Finally, I Can Write
For years, I have been unable to really, truly write, although that is my profession. It was as if there was a cork inside of me, blocking my emotions from coming to the surface, a pain so deep and all pervasive that I could not circumvent it.
And then, on the day before erev Yom Kippur, we experienced a ness – a true and outright miracle – and our daughter, Sara Yocheved, received her Get. Yes, a divorce, and yes, as painful as it is to see a marriage dissolve, there are times when it is a reason to rejoice. Suddenly, we were liberated from our private gehinom.
Two days later, on Yom Kippur, I faced one of the greatest challenges in my life – to grant forgiveness to the people who had so deeply hurt us, and who had almost succeeded in destroying my daughter's life. I hope, and pray, that I overcame that challenge. I certainly tried, but only with time will I see if the anger has been fully eradicated from my heart.
The first sign that something was amiss came on the Shabbos following the Sheva Brachos, when my in-laws invited the young couple, my husband and myself, to join them for Shabbos meals at their hotel. Everyone was happy at the opportunity to spend quality time together (and as we later discovered, this would be the last Shabbos we'd have with my father in law). Then, our mechutan phoned and asked if he, together with one of his older children, could join us. Of course we were polite, and said that we'd be delighted. But we weren't. During the Shabbos meals, the mechutan monopolized the conversation and prevented us from speaking with Aharon Dov, our new son-in-law, but we tried to overlook it and continued smiling politely.
The following Shabbos was Shabbos Hagadol, and we were very grateful that the new couple would be spending it with "the other side" (no pun intended). The plan was for them to spend Lil Haseder and Shabbos Chol Hamoed with us, and Shvi'is shel Pesach with the mechutanim. But just hours before the Seder, our mechutan phoned with a whole story about how Sara Yocheved was having difficulty adjusting to married life, and that it is important that she stay with them for the holiday. He explained that much of her problem has to do with our relationship with her and that as a veteran educator, he has a wealth of experience in dealing with such sensitive situations. We were confused, and angry, but with only a few hours before Yom Tov, we had no choice but to let it go. On Chol Hamoed, Sara Yocheved's Kalla teacher and a well-known mashgiach phoned to discuss our daughter's "problems" with me, and to warn us that mixing in would be extremely detrimental to the marriage. They also yelled at my daughter telling her that she should never discuss her shalom bayis with her parent – and years later, when they understood the real story, apologized to us. Both my husband and I were confused. Sara Yocheved had always been so open with us, but we also understood that the beginning of all marriages are challenging. It was only years later that we realized that this plan was masterminded to keep us from spending time with our new son-in-law.
It worked. It was literally months before we had the honor of having the young couple as our guests for Shabbos, and by then, Sara Yocheved, was expecting. Aharon Dov would either sit at the table through Kiddush and hamotzi, and then promptly plop down onto the sofa and fall into a deep sleep, or if we were lucky, quote pasukim like a trained puppet, and if we were not lucky, speak utter nonsense. Whenever I tried to broach the subject of his strange behavior with Sara Yocheved, she would smile sweetly and tell me that her husband's a tzaddik, who can recite the entire Sefer Tehillim by heart and devotes his days and nights to prayer. Much later, I learned that although by this time she knew that Aharon Dov was on strong psychiatric medicines, prone to hallucinations and often out of touch with reality, her father in law had threatened to do terrible things to her if she were to let us know.
Our daughter suspected that something was amiss almost immediately after the wedding. She couldn't understand why her husband was spending almost all his waking hours at home with his parents. One time she noticed her father-in-law slip him a pill and asked him about it. His response – Vitamins. Sara Yocheved was just about to pick up the bottle from the table to examine the label when her father-in-law grabbed the bottle out from under her hand and threw it out the window, straight into the neighborhood trash bin. "You can go out there to look," he laughed.
I don't know if I will ever be able to forgive myself for refusing to see the truth. I realize now that although it should have been obvious, it was just too horrible for us to accept, so we kept on coming up with excuses for Aharon Dov's behavior – he's inexperienced, he's still getting used to married life. Even when his behavior was obviously crazy – going to shul at night and screamed Birkas Hashachar at the top of his lungs – we couldn't, or wouldn't, admit to ourselves that he was insane.
Everything came to a head several months after Sara Yocheved gave birth to her second child. Her first born was in the hospital with pneumonia while we were taking care of the baby, who was sick with bronchitis. Sara Yocheved was racing back and forth between the hospital and our house, while Aharon Dov remained oblivious to the crisis. Then, on the day that the older child returned home, the baby was rushed to the hospital with severe respiratory problems. We tried to recruit Aharon Dov's help, to get him to do anything, even something as simple as purchasing medication or bringing the older child to the pediatrician, but it was like talking to a wall. "What," he said, "the baby's in the hospital? That's terrible." We could see that he was both surprised and distressed. Then he smiled his beatific smiled, promised to pray, and raced down the stairway, leaving my husband and myself standing openmouthed in the doorway.
Once the crisis was over, I broached the subject of my Aharon Dov's behavior with my daughter. I'll never forget that conversation; we had just finished lighting the Shabbos licht. The house was quiet. Sara Yocheved's oldest was playing with clicks, while the younger one was sleeping. It was as if a dam had been broken and the revelation was shocking. I discovered the terrible burden that Sara Yocheved had been carrying around for over one and a half years. I cried, my daughter cried, the babies cried, but when my husband and son-in-law arrived from shul, we pasted on smiles and somehow made it through the meal. I waited until after havdala to share the conversation with my husband. I knew that he would be relieved – at last, we had something tangible to work with – as well as upset – how could we have been so blind as to not realize what was happening -- at what I was going to tell him.
That conversation was the beginning of a year and a half of stalling. We called the mechutan and he immediately came over. With tears in his eyes, he explained that his son was OCD -- an explanation that we later learned was far from the true diagnosis – and promised to send the boy to the best psychiatrists – a promise that was never acted upon. Meanwhile, Sara Yocheved arranged for Aharon Dov to receive full disability from the Israeli National Insurance, so now, at least, the family had enough money to live on. She also registered him at a neighborhood government subsidized psychiatric daycare clinic and arranged for her husband to see a senior psychiatrist on a biweekly basis. We sent the young couple to marriage counseling.
We met with one of the psychiatrists who he had seen Aharon Dov law as a bachur and were shocked at we were told. "How could they have allowed him to marry?" she asked me. "He was hearing voices (that really shook me!) and out of sync with reality. His condition will probably deteriorate with time although there is a very small chance that with proper medications he can be functional. But I can't promise anything." She advised us to send him to a psychiatric day center, where he would be kept busy so that Sara Yocheved could get on with her life.
Now that our eyes were open, we kept on discovering new pieces of information that made us realize how foolish we had been. The drummer who had played at the wedding later told one of my other children that at the wedding, the mechutan had requested that he make the music especially leibidik as the boy was spaced out from drugs, and the other side -- us – was unaware of the situation. But we were not the only ones to have been fooled. Another one of my daughters is married to Aharon Dov's first cousin, which means that her mother in law is Aharon Dov's aunt, and she was one of the people who suggested the shidduch. When she found out how her brother had misled us, and her, she was so angry that she actually suggested that we hire some thugs to break the mechutan's bones!
My husband and I were at a loss at how to proceed. Aharon Dov is sweet and gentle, and if he wasn't sick, he'd be a wonderful husband. We also realized that the mechutanim would make it difficult, if not impossible for our daughter to leave, so we clung to the slim hope that with proper medication and treatment he would be able to lead a normal life. No, it was not what we had wanted for our daughter; it was definitely a b'di'eved situation. Our mechutan gave his solemn promise that he would do everything in his power to help his son get better, but if that didn't work out, he would not stand in the way of a divorce.
Meanwhile, our mechutan was painting a different picture. Yes, he explained, his son had some slight psychiatric problems and needed mild anti-depressants to function normally, but his wife (our daughter) has severe behavior problems and is barely able to function. It's obvious, he'd smile, that it's a zivug min haShemayim and that the couple just needs the right guidance to be able to lead a happy life together, and he, of course, had the experience and expertise to provide it. We received numerous phone calls from prominent members of the community, telling us to have patience and promising us that everything would work out.
Chol Hamoed Pesach 2011, Aharon Dov, in his hallucinated state, thought that the rabbi featured on the tzedaka poster that was plastered to the side of a building was about to murder him, and decided to kill him first. He beat the picture with his fists, and then threw his body against the wall. Blood spurt from his arms and head. My grandchildren became hysterical, and my daughter made the mistake of calling the mechutan instead of an ambulance. He arrived with a taxi and brought our former son-in-law home to his mother. That was the last time his children saw him, except when he came to Meiron to participate in his son's chalaka. By then, my grandson did not recognize the stranger that had come to dance with him, and no one there –including the mechutan -- felt it was important to enlighten him.
The following year and a half was a time of broken commitments, frustration and miracles. Yes, miracles. One of the greatest miracle was the incredible relationship that developed between Sara Yocheved and Rabbi and Rebbetzin Pressburger. Rabbi Pressburger is head of a large Yerushalami community whose shul is located just minutes away from my daughter's home.
Rebbetzin Pressburger was my daughter's favorite high school teacher. When Sara Yocheved and her family moved into the neighborhood, the rebbetzin was there even before the moving trucks had gone, bearing a hot, nourishing meal. That same evening, when Aharon Dov arrived home after spending the day at his parents' house, he immediately threw himself on the bed and fell into a deep sleep. A few hours later, Sara Yocheved called Rav Pressburger with a shailah: could she wait until the morning to hang up the mezuzahs? Instead of answering, the Rav appeared at her door to wake Aharon Dov and help him put up the mezuzahs. But after several failed attempts, he gave up and did it himself. A few months later, when Aharon Dov attacked the picture, Rebbetzin Pressburger and I arrived at my daughter's house almost simultaneously. The Rebbetzin remained with us until way past midnight, joking, talking, planning, and helping us to cope with an impossible situation.
Our lawyer, Pnina, was another miracle. A true tzedekes, she was a pillar of calmness and hope. There were times that she was beyond fury, yet, to us, she always conveyed hope that our nightmare would soon end. At our first meeting, she offered to arrange for the government to pay for her services, and then treated treat us as private clients. Interesting enough, she, too, at first she too was fooled by the mechutan's charisma. She later told us that when she spoke with him the first time, she was convinced that we were not behaving properly, and that he was being taken advantage of. She changed her mind very quickly.
That year and a half could only be described as torture. Just as we would think that we were almost at the finishing line, that the get was within our reach, conditions were changed and we were left gasping in shock, feeling as if we were being pulled into an endless vacuum, floating in space without solid ground, with no sense of reality or stability. Sara Yocheved was the one person who consistently remained upbeat and hopeful. Instead of retreating into a shell and closeting herself from the world, she became active in the community, and developed close friendships with many of her neighbors. The challenge honed personality, and my youngest daughter suddenly matured beyond her years, to become a person that I, as well as many others, turned to for advice and encouragement.
Eventually, Rav Pressburger and large number of men in his kehilla decided that the situation could not continue. They took it upon themselves to make sure that Sara Yocheved would receive her get – soon. Once again, agreements were made and signed, appointments were arranged at the bais din, and then, each time, at the very last moment, the mechutan would find a reason to change the rules of the game, only this time, it was an entire community that was left gasping in anger and shock.
I was not privy to much of what was going on -- Rav Pressburger had explained, "I don't want your husband to have a heart attack" -- but the rebbetzin told me that there were times when he was so angry that he paced the floor all night. I also know that unconventional methods were used to pressure the mechutan. He regular travels abroad to collect money, so the Rav contacted several chashuva Rabbonim in the United States who called to warn him that if a get was not forthcoming he would be banned from collecting in their community.
These months were excruciating; minutes, really seconds of anticipation and disappointment, of promises made and broken, of trust and cynicism. We felt trapped in an endless maze, sucked into eternal blackness, with no way to extricate ourselves.
But even there, in the inky darkness, there were pinpoints of light, selfless acts of chessed, some by total strangers, that left me in teary eyed, filled with renewed hope for mankind. One time, for example, when we were scheduled to appear in the bais din the following morning for the get, the lawyer called to inform us that the mechutan had decided that payment could only be with an official bank check. The phone call came in the late afternoon, only minutes before the bank closed – and we had to be at the bais din with the check by 8:30 the following morning! I called the bank and explained the situation to some anonymous clerk, who spoke to the bank manager, who, wonders of wonders, offered to open the bank after hours for us! Another time, the mechutan requested a legal document pertaining to the couple's apartment, again, the request was made the afternoon prior to an appointment in the bais din for what we hoped would be the get. When I called the lawyer's office I was informed that it would take a minimum of two weeks to procure the necessary document. But once I explained the urgency, the secretary remained after hours to prepare it, and the lawyer, who had already gone home, returned to the office to sign! My daughter's plight touched many people's hearts, and they went out of their way to help her. Ashrei Amcha, Yisrael!
The yeshua was sudden, and unexpected, when hope had disappeared from the horizon. As had happened so many times before, the mechutan had agreed to the get and we had an appointment to come to the bais din. Although it was the day before erev Yom Kippur, when the bais din is in recess for its annual vacation, the dayan on duty to take care of urgent matters had agreed to preside over the get.
The night before the scheduled appointment, the mechutan's brother phoned Rav Pressburger from the home a very prominent and internationally influential rabbi, who just happened to head the organization where Rav Pressburger is employed. "The Rabbi would like to speak with you," he said. "I'm ordering a taxi for you. Don't worry, I'm paying."
Rav Pressburger's response was sharp, and uncompromising: "I am very happy to come and speak with the Rav, but only AFTER the get. Before that, I don't speak with anyone." I later learned that the prominent Rabbi appreciated Rav Pressburger's intelligent response.
Rebbetzin Pressburger later told me that upon closing the phone, her husband said that even if it means losing his position, he will do everything in his power to make sure that Sara Yocheved receives a get. After that phone call, as well as others that he received that night, he was positive that it would not happen, at least not the next day.
At shul the next morning, Rav Pressburger banged the Bima and asked everyone to remain and recite Tehillim for Sara Yocheved's yeshua. Then he showed a letter that he had prepared and said, "If the Get is not today, tonight this letter will be plastered all over the city of Jerusalem. We're going to burn the city!"
My husband and I, and my daughter and Rebbetzin Pressburger were at the bais din the moment it opened. One of our sons-in-law, the one who is the mechutan's nephew, was also there to sign that if in the future, Sara Yocheved or the children would sue for child support, he would the one to take financial responsibility.
Aharon Dov arrived a few minutes later, accompanied by his uncle. We were overjoyed- things were finally moving in the right direction. The Rav on duty invited Sara Yocheved, Aharon Dov, Aharon Dov's uncle and the two lawyers into his chamber. Rebbetzin Pressburger quietly followed them inside. My husband and the son-in-law who was signing for financial responsibility, were instructed to wait just outside the door. I remained in the hallway to guard the Menorah, Esrog box and Megillas Esther that we were to be given to the mechutan.
I sat in the hallway, reciting Tehillim, and wondered what was taking so long. I asked my husband. He had no idea, but added that there was a lot of yelling and screaming going on inside the dayan's chambers.
Rebbetzin Pressburger later told me that the dayan was furious! Every time he asked Aharon Dov a question, Aharon Dov told him that he should ask Sara Yocheved, as she understands these things. Sara Yocheved responded to all the questions respectfully and to the point. When the Dayan read the agreement, he asked Aharon Dov why, with such a large disability payment from Bituach Leumi, he is will not be paying child support. Aharon Dov of course, had no idea that he was receiving money or that he would not be paying child support.
At that point, the Rav began to scream at Aharon Dov's lawyer for pressuring us into such an agreement. Then he turned to our daughter and asked her why she agreed to it. Her response, "I want a get." The Rav understood. He signed, and then invited my husband and other son-in-law into the room.
Then something happened that, whenever I even think about its possible tragic ramifications, I become teary-eyed. After trying to hold a conversation with Aharon Dov, the Rav announced, "I refuse to officiate. This man is obviously insane and I cannot take responsibility that he is halachically capable of giving a get." I don't know any of the details of that conversation, but I do know that in the course of trying to verify Aharon Dov's name for the get, the dayan asked how he's called up to the Torah. He responded, "Aharon Dov ben Shimon Maftir, although sometimes I am called Shlishi instead."
All this was taking place behind closed doors. Suddenly, Sara Yocheved came running toward me, "The rav wants to see the ksuva," she gasped. "And Ima, please, DAVEN! The Rav refuses to officiate. In his opinion, Aharon Dov is not sufficiently sane to give a get."
It was the day before erev Yom Kippur, and my daughter – my lovely, sweet, and innocent daughter -- was standing before the true Judge, her future on the scale. Her chance for freedom was being whisked away from her.
Today, looking back at those what to me seemed like hours but was probably less than twenty minutes, I can honestly say that for the first time in my life I really FELT what I should feel each year at Ne'ilah, that I am standing at the Gates, that they are rapidly closing, and that this is my final chance to tip the scales. Even as I prayed, I phoned one of my daughters and in a few terse words told her the situation – and requested that she alert the rest of our family. I later learned that throughout Israel, family members were sitting in their homes or places of working and literally crying as they begged Hashem to save Sara Yocheved. I called Rav Pressburger, who was in the midst of giving a shiur and asked him to daven. I later learned that the entire yeshiva started reciting Tehillim in unison for Sara Yocheved's freedom. I pledged money to tzedaka, I cried, I davened. We all did whatever we could; it was in His hands.
Then the miracle occurred. The Bais Din was on vacation, and officially, there were no dayanim available. Yet, when the clerks phoned the homes of the dayanim who preside on the Bais Din Hagadol – the rabbinical equivalent to the Supreme Court – almost every single one of them jumped into a taxi and raced to the Bais Din. Suddenly, the entire corridor was crowded with well-known dayanim and some of Jerusalem's greatest talmidei chachamim. I later found out that this was the first time – yes, the first time! – in the history of the Rabbinate that the Bais Din Hagadol had convened during the official recess.
As if in a dream, we were whisked upstairs, to the official chambers of the Bais Din Hagadol, and Aharon Dov was brought before a whole group of Jerusalem's greatest talmidei chachamim. The verdict was unanimous – yes, he was sane enough to give the Get.
While the scribe prepared the parchment, Aharon Dov sat in the adjoining room, singing at the top of his lungs. Although we sat quietly in the corridor, in truth we were also singing, in our hearts, a song of praise and thanksgiving to the One who had orchestrated this miracle. Although it sounds absurd, the atmosphere at the actual ceremony was one of tremendous joy. The room was crowded with family, as well as many of Jerusalem's greatest poskim who had come to assure that there would be no opening for anyone to question the kashrus of the get. Once it was over, Sara Yocheved, the rebbetzin, the lawyer and I joined in a huge bear hug. We were sobbing, laughing, jumping up and down; it was so spontaneous, so incongruous, and so very real! As the witnesses and dayanim filed out of the room, they wished us, and each other, a Mazel Tov!
As the room slowly emptied, I walked up to the presiding dayan. "Thank you for saving my daughter's life," I began, not even attempting to brush away my tears. I could not continue.
On the bus home, it was hard to contain my joy. I wanted to get up and dance, to tell everyone of the great miracle that we had experienced, to sing on the top of my lungs. I met my next door neighbor coming up the stairs to our building. "She got it!" I said, and then we rushed into each other's arms – crying, laughing. The neighbors heard the noise and rushed out to wish us mazel tov. It was an end to a nightmare, and hopefully, the beginning of a wonderful future.
Once things quieted down, I phoned Rav Pressburger. I said thank you and started to cry. I could hear the emotion in Rav Pressburger's voice as he responded, "There are no words, there are no words." That evening, my husband returned home from maariv and said, "This is the first time in over three years that I was able to daven properly." Suddenly I understood why, for so long, I had felt a deep emptiness, a sense of spiritual disconnection and estrangement; I had been so overwhelmed with the evil in my life that I could not focus or connect with the Source of all Goodness.
That afternoon, Sara Yocheved returned home to find her apartment decorated with balloons and streamers. Neighbors arrived with cakes and drinks; everyone was laughing, and crying. In Rav Pressburger's shul that evening, all the men came over to wish the rav – and each other -- a big mazel tov!
And it was less than 24 hours to Yom Kippur.
Erev Yom Kippur, between the cooking, eating, davening and calling friends and family to share the wonderful news and bless then that they be sealed in the Book of Life, I tried to focus on the tremendous blessing that had come into our life. Our daughter was finally free, and in attaining that freedom, in facing that challenge, she had grown and developed, and I was, and still am, extremely proud to be her mother.
But still, the pain, the suffering, all that we had gone through, did I have the capacity to forgive and move on? I knew I had to, but could I?
Yom Kippur, my thoughts kept returning to those moments in the bais din, waiting for my daughter's judgment, knowing that her future – her life – was contingent on our prayers. For my teshuva to be accepted, for Hashem to forgive me for my shortcomings, it was imperative that I find it within myself to forgive others, including – yes - the mechutan. I hope I was successful; only time will tell.