Dozens of Jewish women who fled abusive partners in Arab villages spent the weekend in the scenic, central Israeli town of Yad Binyamin, in a Sabbath event organized by the Yad L’Achim organization.
Yad L’Achim was key in helping the women escape abusive relationships to Arab men, and has maintained a connection with each of them ever since.
The women and their children were bussed in from their houses around Israel to the Tzvia campus, where they were greeted with food and drink, prepared rooms, and prayerbooks (siddurim) with their names engraved on the cover.
Many Yad L’Achim professionals spent the Sabbath with the dozens of women, and their more than 100 children. Among the staff were rabbis, social workers and daycare providers; the latter group helped the young children to prepare a special candy arrangement for their mothers.
After the Sabbath meal, more special entertainment was provided for the children, leaving the mothers free to meet for a special discussion session. The session tackled complex and painful issues now relevant to their lives, such as how to relate to their children’s fathers, and how to help their children through the identity struggles they face living as Jews after having been indoctrinated to identify as Arabs.
The emotional meeting continued long in to the night, finishing just before 3 a.m., as the women continued to share the questions and dilemmas which continue to plague them even after their physical escapes. Some women continued to sit and talk until daybreak, enjoying the unique opportunity to discuss their feelings with those who had been through the same harrowing experiences.
As the Sabbath event drew to a close the next day, participants were asked to say, in one word, what they would be taking away from the gathering. The answers were overwhelmingly positive: strength, faith, love, joy, and hope.
As the children enjoyed a magic show, the women heard a lesson in Torah from Rabbi Yisrael Lifshitz. Forms were provided on which each participant could name a mitzvah (commandment) she plans to fulfill in the future; answers included keeping kosher, observing the Sabbath, and learning Torah. The aim was to enable the victims to complete their liberation from a legacy of abuse and attempts to erase the Jewish identity of them and their children.
Yad L’Achim was initially established in 1950 to assist new immigrants. Over the years, it grew increasingly involved in counter-missionary activity – and in the complex issue of abusive Jewish-Arab marriages – issues which new immigrants are often particularly vulnerable to.
Jewish-Arab marriages in Israel are almost exclusively between Jewish women and Arab men. Women in such marriages often move to their husband’s village; there, they may find themselves with no recourse in case of abuse. Some women move with their husbands to Palestinian Arab areas, where they have little to no legal protection.