By: ICEJ Aid Staff

For three days in May, the ICEJ AID team journeyed throughout Israel to deliver food baskets to single parent families. Many were headed by Jewish single mothers who are trapped in unhealthy marriages, unable to get free due to religious laws which only grant men the right to divorce.

With Israel’s unemployment skyrocketing due to the Coronavirus, many families have been struggling to make ends meet. And unfortunately, not every shuttered home was safe during the recent lockdown. With domestic violence on the rise, sadly many vulnerable women and children faced abuse. Others were left bereft of any support from husbands and fathers.

One social worker told us about “Batya”, a woman in her care who had enjoyed a wonderful marriage until her husband began to develop Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as well as severe phobias and anxieties. As his mental situation deteriorated, he would not allow her to touch the children because they attended a school next to a cemetery, and he was fearful she would become ‘impure’. Batya could prepare their lunches each morning, but she was forced to retreat to her room once they arrived home from school. For two years she could not hug her children and sobbed alone in her room.

Finally, Batya gathered the courage to leave this heartbreaking situation and was awarded full custody of the children, but her Orthodox husband still refused to give her a divorce. She now suffers from depression and feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

For Israeli Jews, religious courts handle marriage and divorce issues according to Jewish law, which only gives the man the right to grant a divorce to a woman. This reality leaves many women, known as “agunot”, susceptible to abuse and chained to unloving or unviable marriages. The women cannot remarry or bear more children, even though the men may go on with their lives and start new families. And too often, the men refuse to provide financial assistance for their children. Surveys indicate that 19% of Jewish women in the process of divorce are being denied a “get” (divorce certificate) – that is almost 3,000 women per year in Israel alone.

Many of these women feel alone and worn down by the ordeal, and any family break-up is sad. Nevertheless, it is inspiring to see the courageous way these ‘agunot’ women have sought help and continue to do their best to protect and provide for their children without the father’s help.

As we travelled from city to city, home to home, delivering food baskets, some of the agunot mothers lacked words to express their gratitude and simply beamed a smile. Others embraced us and invited us in for a drink. One mother, Ilanit*, shared that her life has been tough. Currently, she and her 12-year-old son, Daniel*, are both in counseling to work through emotional scars of the past. Nevertheless, both Ilanit and her son have beautiful smiles and remain positive. Our food basket brought a lot of joy.

Daniel straight away undertook to investigate the food basket, and then jumped up and down when he discovered his favorite items like spaghetti, black tea and chocolate. On the spot, they decided spaghetti would be on the menu that very night. As we walked back to the car, Daniel accompanied us and continued to thank us!

Ilanit’s faith and appreciation was also evident. As we spoke together, she shared, “It can only become better! God has a plan and watches over us. My heart is overflowing with thanksgiving for how I am cared for.”

Returning from the long journey, our hearts were overflowing with gratitude for the generosity of our Christian friends worldwide, who despite their own challenges in recent months, have allowed us to bring encouragement and practical help to Israeli single mothers struggling to feed their children.