Rifka Meyer
Rifka Meyer

I’ll never get back the years I was ‘chained’

Groom breaking a glass at Jewish wedding (Jewish News)
Groom breaking a glass at Jewish wedding (Jewish News)

Spring has always been my favourite month of the year. Spring symboliszes renewal. Birth, a fresh start, the promise of tomorrow.

Spring also brings Pesach. The holiday celebrates our redemption from the slavery of Egypt, the pain and affliction we suffered. Our journey to becoming a nation and receiving the Torah. We strive to make this exodus applicable to our lives today. While Pesach means an end to the scrubbing, cleaning and reorganising of our homes, it hopefully leads to the cleaning and reorganising of our emotional and mental states too. Personally, this year the meaning of Pesach is particularly special as discussion of redemption and freedom have an entire new meaning. Pesach 2021 is my first year as a free woman. After almost a decade of being an agunah (chained woman). Years filled with pain, waiting, of negotiating and pleading.

This year I am finally free. I will sit at the head of my table, surrounded by my supportive children able to relate to the story of Pesach in
a way I never thought I would.

Being an agunah, you learn to get on with your life, yet there is an ever present feeling of a noose around your neck. A feeling that someone still has full control over you and the power to manipulate you and your loved ones.

It’s an ongoing feeling of an unbearable weight on your shoulders, a constant worry. Will I ever be free? Can I ever move forward? Will he truly be held accountable for what he put me and my children through?

Get (or gett) refusal is abuse. Abuse of halacha and abuse of a mitzvah. I have yet to learn of one other area of Jewish law where we tolerate blackmail, threats for custody, finances, emotional abuse and manipulation to revoke criminal proceedings or overturn a civil ruling. When it comes to get refusal, the Beit Din does its best but that isn’t always enough when what someone shows is their worst.

They say the darkest time of the night is right before the new day begins. This is so relatable. From my pain, from the noose that was tightening around my neck came the birth of GETToutUK, a charity organisation I co-founded supporting agunot throughout their challenging journey towards a get.

We offer emotional support as well as legal referrals. We operate within the parameters of Jewish law and work alongside local Batei Din as well as top lawyers who offer legal counsel if a legal route is the right course of action.

GETToutUK condemns the withholding of a gett as a bargaining chip or a weapon and firmly believes prolonged refusal to grant a get is a form of domestic abuse, which should not be tolerated by the community or its leaders.

For almost a decade I continued my life and tried to seem fine. I tried to suppress the feeling of being in limbo, still in a marriage that was so long dead and irreparable there was no hope. I tried to pretend the implications of being married – that I couldn’t move on with my life and find a new partner – were not ever present in my mind.

Why are women expected to pay such a high price for our freedom? Why are there still so many women hiding in plain sight, smiling in the grocery store, holding it together for the family, yet feeling so alone and helpless inside? There are more than 30 agunot in the UK, 13 of whom we are now working with. Women who wait for freedom.

Nine-and-a-half years of my life has been taken from me. Because of that, I hope not only to change this for every woman in the UK who is suffering, but to find a real solution that protects our daughters tomorrow.

We will not be silent any more.

I thank God with all my heart that I am free. Please God, next year let every agunah be free.

About the Author
Rifka is co--founder of GettoutUK
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