Get refusal

Kalman Yeger withheld get, demanded ex-wife sign ‘draconian’ nondisclosure agreement

On Election Day, following social media pressure, Yeger’s ex-wife finally got her Jewish divorce.

Adina Sash aka FlatbushGirl, left. Kalman Yeger, right. Credit: Sash & Shtetl.

Jun 29, 2024 11:03 PM


This past Tuesday was an eventful day for New York City Councilmember Kalman Yeger — and for his ex-wife.

That day, Yeger won his primary election and effectively punched himself a ticket to the New York state legislature. 

Meanwhile, some 15 miles away, his ex-wife — from whom he separated in 2019 — finally won her freedom from him.

Before that, according to sources and documents reviewed by Shtetl, Yeger was what many call a get refuser — a person who declines to grant his wife a get, a religious divorce. His ex-wife, Jennifer Berger, was an agunah, or a woman chained to a Jewish marriage.

The get had until then been kept in escrow at a Jewish rabbinical court. Yeger instructed the rabbi there to give the get to Berger only after she acquiesced to a certain condition, known in Hebrew as a “tnai:” she had to sign a “draconian” non-disclosure agreement, according to documents shown to Shtetl by agunah activist and social media provocateur Adina Sash.

“He made a tnai for the get,” the rabbinical judge overseeing the divorce told Sash on Sunday, according to a recording of the phone call she played for Shtetl.

“She has to sign something, a non-disclosure thing, that’s all it is,” explained the judge, whom Shtetl agreed not to name in this story. “You have to call Kalman if he will rescind his tnai.” 

“Why don’t you make a demonstration, make him lose the election,” the judge said, referencing Yeger’s run for assembly.

Sash showed Shtetl direct messages Berger sent her through Instagram. On April 10, Berger wrote to Sash that Yeger wanted her to sign “a draconian non-disclosure agreement with huge penalties that he would be holding over my head for the rest of my life.”

“He’ll hold it over me like a blade for the rest of my life, threatening to drag me to court anytime anyone says something not nice about him that he thinks I’m the source of,” Berger wrote on May 27.

Berger, who is Yeger’s second ex-wife, did not respond to messages from Shtetl.

Under Orthodox readings of Jewish law, a divorced woman cannot remarry unless she receives a get from her ex-husband. If she does remarry, any children she has in her new marriage are considered illegitimate. 

Historically, people advocating on behalf of agunot have resorted to social pressure — or even physical assault — to extract a get from the hopefully-soon-to-be-ex husband.

Sash said that Yeger’s demand for an NDA was unethical and constituted get refusal. She made an Instagram post criticizing Yeger at a time when she expected it to hurt the most: Sunday morning, two days before Election Day.

In the post, she revealed Yeger was denying his wife an unconditional get and expressed concern that, if elected to the assembly, he might not support legislation that could lead to harsher punishments for get refusers.

The day after Sash, who uses the Instagram handle @FlatbushGirl, posted to her over 72,000 Instagram followers, Yeger rescinded his demand for Berger to sign the NDA. The only thing left to do was to coordinate the schedules of all the people who would be present: the judge, Berger, her dad, a representative for Yeger, and male witnesses.

On Tuesday night, it happened: the calendars of several Jewish men synced up for just enough time for them to meet at a home in the Five Towns, where they would finally grant Berger the important religious document. Yeger himself was not there.

Shtetl interviewed the man who coordinated the Five Towns meeting. The coordinator wasn’t at the meeting himself, but he told Shtetl that after the meeting took place, he spoke on the phone with Yeger’s power of attorney, who confirmed that the get had been given. The man, an agunah advocate whose work depends on relationships with rabbis and others, spoke to Shtetl on the condition of anonymity.

Back in Brooklyn, after polls closed, unofficial election results were coming in on the New York City Board of Elections website. Yeger, a conservative Democrat well-known for his staunch pro-Israel stance and fiery exchanges with fellow City Council members, won his primary election handily, leading his opponent, lesser-known Adam Dweck, with about 70% of the vote.

Yeger is running unopposed in the general election in November, and will appear not only on the Democrat party line, but also on the Republican and Conservative party lines, making it very likely that he will soon represent the South Brooklyn district that stretches from East Flatbush to Sheepshead Bay.

Sash has been advocating for agunot for years, but this time, she admitted in her interview with Shtetl, her gripe with Yeger is partly personal. Five years ago, when she ran for a vacant seat on the New York City Council, she received criticism from Haredi critics who found her online posts offensive and considered her a bad influence on Haredi girls.

Yeger endorsed her opponent, Farah Louis, and Sash said Yeger made her campaign “miserable.” For example, on Election Day, outside a polling site in Midwood, Sash said she was with her son when Yeger approached them and said, “It’s my obligation to the Jewish community to make sure that you don’t win.”

“So yes, I do have some unreconciled business with him,” Sash said. When she heard about Berger’s experience, she wanted to help partly because “I saw firsthand the abusive verbal way he speaks to other women.”

But once the get had been delivered, Sash set past differences aside, posting a video message in which she praised Yeger.

“I am thrilled to announce that tonight, our local City Councilmember has had two incredible victories,” Sash said, smiling triumphantly. “He won the primary for assembly and after four years, he gave his wife a get.”

“We now have a representative who understands how to combat antisemitism and will hopefully support making coercive control a Class E felony,” she said, referring to a bill that activists hope will make get refusal a felony.

Neither Sash nor Amber Adler, an agunah activist involved in Berger’s case who also spoke to Shtetl, heard from Yeger that he would support that bill.

Yeger did not respond to text, WhatsApp, and email messages from Shtetl. On a visit to Yeger’s district office in Borough Park on midday Wednesday, an aide told Shtetl she did not know where Yeger was but would pass along this reporter’s contact information.

A graduate of Touro College and New York Law School, Yeger has long worked in local politics. Since he first entered office in 2018, he has represented a largely Haredi Brooklyn district, which includes much of Borough Park and Flatbush.

Berger, too, has long worked in government, including stints in the New York City mayor’s office and the offices of politicians Anthony Weiner and Melissa Mark-Viverito, according to her LinkedIn profile.