I haven’t actually been avoiding this story, but since receiving an e-mail from New York magazine’s flak on Monday I’ve lacked the time to really think about the most commented, most e-mailed and nearly most-viewed story at nymag.com. You’ve probably seen it somewhere else by now, but here is the link and a little snippet to get you interested in the saga of Gitty Grunwald and her young daughter held captive in the Hasidic community of Kiryas Joel, aka “Escape from the Holy Shtetl.”
It was only after her arranged marriage, at age 17, to Joel—nicknamed Yoely—Grunwald, another Kiryas Joel teenager, who would become Esther Miriam’s father, that Gitty knew “I couldn’t live in KJ anymore, that I didn’t want to be one of those women who pop out babies every eighteen months and think whatever their husbands tell them to … When Esther Miriam was born, that raised the stakes, because now there were two of us. Two KJ girls.”
In early 2007, Gitty fled Kiryas Joel for good, taking Esther Miriam with her. At first, they lived in the relatively relaxed frum (Orthodox) community of Monsey, New York, then moved to Brooklyn. “It was just the two of us. I loved it,” Gitty says. Then in January of this year, as Esther Miriam was walked with her class to a Flatbush playground, she was taken, says Gitty, who believes her husband was behind the act.
“Some KJ guys snatched her off the street. Esther Miriam said they were wearing masks. All she remembers was crying, crying so hard,” Gitty says, calling it the worst day of her life. “When they told me what happened, I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was being suffocated. I still do.”
Since then, Esther Miriam has been in KJ, at times in the house of Yoely’s parents, as Gitty works through the courts, both secular and rabbinical, to try to regain custody of her daughter. For the time being, Gitty says, “Yoely calls the shots, when I can see my daughter and where.”