Orthodox Woman's Journey From Teen Wife to Advocate

Fraidy Reiss Helps Desperate Women Exit Arranged Marriages

Unchained at Last: Fraidy Reiss at her home in New Jersey.
chloe smolkin and lindsay rothenberg
Unchained at Last: Fraidy Reiss at her home in New Jersey.

By Anne Cohen

Published February 10, 2013, issue of February 15, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Fraidy Reiss was married at the age of 19 to a man she despised. Outwardly, she had a choice. The ultra-Orthodox matchmaker she went to gave her two men to choose from. She went on a couple of dates. She desired neither. But as a girl perilously close to 20 in the Hasidic community of Brooklyn, she finally agreed to marry one.

A week into the marriage, Reiss’s husband woke up late and, in a blind rage, punched a hole in the bedroom wall. It was the beginning of nearly 15 years of living with a man whose constant physical threats against her — though he never actually beat her — came to dominate Reiss’s daily life.

Today, Reiss sits in a crowded coffee shop at New York’s Port Authority and reflects on the huge distance she has traveled in the past 18 years, from that marriage to her current role as head of a not-for-profit group that helps women — Jewish and non-Jewish — get out of forced marriages.

“It’s hugely cathartic,” she said. “When I can give somebody the support that I didn’t have, every time that’s healing.”

It was in 2011, after her ultimately successful struggle to leave her marriage, get a college degree and work as a journalist and, later, as a private investigator, that Reiss resolved to help women going through what she had experienced.

Unchained at Last, the not-for-profit organization she founded that year, seeks to support women from all cultures or religions who want to leave a forced marriage. Acting as a sort of social services middleman, the organization connects women with pro bono divorce lawyers, social workers, counselors and psychotherapists — all volunteers. Reiss and her board members — each from a different community in which arranged marriage is common — also put women in touch with mentors from a similar background, to help advise them on how to navigate these difficult waters.

Reiss says that her organizations helps women from Jewish and Muslim families, and from South Asian and African cultures.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.