Even if one has a quieter voice, one needs to stand up to save another’s life.
The chase was on! Shabbos was coming, and a phone call from a stranger I was told to expect. Who was she? Did I know this woman? I knew the answer to be no: we were strangers, but I had to pretend for myself that there was this familiarity, and we could laugh over a cup of coffee and have our children play together.
Readying myself for her call, I reviewed some very important details. She was a victim of domestic violence, not just any victim, but a survivor of an attempted murder, and sadly not for the first time. The phone rang, I closed my home office door and answered. She started immediately crying, and I instantly felt a connection. It always brought out my mother hen when there were tears.
I invite her for Shabbos as my mind races, thinking what could practically be done? My mind was trying to throw out solutions but obviously failing. I thought to myself, “How can I keep her away from her husband for a few days longer?” Perhaps I could figure out a real solution but none came.
“What could I do to help? Whatever you need me to do, I’m here,” I heard myself saying to this Jewish woman, a complete stranger. I knew warmth and love were the wings to save this Jewish soul, but a complete stranger? Could I make a dent, a doubt, a rupture in the fantasy that she thinks it’s okay to go back to her abusive, non-Jewish husband?
“They always go back,” are words that anyone who deals with someone who has been abused knows. “Why did I get involved in such dangerous situations?” I chided myself, but then I remembered a conversation that I had earlier. I joked with the rabbi, “I seem to be a magnet to abused women, almost a dozen by now.” On a more serious note, I knew that it was my love for my fellow, my love to help woman’s causes, and my love for G-d’s creations that forces me to get involved even in the most dangerous of situations.
I didn’t forget the last woman that we helped, her angry, violent husband was part of the mob. Yet, this situation, this Jewish woman’s story was the cherry on the top. After hearing her story, I knew if her husband found out that we helped, he would not hesitate to shoot us.
How will I know how to handle this situation? It was not like the others, this situation had a much sharper edge: this was attempted murder! I felt scared to deal with such a story. First, I didn’t even know her, her outlook on life, or what made her act or react. Most of the women I knew well, for years, and some I didn’t know at all, but well enough to help guide them to the right choice.
I had this feeling, and told the rabbi, unfortunately when the abuse is so severe. It’s inevitable that an abused person goes back to their abuser even with lots of help. This time, though, was different–if she went back he would kill her.
There was no time to work with her slowly, even to sort out her feelings, just as I would have been able to in other situations: time was not on her side. She looked barely twenty, a very young woman, which made it harder to work with her. Besides, she had a baby that was three months old, a beautiful daughter, the name of a jewel.
What positive impact could I have? I felt frazzled and felt that I was in this knee-deep and way over my head.
I was thinking to myself, how do I effectively convince her not to go back to her gentile husband? How can we make it a reality? How can we have an impact? Make a dent, make an impression, give a doubt?
The rabbi told me that she definitely won’t go back, especially since she almost died. He almost killed her! She was way too smart for this, wasn’t she?
In my heart, I disagreed. I knew the routine too well and knew the dreaded answer–they always go back. She doesn’t have this time to go back-n-forth: time was not on her side.
This girl didn’t have that time. This time she barely survived; the abuse was so high that domestic battery is a term used for an abused woman, but in her situation, it was attempted murder! There was no take two in her case. It was either convincing her the first time or preparing for her funeral. She didn’t even threaten him that she would leave, or the fact that she isn’t an American citizen– the price is just too high.
Finally! She agreed to come for Shabbos. Relaxing for a moment to acknowledge this victory, I felt my nerves were at it again and making me fear the what if’s?
I hurriedly prepared as much as I could to make Shabbos an unbelievable experience. I didn’t think she was shomer Shabbos, and I was afraid that maybe she would leave in the middle if her sleeping situation wasn’t comfortable. So, I quickly made sure to borrow one of my boys’ mattresses and bring it to the Chabad house because the other rooms were with cots.
Some guests stay over for Shabbos on cots because of being in the middle of construction for our mikvah, it was hard to fit beds in the rooms, so we snuck in this bed for her, so others wouldn’t be upset.
A few hours later and Shabbos declared itself! Humming to the tune of Shalem Aleichem, noticing the ambience of the table, my new friend was here. Her eyes danced on each dish that was plated and a smile broke out in applause and spread wide on her face.
From the girl that I saw yesterday on the video phone crying, to the smiling beaming girl today, there was no comparison! This woman still wearing her applause smile said, “You remind me of my grandmother!”
I smiled back, but thought to myself, “A brilliant compliment for anyone over fifty, under fifty not so much,” but I knew she meant well.
“Does each Shabbos your community have this amount of food, warmth, love, care, and community brotherhood?”
Shocked that she would even ask, I replied, “Of course we do. This is always what we wanted to do for our community! It’s one big family!” She was so surprised and aghast at my response, and it seemed she wasn’t sure with what to answer.
After shabbos began, things started to work well for her. It began with my 11-year-old son, he was my hero. A no-nonsense take-charge kind of kid, but always hears the reminder, “Don’t put your nose in someone else’s business.” This time he was perfect in his reaction to take initiative and help. Her brand new baby was screaming, and the mother, you could see in her eyes, was begging for us to help, so my young son did.
I was afraid to get into her space unless she volunteered, but kids sense what is needed and with their innocence are able to break through boundaries that adults can’t. I did not know her, but she learns each week with the rabbi. She is an Israeli young woman looking to convert her non-Jewish husband, but the progress was slow.
I was afraid to interfere myself, but my son, knowing no boundaries and loving to help, took the baby’s bottle, fed her, burped her, and gave her many stroller rides. He made sure to finish making kiddush and his Shabbos obligations before he busied himself with this mitzvah.
Finally, this young mother could eat, feel comfortable, and have less load of responsibility because of my little 11-year-old boy. This is the beautiful part of Chabad families: our children are super enthused to help others. It’s such a natural but unnatural way to love your fellow.
The rabbi gave me this look. Usually, we try to not show too much affection in front of others, to not make others uncomfortable and us unapproachable, but this was too much for him. The rabbi’s smile spread endlessly on his glowing face; this is nachus, this is the most beautiful thing ever to witness, that our son knew the right way to take charge and help someone in need.
The next day, I was talking to this new mother. I was beginning to get this very uneasy feeling. She was laughing and having fun, and I could see she hadn’t laughed in a long time, but this feeling I was getting was, what if we don’t have time! The rabbi and I wanted to sit down and speak with her on Sunday, but what if the meeting needed to take place sooner?
What if given her situation of dealing with so many things, especially the abuse, she is not in the mood to speak with us on Sunday? What if she chooses to go back to this man who almost murdered her? There was no take two, most women needed time to leave their abusers, but in her case, she would only get out in a body bag.
The feelings that swirled and bombarded my mind I kept to myself, but my mind still raced even if I couldn’t say a word. My thoughts piled on one after the the other: We are going to have to do this Motzei Shabbos, Saturday night. The kids might be hyper, and I hope my eldest doesn’t have a hard time. If that wasn’t enough, everyone who stayed over for Shabbos needed to leave as quickly as possible, without making them feel that we are pushing them out, to hold this meeting.
At this point, Saturday night, we usually were so exhausted after cooking, cleaning, and hosting, so on Motzei Shabbos like usual we began to feel super tired. This feeling I couldn’t shake, it was a really bad feeling that we needed to meet with her tonight! This meeting couldn’t wait.
I firmly told the rabbi, “I have a really bad feeling, and we need to meet with her tonight.” The rabbi agreed, but did not yet feel the urgency of the situation. At the time we didn’t understand the scope of how important it was that we met that night. I settled the children, Thank G-d, and I had my teenage boys watching the children and making sure they had all of their needs.
Finally, I sat down with her and the rabbi, almost immediately, she started sobbing uncontrollably. It made us a bit uncomfortable, and we looked at each other and knew we needed to find out what was really going on so we could help. Are we even going to have a conversation? Will we ever get there? How is this even going to work?
It was so natural but unnatural. Most people don’t walk up to complete strangers and hug them, especially someone sobbing their eyes out. It’s to respect, to understand, to give one their needed space, but to me, I needed to make a move, there was no time for getting to know each other, so I walked up to her, embraced her, and let her sob on me.
Eventually, when she calmed down, I took her baby and fed her, and gave the baby stroller rides in the shul until she calmed down. It warranted it for me to force my hand and put myself into a family role, even if I was not her family.
I felt that not only was this the mentschlict, the right way, but it gives someone familiarity, comfortability, and recognition of the role that you have with her. If I could be her mother, grandmother, and best friend, then that is the role that I will be.
That night we became her adopted parents. we had to be her family on such a deep level, and she started to unravel what we feared. We found out the truth, not the story she fed us of this being the first time he abused her, but regularly he was just emotionally and verbally mean.
Each time that he would be angry, he would come into the room at night to choke her. What made it worse, if this wasn’t bad enough, he tried to stop her pulse– it being a game for him. He told her, “I can stop and start your pulse at will.” She sounded so defeated and broken, and admitted that he played this game with her.
As we are hearing this story, I think of any horror films that one could imagine or ever have seen in one’s life, this would be way out there. It was so gruesome his thoughts and what he would tell her. She then shows us her pictures, documenting the abuse so that one day, if she would have the courage to ask for help, she would then have solid proof.
Sadly her eyes met mine, and she said to me, “He told me if I would say anything of what he did, then he would kill me.. and I believe him!” She stuttered from shock and fear, and then continued, “A few days ago, he tried to kill me again; but as he is choking me, I saw my daughter’s eyes, and I had the courage to call the police and push him away so that I should live.”
The rabbi and I sat there shocked, our mouths dropped wide-open, and we didn’t know what to say to her, but knew that we needed to think fast. It was then and there that I whispered to the rabbi, “We need to convince her tonight: it’s all we have, one night, to get her to agree and see the truth tonight. We need to do this now!”
Why the urgency of this night vs. the next night? I didn’t know the answer. However, I knew he could kill her at any moment, but this incessant whispering in my soul, a begging to make itself understood before it was too late. Finally, it was ringing off in my head as an annoying alarm clock, “We have one night to get this all done or else!”
I said to her, “Ok. We are going to make a ticket for you to go back to Israel.”
She looked scared and said, “I can’t go to Israel because it is considered kidnapping. It will be like I kidnapped my daughter.”
I knew where this was going, thankful that I was in other situations to know some of the laws. I said to her, “You can’t stay here because he can take the baby from you at any supermarket if you bump into him. Rather, you can buy a two-way ticket, a ticket that comes back to the States. You can’t stay here, you just can’t.”
Well, I want my options to stay here. If I leave, then what about my green card?” She said emphatically!
In a gentle but firm voice, I said, “You can say you’re taking a vacation, and at that point, you will make your own decision. I know of another girl that I helped, and she literally left in the middle of the night, and it worked out for her. You have to leave tonight!”
As we were talking, the rabbi realized that her car was really her husband’s car, and it was all under his name. Her husband, her attempted murderer, could have it flagged down by police and claim that she stole his car, and amidst everything else going on– this could be a big deal.
The rabbi then said, “What if he has a G.P.S tracker on the vehicle?” Her mouth dropped open, and you could feel the feelings that we all had in that room. If there was taste, it would be as bitter as the horseradish root on Pesach.
The horror on her face made our fate sealed with hers. “What if he found out that we were helping her?” the dreaded worry grabbed my shoulders, but I shrugged it off, like an unwanted friend.
We pushed on, and she called her father from Israel at four in the morning, and he tried to convince her to buy a ticket and go. At first, he didn’t understand the severity but knew of the abuse and thought they could go get help from therapy. When the rabbi explained that it was Sachana Nefashos, the danger of her very life, he agreed that everything needed to be done tonight.
She then jumps up realizing that we were trying to work out a plan for her to live in Israel, she tells us, “No! I can’t do this now! I have so much responsibility still here to do… I…” Then pausing, looking frantically around as if she was surrounded by wolves she continued, “I need to close my accounts…” her voice trailed off.
I whispered to the rabbi as she went to feed her daughter. “This is part of the abuse: she doesn’t want to leave. She isn’t ready. No one, not even a professional, can do this in a night. What we are trying to do is the impossible! It’s impossible! It’s never been done before. To get someone this abused to agree to go of her own volition, to go to Israel, and to pack her all tonight is impossible: there is no way it can not happen!
After she came back, I kept my thoughts and emotions to myself, knowing she needed me, all of me, and that meant no added emotions could be shown. The more she cried, the more I realized, sadly, that she is used to being told what to do, and I hate telling a person what to do; rather I prefer for them to fix it themselves.
I had no choice, could show no hesitation, and I told her she needed to go no matter what. I didn’t have a choice, and I didn’t want to cross a boundary like this. I had to fit that snug mother shoe, to be this mother for this girl, and to tell her she is going no matter what!
It was scary. I didn’t want to be a bad person. As she wiped her tears, she said, “Look we can’t find a ticket, it’s impossible!”
I looked at her and said, “I’ll pay for the ticket. Whatever you need, I’ll do it!” I realized that I had no idea how I would be able to afford to pay for the ticket, but she didn’t know that, and somehow we would find a way. I needed her out of the country.
She finally turned to me and said, “Why do you want me to leave tomorrow? Why do you want this so badly! Can’t it wait until Monday? Can’t it? What is the urgency?”
I said, trying to find the answer to her question in my own mind, but not allowing the pause to happen, or she would be able to take charge, “I don’t know, just a very bad feeling, sometimes my intuition is dead on, and sometimes not, but I don’t want to take the chance.”
She turned to me and said, “Well, I have a feeling that I’m meant to leave on Monday. She said half mocking me and half using it as an excuse to change my mind.
“Well, I have this strong feeling that you need to pack and leave for Israel tomorrow. Ask the rabbi! He usually trusts my instinct on things.”
She looked around and held her head and then covered her mouth, and loudly exclaimed, “You’re right! The offices don’t open until Monday. We need to see if he blocked her passport from leaving, but if not, this is her and my,” her voice trailing off and slowly finding the words continuing, “only chance to get out of the country before he plans anything.”
The rabbi quickly checked her daughter’s passport, and it wasn’t blocked: they were free to fly. The rabbi said to her, “You can go and fly, but make sure it’s a two-way ticket so you have the option of coming to this country when things calm down. If you delay and leave on Monday, everything can be stopped with a court order.”
Wow! My feeling was right! Woman’s intuition, my Chabad rebbitzin women’s intuition was right! We started all actively looking for a ticket. She was sleeping, the baby was crying again, the rabbi was almost asleep, and it was past one in the morning.
I jumped out of my chair and knew we needed to move right now! I said loudly, “That’s it! let’s go! I’ll pack you perfectly! We are going to your house right now! Rabbi, please let’s go, and when you get there, your job is to find her a ticket, and I’ll do the rest.”
I knew we had to go, regardless if I was crossing over borders with my stubbornness. We had to make this all happen in one night, the impossible possible, and take a seriously abused woman, and help her to flee in the middle of the night.
We took a chance. We were in dangerous territory, because if he, her husband , was tracking her car, then he would know she was coming and could hurt all of us. Plus, he had a gun and knew how to shoot well. I knew he would not hesitate to shoot us if we were there. I knew the risks, but she would only leave if we packed her things. She wasn’t ready to part with anything; seeing her car I knew this. She had a hard time letting go of things in case she had to flee. The car was already full even before we packed her.
We knew this and decided to take the risk because I knew we weren’t alone. That night G-d was holding our hand and decided personally to take this woman out of her personal Egypt. I did not think that the Rebbe’s emissaries would die this night (G-d forbid) . With the worry of what could be, we each walked with a good pace out of the Chabad house doors and deep into the night with whatever would come.
She gently mentions to me, “He could be there, he could be waiting for me and my daughter, and if he is, he might shoot us. It is not the first time that he threatened me with the gun, but he promised he wouldn’t kill me.” She looked at me with her young trusting eyes, and I knew we were in trouble!
What were we doing? We were going to her place, packing her up, and knowing we could be shot! However, we had no choice, there was a chance that he was there and a chance that he wasn’t. It was a risk, and a risk we needed to take. Especially, if we wanted to proceed with this mission of getting her out of the country safely. It all needed to happen right then, even in the morning hours, the sooner the better!
Driving down, she was with the baby in her car, and we were in our car ahead of her. It was planned, because my husband knew which car to watch for, their other car, and if he was there, we would be able to leave quickly and alert her to a change of plans.
The rabbi turned to me and said, a bit teary-eyed with a nervous laugh, worry, and sweat creasing his brow, “You know I love all of your stories, reading them, enjoying them, but today I’d rather not be a part of this one. I’d rather just read it afterwards. Trust me, it’s a great story if we survive it!”
With tears in my eyes, I whispered back, “I know, and I’m worried too! But I know that we can do this!”
Then I continuing in my no-nonsense voice, “What we will do is this: when we get there first, we can see if the car is there. If it’s there we are all leaving, and she will just have to go without her stuff. It will be super hard if it’s the second option because she seems super attached to all of her belongings. As I was packing her up from Shabbos in her car, I can see that she is living out of her car. It’s uncanny, like so many other women in her situation that we helped, it seemed to be the same routine, clothing, shoes, boxes in their car.”
Taking a breath and looking out the window, I realized how painful this must be for any human being, especially such a little girl. I then made my observations known: Almost like a homeless person, it’s the same mentality: never settled, never feeling safe, never trusting to leave all of their things in their house, just in case she needs to go fast. It’s so hard to watch because she is so little. I just want to get her out of here; she needs freedom! If not, is she going to do this for the rest of her life?
Looking out the mirror I made sure she was still following us. Then almost teary-eyed, I said, “Will her little daughter be living with her mom in the car, as she lives there until things are safe at home! In her case, there are no good times and bad, but all bad!”
It felt strange discussing with each other anyone that we met; this was never our policy with each other, but this person needed both of us, our energy, our minds, and our understanding of what is going on so we can really help her.
The darker the night grew, already past 1:30, the more our confidence grew. We could do this, get her out, save her and her daughter. The roads grew more narrow away from houses and made it more difficult if we needed to shout for help, but at this point, it didn’t matter. We were determined! G-d has shown his hand this night. We are shluchim, emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Would he give up? No!
I peeked at the rabbi and found that his confidence and determination were as strong as ever. Always working as a team for the past almost fifteen years on shlichus, this we could also get through and be successful.
She will leave tomorrow, almost tonight: the darkness of night always brought morning. Her freedom was coming! I could smell it! We would be her grateful escorts. I told myself, “The only thoughts that I’m allowing myself to have is to have positive thoughts.”
I refused to entertain the thoughts of, “What if he is already there? What if he comes in when we are packing, sees what we are doing, and shoots us all?”
Slowing my breathing down, and trying to be more relaxed, bringing Tanya into my life, I then soothed myself of my very realistic worries, and gave a reminder that Hashem controls the waves, and we just have to take the risk.
Strengthening my perseverance, strengthening myself to be strong even when there was doubt. I repeated this sentence in my head until we arrived: There was no way I am leaving this little girl and her baby behind. She is going to escape! Going to make it out alive! She is going to Israel tonight!