Running for Office Isn’t Easy. Try Entering the Race as an Orthodox Woman.


Local Jewish newspapers refused to publish photos of her, citing Jewish custom that expects men to “guard” their eyes against potentially immodest images. So Ms. Adler found a workaround: She had a 20-foot billboard made, plastered with an image of herself and her sons, and hired someone to drive it around surrounding neighborhoods, including Flatbush and Midwood, while playing an ice cream truck-like campaign jingle — Amber Adler, here for us! Affordable child care, housing too! She chuckled when friends flooded her WhatsApp messages with photos of the billboard parked in various locations around the area.

That enthusiasm, though, was the exception. Many of the comments Ms. Adler received were sharp and personal, focused less on her politics and more on her family situation.

In 2016, after struggling for years in a relationship she said was abusive, Ms. Adler requested a religious divorce, called a “get,” from her husband. In Orthodox Judaism, only the man can grant permission for a religious separation. Two years later, her husband agreed to grant her the “get,” and it took two more years of arbitration before Ms. Adler was granted full legal custody of her sons, now 9 and 7.

On the heels of her experience, Ms. Adler went on to become an advocate for the hundreds of Orthodox women whose husbands refuse to grant them divorces in the religious system; they are known as “agunot,” which means chained. Ms. Adler started a petition urging the New York State legislature to make coercive control a Class E felony, which now awaits a vote in the State Assembly.

To some men in the community, this work was all the more reason to brand Ms. Adler a rabble rouser. “The movement ruffled the feathers of people who had been exploiting their ability to grasp control over their ex,” she said, adding that many men in the community had grown accustomed to using their power in divorce proceedings as a kind of bargaining chip to get what they wanted from their exes, whether financially or in terms of child custody.

But Ms. Adler’s advocacy also stirred emotional responses. On Election Day, Ms. Adler was standing outside a polling site near an affordable housing complex when an older Orthodox woman — modestly dressed, with a wig and hat covering her hair — stopped to thank her.

Credit…Yana Paskova for The New York Times

“We need you to keep fighting,” the woman said, according to Ms. Adler. “So that everyone knows we have a way out of a marriage.”

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