March 11, 2009
Community Rallies for Woman’s Divorce, UCLA Acquires Jewish Artifacts
Community Rallies for Woman’s Jewish Divorce
Chanting “Stop Abuse” and “Free Your Wife,” 200 people rallied on the eve of Purim in front of the Fairfax-area home of a man who refuses to grant his wife a Jewish divorce.
Meir Kin and his wife, Lonna, who have one child, have been separated for four years, and though a civil divorce has already been granted, he has refused to appear before a recognized rabbinic court to grant her a Jewish writ of divorce, or get. Without a get, she cannot remarry and is considered an agunah, Hebrew for chained woman.
The Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) issued a seiruv, or letter of contempt, against Kin in March 2007 for refusing to appear before the beit din, a rabbinic judicial panel.
The New York-based Organization for the Resolution for Agunot (ORA) organized the rally to apply communal pressure on Kin. Because Jewish law does not allow a beit din to force a man to issue his wife a divorce, communities have historically used religious ostracization and social embarrassment to pressure recalcitrant husbands into giving in.
“We feel it is important for a community to take a stand against this kind of abuse, and say we will not tolerate it,” ORA’s assistant director Jeremy Stern said. “If someone is emotionally abusing his wife, abusing halacha and making a mockery of the rabbinic system, it will not be tolerated.”
ORA works with couples from across the religious spectrum — from fervently Orthodox to loosely traditional — to help resolve tough divorce cases, Stern said. The organization tries to facilitate conversation between the parties to help bring them to an acceptable resolution with a beit din or other mediator. If that fails, ORA uses threats of protest and then actual protests at the home or workplace of a husband who refuses to give a get, or a wife who refuses to accept one. Since it was founded in 2002, ORA has helped resolve 97 cases and still has 60 cases open — just a small percentage of the problem divorce cases out there, Stern says. Several of ORA’s cases are in Los Angeles, including an Israeli man in Tarzana who has refused his wife a get for 31 years.
ORA has been working on the Kin case for three years. The case has a long and complicated history in civil courts in New York and Los Angeles, and several rabbinic courts. Kin said a get is waiting for his wife at the beit din of Rabbi Tzvi Dov Abraham in Monsey, N.Y. But that beit din is universally reviled as extortionist, and divorces from Abraham’s beit din are not recognized by the RCC, the chief rabbinate in Israel or the Beth Din of America, Stern said.
Kin comes from a prominent Los Angeles Orthodox family — both his parents are longtime educators in the Beverly-La Brea area, and his brother, Rabbi Elyahu Kin, is a leader at the outreach organization Torah Ohr. Another brother is president of an Orthodox congregation.
The protest was held outside the parents’ home. Stern has been slowly publicizing the case for two years, sending fliers and information packets to local rabbis, hoping to avoid a rally, he said. While some rabbis showed up to the rally and publicized it among their congregants, many stayed away.
Stern said the group also works on preventative measures. It supports a 10-year-old effort to make prenuptial agreements, which make withholding or refusing a get financially painful, a standard part of Orthodox wedding ceremonies. Stern flew to Los Angeles for the rally, and spent some time in local Orthodox high schools teaching students about the need for prenups.
“We see this as way of making social change from the bottom up, so everyone does it as a matter of course,” Stern said.
UCLA last week celebrated the acquisition of a treasure trove of Jewish history in the American West, the legacy of four dedicated amateurs turned skilled historians.
The ceremony in the UCLA Library’s special collections department culminated decades of work by the late Dr. Norton Stern and Rabbi William Kramer, both Los Angeles residents.
When they died, they left behind some 400 boxes crammed with documents, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, memoirs, photos and assorted memorabilia.
Much of the hoard was accumulated by Stern, an optometrist, who scoured the small towns of the Western states, looking, as he put it, “through hundreds of haystacks for dozens of needles,” hidden in abandoned cemeteries and faded newspapers.
His and Kramer’s immense accumulation of history in the raw was rescued after their deaths by two Valley residents, David W. Epstein and Gladys Sturman, who went about cataloging, indexing and archiving the material.
They were aided by 11 members of Congregation Shir Ami in Woodland Hills, an $18,000 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation and $10,000 from Sturman’s own pocket.
A major part of the Stern-Kramer legacy was trucked to UCLA last year and, over the months, Caroline Luce, a doctoral candidate in history, has digitized the archive, which is expected to go online in May.
In the process, Luce has become an expert on the arcane history of bagels, and the audience of some 70 invited guests was left to ponder whether the Jewish gustatory icon had originated in Austria, Poland, or China.
Epstein noted that Kramer and Stern had defined rather broad boundaries for the “American West,” claiming all the land west of the Mississippi River, Hawaii and parts of Mexico.
Jews played a disproportionally large role in the development of the West, because they were often the only residents who were literate, knew about business affairs, and were trusted by both gold prospectors and native Indians.
David Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, lauded the professional standards and work by Sturman, Epstein and the Shir Ami volunteers as a prime example of collaboration between town and gown.
Additional parts of the original Kramer-Stern collection have been donated to other institutions, such as 1,000 books to the American Jewish University, 2,000 photos to the Autry National Center, and ephemera to the Huntington Research Library, in partnership with USC.
For additional information, call the UCLA department of special collections at (310) 825-4988 or Genie Guerard at (310) 206-0521.
— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor
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