I never really appreciated the concept of freedom until I felt that I had lost it. So when my husband left the marriage after 10 years, slamming the proverbial door behind him, I was wholly unprepared when he refused to give me a get and trapped me in a marriage neither of us wanted to be in. Although I asked for my get immediately and repeatedly, my ex held onto it as a power card, and didn’t give it to me until a year and a half later.
In retrospect, (and in the grand scheme of life) a year and a half doesn’t seem interminable. And I was lucky. There are some women who waited 5 or 10 years or who are unbelievably still waiting after more than that. But every single day of that year and half was filled with fear, resentment, anxiety and worry. What if he decides not to give it? What if he continues to hold on to it in order to get what he wants? What if he has a breakdown and is rendered incapable of giving a get (according to Halacha)? I felt stuck and trapped, like I was walking through quicksand, trying desperately to get to where I wanted to go, but every movement futile and pointless.
Growing up in a religious home, I had been taught about sacrifice for the greater good. I had faced many choices that pitted my desires against my faith, but every sacrifice or choice I made along the way I believed helped shape me into a better person. So even when the choice was hard, at least there was a choice to be made. I came to realize that that is what freedom is- the ability to have and make choices. When you are subject to the whims, rules and regulations of a power that controls you, you are not free. To be at the mercy of someone else, with no proven recourse to regain autonomy or personal freedom, strips you of your power and enslaves you to theirs.
I was scared to get angry, to react, to demand, because he had the ability to punish me. My body, my soul and even my emotional reactions belonged to him, and I was floundering to make sense of that. I could decide what to wear, what to eat or whether or not to answer the phone, but I could not decide to be single, to end a marriage that I no longer want to be part of, to get closure, to heal, to move on, or to meet someone new. If a kidnapped victim was locked in a room with a TV, and had the ability to choose whatever channel she wanted to watch, she still does not have freedom, because she cannot leave the room! That is how it feels to be trapped in a dead marriage.
I tried not to care. I told myself that freedom is a mindset. I told myself that I was free to make whatever choices I wanted, and that I was only stuck in the marriage if I allowed myself to stay stuck in the marriage. But that would require walking away from a system that had cocooned me my whole life. I had never before been faced with such a discrepant choice- the sacrifice I had to make didn’t feel like one that was shaping me into a better person. I grew angry and frustrated, which spurred me to take notice about what was broken within the system. I vowed to devote myself to the cause, which I promptly abandoned the minute I got my get. Not because I stopped caring, but because the exhilaration of “being free” was oddly paired with feelings of loss and overwhelm. Now what? I had poured so much energy into the pursuit of my freedom, that when it finally happened, I was left reeling from the aftershock. It was almost a Stockholm syndrome-like reaction, where I had become so familiar with my pain and fears that I didn’t know how to live without them. The trauma of being held against your will doesn’t instantaneously disappear the moment you are freed. True healing cannot happen while the trauma is ongoing, but it can happen once it’s over.
A few days ago, I happened to be in the same restaurant as a group of ORA members. I joined their table and found out they were waiting anxiously for a phone call, which would confirm whether or not a man that had denied his wife a get out of spite for 12 years had finally given her one. The phone call came. He had given it. I was shocked by the flood of emotions that hit me as I remembered how all of that felt, remembered my promise to myself to be a part of change. I thought about how while life had moved on for me, and though I felt so far removed from that part of my life, there are still too many women suffering through this.
So this Pesach, when I’m asked to look at myself as if I’d been freed from Egypt, I will. I will remember and I will think about what it felt like to lose my freedom, lose parts of my life, and parts of myself. I will also remember, though, that ultimately, my redemption came from within.
To learn how the halachic prenup has solved the agunah crisis for those who signed it, click here,. Please see the following Jew in the City articles for further coverage:
This Has Prevented Agunahs 100% Of The Time
Breaking News – Halachic Prenup Backed By Major Haredi Rabbis
The Get Story You’ve Never Heard