The following story was shared with me by Rabbinical Court Advocate Dina Raichik, a senior staff member of Yad L’isha: the Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline, who has been serving clients in southern Israel since the opening of our Beersheba branch in 2012.
Yesterday, I went to the rabbinical court with R, a woman whose domineering husband had refused to grant her a divorce for the past 15 years. R had come to my office in Beersheba about a year ago, shortly after we opened the southern branch. She told me that she had been represented by a number of private lawyers over the years, but other than eating up all of her savings, nothing had been done to further her case. R was still living in the same apartment with her husband, with each having taken over different parts, but she was desperate to get out. “He told me that if I gave up my half of the home he would give me a get [divorce]. The offer has been growing more and more tempting to me lately,” she confided. “I’m just so tired.”In my years of advocacy I have seen tens of women become trapped in this quandary. Many of my clients have been victimized for so many years that all of their self-confidence and emotional strength has been sapped. After years of being beaten down, even the strongest, most accomplished women begin to crack. The signs of victimization begin to show. Denied freedom again and again, unable to start a new life or family causes terrible damage to these women and their children. Some even start to believe that everything is somehow their own fault.
When women like R come to Yad L’isha, we not only provide them with legal representation in the courts, we also provide them with coaching services and the emotional backing they need to regain their self-esteem and stand up to the extortionary demands of their husbands. After dozens of discussions and laborious negotiations which lasted several months, R’s husband and his lawyer finally understood that the newly-empowered R was not going to give in. They understood that I, her advocate, was going to win the chiyyuv get ruling which would compel the granting of the get. And they understood that the time had come to come to an agreement. We drew up a contract in which R’s husband would grant her a divorce, give her half the apartment, and undertake to pay his own way out of his personal debt. The hearing was scheduled for yesterday.
And then missiles began to fall.
The night before the hearing, R was so excited she did not sleep. She arrived at the court as soon as it opened, even though her case was not scheduled to be heard until the late morning hours. Just as we sat down for some coffee, a Code Red alarm sounded; I was startled, but R was undeterred. “I don’t care about being injured by shrapnel, about a wall falling on me,” she said. “Today I will receive my get.”
Suddenly I realized the tremendous privilege I had to be able to accompany women like R through thick and thin; through water and, yes, through fire. The divorce is not just a piece of paper given by the husband, it symbolizes a woman’s freedom, her ability to regain her independence and her right to self-determination.
When it was finally time for R’s hearing, she went in with her head held high – finally, this was going to be her day! Then, just as the rabbis were questioning the couple to ensure that they were both agreeing to the divorce willingly, the missile warning alarm sounded yet again. R stared at the rabbis, unwilling to move; she had waited too long for freedom to have it postponed. She continued to stare at the rabbis. The rabbis remained in their seats. In fact, we all remained in our seats – even as we heard the other rooms emptying out and people scurrying to the bomb shelter. The rabbis continued with the proceedings even as the alarm continued, even as loud “booms” were heard as the missiles landed in an open field right outside of town. But R didn’t hear any of those things. All she heard were the rabbis’ words: your divorce is final. You are free.