This is What Hashem Wants for Me Now
Debbie Shapiro interviews Hadassah Blau (pseudonym)
Hadassah is one of the most confident, empathetic and kind people that I know. Her children are wonderful – happy and well adjusted. She runs a successful business from her home, is active in her community's chessed organization and is the first one to bring a kugel to a sick neighbor. She's also divorced.
Hadassah: When I returned home after attending one of the elite sems in Eretz Yisrael, everyone assumed that I'd find a topnotch shidduch. My teachers thought the world of me. I came from a home that emphasized Torah learning and everyone, myself included, assumed that I'd marry the shpitz of the yeshiva and live happily ever after.
I got engaged to the – and I mean the – top boy in a large yeshiva. It was a perfect match and I was the luckiest girl in the world. My engagement and sheva brachos were a dream. My chasan and I spent hours talking together as we learned about each other and share our deepest feelings.
The only warning sign that I had prior to the chasunah that something might not be picture-perfect was that after we were engaged I heard that my chasan's mother has psychological problems. We were told that she has OCD and occasionally is unable to function. What we were not told is that she's extremely abusive and that the entire family is dysfunctional.
The first signs of abuse appeared about three weeks after our wedding. He could be incredibly loving and kind, and then, without warning he would hit me and tell me that I'm ugly. Eventually it got to the point that when he was home, I was be afraid to wash the dishes because I wouldn't know if he was about to attack me from behind. But outside the house, when we were in public, he was fabulous. He is a very intelligent, charismatic man, and a phenomenal learner. Everyone thought that he was a wonderful husband. After all, outwardly he looked like a real tzaddik. No one ever dreamed that he spent most of his time sleeping –they just assumed that he was learning around the clock, and occasionally collapsed from exhaustion.
I spent the first year of my marriage trying to accept my disappointment. I would go to work in the morning and return home in the afternoon to find my husband still in bed. I watched as my dream disintegrated in front of my eyes, and I was devastated.
I consulted with a woman who was supposedly an expert in shalom bayis. Although she meant well, she did not have training in abusive relationships. She tried to convince me that if I would respect him more and give to him more, the relationship would improve. I questioned how I could possibly do that, I was already investing so much of myself, basically nullifying my personality to him. I felt that I was to blame for his defects – the fact that he constantly putting me down and hitting me was because I was not the woman I should be. I began to believe that it was all my fault.
My husband was constantly telling me that I was ugly; that I was a failure; that I couldn't cope. It was ludicrous; I had succeeded in building a flourishing business from scratch while running a home and raising my children, with almost no help. Yet, my husband succeeded in convincing me that I was worthless. I felt as if I was worth less than a piece of dirt. Today I realize that he felt bad that he was not coping – that he was doing nothing all day – and was jealous of my success. He would curse me for hours on end, and then begin physically abusing me. It was horror movie come to life.
The turning point came when the shalom bayis counselor told me that no matter what he does to me, I must continue to respect him, and to start off by respecting him for the next thirty days. But as much as I tried, I couldn't even get through the first day. I realized that there was nothing about the person I was married to that I found worthy of respect. That was a very frightening realization. A few days later I attended an evening sponsored by Bnos melachim where one of the speakers talked about how each person must take responsibility for him/herself. I decided that I must do something about the situation and contacted a different shalom bayis counselor, who I later learned was trained in abuse. I'll call her Rochel.
At that point I didn't realize that I was in an abusive relationship, I just knew that something was very, very wrong. But Rochel picked up on it immediately. Just a few minutes into our conversation, she asked me if he ever hit me. Although he often did, I tried to minimize it and said, "Oh, once or twice." I was still in denial and couldn't face the painful reality that my husband was abusive.
Rochel spent six months building me up as a person. She taught me how to believe in myself, to realize that I cannot take responsibility for my husband's behavior. Although she never pointed out his faults, once I was happy with myself as a person, then I was able see the situation realistically. His behavior was totally inappropriate while I was constantly working on myself to behave in a dignified, Yiddishe manner. I remained in my marriage for an additional six months and during that time I carefully recorded everything in a diary so that I would be able to look at what was going on and evaluate it from a distance.
It soon became clear to me that the situation was totally insane and that I could not continue in this marriage. The more I weighed the different options, I the more I realized that I had no choice. My decision to divorce was carefully thought out. It was not an emotional spur of the moment decision. My children needed a mother, and if I were to stay married, I could never be the mother I would want to raise my children. Since I didn't want to make a big fight, I left him everything. I had what I wanted – my children and my freedom.
While I was going through all this, I read the following story, which had a tremendous impact on me:
A man in a European shtetel told his rav that he wanted to divorce his wife and asked the rav to arrange a get. When the rav asked him why, he responded, "She's my wife, and I don't want to speak badly about her." The rav instructed him to return in three months time, and if he still wanted a divorce, he'd arrange it.
Three months later, the man returned and the rav arranged for him to give his wife a divorce. After everything was finalized, the rav turned to the man and said, "Now she's not your wife. Please explain to my why you wanted to divorce her."
"But now she's another Yid," the man responded. "What right do I have to speak badly about another Yid?"
I decided to emulate the man in that story and refrain from speaking badly about my ex-husband. Although I haven't been perfect, I feel that I've really risen to the challenge. This was extremely difficult since my ex-husband spread terrible stories about me and I had no doubt that people were talking about me behind my back. I'm proud of the fact that today, when people ask my friends why I got divorced, most of them can honestly say that they don't know.
Speaking of friends, they were amazing. They gave me so much support. A woman going through divorce needs to know that there are people there for her; that there are people who trust her and will give her emotional, financial and physical help that she so sorely needs. Friends invited us for Shabbos meals, took my son to shul and even babysat occasionally so that I could have some time for myself to go to a shiur or even leave the house for a walk. Their support made all the difference and gave me the emotional strength to face everything that I was going through.
Debbie How did you explain the divorce to your children?
Hadassah: I told my youngest that when Mommy and Daddy lived together, Mommy was very sad and then went on to explain that since I wanted her to have a happy Mommy, I moved away.
It was much more difficult for me to explain it to my son. He remembers my husband hitting me and he saw a lot of screaming and yelling in the house. I made it very clear to him that that was the reason I got a divorce. I want him to know that a husband may never – ever - hit a wife. I'm very careful not to say anything bad about his father. All the professionals say that my leaving was the best thing I could have done for the children. No one can imagine how witnessing abuse can damage a child. By removing my children from that situation, I gave them the gift of life, a safe home to grow up in.
Today, in addition to raising my wonderful children and running a thriving business, I often speak to women going through what I went through. I want to show them that although divorce is certainly not ideal, it's possible to have a beautiful, fulfilling life afterwards. Yes, of course I'm lonely, and yes, of course I hope someday to remarry and continue building my family, but until that happens, I am living my life to the fullest instead of crying over what could have been. Had I been given a choice, this is certainly not what I would have chosen. It is not what I davened for. But it is where Hashem wants me to be now, and for that I am very, very grateful.