A few weeks ago, I was struck by this interview on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday with Fraidy Reiss, a woman whose religion and culture dictated when and whom she should wed. At 19 and an abusive man who later, when Reiss was reaching out for help, elders in her community would defend as simply having “a little bit of a temper.”
After leaving her husband and the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, she founded a non-profit organization to help other women escape arranged marriages. Because guess what? Women being manipulated in the name of God, their heritage, family pride, or some twisted take on tradition happens in America way more often than we care to realize.
It is hard to determine just how many arranged marriages occur in the United States each year but what we do know is that most states lack the legislation to protect women when they go wrong.
Reiss was partnered with her husband by a professional matchmaker, a common occurrence in the Orthodox Jewish community. “It never occurred to me that I was doing anything other than what I had always dreamed of doing,” she says. But, merely one week into married existence, Reiss discovered that life with this stranger was not headed towards wedded bliss. After her family and multiple rabbis refused to assist the young bride, she looked else where…
From the accompanying NPR article:
After a particularly violent episode, Reiss says, she went to the police to get a temporary restraining order, a first for a woman in her community. That was a mistake, she says.
“I realized too late that one of the gravest sins in the Orthodox Jewish community is ratting out your fellow Jew to secular authorities,” she says. The rabbis sent an attorney from the community to Reiss’ house to drive with her to family court and tell the judge she wanted to drop the restraining order.
After getting a degree and a job, Reiss was finally able to take her 2 children and leave the marriage. She was promptly declared dead by the rest of her family and shunned.
However, Reiss would go on to found Unchained At Last, a non-profit organization which helps women like her escape forced or arranged marriages–offering free legal counsel, social services and a mentor program. For many of these women, this way of life is the only one they know and they have no one to help them. Conversely, Unchained At Last envisions a world where women are free to choose when, whom and whether they marry.
If you’d like to listen to the NPR interview with Fraidy Reiss CLICK HERE.
If you’d like to check out the fantastic organization, Unchained At Last CLICK HERE.
And if this story strikes you, as it did me, I strongly encourage you to make a donation HERE.