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She Kept Stalling Her Freedom

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It takes courage to follow your heart!

The fog was thick in the dark of night, and we could barely find the place we were looking for. Each corner, narrow street, was pitch black at 1:00 in the morning, and I began to feel a deep struggle within. What were we doing? Would our goal succeed? Would we get out alive? Question after question circled my head, but no answers were to be found. We needed to save this Jewish woman’s life, and no other persuasion can be considered, regardless of safety. 

We looked for his car but thankfully couldn’t find it. In the dead of night, we enter her house. The house looked a bit like it was from a haunted movie. I held my breath, at least there were a few other houses nearby, but everything was so dark, easy for one to get lost or hurt, and help was far, far away. 

Finally, we get to her house; once inside, the rabbi excitedly said, “Well, it seems this should only take an hour.” I give him this look. I thought, “Are you joking! Do you not understand the difference between boys packing vs. girls packing?”

I could see right away that it is not going to be what the rabbi had perceived. To be packed up in an hour? No, this will be an all-night thing! What made it worse is that she kept repeating that she is packing everything, and nothing will be left behind! 

Each innocent word that floated freely out of her mouth, I swallowed hard and tightened my lips so as not to utter a word in reply. Excitement grew on her face, and I could see an idea was coming. Was it good or bad? I held my breath and waited for it. She enthusiastically exclaimed that she wanted to go to the store and pack more things for her cousins–and all her relatives. 

It was as if a glass of freezing cold water splashed on me. We needed to hurry and get this rolling before he came back and shot us. The big problem was; time was not on our side. I just had no idea how we can make her move faster without her getting cold feet, and this mission, for her safety, came spiraling out of control.

I started taking charge again, “Ok. Let’s pack all of the baby’s stuff first.” This seemed to be the easiest thing to decide, an easier decision to make. I gave myself a mental reminder: when a person is abused, each little thing is special, and it becomes harder to throw things away, and the more the abuse grows, the more little things become harder to throw out. 

Taking in my new surroundings, this was nothing like how I envisioned it in my head. I had imagined a warm, fuzzy, spacious, clean space; rather, the place was cold, haunted, neglected, and as if only a temporary dwelling for desperate teenagers at a new job. 

My nerves, as a pesky neighbor I’ve had to get used to these many years, quickened inside me. I understood that the baby was in the house, and the house was colder than Siberia. We quickly turn up the little heaters to get some warmth because her husband, in the mere few days that she’d left for the women’s shelter, had canceled the heat and internet, but at least remaining was water and electricity. 

Keeping this in mind, I looked around to figure out what I needed to pack. It was definitely an unmotivating scene. The house was dirty, messy, and garbage overfilled like a fraternity house left to its own rules. I wasn’t sure if he came over with friends and partied, or if this happened with them. Regardless, we needed to hurry and organize what had to be taken, and everything else didn’t matter. Fighting the impulse to clean, I moved to the other rooms.

Almost instantly, a new motivation swept over her, and she had in mind that everything had to be folded like she normally packs. As if there were loads of time, and her attempted murderer is not on the loose. I was thinking to myself, “We don’t have the time for this!” We didn’t have a choice but to work with her and try to make her see reason.  So I nonchalantly told her, “You hand me all the clothing, and I’ll put it in the suitcase.” 

She started rummaging through some papers and then found her passports and important papers, and then said calmly to me, “Well, I’ll give you his passport.” 

Surprised, I told her an idea: my wheels were turning, and my anger felt strong towards this monster of a husband she had. “Well, I’m not going to make it easy for him to find his passport. I’ll put it in one of his clothing drawers; it will be harder for him to realize it’s there.”

She said in an innocent but serious tone, “It seems like you are against him. Are you against him?” 

In a motherly tone, I said, “I am not happy with this guy. I’m very upset with what he did to you, and he almost hurt the baby, as he was trying to end your life. I guess I’m against him!” 

I took a breath and gathered my thoughts. “If he wants to follow you to Israel, it will take him a bit longer to do that if I hide his passport.” I felt she was being too kind to him, but understood the psychological damage that he imposed on her. This created a child-like mentality. Her young reactions to my words proved this. 

Unfortunately, a battered woman is afraid to misstep, misspeak, or misthink in front of or not in front of the abuser. She was haunted: I could see, sense, smell his sin, his game of playing the angel of death with her, threatening to stop her pulse and decide if she would live or die! No more games! Not here! Not now! He will not win: so I started packing more quickly.

Everything started rolling, and as I begin to think, “We are getting somewhere,” another heavy suitcase and another heavy suitcase came from downstairs. The basement where he promised to kill her and depose of her was petrifying.  I checked the place with only one eye open because it was awful enough without the gruesome picture that she told me–the place gave me the shivers. 

Another suitcase was filled with her summer clothes, and another one was filled with her winter clothes. The rabbi allowed me to handle everything so far and gave me this look of “Oh, no this is not happening.” He pointed to his watch and mouthed the words, “It’s almost four in the morning.”

I had to force myself not to think of what would happen if it turned sunrise, and he came back to collect things before he went to work. What would he say if he saw all the suitcases, some packed and some unpacked, and the rabbi and me here?

It’s now four-thirty in the morning; she is still crying, sorting things, and still no decisions on where to place the items. At this point, as an overbearing Jewish mother, I tell her, “Please eat something! It will help  you feel a bit better.” Then, right before we were about to, with her approval, put the suitcase into the car, ready to zip up all the bags, everything how she wanted, four huge suitcases, hours and hours of work, she told me to stop. 

She is now heavily balling her eyes out. She looks up and says to me, “No, I can’t go! I’m not going! Not like this! I’m repacking everything! I need to freshen up. I’m leaving on Monday and canceling the ticket right now!”

I felt defeated, I didn’t know what to say. Then I said to her as if I’d known her and became her older sister, “No you are not! We are going now! We are leaving! I won’t let you! I won’t let you do this to yourself!” 

At this point, as she sobbed in her blankets and pillow,  I had an idea, remembering that she had told me she was an Israeli soldier. I imagined a tough, no-nonsense type of woman in uniform. I needed to get her to that place in her mind, to reimagine herself as a tough, strong, courageous soldier. “You were a woman Israeli soldier, correct? You served in the army! Was there not a time that you couldn’t bring everything? Perfume, cosmetics, shower, or no shower? Didn’t you sometimes need to be just tough, and just do things whether you wanted to or not?”

She stared at me still crying, tear after tear started to come out, and eventually many tears started pouring from her eyes. She took a breath and said, “No! Never! I never had this experience. I never had to be one of the men soldiers. It’s true that some women soldiers do, and have this toughened reality, but I never did.”

“Wow!” I thought: “We are in so much trouble! What can I say or do to change her mind? I don’t even know her!” I looked around at my surroundings, trying to get a glimmer of hope, a brilliant idea. “Come on!” I thought to myself, “I just need one.” 

I said with one last attempt as if I was her commanding officer, “We have to leave, and we have to leave now!” Softening up a little and thinking of a more heart-wrenching point I added, “You don’t want to lose your daughter! I don’t want to be shot! I have seven children! I don’t want the rabbi to be shot. Think of him and our community that you love so much!”

My thoughts raced. I knew it was an impossible feat. All in one night! What was I thinking? I knew it from the get-go: I know how it works. I probably came off too strong, but there was no other way. Time was of the essence; time was not on our side. I couldn’t physically drag her to the car, it would have been the wrong approach. All of this was for nothing! It was over, and we needed to leave fast before her husband came back. The morning would come soon and I was petrified. I was no quitter, I could never quit! Yet, my life and my husband’s were also on the line.

“Please, I’m begging you! I have sons, the boys that you spent Shabbos with, laughed with, and your baby played with. If we get shot, they will be orphans!” Pausing to breathe, pausing to emphasize my point, grasping at straws for renewed strength, in a louder pleading voice, I said, “Please let’s leave now!” 

It was as if we were talking about the weather. My words, my pleas, my begging had no impact. She said, “Oh, no, no! Then she continued to sob like a toddler, and I was defeated: all hope was lost. It was at that moment, a moment, that I could do nothing that I was completely helpless, clueless, and very worried. I was worried because I would have to leave her, and I realized what could happen, but I had to leave! How could I leave her and the baby? I just couldn’t move! How could I leave her to such a fate?

At that moment of defeat, the rabbi, who was oddly silent this whole time, walked slowly into the room. We usually were the best team in helping people. Could he do something that I didn’t think of? He looked right at her and said in a very quiet voice, “You know this is what I feel could happen,” he took a breath, and continued, “and it probably happened a few times before when you fell asleep.” 

Taking a calculated but needed breath, he said, “We are going to leave, my wife and I, because you will throw us out, and force us to leave. You are going to pack everything, and in the middle of your repacking, you will fall asleep. You will clunk out where you are sitting now, and he will come home and see everything, all the suitcases, and the fact that you are packing, and then he will probably kill you! He will then take your baby with him.”

It was that fundamental moment, the moment that changed everything: those words, that she, and we, knew to be true. The words were so real because it wasn’t the first time that she fell asleep and he tried to kill her. I didn’t know what to do. She sat up straight, and like something clicked in her head and she was no longer the sobbing two-year-old, trying to cope with her terrible reality but rather a person who understood. She had a real fear in her eyes, and she knew the rabbi was dead right. 

That was when I took charge again, and said, “Come on, we need to leave now!” I said it in a way that I would never want to say it to anyone. In charge, and as if she were my daughter and closest friend that I’ve known for years. I cut through boundaries that I would never do because I knew that I had to save her. It was the only way, and then I told her, “I’m closing up all the suitcases and we are going!” 

She then started sobbing again and said, “I need to reorganize everything; I can’t pack this way!” I looked at her and said, “No problem! We will do everything in the Chabad house. Where it’s safe. I will help you repack everything, and you don’t need to worry about staying in the Chabad house by yourself because I’m coming to stay until you are ready to leave for your flight.”

She didn’t fight me anymore and came to her car. She then said hysterically,  “I drive slowly at night. I can’t do this!”

“No problem! You will follow us,” I said, hoping she will just agree and come. Then more relaxed and loving, said, “We will drive slowly so you can feel comfortable.” Finally, I breathed a sigh of relief. We made it!  Already, It was five in the morning, but we were out! We wouldn’t get shot, and she is with us safely out of his clutches, and soon out of the nightmare forever.

The rabbi asked me, “Are you really going to stay in the Chabad house? It is already five, she will be fine. Come home and get rest.”

“This is exactly where I’m going to sleep, I can’t leave her.” I was afraid of what she might do. She threatened earlier that she might go back to her house and freshen up, and wanted to go back. I couldn’t leave her. I had to be there as if I was a mother of a young child that night and needed to watch over her. I just had to take each step at a time because Hebrew school was coming, regardless of all that happened this very long night. 

As I check the office to see if I had to finish anything, I notice a flowery note from the rabbi. It was a poem that he wrote for me. He writes poetry for me sometimes, and that night amongst all the chaos, he wrote a small beautiful poem to show his appreciation of all my hard work, and it gave me renewed strength for the day ahead, getting her to safety.

She decided to finish packing in our shul by herself. I realized she needed the space to say her last goodbyes to a marriage that didn’t have a happy ending. I found a cot downstairs to rest on and realized that even amidst Pesach cooking and taking breaks to sleep on this cot– tonight I was so sore that there was no comparison. 

Every muscle hurt from cradling, feeding, and changing her newborn, all while standing up because her three-month-old baby was not having a stranger hold her. I was happy this little girl had a strong personality and told her she is going to love her Savta and Sabah and would love to grow up to be an Israeli girl. Conversations with her little girl were super fun even if it was one-sided. But the schlepping suitcases and rearranging them all night really made the cot seem like such an awful experience, even if it was only for an hour. 

I got up to make her breakfast, not only because it was a nice thing to do, but I promised her breakfast to get her to come with and didn’t want her to think that I as a Chabad rebbitzin wasn’t serious. I got ready for Hebrew school, and she came upstairs and said to me words that no one wants to hear when I felt I made the impossible possible with Hashem’s help.

“I got this email last night: my ticket didn’t go.”

I looked at her, shocked, and quietly said, “But I was there and saw that you and the rabbi confirmed it,” petrified that in her very saddened state and anger at what her situation had become that she actually canceled the ticket and was just pretending that it didn’t go through. I was very worried, realizing if she doesn’t get out of the country today, then her husband can stop her daughter’s passport. 

Waiting for the rabbi to come, out of the corner of my eye, I see what looks to be her husband’s car. His black SUV pulled into the Chabad house. “Oh, no!” I thought, “He really did have that G.P.S. tracker. He’s come to kill us!”

 She was playing with her baby when I whispered to her in a quiet but frightened voice, closing the curtains, “You need to go downstairs now! Be very quiet and lock the door. I’ll deal with this!”

She whispered to me in her broken English. “Is it not safe?” 

I looked at her with tears in my eyes; “This could be goodbye,” I thought. But knowing I had to save her and the baby, I had to keep her calm, I said, “It’s fine. I always think of something. I have an idea. Just relax. Go downstairs and be very, very quiet.”

Standing quietly at the window, watching, “But wait,” I thought to myself that “The car drove into our neighbor’s driveway, and not our Chabad house.” Almost right away, he nodded to me, and our friendly neighbor and his dog Waffle came out and started playing catch. I could breathe. It was the exact same car, but not his, not her attempted murderer, but a friend, a neighbor: G-d was on our side today.

It was so scary! It showed me what could have happened that day. G-d was really watching over her and us. She and we had our personal angels lifting us up. 

Finally, the rabbi came inside to help with her ticket or lack thereof. Knowing how little he slept, I felt super guilty, but regardless he needed to help me strengthen this out, especially since he spoke fluent Hebrew. He went into the office and five minutes later came out and with G-d’s help said, “Everything has been confirmed. The ticket was not canceled, and all you need to do is pay for the ticket.”

I said, immediately before she had time to react, “If your father can’t, I can do it right now! Whatever you need me to pay for, I’ll do it now.” I tried not to look worried and hid my eyes, which flew to the window. I realized that the elephant was in the room: Where would I get thousands of dollars?

“No. no. I don’t need your money. I have my own.”

“Listen to me,” I said, walking straight up to her, ignoring my nerves and fears. I touched her shoulder, and said, “Promise me you won’t go back to the apartment. Promise you won’t go back there to freshen up a bit, or buy something else. Please, I’m begging you not to go back there!” 

She shook her head and a smile formed at the corner of her lips: “No. I don’t want to go back there. I’m really excited to go back home to Israel.”

“Good,” I said, relieved and bewildered at her response, yet realizing especially with abused people, each moment with their emotions in the situation. Every second, every millisecond, could one’s decision be changed. I was scared of this, but I had to just keep my calm.

 My eldest son came to the Chabad house and asked me why I sounded so cryptic. 

I said, “What?”

He turned to me, “Yeah, you’re not acting like yourself. What is going on?” He then looked away from my guarded face, “I guess something is going on that I don’t know.” 

I nodded with nothing else to share. There was nothing I could tell him. Each person that comes to Chabad needs to feel loved, and special, so one’s personal situation should be respected. 

I was trying my utmost hardest to put a smile on my face, trying to force myself to be calm and use Tanya. Tanya, a book written by the Alter Rebbe,  teaches a practical approach to control one’s emotions and bring positive energy even when life seems tough! All of Tanya’s methods are meant to soothe oneself in the midst of an absolute hard situation. 

I said, “Rabbi, listen, I need to make lunch, so I can pull the time closer to her flight. I need to keep her here until the flight.” The time she had to leave was the exact time that she would have met with us originally on Sunday. She was up and ready to shop, and this scared both of us. She might change her mind; she had her ticket, suitcases packed, and we sat there holding our breaths about what she might decide. 

She smiled at us, “My brother is ready to drive me down for the flight. I can freshen up at his place.” I quickly made sure to sneak food into her car. I hugged her many times and told her to stay in touch! 

When I said goodbye to the baby, the baby smiled at me. Her mom, noticing this huge smile, said, “The baby never smiles like that to anyone. she must be thankful for everything you have done for her and me last night.” 

After a few more minutes, she drove off in the car, a car belonging to her husband that realistically could have a G.P.S. tracker. She understood the car needed to be cleared and dumped off somewhere before she flew away to the Jewish homeland.

I finally got a message from her, that she was so thankful that I helped her and that I gave her the courage to get out. She was on her way to the plane. Her brother helped to repack her because all of her many suitcases would never go. She is turning the corner in her approach to keeping herself safer in life: she was saved all in one night. The Rebbe’s emissaries took this Jewish woman, and saved her life, saving her from being murdered. 

She messaged me again, “Thank you for giving me the courage within myself to leave and have a better life than the life I had.”

I wrote her back, “You had the courage within you all along. I did nothing. All I did was help you to reveal it. I’m glad you are safe, and I will await your phone call when you land.”

Later that day, the rabbi turned to me and said, “I told you that night was so miraculous and full of unbelievable miracles. I’m really proud of you!”

I looked at him and said, “It was the hand of G-d that protected this woman. We were just simply Chabad emissaries: messengers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. We crossed over so many boundaries, and that would never ever happen on a regular basis, but the situation warranted it, and with G-d’s help, we were privileged to fulfill it.” 

We sat comfortably and simply reminiscing over this beautiful G-dly story as we sat sipping coffee in the Chabad house office, ready to get back to helping people and bringing each one closer to G-d.

About the Author
Born in New York state into a family on Shlichus, Esther was formally trained in Chabad institutions in America and Canada as an educator and community leader with the lifelong goal of helping an under-served Jewish populace. She and her husband, along with their children, have been serving the local community, as well as the Northeast Wisconsin region, for over a decade, providing for any and all needs of everyone's personal journey with G-d.
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