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Escape from Hell

Escape from Hell

A true story of a Jewish woman’s harrowing escape from her abusive husband


Sleep eluded Daphna*, as she stared into the darkness of the night. She tried in vain to still the hammering of her heart against her chest. Tomorrow was the day. All the clandestine phone calls, the desperate planning, the careful preparations were to come to its climax tomorrow afternoon. Right now, however, she didn't know what the future held in store for her. A fresh surge of fear rushed through her every limb. Would the plan succeed?

A sudden rustle startled her. She inclined her head to listen for its source. A low moan escaped the lips of Fatima, her young daughter, lying atop her mattress on the floor, entangled in an old blanket, groaning and tossing restlessly in her sleep. After a moment, Fatima's breathing resumed its normal pace and Daphna returned to her thoughts.

It was hard to believe that so many years had gone by since she'd agreed to Jamil's marriage proposal. Now, in the stillness of the night, the memory of those bygone days came tumbling back to her; her mother's death, her father's angry threats, the recollections saturated her with pain once again. How alone she'd felt then, she now remembered, when filled with sorrow, she'd wandered about the streets bereft, insecure, and confused.

That's when she'd met him, Jamil, an Arab lad, who in her eyes represented the knight In the silence, her eyes traversed the walls that had kept her in its confines for nearly two decades. in shining armor who had come to her rescue, filling the gaping void in her life. At that time, almost twenty years ago, Jamil had regaled her with colorful pledges of a happy, stable home. How she had believed him! She'd allowed herself to be swept along with his vibrant dreams of love and security, to turn her back on her Jewish heritage, and to be led by Jamil to a new home in the Muslim quarter in Jerusalem.

It didn't take long for her to recognize that Jamil's words, suave and enticing, had been empty promises.

As the hours crept by, Daphna, lying still on her mattress, allowed the tears to slide across her face, her thoughts roaming. In the silence, her eyes traversed the walls that had kept her in its confines for nearly two decades. No, she wouldn't miss those walls, now blackened with soot and grime; she wouldn't miss those walls that remained her silent witness to the many years of her shame, regret and fear.

Living in a single apartment together with Jamil's many relatives under appalling conditions, all those exalted dreams had shattered exceedingly fast. But by then it was too late. She knew her husband disliked her. Every nerve she had feared him. She longed to run away, but she had no money, she had no place to go, and she harbored no false beliefs about what Jamil would do to her, should he find her. The all consuming terror she felt, the constant humiliation and her own self-doubt, confused her senses, rendered her incapable of thinking for herself. Something inside her had died.

Thus, she gave birth to eight children who joined her in her captivity. Numb with pain, she watched as her children suffered Jamil's menaces, his beatings, his abuse, just as she did. They were the Jews, despised, lowly, of inferior stock. They had no business eating the same meals that the rest of the family enjoyed, and there was no reason for anyone to stand up for them in their mistreated state.

Tomorrow, all those years of misery would come to an end.

No longer would she be at the mercy of Jamil, her captor. No longer would she rush about, heart saddened, back bent in disgrace, obeying his every command like a common servant. Tomorrow evening she would be far away from all the members of Jamil's hamula (Arabic for tribe, or family), far from their scorn, their venomous eyes, their hateful comments.

Surely her mother's prayers, up there, right near the Throne of G‑d, were working for her.

One day an opportunity had presented itself to her. She was sent outside on order to buy some provisions. As she rushed That day, her sense of mission had predominated over her fear of Jamil. through the narrow alleyways and arched openings, her feet echoing on the cobblestones, she made her way to the open market place. Crowds of people, as usual, were gathered around the shops and stalls, smoking nargila and talking loudly. The sharp scent of mixed spices and falafel hung in the air and the cries of peddlers with thin mustaches peddling their vegetables, ceramics and oriental cloths added to the raucous.

But that day her sense of mission had predominated over her fear of Jamil, or her anger at her father. Enough was enough. She had to find a way to escape from the insufferable oppression. Amidst the hustle and bustle, no one noticed as with trembling fingers, Daphna dialed the number of her aunt, her father's sister. She had taken her first, tentative step in her journey back to G‑d.

Her aunt heard her out, promising to contact Yad L’Achim, an organization dedicated to retrieving women like her from their hostile Arab environments and set them up in safe houses around the country, where they can build new lives for themselves. Surely they would find a way to rescue her from her plight. Reassured and no longer feeling so alone, Daphna's cloud of confusion began to dissolve.

G‑d listens to us, thought Daphna, even when we whisper; He bends His ears to our lips, and heeds our small efforts. Even in my self-imposed exile, as soon as I desired to reconnect with Him, G‑d extended His arms to me, and accepted me with love.

The members of Yad L'Achim had approached this task with their standard hallmark of self-sacrifice, courage and dedication. They had cared, really cared, given her another chance at life.

Tomorrow she would return to her people, to her Father in Heaven.

Daylight began to filter in through the grimy window. Daphna marveled at the special Divine Providence that was accompanying every step of the escape plan. Jamil was in jail for crimes he'd committed, his brother on house arrest. With those two out of the way, Yad L'Achim was springing into action.

A few hours later, Daphna, her heart beating thick, her face flushed, stood by the door and watched as a van rapidly approached her. Another moment and the driver pulled up noiselessly besides her, and leaving his engine running, he jumped out of the van. It was then that her endurance broke down and she began to sob uncontrollably. Through a haze of tears she led him to her apartment. Moving quickly, he packed her meager belongings into some cartons he'd brought with him, and hurried the children along to the van.

Meanwhile, waiting near the Jaffa Gate to the Old City, other members of Yad L'Achim sat inside vans, reciting Psalms for the success of their friend in this perilous undertaking.

Every minute counted. A delay of just a few seconds could give neighbors an opportunity to stream out of their homes and foil the rescue. But in the confusion of the moment, young Fatima wandered off in the direction of the marketplace and panic ensued.

With the help of G‑d, she was quickly discovered by one of the men and within minutes, the family was whisked out of the Muslim Quarter and spirited to a secret location.

It's been just a few weeks now. Her children well cared for; Daphna has devoted her time to learn more about her heritage. She continues to pray, lights Shabbat candles and she is steadily becoming acquainted with new friends and people who care. But most of all, she feels inexpressible relief and a soothing conviction that G‑d listens to her prayers.

(*Names have been changed to protect identity.)

Mirish Kiszner is a teacher, counselor and lecturer living in Jerusalem. She’s published hundreds of articles in numerous Jewish publications. Her latest book is Extraordinary Stories about Ordinary People (Artscroll), a collection of true stories about real people. She is also a regular contributor to our Help! I’ve Got Kids . . . parenting blog.
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Anonymous August 24, 2009

escape from hell "Daphen" was helped to escape because she was fortunate enough to have an Arab husbans but how about all those women trapped in such relationships with Jewish husbands who keep saying "marital harmony" to deny them divorce and carry on the Hell.

Do you know of anyone doing something about that? Reply

marianne juliette wilson houston, tx January 25, 2009

daphna's escape i have had women friends who have married arab men. the unions {every last one of them} became an abusive relationship. a few of these silly women made the mistake of going back to the husband's home country. what a tragedy! the children were "detained" & there was nothing to be done about it. the authorities would not find in favor of the mother {an american}. the woman had only two choices: stay in country or leave w/o your children. the USA was unable to solve the problem either. two of the women are back here in the USA w/o their children...still fighting for them. the others stayed in country... Reply

Raz January 25, 2009

A double shame It's a damn shame that this happened. I passionately HATE unequal violence; violence from one thing against another thing that is not its' equal (like the most powerful country in the world attacking third world countries, or like rocket attacks/ air raids against civillians). I expecially hate violence against women and children

It's also a shame that it is mentioned that the abuser is an Arab. Even though it's true, it does nothing to advance the essence of the story, except to perhaps add fuel to the fires of hatred buring throughout the world against the Arab people... Reply

Baruch Shalom Clement Seattle, WA September 19, 2008

beautiful illustration The beautiful illustration for this article was done in watercolor by my beautiful artistic wife, Kreina Clement. Her website: Check it out. Reply

DL Rosen September 12, 2008

Islamic Law No one is saying that only Arabs are abusers. But the truth is, in countries where Islamic Law holds sway, abused women simply have no rights, no voice in courts of law, and no safe houses or shelters where they can receive the help they need. That's why, in many cases, Arab husbands trick their wives into visiting or living in their countries of origin, and the women are powerless in the face of abuse. Reply

marianne juliette wilson houston, texas September 12, 2008

escape from hell welcome home, daphna. Reply

Anonymous Pittsburgh, PA September 10, 2008

Domestic Violence How unfortunate that you chose to resort to stereotypes (Jewish wife victim-Arab anti-Semitic abusive husband) when we all recognize that domestic violence is a very real problem within the Jewish community itself. Reply

Anonymous Jerusalem, Il. September 10, 2008

Beautifully written. Does anyone know how her children are doing? How can they adjust to a totally new life? Will any of them show loyalty to their Arab father and Arab way of life - and become traitors.... Reply

prisoner CHEIGHTS September 10, 2008

women get away with murder Let's not fail to point out the existence of abusive WOMEN. These women are often given a pass and their husbands questioned with "what did you do to make her react like that?" - a question that would never be asked of an abused wife. Reply

Thomas Karp New Haven, Ct. September 10, 2008

The Islamic vs. Jewish view of women I've actually spent a few years as a practicing Muslim; and I can witness first hand to the fact that the Jewish view of women is profoundly more uplifting and humane; and amongst most Jews rather progressive as opposed to those that often flourish in Islam.

I must admit here that a lot of this speaks to, emanates from, that Judaism is matrilineally discerned; whereas most societies, especially Islamic societies, are strictly patriarchal; and the woman is given no credit in passing along the soul to the child.

While I spent time with them and studied their scriptures, the one thing, perhaps above all else, that puzzled me is that in their main scripture ('The Holy Quran')-

there is no mention of Hagar whatsoever.

Sarah though is acknowledged, and-

in the positive.

It's only in Torah that Hagar is mentioned, and in thus is described her rescue ('G-d is seeing, G-d is seeing') from her destruction and the destruction of her son. Reply

Anonymous Naples, FL September 9, 2008

In trying to look for the positve in stories like these it is good to know that this type of abuse at anyone's hands is being brought more out in the open.

Discussions such as these help other women too. For centuries spousal abuse was swept under the rug, tolerated and even condoned by cultures.

Again, thank G-d for Yad L' Achim . May their work be blessed. Reply

Ari Mexico September 8, 2008

abuse Sadly, abuse is common in every human group. I am a psycotherapist and I have also known women abused by haredi jewish husbands. Every person has free will and has the opportunity of choosing between right and wrong, and there are people who choose doing evil things. Reply

Anonymous Naples, FL September 8, 2008

It was "Jamil" the husband who was the abuser not the Islamic faith. Unfortunately wife abusers come in all faiths. Where would this woman had turned in the event she was married to an abusive Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or Jewish man? I would hope the same urgency would be granted no matter what faith she had married into.

Thank G-d for Yad L' Achim and others who see what is often hidden too well. It was not only the wife that was given freedom but also the children.

I don't feel a woman should have to obtain a "get". It is one way many religious woman are controlled by husbands they no longer choose to be married to. They are not free to marry and have more children. That is a form of punishment for many, Reply

Dina September 7, 2008

Re: Get A get is thankfully only required in the case of a kosher marriage, Jew to Jew. Reply

steven Lake Forest, CA September 7, 2008

Thank God she got to safetly. I'm stunned by the insensitivity of some of the commenters. My own understanding is that it is permissible and common enough for husbands following Muslim law to treat wives like this. But to take this occassion to berate Jewish husbands is beyond me. Reply

unknown September 7, 2008

i hope that u know that the acts of jamil that were described in this article aren't acts of islam because islam clearly doesn't teach man to beat their wives or children. Reply

Shirah seatte, wa September 7, 2008

Illustration What a beautiful illustration to go with the story. It brings the emotion present! Reply

Stephen Weinstein Camarillo, CA via September 7, 2008

Does she have to remain married to him? Was she able to divorce him? Is she now free to marry another man? Women in Israel who marry face this situation with abusive Jewish husbands are not able to divorce if the abuser refuses to give her a "get" (a "get" is a document required for a Jewish divorce that can be furnished only by the male; in Israel, divorces can be granted only be clergy, not by civil authorities). This story is an excellent example of why it is wrong not to allow women to terminate a marriage without their husband's consent, no matter how dire the circumstances. Reply

Esther Eugene, OR September 7, 2008

This woman, her precious children, and the members of Yad L'Achim should see only revealed good and many blessings. All the Jewish women and children in situations like hers should be freed with the coming of Moshiach now! Reply

Esther NY, NY September 7, 2008

G-d should bless this family with all their needs. G-d should also continue to bless the members of Yad L' Achim for their courage and dedication to the Jewish people! Beautiful! Reply

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