By Ilana Kisilinsky
Liat Clark, a Junior, spent her summer, like many college students, doing an internship. Where she worked, though, was really quite unique. She worked for the Jewish organization ORA. ORA is based in Washington Heights and works to fight against Get-refusal (the refusal of husbands to give their wives a Get — Halachik divorce) and help the Agunot (women who are unable to get a Halachik divorce) in the Jewish community. Liat met with me to talk about her time in ORA’s college fellowship program and to tell us all about ORA and how we can help.
Ilana Kisilinsky: So let’s start off with what ORA is?
Liat Clark: The Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA) is a non profit organization that works to address the plight of Agunot in our community. Not only do they handle cases of current Agunot but they work to prevent future cases by running educational programming and by encouraging people to sign a Halachik prenup.
IK:Can you tell us what a Halachik prenup is?
LC: It’s actually not really a prenup the way we think about those, with rich celebrities trying to protect their wealth and assets; it’s a binding arbitration agreement. The couple agrees before they get married, that if they decide to terminate the marriage, to submit themselves to the Beth Din of America (as opposed to any other Beit Din) to help facilitate the Jewish divorce process and the giving of the Get. The second aspect of prenup is a financial disincentive for Get refusal–what this means is that whichever party is being recalcitrant pays the other party $150 per day. That number comes from the Halachik obligation of marriage (called mezonot). A husband has an obligation to provide food and shelter and clothing for his wife so he would be paying that money every day that they’re still married but not living together. If the woman is refusing to receive the Get she would be paying that money to her husband.
IK:How did you hear about and get involved with ORA?
LC: They presented in my high school, in my senior year, about what they do and about the Halachik prenup. It even became a line in my high school: ‘friends don’t let friends get married without a Halachik prenup.’ Then last year, their Assistant Director of Programming and Education, Jennifer Lankin, posted about the college fellowship in the Facebook group Stern in the Know. I saw it and thought, “That sounds cool. I like the ORA.” I decided to apply and that’s how I got involved. I did the campus fellowship last year and then they asked me to come on as the fellowship coordinator for this year.
IK:What is your role in the organization?
LC: I interned for them in the summer and helped them with their fundraising campaign. Now I’m the Fellowship Coordinator, which means that I assist in running and organizing the current fellowship for college students.
IK:Why is this fellowship a cool thing to be a part of?
LC: The fellowship discusses a lot of different types of issues. ORA is involved not just in the Halachik aspects of the divorce process but what they are doing is social justice, and it’s dealing with domestic abuse. There are a lot of different moving pieces coming into play with the issue of Get refusal. In that way, you may be really interested in psychology and domestic abuse, and you’ll find that present in the ORA’s work. Or if you’re really interested in the Halachik issues revolving Get refusal and the Halachik prenup, this fellowship is an opportunity to explore that. It attracts a lot of different people with a lot of different interests, and there is something in it for everyone. It’s a cool way to get involved in the Jewish community and fight for people’s rights.
IK:What is the most rewarding thing you’ve taken out of this experience?
LC: I have had the opportunity to work alongside people who care about how we can work within a Halachik framework to address social issues in our community. The answer when it feels like Halacha is limiting and creating issues doesn’t have to be throwing out the system; instead, we can work within the system to effect change, and that is what ORA does: use our Halacha to free individuals who feel trapped, by their spouses and by their faith.
IK:What is the most fun part of your job?
LC: I really enjoy working with other college kids that are interested in discussing domestic abuse in the Jewish community and discussing Halacha and how we can address domestic abuse with Halacha on our side. Just being with a group of college kids that are like-minded, passionate about issues that I care about, and driven to find solutions and effect change.
IK:How can we help?
LC: For college students being aware of the Halachik prenup and telling your friends about it is the best way to help solve the problem. When your friend gets engaged, bring it up to them! Don’t be afraid or feel awkward, because that is the best way to get involved and protect the people we care about, as well as protect the greater Jewish community.