Wednesday, April 13, 2005

They Did it for Leah Klein

Now contrary to the nasty rumors her ex was spreading, Leah did not get what she deserved. She was the sweetest girl to ever graduate from our high school. Kind, soft-spoken, genuine. She loved who she was and all that she ever wanted out of life was to get married and raise Jewish children. She had an arranged marriage when she was seventeen and dropped out of high school. She’d met her husband to be once, but he was from a good family and he was very bright and very handsome. She thought she was so lucky, that she didn’t deserve such goodness.
We all went to the wedding and every one of us danced for her. We all loved her because she loved all of us. She really did. And we wanted to dance for her and shower her with all of the blessings for a happy life. And, for a while, we thought we had succeeded. She would call us regularly to ask us how we were doing and give us updates on her life. She was happy. She was pregnant. She’d had a son. The bris would be on Tuesday. They were buying a house. Then she sort of…fell out of contact. We assumed she was busy. The old group from high school would get together and we would relate our Leah sightings. Shira had seen her at a fruit and vegetable market. Daniela had run into her and her husband in the diamond district where he worked and they had been choosing out jewelry together. Then, one day, Davida called me. She’d seen Leah in a drugstore with a black eye, poorly disguised by heavy foundation. The group got together for lunch and Tzivia said she’d driven through Leah’s neighborhood late one night and had seen Leah sitting on the stoop in the freezing cold. One day, Shira called me at the office. Leah had called her from a women’s shelter. She was getting a divorce.
We went to visit her. We put her and her kids up in our various homes until we could find her an apartment of her own. We bought her groceries and watched her kids while she went to police to get a restraining order on her husband. Her husband was not taking it well. He said it was her fault. That she was a bad wife. That she didn’t care for the children properly. That she had it coming. That she asked for it. That the kids had asked for it. That she was sexually perverse and unfaithful. She was a witch. She was a whore. He wouldn’t give her a divorce. A get. He wanted the children. Not just every other week, but full custody.
Leah said no. She wouldn’t sacrifice her children. He said fine and would not give her the get.
Leah was broken after that. She’d spent her whole life wanting to be married and now, suddenly, she wasn’t anymore and never could be again. She sat in her apartment all day, waiting for her children to come home from school. She stopped eating. Every time we saw her, she seemed thinner and thinner.
Simma came up with the idea. Simma is Satmar. She’d gotten married about the same time as Leah and had shaved her head. She wore stockings with seams up the back and a tichel over her sheitel. She asked me to go out to lunch with her.
“I just came back from seeing Leah. She looks awful.”
“I know.”
“He’s killing her.”
“We’ve got to do something.”
“What can we do? Hire a hit man?”
“Death is too good for him.”
At nine o’clock a.m. on a clear Monday morning, a group of women in hats, snoods, headscarves, and sheitelach congregated in front of the 42nd Ave. diamond store owned by Leah’s husband. By 9:05, ten of them were holding up signs stating that the owner of this business was withholding a Jewish divorce from his wife. By 9:10, they were handing out pamphlets and had turned away two customers. At 10:00, the police arrived but informed the store owner that since the women were not on private property and were not being violent or interfering with traffic, they had the right to stay. And they stayed. We stayed. We stayed until he closed the shop at six. We made sure he did not have a customer all day. We were there again the next morning when he opened the store, this time with Aviva, a classmate who had gone on to become a fairly prominent divorce lawyer. She delivered him a subpoena requesting that he come to court for hearings on child support. She was doing the case pro bono. A husband in the banking business had kindly arranged that his assets be frozen until such time as he began to pay his child support. Aviva left and we stayed to hand out pamphlets and pray. As we said our tehillim, we held up signs saying that we were praying for the wife of the man who owned this business, a woman who was being denied a Jewish divorce. He did not get any customers that day either. Or the next day. Or the next.
By the second week, he tried to negotiate with us. We were ruining him. He was losing money. He was receiving threatening phone calls. Women were pressuring their husbands to refuse him an aliya in shul. He would take her back. He would pay us to leave him alone. We did not leave.
By the third week, he gave in. He had to. The husband in the banking business told us (strictly off the record, of course), that he had lost millions of dollars in those three weeks. His business had been reduced to nothing. He had to get rid of us. It was a matter of survival. We took down the signs and stopped handing out the pamphlets, but remained outside his store until the get was in Leah’s hands and Aviva, Leah, and Leah’s ex had their day in court to decide on the hefty sum he would pay in child support. We just wanted him to know that we were there.
I met Leah the other week for lunch. She’s studying for her GED and seeing a wonderful man, a widower. She’s not sure, but she thinks he may be the one. She glows.
A group of us were in a bus the other day and we saw Leah’s husband. He would not look in our direction. You never look at the women who screw you over.