With the beginning of a New Year, I thought I would bring you up to date on some of the lives I brought to your attention through these columns. Every one of them became part of my life, and, hopefully, part of yours.
What happened to Jere Finer and her sister-in–law, left penniless “agunot” by wealthy, abusive husbands, excommunicated by rabbincal courts in Monsey and Baltimore for filing in civil courts? Both have entered happier times in their lives. Both have received their “get.” In both cases, it was not help from the rabbinic establishment which bore results, but publicity and their own dogged efforts. In one case, the husband wanted to remarry, and so was anxious to settle things.
For Jere, after a year of being forced to live off charity (Rabbi Brull of Ahavas Yisroel of Baltimore was very helpful) without funds to feed her children, or heat her home, her courage, determination and cleverness paid off. She had her husband arrested for not paying child support. Once at the mercy of the American prison and court systems, rather than our indulgent Jewish courts (indulgent to men that is), her vindictive ex couldn’t give her a get and financial settlement fast enough. For both Jere and her sister-in-law, a brighter New Year is looming ahead. It is to be hoped the unconscionable, rabbinically –sanctioned suffering of these women will resonate in the Jewish community, helping to prevent other such horrorible injustices.
And what of our “little lost girl,” the teenager whose parents wanted to force her into an ultra-Orthodox school, denying her food and clothing as punishment for her desire to learn towards matriculation and a brighter future? For the past year she has been living in a group home run by a wonderful haredi Rabbi who makes his life’s work sheltering the abused children of the religious world. We see each other often and the change in her is remarkable. The shifting eyes, the nervous energy, the fear is all gone. Her face beams with excitement as she tells me about her new school, her guitar lessons and how she’s learning English. Such good people, she tells me of the Rav and the counselors who are there for her. For her too, the New Year bursts with new opportunities, and all the years ahead with hopefulness.
And what of the Rebbitzen “Ruth” I wrote of in my column “The Shunning?” Mother of twelve, living in a basement in Meah Shearim, forbidden to see her children, kept out by court order from three daughters’ weddings, all because she left an adulterous husband who has powerful rabbinic connections? The publicity in the Jerusalem Post brought heartwarming concern. People sent donations. Mrs. Valerie Adler collected funds, while her wonderful son, advocate Shmuel Casper, took on the Rebbitzen’s battles with Jerusalem’s Rabbinic Court, generously donating his time and famous legal expertise to help reunite her with her children. Six months ago, dayanim issued a judgement that she was to see her children, only to give into threats and and remove themselves from the case the next day. Her lawyer filed a police complaint, but the police closed the case, citing “lack of public interest” (!).
Right now, Rav Dahan, administrator of the Rabbinnic Courts, has sent her a letter that new judges will be appointed. It only took six months. An eternity to a mother who hasn’t seen her children in three years…
“Ruth” has powerful enemies. Her husband’s uncle is a prominent Rosh Yeshiva and member of the Council of Torah Sages. Despite his knowing the truth, he has done nothing to help her. On the contrary. Just as he threatened, he has done everything in his power to punish her for the “embarrassment” of her leaving the abusive marriage. “Ruth” has written to Rav Lau, asking for his intervention. She is optimistic that there are still some truly righteous and fearless rabbis left who will finally give her justice.
And you can be sure, dear readers, that I will let you know what happens to this innocent, tragically-mistreated woman and her small children. And who is responsible.
I am encouraged by those good things that happened to the people I wrote about. My heart has been warmed by so many kind, encouraging messages of support from readers who love G-d, the Jewish religion, and the State and people of Israel; people who understand that criticism comes from a desire to improve the way our society treats the individual; and our political and judicial system dispenses its duties to the public.
And for those mistakes I’ve made, those feelings I’ve unfairly hurt, I truly ask “mechilah,” forgiveness.
As for those who have responded to a truthful discussion of society’s ills with hate mail, I grant you all my “mechillah.” I haven’t given up on you (well, maybe on just a few of you…) I sincerely hope that this year you will finally open your hearts and minds, your eyes and hands to correct injustice and alleviate the suffering around you.
A good and blessed New Year to you all.