Six years ago, a young Haredi mother named Fainy Sukenik was struggling to escape an abusive marriage. Last week, on May 11th, Fainy joined 11 other exemplary Israelis to light torches at the state’s official Independence Day ceremony. As the director of a Shatil-guided NGO, Ba’asher Telchi (“Wherever You Go”), Fainy embodies the qualities of the ceremony’s theme: civil heroism.
Like many Haredi women her age, Fainy’s adult life followed a typical pattern: she was married at 22, later raising three children and working as a teacher while her husband studied Torah full-time. Years later, her marriage turned abusive, and unlike many Haredi women in a similar situation, she decided to call the police on her violent husband. “I knew I had to get out of my marriage,” she said.
Reporting her husband to the police was the first in a series of actions that separated Fainy from many other battered Haredi women. Her decision to take action made her an outcast in her own community. She constantly faced rejection from the Haredi world, as her employer threatened to fire her and she was shunned on the streets of her neighborhood.
“It became clear that I needed to look elsewhere for support,” Fainy said. So she went online and became active on a Facebook page called “Haredim, Naim L’hakir” (Ultra-Orthodox, Pleased to Meet You) and started blogging for the women’s online magazine Saloona under the name “Separated Haredia.” Though well-meaning acquaintances urged her to leave the Haredi world, Fainy had no intentions of doing so. She was and remains to this day a devout Haredi woman, dedicated to her religious practice.
As Fainy began to learn more about abusive relationships, she realized that somebody had to take action in the Haredi community. “I had a moment in which I realized I couldn’t wait around for someone else to help me.” With the support of the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), Fainy started Ba’asher Telchi, an organization that supports Haredi women in the process of divorce, from how navigating the rabbinical courts to caring for children throughout the process. Fainy believes she and fellow activists will do more than help individual divorced Haredi women, rather, they hope to fight the social stigma around abuse and divorce, improve the status of all Haredi women, and change the way their community perceives them.
Shatil has been instrumental in helping Fainy realize her vision of a non-hierarchical organization, in which all employees have a say in how the organization operates. Fainy is also grateful for the essential training Shatil provides her NGO: “When I began to work with Shatil, I had a thousand things to do in my organization and couldn’t imagine how I would get them all done. One of the most important things Shatil is teaching me is how to focus and prioritize. What once seemed overwhelming is doable now,” says Fainy. “I am excited by the prospect of delving deeper into all aspects of my work with Shatil.”