Friday, January 21, 2005

2 Israeli attorneys concerned with shameful crimes that some of their countrymen refuse to acknowledge called on two New York law firms last week


At 6:56 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Shedding Light On a Dark Issue
New York Lawyer
January 21, 2005
By Thomas Adcock
New York Law Journal

Two young Israeli attorneys concerned with shameful crimes that some of their countrymen refuse to acknowledge called on two New York law firms last week asking for help in their delicate cause: navigating the line between respect for the insular culture of ultra-Orthodox Jews and legal modernity in the practice of domestic abuse law.

Attorneys Noach Korman and Oshrit Broyer-Tepper constitute the entire legal aid segment of the Jerusalem-based Miklat Organization, which takes its name from the Hebrew word for shelter. In matters such as divorce, child custody and property division, the pair help some 400 women a year who fall victim to ultra-Orthodox men who conflate religious piety with a brutal hand.

A recent article in the Jewish Press Magazine of New York highlighted the conflict:

In a society that places such high emphasis on the family, it is a shattering experience for an observant woman to admit that her marriage is a failure. Additionally, in many Israeli religious communities, the subject of abuse is considered too volatile for public discussion. As a result, domestic violence can become an insurmountable problem.

"I became a lawyer because someone needed to fight for these women," said Ms. Broyer-Tepper, 28, a graduate of Shaarei Mishpat Law School in Israel. Like Mr. Korman, she describes herself as modern Orthodox.

"It's very good for these women to see a woman lawyer -- a religious woman," she said.

"Too often, they feel ashamed to ask for help," said Mr. Korman, 36, a rabbi who also earned his law degree at Shaarei Mishpat. "They find themselves alone in a big system, with maybe a bad lawyer."

Last week, the Miklat attorneys told heart-rending tales of battered women and children to lawyers at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and Cohen, Hennessey & Beanstalk.

Phyllis G. Korff, a partner in the corporate finance department at Skadden, hosted the presentation at her firm.

"I'm hoping we can be a resource for Miklat, possibly helping to answer questions of a cross-border nature, or helping them procedurally," she said.

Although Israel does not have the pro bono tradition of U.S. law firms, Ms. Korff said, "I think it would be extraordinarily helpful if we could organize a volunteer [lawyer] network there."

At Cohen Hennessey, which specializes in family law, the Miklat lawyers met with partners Harriet N. Cohen and Bonnie E. Rabin to talk of their visiting Israel to speak with the 20 women and 60 children served annually by Bat Melech, a Miklat-run shelter in suburban Jerusalem.

Supported in part by a government ministry, Bat Melech -- Hebrew for "daughter of the kind" -- is Israel's only shelter designed for the special educational, dietary and space needs of ultra-Orthodox women, who commonly arrive on the doorstep with a half-dozen children.

Estanne Fawer of New York, the outspoken president of Miklat whose family foundation established the organization in 1996, after her own daughters emigrated to Israel and became haredi, or ultra-Orthodox. Three daughters soon gave birth to Ms. Fawer's 18 grandchildren.

"I would see all these big families living in small apartments, and I would hear all the noise from the fighting," said Ms. Fawer. "I asked my daughter if she'd ever seen domestic problems, and she said no. I didn't believe her. Everybody denies it. They say, 'It's not possible, we're religious!'

Hard-Ball Tactics

During the Skadden presentation, Ms. Broyer-Tepper described her combative technique in dealing with unrepentant haredi men, principally by threatening court action if they refuse to make a quiet bargain in advance of rabbinical court proceedings.

"I tell a man, 'Listen, I know you're abusing your wife and kids. If you want me to go out and tell the whole world [in court], it's OK with me,'" she said. "'But if you want to work with me, that's OK too.'"

Ms. Broyer-Tepper then proffers a three-point agreement pending a possible "get," or rabbinical divorce: psychological therapy, a three-month separation and "a big amount" of alimony payable in the lead-up to the get, which Mr. Korman said is a process that can take years.

"These are my conditions, I tell him," said Ms. Broyer-Tepper. "Otherwise, it's going to be very dirty."

Ms. Broyer-Tepper said the pressure she knows on the job, the sadness of hearing one terrible tale after another, is eased by evenings at home with a good man.

"After a day's work, I go home and bless my husband," she said.


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