‘Cult women’ run­ning for Knes­set

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By ILANA STUTLAND

‘We wanted to run for the Knes­set in the pre­vi­ous elec­tion, but we couldn’t, due to pro­ce­dural ob­sta­cles,” say A., one of the wives of Daniel Am­bash, the leader of a cult who was con­victed of sadis­tic abuse of his fam­ily mem­bers in 2013 and sen­tenced to 26 years in pri­son for hold­ing them in slav­ery con­di­tions. “When we heard that an­other round of na­tional elec­tions would take place, we de­cided that we just had to run. We owe it to our fel­low cit­i­zens. Be­cause of what we’ve gone through, we want to help all the women and men who’ve ever been wronged or had their rights tram­pled upon.”

De­spite the fact that Am­bash has been con­victed, and is cur­rently in pri­son serv­ing time, four out of his six wives still sup­port him. At the be­gin­ning of the sum­mer, th­ese women of­fi­cially reg­is­tered their new po­lit­i­cal party known as Kama (Ad­vanc­ing In­di­vid­ual Rights). “We don’t care what peo­ple think about us,” claims A. “We have an obli­ga­tion to our thou­sands of sup­port­ers to fix our crip­pled so­ci­ety. We’ve been greatly mis­treated by the Is­rael po­lice, by the pros­e­cu­tor’s of­fice and by the courts. We’ve seen first­hand the cor­rup­tion in th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions, how they mis­treat sim­ple cit­i­zens who have no power when they come up against th­ese pow­er­ful in­sti­tu­tions. They have no chance of win­ning. We are re­li­gious women, true be­liev­ers who are ask­ing that God helps us to bring about a change and help the Is­raeli peo­ple achieve the civil lib­er­ties they de­serve.”

A., 37, met Am­bash when she was only 19 and be­came his third wife, liv­ing side-by-side with the other wives. “Since I was a very young girl, I’d been look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive fam­ily lifestyle,” says A., who re­al­ized after their ap­peal to the Is­rael Supreme Court was de­nied that the only so­lu­tion was to change the law.

“Our goal is to pro­tect Is­raeli cit­i­zens’ most ba­sic hu­man rights and the right of in­di­vid­u­als to live in any fam­ily struc­ture that they choose,” says B., 46, an­other one of Am­bash’s wives, who grew up in the na­tional-re­li­gious com­mu­nity. “I iden­tify with the Breslov com­mu­nity now, I’m a fol­lower of Rabbi Nach­man,” says B. “I used to be a teacher. Since our lives were ru­ined, I’ve been en­gag­ing in so­cial ac­tiv­ity in an ef­fort to re­store jus­tice and my right to live how­ever I want, with­out hav­ing to worry that the state will in­ter­vene and in­vade my pri­vacy. We cre­ated the Kama po­lit­i­cal party so that we could help other women and pre­vent them from suf­fer­ing as we have. We are chan­nel­ing our dis­tress and en­ergy in an ef­fort to coun­ter­act the

dis­tor­tion of law, to pre­vent the gov­ern­ment and Is­rael’s le­gal sys­tem from in­ter­fer­ing in our lives. We must be al­lowed to live how­ever we choose.”

One of the wives, G., 35, who grew up in a sec­u­lar home, stud­ied ed­u­ca­tion and be­came re­li­gious 10 years ago. She joined the Am­bash fam­ily as the sixth wife. “We be­gan writ­ing and per­form­ing skits, kind of like a trav­el­ing theater, and slowly over time I re­al­ized that this had be­come my fam­ily. Up un­til that point, I’d never wanted to get mar­ried. That type of life had never at­tracted me. But then I found a fam­ily that suited me. The other women be­came my best friends and Daniel be­came my lover. It didn’t bother me that he had other wives. In fact, the op­po­site was true – I felt we all com­ple­mented each other re­ally well.”

Cur­rently, four of the wives still live to­gether in Jerusalem. “Daniel was mar­ried to I., his first wife, and we all joined later as com­mon-law wives, as friends for life,” ex­plains B. “Each one of us joined at our own will, at dif­fer­ent times. We are not a polyg­a­mous fam­ily – we all love each other very much.”

Don’t the wives get jeal­ous of each other?

“Of course there’s jeal­ousy, I mean we are hu­man,” B. says. “But it’s kind of like jeal­ousy be­tween sib­lings, and we’ve found ways to deal with it by talk­ing about the is­sues and solv­ing prob­lems as adults. We all have a great sense of hu­mor and we don’t let ar­gu­ments get out of pro­por­tion.”

Doesn’t it bother you that the man that you love sleeps with other women, too?

“The op­po­site is true,” ex­plains B. “This com­pe­ti­tion adds spice to our sex life. And we’re not go­ing against any ha­lachic rul­ing – we’ve checked every­thing. We are all God-fear­ing in­di­vid­u­als who be­lieve that the To­rah of­fers free­dom of choice to peo­ple. The State of Is­rael has no right to take away this right of peo­ple to choose how they want to live.”

The man you and your sis­ter-wives love was con­victed of very se­ri­ous of­fenses.

“Not one ounce of the claims brought against Daniel are true,” con­tin­ues B. “He’s never ever abused any of us. It was all a big setup. The judges acted in a pa­ter­nal­is­tic fash­ion and de­cided that we women have no will of our own. In their eyes, women are in­fe­rior. And that’s why we are fight­ing for women’s rights, and the rights of every in­di­vid­ual to live the way they choose, with­out the state be­ing able to come in and ruin their lives. We’ve met with re­li­gious free­dom schol­ars from many coun­tries around the world, and each one came to the con­clu­sion that our Daniel was used as a scape­goat by Is­raeli so­ci­ety.”

“The court de­cided that we were abused women, when that is so far from the truth,” claims G. “We chose a cer­tain lifestyle, and be­cause the state doesn’t agree with our choice, they cre­ated a false sto­ry­line that al­lowed them to ar­rest Daniel, and then pre­vented our voices from be­ing heard. So now, we are fight­ing for our right to be heard and to live the way we choose.”

So you do not ac­cept the court’s rul­ing?

“There’s no bet­ter way to fight against this phe­nom­e­non than to push for leg­isla­tive change,” says G. “We are work­ing for the greater good, so that other women won’t have to suf­fer as we have.”

“Their claims that we were abused are ab­surd,” claims M. “Why would we lie about this? Our lives have been ru­ined. We were happy peo­ple, liv­ing in a happy fam­ily be­fore Daniel was ar­rested. We feel like we live in North Korea.”

Have you seen Daniel since he was con­victed?

“They won’t let us,” says B. “They haven’t al­lowed any con­ju­gal vis­its ei­ther. We used to live in sep­a­rate houses in the same com­pound, but they’ve sealed off our homes. We worked so hard to build har­mony be­tween all of us and we love each other so much. The state tried to make us ap­pear as a group of women who wor­ship Daniel, but that’s never how it was. We never be­lieved he had any spe­cial pow­ers, we just all love each other. And no gov­ern­ment has the right to in­ter­vene in a lov­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween adults.”

The four re­main­ing wives are cur­rently mak­ing a liv­ing by telling their story. “We’ve taken lots of loans, and have been liv­ing ex­tremely fru­gally,” says G.

“We are also try­ing to sell our book, which is a re­count­ing of our strug­gle. Our goal is to achieve jus­tice, and to let peo­ple know the truth,” ex­plains B. “Daniel is only in his 60s, and he has so many years left to serve. They wanted to set an ex­am­ple with his con­vic­tion, and claim that we are a cult. But we be­lieve in our way of life, and I be­lieve that if we win seats in the Knes­set, we’ll have a chance to change the law and thereby give peo­ple the free­dom to choose how they want to live.”

“We have many sup­port­ers, and many con­cerned cit­i­zens have ap­proached us and agree with us that change must come,” says G.

“There’s a good chance we will suc­ceed,” adds M. “I love a good chal­lenge, and I will spend the rest of my life fight­ing for our rights.”


‘WE ARE re­li­gious women, true be­liev­ers who are ask­ing that God helps us to bring about a change and help the Is­raeli peo­ple achieve the civil lib­er­ties they de­serve.’

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