ORA Fellows Educate Students About Agunah Crisis

ORA

On Monday, February 27, the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) ran an event on the Wilf Campus titled, “The Agunah Crisis: What Are Our Leaders Doing About It? And Why YOU Should Be Thinking About It.” The event was organized by the four ORA Campus Fellows at Yeshiva University—Liat Clark,  Zach Spero, Kira Paley, and Shoshana Tromka—with help from ORA director Rabbi Jeremy Stern and Jennifer Lankin, the assistant director of operations at ORA.

The ORA Campus Fellows are a group of eight students from across college campuses who work for ORA, learning about the many halachic issues that the organization deals with, as well as about domestic abuse and social justice, which are both factors in the cases that ORA works with. They also educate others about the halachic pre-nup and other methods of preventing agunot in our communities. Much of this education comes through planning events on their respective college campuses, where their goal is to encourage other students to become advocates for the halachic pre-nup.

The ORA Fellows co-sponsored the event with the Psychology Club and Active Minds, and five of the student councils were involved. Fellow Liat Clark explained, “We specifically reached out to Active Minds because we hoped they would understand wanting to get rid of a stigma in our community, in particular the stigma of agunot, and that these are topics that we need to talk about openly—divorce and abuse, these are topics that are really uncomfortable to talk about and aren’t spoken about enough in our communities. We reached out to the Psychology Club because of the issue of domestic abuse that is involved in cases of agunot.”

Clark explained that the purpose of the event was two-fold: to both help students understand the plight of agunot that exist in our communities, and, after that base understanding has been established, to explain to the students that there are steps they can take to prevent these issues from occurring in the future.

To accomplish their mission, the fellows invited five speakers to be part of a panel to discuss “the abusive nature of get-refusal as well as the preventative solution of the halachic pre-nup,” as the flier advertised.

Rabbi Jeremy Stern, the executive director of ORA, served as the moderator as well as the first panelist. Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a rosh yeshiva at RIETS, helped draft the original version of halachic pre-nup. When asked when the best time to sign the pre-nup was, he responded “The halachic prenup should be signed well before the wedding. Pre-pre-pre-pre-nup!”

Michelle Greenberg-Kobrin, Esq., an assistant professor at Cardozo Law, as well as a board member of ORA, was the third member of the panel. Greenberg-Kobrin is a lawyer who is well versed in the legal issues of the halachic pre-nup  and divorce, as well as the intersection between Jewish divorce and legal divorce.

Dr. Shana Frydman, who is the managing director at the Met Council, deals with domestic abuse in the Jewish community hands on, every day. She was asked to be on the panel to talk about how get refusal is a form of domestic abuse. “This is something that most people don’t understand. We wanted to drive home that message—if you are a get refuser, if you are a recalcitrant husband, you are a domestic abuser,” Clark added.

The final panelist was Sherri Essrog, a former agunah, who shared her experience with the students at the event, and explained how she finally got her get with help from the team at ORA.

Ninety students attended the event in Furst 501, and 20 people were watching the live stream on ORA’s Facebook page for the entire time. “We were super thrilled with that turnout,” Clark said.

Clark explained as well that she and the other fellows had one main goal for their event. “What we wanted students to take away from the event was to understand first of all, that these issues are really prevalent, unfortunately, in our communities…and they are things that we don’t necessarily deal with head-on…but there are ways, now, that we can prevent it. You can sign the halachic pre-nup. Signing the halachic pre-nup and encouraging your friends to sign the halachic pre-nup now, in this stage of our lives, when we are college students, where people are dating and thinking about getting married—that is the way to deal with these things…we can effectively eradicate the issue of agunot in our community.”