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Rachel’s Story

On Sunday, I went to Israel’s Supreme Court to listen to the wisdom of the highest judges in Israel concerning the case of Rachel S. (there’s a partial gag order, thus the initial), the woman on whom I based my play, Women’s Minyan.

Rachel, who was married to an admitted adulterer in Chasidic Rabbi’s clothing, a man who not only cheated on her but abused her, has been shunned, harassed, physically threatened, intimidated, and made miserable ever since she walked out on him twelve years ago. But the worst punishment she received — which by the way is standard in the haredi community for wives who won’t put up with such husbands — is losing her children.

Rachel has twelve children.

At the time she left, one was a three month-old baby. She had three year-old twin girls. A bunch of little boys under Bar Mitzvah age, and a fewer older ones, some even married.

Fearing for her life after a violent attack, she fled her home, even though her husband was legally supposed to vacate the premises. Instead, he forced her out.

She has not been allowed to see her children since.

She went to the Rabbinical Court. To the highest Rabbis in Meah Shearim (including Rav Eliyashiv, who knows her well, and used to send her women to counsel.) Everyone knew her story. The social workers involved, mostly haredim who live in that world, everyone was afraid to stick up for her because her ex’s father in -law was the head of a well-known kollel and a member of the Torah Council of Sages (which should give you some idea of what passes for a sage these days…)

The Rabbinical Court issued a ruling that her ex should bring the children to see her. That was six years ago.

She’s still waiting.

I came into this picture rather late, when I saw her on television because the woman who was helping her, someone who’d been counseled by her, and felt she owed Rachel her life, took her in. This woman was beaten by thugs calling themselves the Modesty Patrol. They put her into the hospital because she refused to send Rachel back to her husband.

I tried to help Rachel because I was outraged that a beautiful, righteous Rebbitzen, who had given birth to twelve children and cared for them, should have them ripped out of her life because she dared divorce her philandering husband.

That was seven years ago. I’ve come to know this woman well. She was full of energy when we started, and so was I.

We couldn’t imagine that there would be people venal enough to prevent her from seeing her children, a basic human right.

I was in touch with her social worker, Ruth , who told me in no uncertain terms that Rachel was a wonderful mother, and that her husband was brainwashing her children against her with the help of the Rabbinical Court, who refused to enforce their own edicts by calling in the police.

I wrote a play about her. I went on television shows and had them interview her. The dailies all did stories. We took the Rabbinical Court to the Supreme Court for not enforcing its own judgements, hoping to finally get some judicial relief and have her case removed from the Rabbis and put into civil court.

That was two years ago. The Supreme Court brought in Ruth for another social worker’s report. And this time she wrote that the children were curious about their mother but their father didn’t allow any discussion about her in the house.

Some of the children said they didn’t want to meet their mother. So Ruth suggested that Rachel write them letters (!) and have the father give them to the children (!) and that the father report on the children to the social workers every once in a while. (!)

I’d say I couldn’t believe it if I hadn’t been involved in meeting these social workers, one of them a haredi woman who lives in Meah Shearim who thought Rachel should apologize to her mother (who worked against Rachel all these years). It was disgusting to witness. Guess what? The Rabbinical Court thought even that was too much.

So there I was in the Supreme Court of Israel, hoping for a miracle. After all, in the place where judges have endless sympathy for Palestinian terrorists one would think there would be a little compassion left over for Jewish women.

Sending Rachel’s case back to the Rabbinical Court is like sending IDF soldiers to be tried by the Palestinian Authority. But that’s what they did. After all, one of the judges said, a woman no less: “The situation that existed years ago when the Rabbinical Court ordered the father to bring the children to see their mother isn’t relevant anymore, since they don’t want to see her.”

Well, isn’t that brilliant? The father gets away with brainwashing them, kidnapping them, ignoring court orders.

All that isn’t “relevant.” Final decision: Send it back to the Rabbinic Court for yet another decision. Meet back in Supreme Court in January. These children will be grandparents by the time this is over.

Rachel has stopped coming to these hearings. She can hardly walk up the steps of her hovel anymore.

And as I passed her well-fed, immaculately dressed, bearded, black-coated ex, I couldn’t help but turn to him and say:

The Ten Days of Repentance. I saw the steam come out of his head. He hates me. As well he should.

I went to see Rachel the other day. All this time, she has been living in sub-human conditions. I hold my nose when I go into that apartment: the air is so thick and foul it’s unbreathable. It was never meant to be lived in. Years ago, it was her clothing store, until her ex embezzled all her funds. An apartment on the bottom floor on the main street of Meah Shearim near an open sewer and piles of garbage.

All these years she’s been reluctant to move because it’s a “key money” apartment, a legal arrangement in which if she doesn’t live there, she’ll lose her investment.

Her husband lives in a penthouse a few blocks away. Her health is gone, as she takes higher and higher doses of cortisone to breathe. I have seen her in the hospital on oxygen only last year. She is very fragile. The possibility she may never see her children again is crushing her. She wouldn’t recognize them now even if she passed them in the street. It only takes some stupid remark (like the idiot she met the other day who knew a little about her case, who was “kind” enough to tell her she would never win because some Rabbi didn’t believe she was telling the truth) to devastate her.

Finally, finally, I think I’ve convinced her she has to move. She says in a year she expects that the court-ordered property settlement (that’s taken ten years…) will finally be executed (if her ex doesn’t find some way to sneak out of that), and her ex will sell the penthouse and give her half.

Then she’ll have the money to move.

God bless you all. I hope the New Year will bring us all blessings.

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