'Bittersweet' expansion for Orthodox women's shelter

Second branch opens to meet growing awareness of spousal abuse problem

Once Hanna had finally found the courage to leave her abusive husband and had received her rabbi's permission to do so, she ran away to her parents' house. But her husband followed her there and she realized she needed to find another place to live.

She heard about Bat Melech-Miklat, the country's only battered women's shelter specifically for Orthodox women, and took refuge there.

"I came there, and I was overwhelmed with the love and help I received. They gave me a lot of strength. I truly felt like I was a bat melech, a king's daughter," said Hanna at Wednesday's dedication ceremony of the shelter's new branch in the center of Israel.

After a decade helping women like Hanna in its Jerusalem-area shelter, the organization has expanded to keep up with demand. Five women and their children have already moved into the second facility, which, like the first, is a converted private home that has space for eight women and their kids.

Noach Korman, who founded the shelter along with Estanne Fawer, who lives in the United States, acknowledged that the event on Wednesday was bitter-sweet. "How do you say mazel tov for the opening of a new shelter? It's not the correct phrase," he said. "We wish that there was no need for us. But if there is a woman that needs our help, we're glad to be there for her, and unfortunately we will be there for many women."

Korman said the number of women turning to the shelter for help has grown over the years, in part because the shelter itself has raised awareness in the Orthodox community of the phenomenon.

Before the shelter opened, even when members of the Orthodox community did know about incidents of domestic violence, they wouldn't go to secular shelters, according to Korman. He said secular shelters couldn't provide the proper religious upbringing for the children or keep Shabbat as they desired.

"It's a different environment, and they're supposed to go back to their communities," he explained. "What do their communities think when they've spent a few months in a non-religious place? It's impossible."

Many women not only return to their communities, but return to their abusive husbands. Only 28.5 percent manage to establish independent lives after their stays at the shelter, according to numbers provided by the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews (IFCJ).

To help women succeed on their own, the IFCJ sponsors job training programs for the women at the shelter. "Succot is a holiday where we are building a temporary home," said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the IFCJ, at the dedication ceremony held the day after the Succot holiday ended in Israel. "The Bat Melech shelter is also a temporary home, and it aims to bring our residents support and strength for the brave steps they are taking."