easily fooled but there is no hiding from our all-seeing G-d in Heaven. May He keep watch on our innocent loved ones and shield them from all harm all the time, and may He reward your obvious kindness and caring of the helpless and downtrodden by sparing you pain and suffering and blessing you with much hatzlocha and endless Yiddish nachas from your own.

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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