March 27, 2020 The Get
This essay was originally published in 2010 in the now defunct website Unpious, under the pseudonym Shpitzle Shtrimpkind. A ‘get’ is a Jewish religious divorce ceremony, and this is an essay about mine.
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I remember you told me once that you like to watch me take off my rings. You said that all of my stubbornness comes through when I try to wrench them off. You said it teasingly, laughing at me lovingly, pulling my sweaty hands apart and slipping the wedding band off my finger.
Do you remember that now as I remove my ring and set it on the rabbis desk in this study room of large Jewish texts, by my coat and bag, looking as white as I did the day our marriage began? Do you see me trembling, my stubborn perseverance hanging on to its last fight; my willfulness failing with our marital end? I wonder if you’ll look at me with my fingers naked of your gold, shaking… aching for your comforting bond to return.
But your bearded face is turned to your father and brothers. You talk amongst each other somberly. You’re wearing your gartel over your calf-length suit jacket. It’s what you wear for special events, for occasions like this monumental one, when you are to make me, me I who crept into your arms and I who lost a child with you and I who is the mother of our wides-eyed baby… a stranger. It seems like yesterday that you wore this gartel to Chanukah candle lighting and you sat by the window and the glowing menorah. You bounced our baby on your knee, smiling at me proudly. But you won’t look at me now. I’m a stranger. I’m far away from your familiar touch, a million heartbreaks apart, miles into my stubborn hell, a gaping chasm of religious differences dividing us towards an inevitable end.
An intimidating but kindly Rabbi asks me to check my hands to make sure I took off all jewelry. I vaguely know that it’s a tradition at the get not to have a kinyen or accessory on you, parallel to the same tradition we observed on our wedding day. The rabbi talks to me, he explains the process. He looks at me, not behind me or at his desk. You won’t look at me, but he does. His acknowledgment of my presence feels so kind, threatening to emit warmth that’ll melt my brittle facade of bravery. I don’t want to let them see how I feel in this upstairs synagogue study on this sad day of parting.
I’m the only woman in the room filled with Hasidic men. I don’t know most of them, but I can guess they know of me. Everyone around is blurred by a terrible weakness in me. Even you I don’t see clearly. The scribe is finishing writing the religious divorce document by hand. He uses a parchment and archaic feather pen; it’s all just a lot of procedure. iI hear my heart beating. I look at you, and you glance at me before you refocus on your little huddle of the grown men of your family.
I know you hear my heart. I’m still alive; my heart still pounds its stubborn melody, you know it does even though I stumbled on a path you do not want to walk with me. Im not so innocent or moldable anymore, I agree, but I’m still the same Satmar girl. And I love you still. Even though I read books and found my voice and ask for a life of more rights and liberty, that same heart you knew from its fragile first days as your eighteen year old wife, it beats in me. Now it thumps, whacks, bangs its stubborn sound. It calls to you, the only man I’ve ever known.
You do not hear the voice of a stranger. You walk towards the scribe to whisper something into his ear. The proceedings take long and I feel cold. I fix my eyes on my warm coat on the table but I can’t see anything except a veneer of tears. We bought this coat together. It has a swing and opened wide with my expanding figure when we awaited Shloimele.
I’m not alone, Yoelish. I have friends who support me and will comfort me when your familiar reassurance is gone. But they struggle to understand me. They won’t appreciate that I can feel this way at a time of betrayal and divorce. They don’t know how far I’ve come with your support, only to come too far, beyond the territory you wanted to support. They cannot comprehend that even though I love you, the role of a wife and mother that is required from that love is not something I can give you. They won’t understand that sometimes were confronted with diverging convictions, and as desperately as we hold onto the relationship, our beliefs drive a knife through the bond. Our virgin marriage has become too small for our growing differences. It’s time to let go.
The Rabbi wants me to step over to where you stand. I walk cautiously to you, Yoelish, oh, I am coming. I can smell your familiar sweat. My head swims with memories of your nightgown and tsitsis and our bedtime talks. My body relaxes with comfort that quickly goes cold with the realization that standing so close will only be followed by standing apart, forever. Forever. Yoelish, can you live without me forever? Forever? And our Shloimele?
I stand in front of you, a hug’s distance. I cry quietly. A cathartic release surges in sobs as I stand here in this frightening room, with you, my husband, in front of me. I hear you sniff. I feel comfort, relief by your presence. I miss you already.
You’re given the divorce parchment rolled up like a diploma. I’m instructed to cup my hands and catch it because you’re not allowed to pass it to me directly. I look down at my waiting hands. You let the document fall like the tears that I cannot stop. I receive my pain and my hopes for freedom into my palms. I take it, put it under my arm, and walk a few steps towards the door in accordance to the Rabbi’s directives.
Done. Mazel Tov, they say. I’m a grisha, a divorce‘, the stigmatized rejected woman, and young single girl and many other things I choose to be. I’ve come here today by myself in order for this to happen. And now I must go home by myself.
Let’s go home, Yoelish. The loneliness is strangling me.
I straighten my back and try to fix my faade. I return to the older men at the desk and turn in the get that testifies were now strangers.
You ask me quietly for forgiveness, and I nod tearfully. I look at you for the last time. I want to tell you I’m making fleish and ferfel for supper for us tonight, that we should go for a walk around Keiv Road when Shloimele is asleep, but you won’t be home for supper or for our son’s bedtime. You and your father and your brothers leave without looking at me again. It’s the last I’ll see of you for the foreseeable future. You’ll go on to slash my heart again soon by quickly remarrying and moving on with a new Hasidic family, with a wife who doesn’t stubbornly take birth control and resist shaving her head.
I’ll continue to mourn you, Yoelish, as you’re alive in my child, you’re alive in the Satmar Hasidic child in me. But eventually I’ll be alright. You know I’m stubborn. Slowly, you’ll become a stranger to me too.