The Layers Project Magazine

Insights Into The Lives of Jewish Women

When I Ended My Marriage, I Chose My New Beginning

Ilona's story, as told by Chana Brauser Shestack | Categories: Features

A broken marriage doesn’t mean a broken person. I wear my label — “divorcee” — with pride.

Like many of my friends, I went to seminary after I graduated high school. I finally felt like I found the place where I belonged and made aliyah that next year, determined to make it work.

“Making it work” was working three part-time jobs while pursuing my undergraduate degree and auditing classes in my seminary, without financial aid from my parents.

Something had to give. Eventually, I accepted my parents’ offer of “free” room and board in my childhood bedroom and moved back to the U.S. Those first few years back in America were years filled with anger; I was upset with G-d that I felt I had no choice but to leave all my friends, teachers, and the place that felt like home. And now that I was back in New York, I was left without a social circle. All my friends who had left Israel at the end of seminary had long ago reintegrated into American life, organizing friend groups accordingly.

During those few years, I struggled with my faith and religious observance. At the same time, I had taken on a role as a physical education instructor for a girls’ yeshiva high school. As I tried to work through my frustration with G-d’s path for me, spending my work days in the familiar rhythm of Yeshiva high school brought me to a comforted, grounded place.

When I accepted an administrative position, I decided that I had a duty as a role model to represent the values of the school, even on weekends. I stopped wearing pants because of the school dress code; I began learning again when I popped into classrooms. As my students turned to me for guidance, I began to find a positive space in my relationship with G-d again.

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In September 2015, six years after I had moved back to America, a close friend set me up with an acquaintance. We began a long-distance relationship, speaking on the phone and texting every day. On October 4th, he flew in for our first two dates. In the beginning of November, he brought his mom to meet my parents and a few weeks later, I spent Shabbos with his family. On December 9, he asked me to marry him. On May 31, 2016, we got married.

I’m a naturally optimistic person. My husband, however, had a pessimistic outlook in general. While we were dating, it was easy not to notice how all-encompassing his negativity was. From the time we got engaged, it became more obvious. The only night I can remember when he was simply, entirely happy was the night of our engagement itself. But throughout the wedding planning and at the wedding itself – in fact, at every major moment in our relationship – he would find something nitpick, someone to blame.

We bought a house on Thanksgiving of 2016 and headed to Israel for our honeymoon in January. The day we got back from our trip, things began to escalate. From early on I realized that we had communication issues. As time went on they continued to get worse. By the time we made it to marriage counseling the damage was irreparable. A week or two later, we found ourselves in our first marriage counselor’s office.

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I realized I was sacrificing my own happiness to be with this man on May 17, 2017. It was the day I asked for a divorce.

So many questions swirled through my head before G-d gave me the strength to make this difficult decision. What would my friends think? Would I be labeled a “failure,” “the one that got divorced?” My parents just spent money on a wedding and now I’d have to ask them to help pay for my divorce? Is it better to spend the rest of my life unhappily married or to be happily divorced and take a chance at finding real love?

My belief in G-d strengthened my conviction that I deserved a chance at happiness — the chance of one day finding a relationship worth fighting for.

During and in the aftermath of the divorce, I worked on my faith. I worked on trusting that I would meet someone who would not hold my divorce against me. I worked on believing that I would find someone who did not care that I used to be overweight, or that I struggled with observance at that period in my life, or that I had a failed marriage in my past.

The decision to end my marriage was the decision to give myself a new beginning. I had taken a chance at love, and it didn’t work out. My decision was to forgive myself and to believe that I deserved more. I wear my labels with pride. A broken past does not mean a broken person.

I choose to accept the blessing and challenge of my new beginning.

 

About Chana Shestack

After graduating from Stern College with a BA in History, she earned a Master’s in Biblical and Talmudic Studies from Yeshiva University’s Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies (GPATS). She currently works as a communications associate for SINAI Schools and serves as the rebbetzin of Congregation Ahavat Achim in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. Chana is the Features editor of The Layers Project Magazine.

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