Rabbis Without Borders
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An unexpected house guest arrived at our home in Israel two weeks, right off the plane from America. A woman abandoned by her husband and at the very end of her pregnancy, 49 years old and carrying twins. High risk. With no place else to go and nowhere else to turn.
She and her young son are now living in my basement study. Today, however, the study is empty. She is in the delivery room, with no one to hold her hand or to comfort her other than her 10-year-old son. Neither knows a word of Hebrew.
She had been a member of our community when I was a rabbi in Texas years ago. I knew her well then, and we stayed in touch. A year and a half ago, she found love and happiness, marrying an Israeli man serving in one of the Israeli consulates in the United States. They blended their families and planned aliyah (literally – ascent, meaning setting permanent domicile in the Holy Land) at the end of his term. There were some worrying signs, including violent behavior towards his children and towards her, but nothing – so she thought – that could not be worked out.
The lift containing all their possessions — many of them purchased with the savings from the woman’s quite respectable income – was sent on its way ahead of them.
In February, with just a week before their planned move to the Holy Land, the husband received an urgent phone call to fly back to Israel immediately. He did so … and was detained at Ben Gurion Airport on charges of child abuse. His own children, after years of suffering and pent-up anger, had turned against him. His world collapsed. The Foreign Ministry suspended him. Emotionally he spiraled downward. Tranquilizers and psychological treatments became part of his life.
She supported him through thick and thin. They talked daily on the phone. She told him that he could make it through this. He expressed his unbounded love but counseled that her aliyah must be postponed for just a little bit longer. He did not want her to suffer through what was going on around him.
And then I received a phone call from the husband. I had known nothing of all this. All he said was that he had strong reason to believe that the wife was not Jewish. I assured him that that could not be. I tried to probe deeper, gently suggested marital counseling. He dismissed my efforts. A short time later he contacted me again, informing me in no uncertain terms that he had uncovered conclusive evidence that she was Christian, and that both he and I had been duped by this serial liar. “We were ineligible to be married under Jewish law; we are no longer married,” he declared, “and we never were.” He sent me the evidence, clearly researched by a private investigator.
I reached out to the wife. She was dumbfounded! “My husband and I are going through very difficult times,” she said — and she told me some of it – but we talk daily and are looking forward to soon being reunited. And as far as the allegations of her not being Jewish, she told me more of her family background and refuted the charges one after the other.
She reached out to her husband, who confirmed for her what he had told me. You are not Jewish and we are not married. Its over. She was devastated. Words cannot describe her disorientation and despair. Her fairy-tale turned into a nightmare.
Meanwhile her doctors discovered that her medical insurance – paid for by the Israeli government – had been terminated. Her due date was approaching, and she was left completely along and destitute, bereft of husband and possessions, but not yet of hope.
She and her 10-year-old son got on a plane and basically turned up on my doorstep. Since then it has been doctors and lawyers and rabbis and aliyah counselors and government bureaucracy … and many, many closed doors. Through his connections, it appears that the husband has made sure that everyone knows that she is not Jewish and not wanted in the Jewish state. Much sympathy has been expressed toward her, but a way forward has not been found.
Through her tears and loneliness, Mishala Yonah Cohen Shacham just told me over the phone from her hospital bed in the high-risk pregnancy unit of Shaare Tzedek (Gates of Righteousness) Hospital in Jerusalem, that her identity can be made public.
Two twins girls are about to be born as I write. We know not what their fate will be. Perhaps all of us together can do something to help them.
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Pronounced: a-LEE-yuh for synagogue use, ah-lee-YAH for immigration to Israel, Origin: Hebrew, literally, “to go up.” This can mean the honor of saying a blessing before and after the Torah reading during a worship service, or immigrating to Israel.