Saving the king’s daughters
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Saving the king’s daughters

Shelter in Israel shields religious victims of domestic abuse

Noach Korman is one of those rare men who sees a societal problem and cannot turn the other way.

The problem was battered women among Israel’s religious population. His response, the organization Bat Melech (Daughter of the King), has grown to include emergency shelters in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh that serve the whole country, as well as a 24-hour hotline, psychological and legal counseling, parenting classes, and prevention programs.

In March, Mr. Korman will speak at two North Jersey parlor meetings. He will be accompanied by Leonia native Amy Beth Oppenheimer, Bat Melech’s director for North America and overseas relations.

“We feel now is the time to share what we do with all the Jewish women and men who believe in what we are doing,” Mr. Korman said. “Bat Melech is not our private business; it belongs to the community.”

In fact, over the years Bat Melech has seen its share of American émigrés or temporary residents needing emergency refuge.

“We have a very strong vision of how to expand services and awareness and education,” Mr. Korman said. “We are at the beginning of a long path to bring what we do to Israelis and people around the world and ask them to be our partners.”

Sixteen years ago, Mr. Korman, an attorney, was approached by a woman escaping her abusive husband. She slept in the lobby of a Jerusalem hotel for two weeks because she felt she had nowhere else to go. Though Israel runs 14 battered-woman shelters, none provided a Sabbath-observant, strictly kosher environment.

“I started speaking with organizations and rabbis and rebbetzins about what can be done for her and others like her,” Mr. Korman said. “Everybody knows there is a huge problem, but nobody can offer a solution because they feel very ashamed to talk about this issue.”

Mr. Korman set up a safe apartment, and then he set up another one. Within a year, he opened the first Bat Melech shelter. The Israeli government now provides 60 percent of the $1.5 million annual operating budget. Another 20 percent comes from Israeli donors.

One reason for the overseas appeal is a new regulation requiring government-funded shelters to offer at least 12 bedrooms. The six-room Jerusalem Bat Melech shelter must expand by the June deadline to be in compliance with the law. Half the required funds have been raised in Israel, and renovations have begun.

The information sessions are scheduled for March 25 at the home of Becky Katz in Teaneck, and the following evening at the home of Joyce Straus in Englewood.

“We’re also looking for more hosts,” Ms. Oppenheimer said. “We want to form an event committee that can plan future meetings and programs.”

Sari Meir, a Hebrew teacher at Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls in Teaneck, was a social worker in Bat Melech’s Jerusalem shelter for six years and directed the Beit Shemesh shelter for another six years.

The Beit Shemesh branch already has been expanded to 12 rooms. But both shelters have waiting lists. Ms. Meir said that usually each of the rooms can accommodate either one woman with one or two children or two women. But Orthodox mothers frequently arrive with four or more children and require several rooms, although funding is allocated only according to the number of mothers.

On a hopeful note, Mr. Korman observes that women are starting to seek refuge at younger ages and with fewer children than they used to.

Ms. Meir related the story of a 19-year-old American woman who came to the shelter with her three-month-old baby. “She was married to an Israeli she had met in Jerusalem, and he took all the household money to buy alcohol. When she didn’t want to give him more, he beat her. Her family was in the States, and wrapped up in their own problems. One family she knew in Israel called us, and she came to get advice from our lawyer.”

This teenage mother stayed in the shelter for a year and finally received a divorce. “She went through a significant process of healing with the help of an English-speaking psychologist, and we got a volunteer from the community who became like a mother to her,” Ms. Meir said. “Our lawyers arranged for her to take her child to the United States, where she could manage better. If not for Bat Melech, I don’t know if she could have survived.”

Women are referred from all over Israel by welfare agencies, rabbis, police, hospitals, and word of mouth. “It’s so important to us to raise awareness so they know there is a solution,” Ms. Meir said.

“And women here” – in New Jersey – “need to know that if they know women who need help, they can call us. I got many calls from America about daughters or friends with problems in Israel. After they leave the shelter we continue to be in touch because although the welfare agency will take care of them, we are like family. …

“These women are generally very poor. The abuser took their money, their strength, and their self-esteem.”

Ms. Oppenheimer hopes to inspire people to help by endowing the expansion of the shelter or allocating money to preventative programming on healthy dating and relationships. Those programs would be aimed at religious communities both in Israel and in the United States.

“We have the content and we have endorsements from rabbinic leaders, but are not able to implement programs without funding,” she said.

Among the area rebbetzins she has so far recruited to support the educational effort are Shevi Yudin of Fair Lawn’s Congregation Shomrei Torah; Debbie Baum from Teaneck’s Congregation Keter Torah, Chana Reichman from Englewood’s East Hill Synagogue, and Chaviva Rothwachs of Teaneck’s Congregation Beth Aaron.

“But this is not only a women’s issue,” Ms. Oppenheimer stressed. “Men like Noach should step up and get involved, too. The idea is men and women standing together for those whose voices are silent.”

For information, email Ms. Oppenheimer at amy.oppenheimer@gmail.com.

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