Record Number of Cases Closed by Yad L'isha
Just six months into 2013, Yad L'isha: The Monica Dennis Goldberg Legal Aid Center and Hotline has already resolved a record number of cases, exceeding even its annual average.
"While in the past, Yad L'isha closed an average of 40 cases each year, we have far surpassed that number, and it's only July," reports BatSheva Sherman-Shani, the Center's director. "We just sealed the file last week on our 49th client, a woman who spent nearly 12 years of her life in chains."
Their Reputation Precedes Them
BatSheva is referring to 38-year-old Liraz, a tax consultant from Haifa whose husband abandoned her 13 years ago, when she was pregnant with the couple's twins. Although she hired an attorney to help her attain a divorce, Liraz's husband - a civil lawyer specializing in family law - utilized every means to hold her hostage. "At one point, he conditioned the get on receiving joint custody of the children whom he had never even met," relates BatSheva. "He knew Liraz couldn't agree. He was just buying time."
After nine years as an aguna, a lawyer friend pointed Liraz in the direction of Yad L'isha, and Dina Raichik was appointed to represent her in the Haifa rabbinical courts. "The advocates' reputation precedes them," Liraz says. "My case was so difficult that my friend thought only Yad L'isha could solve it."
And in fact, for the next three years, Dina waged an uphill battle on Liraz's behalf, arguing steadfastly before the judges, step by step, in the face of countless no-shows, obstacles, bureaucracy and appeals manufactured by Liraz's husband. Finally, about a month ago, Dina won the coveted "chiyyuv get" from the rabbinical court, compelling Liraz's husband to grant his wife a divorce.
"Liraz's husband was very smart," recalls Dina. "He said, 'Ok, I'll come to a hearing next week and give her the get.' I told the judges, 'He has something up his sleeve. Let's do it today,'" she says. "To their credit, they agreed."
"After 16 years in the trenches, our hard labor is bearing fruit," comments BatSheva, who attributes the rising number of closed cases to the cooperative relationship that has grown between the judges and Yad L'isha's advocates. "I wish I could say that a problem no longer exists," she says. "But even so, our efforts are definitely paying off. In many courts we are seeing more enlightened judges, more sympathetic rulings.
Liraz, left, with advocate Dina Raichik
(outside the Haifa Rabbinical Court)
"Many of the new judges for whose appointment we fought hard are starting to lead and write opinions, while some of the obstinate, misogynistic rabbis are retiring," she continues. "We still have a long, long way to go," asserts BatSheva, "but our educational efforts have yielded greater awareness. There is a definite move toward creative thinking in convincing the husband, including the use of sanctions where permitted by law, something that just a decade ago the judges were extremely reluctant to do."
Liraz is a case in point. "Liraz's husband steadfastly refused to give the 'get' that day; the rabbis immediately accepted my motion for sanctions and placed him in jail," recounts Dina. "He went behind bars cursing at us furiously and swearing that he would sue. Just as I disembarked from the train in Tel Aviv a few hours later, I got a call from the rabbinical court secretary asking us all to come back to Haifa right away, because Liraz's husband was ready to give her the get and they didn't want to lose the opportunity.
"This wouldn't have happened just a few years ago," Dina attests, "We've gotten to a situation where many of the judges really feel for the plight of a trapped woman. And most of them trust our professionalism and don't question our intricate knowledge of halacha [Jewish law]."
Further proof of the attitude change is found in the addendum to Liraz's story: "Two days after the divorce was handed over, Liraz's husband motioned the court to declare it void, claiming he gave it under undue duress." BatSheva reveals. "But at the hearing last week, the court denied his motion. Liraz is finally free."