She left an encouraging meeting with the matchmaker and waited patiently for her daughters, aged 7 and 6, to finish their art therapy workshop. Aliza (not her real name) is a 27, ultra-Orthodox, and she is sharp, self-confident, with a ready smile. She received her get, or Jewish bill of divorce, a year ago, but she separated years before from the man she had married young and is raising their daughters alone. Like all the women interviewed for this article, she brings her children to the Em Habanim center several times a week, mostly in the afternoon. She recently participated in a series of psychodrama sessions "to increase consciousness in preparation for remarriage," and will soon complete real estate agent training, in preparation for a second, more lucrative career.
On one recent morning her daughter cried all the way to preschool. Aliza overheard the teachers telling each other that there is nothing to be done, that's how it is with girls whose parents are divorced. "Sometimes I feel as fragile as an egg, and yet I must soldier on, be strong, be the mom and the dad," says Aliza. "Shabbat is the hardest. Even though I have a warm family and friends and today there is much more openness toward divorce in Haredi society, nothing can make you get used to the feeling of loneliness on Shabbat."
For Aliza and more than 300 other Haredi women who belong to Em Habanim, the nonprofit organization is more than a recreational center. Some of the families here spend Shabbatot and holidays together under its auspices, and the women operate a social group that continues long past the center's hours and includes Internet forums for divorced Haredi women.
"Coming here is a joy. It doesn't solve my problems, and doesn't increase my child support payments. The main thing here is dealing with things together, and the fact that the staff put their hearts and souls into it. It's a heavy load; it grows much lighter together," Aliza says. During a hallway chat, one of the staffers unthinkingly uttered the phrase "broken home," and it was clear he was referring to family, any family, post-divorce. In Haredi society, and also outside it, this term is still part of learned explanations as to why a boy from a "broken home" will not be admitted to a sought-after educational institution, or why another boy is not excelling in school, and why both are likely, in a few years, to marry women who likewise came from "broken homes." [...]