By Rochel Weinstein
Eternal Jewish Family International (EJFI) is dedicated to preserving the sanctity of Jewish families across the globe. It promotes efforts that reach out to our brethren who are unacquainted with their rich heritage and encourages them to marry within their faith. Through worldwide seminars and association with kiruv organizations, like Gateways, Nefesh Yehudi, Arachim and Ohr Somayach, EJFI is devoted to providing as many unaffiliated Jews as possible with the opportunity to learn of the inherent privilege they have to build a Jewish family. Its recent partnership with Lev L’achim is an effort to confront the impact of Jewish women marrying Arab men – and its life-threatening consequences.
When an Arab employee of the municipality of Jerusalem drove a tractor into a crowd and was killed on the scene, the story made headlines. Lesser known, however, was his motivation: the fury at his Jewish wife for extricating herself from the abusive life he had inflicted on her.
Thousands of our Israeli sisters are living a similar nightmare as the wives of Arab men. Their spiritual birthright and real names lie buried beneath garments of submission and forced customs. Children are raised as Arabs, fully aware that their mother’s Jewish status is a disgrace in their village.
And then there are the beatings. Blood. Bruises. Humiliation. Intrinsic components of such marriages in Arab culture.
None of this is new. The abuse is widely documented in the press. So why do women continue to fall prey to it?
Allured by the charms of these men and their promises of stability, such relationships occur within the entire Jewish spectrum throughout Israel, from the most religious to secular homes; from the most dysfunctional to high-standing. Each woman becomes a victim, overpowered by her husband’s psychological and financial dominance that ensures little or no chance of leaving the tortuous life that was unknowingly chosen.
Providing Hope for the Hopeless
Rabbi Mordechai Neugroschel is staff advisor to Eternal Jewish Family International and counsels women involved in interfaith relationships. Horrific stories of their abuse make the headlines, but are sometimes not enough to penetrate a belief that the man one is interested in is different from the rest.
“These women have heard many stories, but ‘their’ boy is not the same. And they prefer to think, ‘This will not happen to me.'”
Rabbi Neugroschel cautions that one must consider how the women were raised. He notes that the intervention differs between religious and secular Jews, who, by nature, have more of a challenge proving that marrying outside the faith is wrong.
“This is simply illustrated by comparing Israel’s traditional, yet superficial, education standard to one radiant non-Jewish boy or girl. How can it stand a chance? At the very least, these parents may be able to convince their child not to marry an Arab.”
Some consult rabbanim for help.
“A girl raised in a secular home is, by definition, not observant, desecrates Shabbos and doesn’t keep kashrus. A question to the parents: Only now you’re interested in what the rabbi has to say?!”
Knowing the girl’s ‘language’ is essential.
“A rav might refer to a source in Shulchan Aruch and discuss the severe issur – how it’s wrong from a halachic point of view. While these rabbanim are extremely knowledgeable, they are not reaching these types of girls, who need to be told that they are valuable links in a spiritual chain.”
Rabbi Neugroschel suggests meeting with experts in this field, rabbanim who may refer to halacha, but won’t use it as a sole reason to avoid intermarriage. The most successful discussions include the differences between cultures and mentalities. And while research statistics cannot be relied upon alone, Rabbi Neugroschel says it’s worth mentioning that an astounding 20,000 Jews are currently lost in Arab villages.
Rising to the Challenge of Rescue
Lev L’achim, in partnership with Eternal Jewish Family International, actively responds to these heart-rending intermarriages and works to prevent them at all costs. For well over a decade, Shloimy Chasson* and Shay Ben Aryeh* have participated in their efforts, serving the frontlines of this battle by rescuing women and building new lives.
Their help is only a phone call away.
“Our hotline is published in newspapers, mentioned in lectures throughout the city, and advertised on pay phones, even in Arab villages when possible,” says Shay. “We’re trying to reach every woman that needs our help to let her know that she doesn’t have to handle her situation alone.”
Friends and family also utilize the hotline, gaining valuable advice on how to handle such relationships as they are forming. If Lev L’achim is called to intervene, volunteers will start by analyzing the best way to approach the situation; for example, if the girl works in a makolet, a conversation will be casually initiated.
“We’ll tell her that there is a rumor going around that there are boys canvassing the area, looking to make relationships with Jewish girls. They are coming inside the stores. If you meet any, please let us know. We don’t want them to succeed.”
She will be told that others have observed the relationship. In the early stages, this can open the door for further discussion regarding the dangers of such an attachment. Lev L’achim provides private counseling and any other assistance the girl needs.
“We can help process her feelings,” says Shay, “and open a dialogue to convince her that this relationship is no different than the rest.”
If a girl needs more convincing, Shay will put her on the phone with a woman who was rescued from her abusive marriage and show the girl what the future holds if she ignores the warning signs.
Shay and Shloimy’s main objective is to stop the relationship before it is too late. This simply requires the foresight and sensitivity commonly used to steer someone back to the proper path in life. When marriage or children, are involved, however, it’s an entirely different battle, requiring “nuclear,” rather than “conventional,” weaponry: pursuing the case in the legal system.
“Though we will help women submit claims against their husbands, using legal channels to retrieve Jewish children from the villages is a very long and tedious process,” says Shloimy. “Also, Jewish secular courts don’t always side with Jews, especially if the home appears stable.”
Shloimy explains the scenario of a rescue: “A Jewish woman calls from an Arab village, begging to be rescued and returned to her family. We assess her situation and sincerity. Unfortunately, some women return to their abusive husbands even after we have expended so much energy to get them out of their miserable situations. So we have to be certain that a woman truly wants to leave her husband and is willing to undertake what could possibly be a dangerous risk of his retaliation. Once their sincerity is determined, a meeting place is designated and then we follow through with our plans.”
After the rescue, Lev L’ achim provides protection and a place to live, including placement with foster families, if necessary. It offers financial assistance, registers children in proper schools and reestablishes contact with a woman’s family if the option is available.
Soon after Devora settled in an Arab village near Netanya with her husband and child, she found herself trapped in an abusive relationship. Upon discovering Lev L’achim’s hotline, Devora saw it as her only hope of salvation.
A few conversations were all it took to convince Lev L’achim’s volunteers that she was desperate to be liberated. Shloimy and Shay chose the hour for the rescue then traded their usual religious attire for something more casual that would blend in with Devora’s neighborhood. This allowed them to scope the area and investigate additional factors regarding the relationship.
Like any strategic plan, however, the most important facet was determining the amount of time available. This depended on Devora’s husband, who owned a hair salon and usually left work at 5:00pm. On the day of the rescue, however, four of Shay’s volunteers showed up in the salon at 4:30pm, needing expensive services that would provide a generous profit.
In the meantime, Shay raced to Devora’s house, helped pack her things, and delivered her and her child to a hostel that would provide everything they needed to build new lives.
While Tamar suffered the abuse of her Arab husband, Nasim, a close friend had seen enough and alerted Lev L’achim through the hotline, leaving Tamar’s phone number as a point of reference. Initially, Shay’s offers of help were resisted, but then he devised another way to break through her emotional barrier.
Shay told Tamar’s friend to arrange a party, then showed up in casual attire as one of the guests. He approached Tamar, who was soon comfortable enough to reveal her story. In parting, they traded phone numbers, with Shay offering his assistance if she ever needed help with her challenging situation.
Shay waited two days before contacting Tamar. Had he called any earlier, she may have been stubborn about accepting his help. At that particular moment, however, she was just recovering from a beating and desperate to seek freedom for herself and her child.
Together Shay and Shloimy assessed the situation. As a successful mechanic, Tamar’s husband kept sporadic hours. The main challenge would be guaranteeing that he would be occupied while they rescued Tamar and her child.
Finally, the appointed evening came and the stage was set. Shloimy placed a call to Nasim’s shop and observed him from a distance as he answered the phone. Shloimy told Nasim that he was stuck on a remote road, located over an hour away, and desperately in need of a mechanic. Nasim wanted to help, he said, but did not have any means of transportation. Shloimy not only promised to send a car but also offered to pay Nasim double over-time for his trouble.
Anxiously, Shloimy and his assistants watched: Would Nasim take the bait? Or would he return home, to find Tamar making her way out of his life?
Finally, they observed Nasim enter a taxi and drive off: it was time to rescue Tamar, who was quickly filling suitcases and preparing for the escape.
Later that evening, when Nasim entered his empty home, his fury knew no bounds. He shattered nearly everything that Tamar had not taken. His searches for her were fruitless: Lev L’achim had integrated her into a new community and a new life.
As respected mechanchim in their religious neighborhood, Miriam’s parents had no idea of their daughter’s emotional chaos. The confusion regarding the philosophies of her upbringing festered within; that is, until she connected with an Arab man who provided just the right amount of friendship to make Miriam feel completely understood.
By the time her parents noticed changes in her personality and tznius, Miriam was being introduced to the world of selling and using drugs. Frantic, her parents called the hotline for help.
At first, Miriam resisted any efforts to change or break off the relationship. When her friends and parents persisted, she finally agreed to meet with Shloimy. He broke through emotional barriers to make Miriam aware of the damage she was inflicting on her own life. Some of their conversations took place over the phone, and that’s when the trouble began.
In essence, Miriam’s boyfriend was controlling her life. Often he would scroll through the contacts on her cell phone to ensure she was speaking only to friends that had his approval. Eventually, he came across Shloimy’s number and demanded that Miriam tell him who it belonged to. When she would not cooperate, he called the number, but Shay wouldn’t tell him who he was.
Furious, the Arab man searched for Shay by tracking the number, but to the wrong address. Pounding on the door, demanding to be allowed in, he was finally greeted by a bewildered stranger, fearing for his life.
After a long and tedious process, Lev L’achim helped Miriam reconstruct her life and piece her family back together again.
Through remarkable effort, Lev L’achim and EJFI have helped hundreds of women make the transition into new lives. Sadly, for thousands more, such redemption is still a dream.
*names have been changed