From Jerusalem to Jakarta: A globalized 'get'

4 men gather at the Jakarta Ritz to perform a mitzva - to help free an aguna, a "chained" woman.

aguna 88 (photo credit: )
aguna 88
(photo credit: )
Four men met in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton in Jakarta, Indonesia, on a Thursday afternoon a few months ago. Two of the men had arrived on a flight from Singapore. They were nervous, anxiously checking their watches. A third, a Brazilian, did business with the Indonesian government. The fourth man, a South African, had arrived from Israel. The documents were signed and the legal transaction finalized. The two nervous men rushed out of the lobby to catch their return flight to Singapore. The Brazilian and the South African shook hands and parted ways. A shady arms deal? Drugs? No, the four men had gathered at the Jakarta Ritz from across the globe for a different purpose altogether. They were there to perform a mitzva - to help free an aguna, a "chained" woman. Thirteen years earlier, the Brazilian man had suddenly abandoned a wife and two children living in Britain. According to Jewish law, his wife could not remarry until she received a get (writ of divorce). Now, thanks to Rabbi Shaul Farber, head of an organization called ITIM, which helps Jews navigate Israel's complex rabbinical bureaucracy, the Brazilian was about to sign a power of attorney allowing his wife to start a new life. The chain of events that led to this fateful meeting at the Ritz had begun a year earlier. After more than a decade of silence, the Brazilian man's son managed to track down his father's e-mail address and began corresponding. At first the father did not want to reveal where he was living. He said nothing about why, more than 10 years earlier, he had gone on a business trip and never returned. Eventually he revealed that he was living in Jakarta. K., the man's daughter, heard from her brother about the correspondence and wanted to help her mother. "I consulted with rabbinic judges in Britain and in Israel," K. said. "But they were not helpful. I got the feeling that these men were unable to think creatively." Through her synagogue rabbi in Ra'anana, she was referred to ITIM's Farber. "After speaking to Rabbi Farber, the whole thing suddenly became possible. He explained exactly what I needed to do to get my mom a get," K. said. In a series of fortuitous events, one of the most unorthodox globalized get stories unfolded. "One day I was speaking with a friend who mentioned that her husband was traveling the following week to Jakarta," K. said. Jonathan Shmukler, who works for a high-tech company, was flying to the Indonesian capital to present a pre-sale workshop for a customer there. He agreed to help K.'s mother between business meetings. K. also had a British friend who was in Singapore for six months on business. He agreed to travel to Jakarta when needed. But K. had to make sure that her mother really wanted a get. "I told her about the e-mail correspondence with Dad and how there were two people who could meet him in Jakarta. I asked her if she wanted a get," K. recounted. "She said, 'It's about time.'" K. had to work fast because Shmukler was leaving for Jakarta the following week. In another stroke of luck, K.'s mother had changed previous plans to go to London and instead was at home in Manchester, where she had access to all the documents that the Jerusalem Rabbinical Court needed, including passports and her marriage certificate. But K. needed one more Jewish man who could fly to Jakarta. She needed two witnesses in addition to Shmukler. The Chabad rabbi in Singapore arranged for Baruch Kahn, a businessman from Kiryat Malachi who travels regularly to Singapore, to make it to Jakarta. Shmukler, Kahn and K.'s friend from Britain all arranged to meet K.'s father in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton. K. paid for the plane tickets for the two men from Singapore. Farber, together with a judge from the rabbinic court in Jerusalem, prepped Shmukler for the meeting with the Brazilian man. "I had to receive power of attorney from the husband to appoint a scribe to write the get and deliver it to the wife," Shmukler said. "We also had to determine that he really was the guy. In addition, he had to declare something out loud in Hebrew to the effect that he agreed to divorce his wife and allowed her to remarry." The Brazilian man and Shmukler arrived on time. But the two men who had flown in from Singapore got held up in traffic. K., who was on vacation in Prague with her husband when the meeting in Jakarta took place, followed developments by e-mail and cellphone. Eventually the two witnesses showed up, visibly frazzled by the taxi drive from the airport and fearful that they would miss their return flight to Singapore. But everything went smoothly. K.'s father signed the necessary documents and made the necessary declarations, and the two witnesses managed to get back to the airport in time for their flight. Back in Israel, K., her mother, Farber and rabbinical court judges gathered to finalize the divorce after 13 years of limbo. All the documents were presented to the court, including the power of attorney signed in Jakarta. But there was one more hurdle. The court needed two Jewish men who could identify the Brazilian man in a lineup and testify that he had been married to K.'s mother. "The first thing that went through my mind was, 'How am I going to find someone who knew my father, a person who disappeared 13 years ago?'" K. said. But K. eventually remembered the names of two men who were friends of the family back in Britain. The two agreed to come to the court immediately. Asked how she felt now that the divorce had been finalized, K. sighed. "Obviously I'm really happy for Mom. I am also relieved that Dad went through with it. I was concerned till the last minute that he would not show up. But he did," she said. "I was amazed that so many people were willing to put themselves out, including strangers who selflessly traveled across the world for my mom. And particularly Rabbi Farber, who did so much to make all of this happen. "But most important of all, I learned that where there is a will there is a way. Anything is possible when Jews across the world unite for a common good."•