For 13 years I sustained a marriage that very much confined me. I had a passion, a drive, an intense burning desire: a dream to leave the US and come back to Israel in order to raise our children as Jewish boys who would grow to be Israeli men. I imagined us as a family and to exist as all Israeli’s do; I would go back to work, my children would be independent and speak Hebrew as Sabra’s and eventually go to the army and serve, protect, and honor their country.
I was bursting to be free and instead my children and I were locked up in a gilded cage.
For two years I battled with my self as I pondered if I was ready to give up my dream and instead save the marriage and return to the US.
Since emigrating 24 years ago, as a non-religious 20 year-old Jewish girl from Northern California, I have believed that my greatest gift to my children is their heritage. My children deserve to know their Judaism and have the right to call Israel home.
“If you ever want to see your children again.”
Upon hearing those threatening words by my husband, who had in his possession the children’s passports, financial means, and several restraining orders enforcing his distance from me, I was directed by the Israeli social services to enter a women’s shelter for domestic violence.
I packed two shopping bags of clothes and followed the social worker’s instructions go to the police station to file my third restraining order. From there, we were to be escorted to a city 2 hours away. The State of Israel stood to remove the children from my custody if I did not enter this shelter as my husband’s words were a clear threat to their safety.
Around 11:30 p.m my children and I rang the metal security gate at the Haifa Women’s Crisis Shelter. The young Arab girl standing at the entrance took one look at our appearance and my shopping bags, and assumed we were dropping off donations. “Oh no” I told her, “we are coming to stay here with you.”
“Where’s the pool?” “I don’t think I like this hotel.” I had chosen to tell my two boys that we were going to stay in a sort of a hotel as Abba (dad) had threatened to take them away from me and we needed to stay together. They had been through several months of police reports and threatening behavior from their father already and although they were in a heightened state of awareness, this was a complete shock. Two weeks turned into 9 1/2 months.
Nothing in my education prepared me for the raw, stark, rock-bottom love I encountered during life in the shelter, we learnt to live side-by-side Jewish, Arab, Ethiopian, Russian, Bedouine women and children who each, in their own unique way, contributed to our success in surviving and thriving.
For a long while I was resentful towards my husband for making that fateful call. A big part of living in the shelter is recognizing the strength it takes to decide to leave domestic abuse. I did not feel that I was responsible for making the decision to go to the shelter, as it was the social services that put me in that position. However, in time, I learnt to accept and claim the responsibility as mine as I, made the decision to stand up, leave, and go forth and follow my dream of raising my children in freedom, independence from fear, and give them the chance to really live life in Israel.
I left the shelter with my Get, (the Jewish decree of divorce) and custody of my children. Today, they are thriving in school, successfully managing Israeli life while I have meaningful work and their father now lived closer in a show of support and commitment.
Life is messy but dreams are what you make of them, and often dreams are too big to be confined.