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!
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • 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.