The agony of the aguna

At a benefit concert Sunday night at the Jerusalem Theater, produced by RNY Hakafot, the voice of Mavoi Satum was heard in several forms. David D'or, Etti Ankri and the Black Hebrews of Dimona headlined an evening dedicated to furthering the cause of this nonprofit organization. Mavoi Satum (Dead End) provides legal and emotional support to women who are agunot or mesuravot get. It also strives to resolve the issue of agunot on a national level. An aguna is a woman whose husband has disappeared without granting her a get, or Jewish divorce. A mesurevet get is a woman whose husband refuses to give her a get. In both cases, the woman is legally unable to remarry and, according to Halacha, cannot have any more children. If she does, they will be considered mamzerim (born out of wedlock) for 10 generations. "The modern-day aguna is a mesurevet get," says Judith Djemal, co-chair of the organization. And, she asserts, the situation "is destroying families." According to Mavoi Satum, the main stumbling block is the Rabbinic Court, which for a variety of reasons - some clear, some incomprehensible - lets the situation drag on for years. During that time, as the woman makes appeal after appeal to be granted a get, the husband is free to have relationships and in some cases even remarry, while the woman remains powerless to get on with her life. Mavoi Satum, whose motto is "Opening the dead end for the aguna," attempts to provide such women with the support and initiative to move forward. To that end, Sunday's concert was one way to raise funds for and awareness about the cause. As the audience filed in to the Henry Crown Auditorium, they were handed brochures and information sheets about the organization's programs and services, as well as several personal aguna stories. The services include initial consultation; legal representation; social support and therapy; a public speaking course; the services of a private detective; a trained volunteer support person for each client; and education and empowerment courses. To open the evening, a young woman named Ariella took the stage and recounted her experience as an aguna. In a powerful, unwavering voice the 27-year-old mother of two told the capacity crowd how for three years she has been struggling to obtain a get from her abusive, adulterous husband. Empowered by Mavoi Satum and a graduate of its Speak-Up course, which teaches women how to find their voice and express themselves, Ariella plans to initiate a hotline in the South. Through the efforts of Mavoi Satum, says Djemal, Ariella will receive a hiyuv get, whereby the husband is forced to grant a divorce. The next voice to be heard at the concert was that of another aguna, Geula, who rendered a compelling song she had written about her plight. Following her were the Black Hebrews, represented by a threesome of two men and a woman who got the audience clapping along to their powerful, upbeat performance. Then the lovely, lilting Ankri entertained the audience with her mellow voice and heartfelt music. At one point she got everyone to sing along to a pulsating song which had what sounded like Brazilian/Portuguese or African lyrics. She then introduced D'or, who energetically took the stage. He delivered half a dozen songs, alternating between his countertenor voice and his trademark falsetto. Then the two sang several duets, with the Black Hebrews trio singing back-up, eliciting thunderous applause. In one of their encores, Ankri and the trio sang a Hebrew song into which they interjected several appropriate refrains of "No woman, no cry." The band, consisting of some of D'or's and Ankri's musicians, was excellent. And when violinist Sanya Kroiter played an electrifying solo medley of Yiddish and Israeli tunes, he virtually brought the house down. After the concert, when asked what the language of that pulsating song was, Ankri confided, "It was gibberish." But gibberish notwithstanding, the message of the evening rang loud and clear: Laws need to be changed so that agunot will no longer be sentenced to a life of futility and frustration. As Djemal puts it, "Our aim is to go out of business so that we can attend to other issues."