Rachel is a member of the Gerrer Hassidic community. Shortly after she was married, Rachel was unable to live happily with her husband. When she told her family and rabbi that she wanted to leave her miserable marriage, the rabbis told her that in the Gerrer Hassidic community, divorce is "simply not done." Rachel was looked down upon and told she was mentally unstable.
Thirty agonizing years later, Rachel courageously filed for divorce. The Gerrer rabbinic leadership prohibited contact with her. Rachel was living a psychological nightmare with seemingly no chance of escape - refused a get by her husband, avoided by her children and rejected by her community, merely because she requested a get.
Finally, Rachel turned to the Center for Women’s Justice (CWJ) for help. It was only after we sued her husband in civil court for the suffering caused by his recalcitrance that he gave the get, conditioned on dropping the tort case and meeting his extortionary demands. Rachel agreed, as she did not want to drag out the situation any longer. The rabbis, however, would not forgive Rachel’s "disgraceful" behavior and instructed the community – and her family - to shun her. As a result, Rachel was devastatingly not invited to her son's wedding.
CWJ then used another tool in our arsenal. We published Rachel’s story on our Hebrew and English Facebook pages, and issued a call for help. Reaching tens of thousands of people, the response was enormous. The public was horrified that a mother, whose only crime was getting divorced, would be forbidden from attending her child's wedding. Our followers shared the story with their networks. As a result, people having influence with the Gerrer leadership came to the fore and interceded on Rachel’s behalf. The story gained traction and attracted mass media attention.
All of these efforts bore fruit. A subdued Gerrer leadership did not interfere when the proud and beautifully-attired mother of the groom attended the wedding, accompanied by her mother and sisters. A warm embrace from her new daughter-in-law and acceptance by the community’s women topped the evening. Rachel still has a difficult custody battle ahead, but for that one night, she was in heaven.
Rachel’s story is a powerful illustration of the effectiveness and reach of CWJ’s combined legal and communications strategies. Our litigation activity affords recourse and justice to women who previously had no options when deprived of their rights by Israel’s rabbinic establishment. And our communications outreach cements the impact of our legal achievements by harnessing the might of public scrutiny and outcry to force accountability on religious bodies. Together, these two tactics create unstoppable momentum that is changing – and even saving – the lives of Jewish women.
CWJ would like to thank our generous supporters: David Berg Foundation, Greater Miami Jewish Federation Women’s Amutot Initiative, Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta, Jewish Women’s Foundation of the Greater Palm Beaches, Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago,Jewish Women’s Foundation of South Palm Beach County, Levi Lassen Foundation, and the Kathryn Ames Foundation, as well as donors whose general support provides a secure foundation for advancing our work. Their commitment makes possible cutting-edge legal advocacy and outreach, which helps secure the rights, equality and freedoms of Israeli women confronting rabbinic court injustices.