At first glance, anyone entering the Jerusalem event hall last week might have thought they stumbled upon another festive event or a toast for the New Year. But it didn’t take long to realize that this was not just another party; it was a special celebration of freedom for 53 former agunot who had been trapped in their marriages by their recalcitrant husbands and were now liberated, thanks to the efforts of the Yad La’isha Legal Aid Center for Agunot. The gathering marked their beginning of the New Year as free women.
“I’m not really a party person, it’s not my thing,” said Gilat from Ma’ale Adumim. “But at this party, I find myself shedding all my burdens and feeling completely liberated because there’s nothing like the joy shared by women who have finally gained their freedom after a long struggle.”
Among the celebrants was S., freed this year after a six-year struggle as an aguna. S, who married relatively young, suffered severe physical abuse by her husband from the very beginning. She was afraid to leave, but after their young son, who was late to start speaking, cried out “Mommy!” during one of her husband’s violent episodes, “It horrified me that my child’s first word in life was a cry of fear and terror, and that led me to the realization that I had to leave,” she recalled.
Even after their separation, S’s husband continued to wield violence against her, both physically and through threats. Progress was made when a social worker referred her to Yad La’isha, part of the Ohr Torah Stone network of educational institutions and social programs, which provides specially trained advocates and social workers dedicated to releasing and empowering victims of get abuse through four branches across Israel.
“Fortune favored her,” said S’s Yad La’isha advocate Dina Raichik. “Her state-appointed social worker took part in one of our lectures on get-refusal and thought that maybe, after so many years, we would be able to help her. To our delight, S can now begin this new year as a free woman, looking forward to building her future – and that of her children,” Raichik says.
Six years have passed since 53-year-old Gilat was freed by Yad La’isha, after five years of being a “chained woman” due to her husband’s refusal to grant her a get. Gilat sees the importance of continuing to celebrate the joy of women who have been released and, as important, continuing to support those who are still trapped. “Unfortunately, there are still many women waiting, and some of them joined us to celebrate and rejoice for those who finally received their get. We pray that they, too, will receive their freedom this year or at least by the next ‘get-celebration’,” she noted.
“It’s hard to put into words the excitement I feel when I see these courageous women celebrating their triumph in a battle for what so many of us take for granted – the right to autonomy and freedom,” said Pnina Omer, director of Yad La’isha. “There are women here from all walks of Israeli society – secular and religious, young and old, from the upper and lower class – all of them found themselves involuntarily united under the same label: ‘agunot.’ In the end, this problem doesn’t discriminate by gender or population group; any one of us could be the next to enter this unfortunate statistic. We are here today to celebrate the freedom of those women who were released, and to stand alongside those who continue to fight their battles.”
“It is deeply inspiring and encouraging to bear witness to the women who have suffered for so long to be able to come together and celebrate the new year and their newfound freedom,” noted Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander, President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone. “The plight of agunot trapped in abusive or dead marriages is one of the most pressing challenges of the Jewish world. Our Yad La’isha advocates will continue for as long as necessary to encourage preventative prenuptial agreements and push forward with their creative thinking and exceptional expertise to release as many women as possible. Part of our prayers this holiday season should be focused on the hope that many more trapped women will be able to break the chains of abusive relationships that entrap them and be given the gift of new lives of happiness and freedom.”