Hundreds of mourners, including members of Knesset, attended the funeral of 54-year-old Gil Ronen, founder of the Familism movement and activist for changes in child custody laws.
Ronen published numerous articles and attended Knesset sessions on the issue of parental alienation and child custody in divorce. One of the successes of his organization was the reform of the Tender Years clause, which automatically grants mothers custody of children under the age of six in the event of divorce.
His son, Erez Ronen, spoke to The Jerusalem Post
about the loss.
"My father wanted to point out that certain aspects of the system is broken" the younger Ronen stated.
Born in Jerusalem, Gil Ronen moved with his parents to the United States at the age of seven. He returned to Israel as a 17-year-old and served in the Israel Defense Forces.
In 1987 Ronen established Ohr Adom (Red Light), a group that addressed the issue of police brutality. It led to the formation of the Department for the Investigation of Police in the Ministry of Justice.
In his 20s he moved to Kenya where he lived for a number of years, learning the local language and eventually marrying a Kenyan woman. The couple had two children and moved to Israel when the kids were toddlers. Now adults, both of the Ronen children served in the IDF. Erez, who appeared in season 1 - 3 of the Israeli children's TV show Ha'I (The Island) is now an engineering student.
But the happy couple has several falling outs, eventually leading to divorce. That's when Ronen found his life's work. "No one has any idea about divorce until you experience it yourself," his son said. "There is no manual for it. My father felt like he was disadvantaged just because he was the man. He was considered a less adequate parent not because of anything he did but because he was the father," Erez told the Post
. "It's a bug in the system and it needed to be fixed."
Erez added that after the dust settled, his newly divorced parents had an amiable relationship. He and his sister Tami shuttled back and forth between Katir where their mother lived and their father's new home in nearby Harish. One several occasions, Ronen even slept over his ex-wife's house for special family gatherings. His son remembers unsuccessful attempts by his sister and himself to get their parents back together again.
But Ronen's relatively peaceful divorced family life was far from the experience of the other men to whom he became acquainted. He discovered an unknown world of men who were abused by their wives, physically and emotionally and fathers unable to see their children under normal circumstances.
Some were restricted to "connection centers" run by social services. Others faced false allegations of abuse and issued preemptive restraining orders or even imprisoned prior to a full investigation. "Women who are vindictive or coached by lawyers or lobbyists can gain the upper-hand," Erez stated, "They can leverage the system."
Erez added that his father was against violent spouses and believed they deserved to be punished but "he believed you cannot right one wrong by committing another wrong."
Ronen "did not speak for all divorced men," his son explained, "and not all activists saw eye-to eye with him," but he wanted to level the playing field in a system that seemed to lean to heavily on protecting the mother at the expense of the father and children.
The Jerusalem Post
highlighted the issue in a 2017 article which covered a Knesset session titled “Dealing with False Complaints - Are Men Equal in the Eyes of the Law?”
Likud MK Nava Boker said at the session that false complaints hurt true victims of domestic violence and called for greater punishments for those who lie to the police.
Yisrael Beitenu MK Yulia Malinovsky added, "when a woman complains, the man is not considered innocent until proven guilty, and then, how can he prove anything?"
Ronen made an appearance in a documentary called Zchut Avot
(Father's Rights) which was featured at the DocAviv film festival in 2011 which dealt the subject. His advocacy also led to numerous appearances on Israeli news programs where he engaged in debates.
Over the years he worked as a journalist an editor contributing to Arutz Sheva, HaIr, Haaretz
and Yediot Ahonot
In addition to Ronen's activism, he was also a talented artist and musician. His son noted he created many paintings and sketches and recorded many of his compositions.
During his army service, he performed on Army Radio as the humorous character "Haskel Moseri."
As an animator, he helped create Free Your Mind: The Aliyah Revolution
, a video parody of The Matrix film about a man with conflicting feelings about leaving America to move to Israel.
Co-creator of the video Yishai Fleisher was one of the speakers at the funeral and talked to the the Post
about the loss of his friend. "My heart is broken over it, Fleisher stated. "Gil was extremely talented and had an amazing way to understand global trends and how they affect Israel." Fleisher stated that Ronen's many articles dealt not only with divorce but with Israel advocacy and Zionism.
Fleisher related a story about time he once lamented to him about a possible lost career advancement. Ronen replied that spending time with ones family was more important than a job or money.
"If he knew how many people came to his funeral he would have been proud," he added.
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