Standing on a street corner, yelling at someone you’ve never met, is not a fun experience. It can be awkward and downright uncomfortable, not to mention physically demanding, especially if it means freezing in the cold or sweltering in the heat. So, why do we do it?
And, does it even work?
At the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), we regularly find ourselves protesting outside the homes and businesses of men who chain their wives to dead marriages, leaving them to suffer in limbo as agunot, often for countless years. Meir Kin in Las Vegas has sadistically and vindictively refused to issue a get to Lonna Kin for nearly ten years. Ephraim Ohana, who lives (and is even dating!) on the Upper West Side, has held his halachic wife Cynthia a hostage as an agunah for nine years. And that’s just the beginning. We work on an average of 50 agunah cases at any given time, and each story is worse than the next.
While we always initially try to resolve a case amicably through informal mediation and by facilitating a beit din process, if and when that doesn’t work we resort to all halachically acceptable and civilly legal forms of pressure (nope, no cattle prods here). One of those forms of pressure is through peaceful demonstrations.
These protests make a huge difference. Here’s why:
- Rallies work. Not always. But, sometimes, it’s very clear. We’ve seen countless cases where the rally – or, better yet, the threat of a rally – convinces a recalcitrant husband that it’s not worth his while to continue refusing to give a get. That he stands to lose something too through his recalcitrance. This has happened time and time again. Rallies really work. In some cases, it requires constant pressure until we finally lay the straw that breaks the camel’s back. עד שבאו מים עד נפש – until he has had enough and gives her a get.
- Rallies shine a light on the abuser. When we rally, we inform the neighborhood that a get-refuser is in their midst, and we often learn critical information about the recalcitrant husband from neighbors and passers-by. This information assists us in ramping up our pressure, until the agunah is freed.
- Rallies empower the victim. Agunot are among the most vulnerable members of our society. They feel trapped and helpless. By rallying, we give them strength and send them a clear message that we are here for them, and that we will fight on their behalf until their freedom is attained. This strengthens them to persevere and not give into manipulation and extortion.
- Rallies deter. I like to refer to them as “sleeper-cell recalcitrant husbands:” a man who is contemplating get-refusal may come to realize that it’s not worth it when he sees his community protesting another man who has already taken the plunge. It will scare him off, and his wife won’t have to suffer the agony of an agunah. למען ישמעו ויראו!
- Rallies teach. People often ask me if I think it is appropriate for them to bring their children to rallies. My answer: absolutely. We must teach our children, and state as a community, that we will not tolerate this behavior which is a violation of halacha and an abuse of a Jewish woman. Kids need to learn. We need to teach.
- Rallies spread the word. Over the years, scores of agunot have turned to us for help having learned about us through our advocacy. By raising awareness, we send out our calling card and make ourselves available as a critical resource to those who literally have nowhere else to turn.
- Rallies do something. I’ll tell you this much: in our cases, doing nothing certainly won’t work. On average, women turn to us once they’ve been separated from their husbands for about three years. Sitting around, year in and year out, waiting for him to give a get, just hasn’t worked. So we do something. And we hope and pray that if we do our hishtadlus, our effort, then G-d will do His as well.
I hope you’ll join us.