Miriam, a short and energetic woman, walks into the manager’s office. She had left the shelter a few months ago and has stopped in to wish everyone a Chag Sameach, her smile generating a feeling of self-confidence. Later, the staff members would relate to me how bent, morose and literally frightened to death she was when she came to Bat Melech. A mere shadow of what she looks like now. Miriam was asked to sit for a few minutes.
“For years I was no stronger than a leaf blowing in the wind, until one day he pulled out a gun and threatened to kill me. Then I understood everything. I was working as a nursery teacher and was in the midst of feeding soup to an infant when the police officers arrived to escort me to the shelter. I left immediately, dressed as I was and was brought to Bat Melech. This shelter saved my life.”
Zahavit, pregnant, wearing a wig and the dark stockings of the ultra-religious, was delighted to see Miriam again.
“The day I decided to run away was the day he attacked me viciously, punching me numerous times in my stomach, saying he wants to hurt the baby,” Zahavit relates. “He did terrible things to me, especially severe emotional torture. He treated me less than dirt. I was naive and never imagined that this abusive relationship was abnormal and the guilt feelings of not being a good enough wife kept gnawing at me. ‘If only I would become better. If only…. he would behave differently.’”
Salit Geva: “These two women were so terrorized, they were unable to utter the words: ‘I am an abused woman.’ Our duty here is to give them the opportunity to tell their stories and to have sympathetic and understanding ears. When they look at themselves and say the words ‘I lived with severe abuse’ they have already walked half the road to recovery. Last Erev Rosh Hashanah a woman arrived at the shelter. Her entire body was black and blue. We’ve seen women with broken ribs and split lips. Women whose noses were broken so many times they had to have serious surgery to repair the damage and women who aborted due to severe beatings. We walk with them, step by step down a long road until they realize what they went through, name the evil for what it is and move forward towards healing and growing.”
The budget allotted to shelters by the Welfare Department is configured by a set criteria for every family nucleus. The difference is that while a non-religious family averages 2.3 souls, the families at Bat Melech average 4.6. A woman with 7-8 children is something we see quite often. One woman arrived at the shelter with ten children, one diaper and a package of wipes. She left everything else in her rush to escape. Bat Melech provided her with everything she and her children needed, everything you can think of.
“In the past, most women would get the courage to leave only after their children grew up and were married. Today, they are very young and arrive with all of their children. There are quite a few who arrive here on the verge of giving birth and Bat Melech social workers accompany them to the hospital and stay with them throughout. Last year alone, we celebrated the births of two boys and two bar mitzvahs,” Salit relates.
While all shelters have huge expenses, Bat Melech’s are extraordinary. It provides Glatt Kosher food, bus transportation to and from varied yeshivot according to sectoral needs, holiday expenses and professional advice and guidance from rabbonim who travel in from long distances. The Welfare Department’s budget does not take any of this into consideration in the allotment it provides the shelter, which forces the directors of Bat Melech to seek outside funding. The total provided by the Welfare Department pays for approximately 65% of the overall budgetary needs and the rest comes in from donations. In response to pleas for additional funding, the Departments standard response is that “this office is well aware of the importance of shelters that service the Chareidi sector in the same manner as we are aware of the importance for such shelters for other sectors of the populace – the Arab and new immigrants specifically.”