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Not just hiking: Outdoors Club joins fight for agunot
By Lois Goldrich | Published 02/22/2007

When Teaneck resident Alon Krausz and fellow members of the Jewish Outdoors Club head for the hills, chances are they model good techniques in rappelling, hiking, mountain climbing, and the many other activities the group routinely enjoys.

But 32-year-old Krausz, founder and president of the group, wants to model behavior of a different kind. Last week, the organization, whose members hail primarily from New York and New Jersey, voted to ban from membership any male who is withholding a get, or document of Jewish divorce.

The Jewish Outdoors Club spent the week in Vail, Col., enjoying the snow. Krausz, center right, says the group schedules about five activities each month.

Krausz, who has seen the 11-year-old organization grow — primarily through word of mouth — from an informal collection of 50 or so members to a full-fledged organization with a mailing list of 2000 and a 20-member board of directors, said he hopes the action will send a message not only to the club’s own members but to other organizations as well.

"We hope it will raise awareness," said the author of the new policy, noting that some other outdoors groups are now considering a similar measure. Krausz said he was inspired by a piece in which the author urged organizations to take strong action on agunot ("chained women" whose husbands refuse to grant them a religious bill of divorce) — an area in which the rabbinic community is widely perceived as having fallen short.

As reported in last week’s Jewish Standard, in the worst cases, husbands have refused to grant religious divorces to their wives for years, sometimes issuing the documents only in exchange for sizable ransoms. While in the United States there is some recourse for these women through various rabbinic courts and civil laws, in Israel there has been a steadfast refusal to address the problem.

Krausz, chairman of the math department at SAR High School in Riverdale, N.Y., said the Jewish Outdoors Club, which he created to provide a recreational venue for Shabbat-observant, kosher Jews, schedules about five activities a month. "There was a need for this kind of organization," he said, noting that a large number of young Jews lead an observant lifestyle. And whether the scheduled activity is hang-gliding or snowmobiling, members — who range in age from 21 to 45 — generally fill up available slots within 48 hours, said Krausz.

"When I realized how our numbers had grown, I knew we had a unique opportunity to perform tikkun olam, fix up the world," said Krausz, pointing out that the group had been called twice in the past by women whose husbands refused to grant them gets. "We took the men’s names off our mailing list," he said, but he added that the goal of the new policy "is not to remove names from our lists but to pick up where the rabbis have left off and raise awareness."

"We hope others will follow suit," he said, adding that he has received a "phenomenal" response since sending out an e-mail announcing the group’s decision. "I received 75 to 100 e-mails in 48 hours, all but one of them extremely positive."

The e-mail — framed after consulting attorneys, the Jewish Feminist Alliance, and an organization for agunot in Israel — was carefully worded, said Krausz. The new policy states that "[a]ny man who is considered to be withholding a get will be removed from the e-mail list of the Jewish Outdoors Club and banned from all JOC events until the get is granted" and that "[a] man is considered to be withholding a get if a civil divorce or separation action has been filed more than 12 months ago, and a get has not been given."

Krausz said he hopes the community as a whole will be inspired to make the "heinous issue of agunot a primary cause."

"When you send an e-mail to 2,000 people, you are making a bold statement. The issue isn’t just for rabbis and for the [Jewish] leadership," he said. "Everyone must do their part to help. We hope this will be a trigger point."

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