When Ilanit Levinger’s marriage fell apart, she took what seemed to be the next logical step: She sought a divorce. But for the 34-year-old Israeli, the painful process of severing ties with a spouse became one that was drawn-out and bitter, spanning seven years. Her husband refused to grant her a get (bill of divorce), and Levinger became one of thousands of women in Israel known as agunot , “chained” women who are victims of a halachic law that puts wives at the mercy of their spouses’ demands. Unable to remarry, bear children or receive welfare benefits, many agunot linger in limbo for decades.
Levinger eventually won back her freedom and is now happily remarried, but it was not without great sacrifice. “He took everything,” she said. “I don’t have money now, but I have happiness.”
In order to raise awareness of this social problem, 20 fashion designers in Israel have joined forces with the International Coalition for Agunah Rights — a group of 25 organizations sponsored by the New Israel Fund — to create dresses based on individual meetings with agunot . Inspired by the women’s stories and ethnic origins, the designers sought to interpret the experiences of agunot and express their suffering. The dresses were presented at a fashion show last week and were modeled by Israeli actresses and celebrities, including Shiraz Tal, Dafna Rechter, Einat Erlich and Noga Shahar.
Sarah Kricheff is the features editor of the Forward.