In October 1979, Honey Rackman was asked to help a friend whose daughter was being denied a "get," or Jewish divorce. A group of Modern Orthodox women held a meeting in their Flatbush, Brooklyn, neighborhood to discuss how to help.
Since then she became a tireless advocate for "agunot," or "chained women," whose husbands refuse to grant their wives a religious divorce, leaving them in a kind of purgatory.
She lobbied Orthodox rabbis to find religious solutions to the growing problem through both the GET (Getting Equitable Treatment) and Agunah Inc. organizations.
Growing ever daring, she and her father-in-law, Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, the prominent Modern Orthodox community leader, in recent years assembled a rabbinic court, or bet din, to employ creative but controversial religious formulas to grant divorces to scores of chained wives.
Mrs. Rackman continued her work even as she was battling breast cancer over the last four years. She also suffered a stroke in 2001.
She finally succumbed in the early morning hours of July 31. She was 65.
As a testament to her popularity in the close-knit Modern Orthodox world, nearly 500 people squeezed into the Midwood Funeral Home on Brooklyn’s Coney Island Avenue on short notice to pay tribute to the stylish, flame-haired Brooklyn woman with the green eyes and dazzling smile who was always ready to lend a hand.
"There are hundreds of women who we couldn’t reach today whose lives were rescued by Honey Rackman," close friend and Agunah Inc. partner Susan Aranoff tearfully told the audience. "Honey felt the agunah’s pain and left no stone unturned to help. Speaking, writing, demonstrating, hand holding, Honey did it all."
But helping agunot was only one aspect of the life of Honey Hausman Rackman, who was born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the daughter of Nathan and Lila Hausman, founders of the original Central Yeshiva for Girls in Brooklyn, affiliated with Yeshiva University.
Her father was also a noted Jewish retailer and philanthropist, and a president of Agudath Israel of America, the fervently Orthodox organization.
Mrs. Rackman graduated from Central and continued her studies at Yeshiva University’s Stern College. She loved to study Judaism, whether it was Chumash (Bible), Talmud, Jewish literature or halacha, Jewish law.
She taught third-graders at public school in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn for 18 years while raising three children, Jessica, Elliott and Rebecca, with her husband, Michael, an attorney. She also tutored at the Yeshivah of Flatbush.
Mrs. Rackman was known in the Flatbush community for her hospitality and charitable works.
She was a member of the board of the National Women’s Division of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Bar-Ilan University and the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.
"Honey couldn’t see pain, sorrow or injustice without being moved to act," Aranoff said. "She never passed up a person who held out their hand for charity."
In the winter, when snow fell and people rang her bell looking for a job shoveling her sidewalk, "Honey would check to see if the workers had warm gloves to wear," Aranoff said. If not, she gave them some as a gift: total strangers.
"Honey was what science fiction writers called an empath. She absorbed into her being the pain and suffering of others, but then she did something with that pain. She turned it into energy to find ways to relieve that pain."
The 93-year-old Rabbi Rackman, speaking quietly from the lectern, said Honey was like a daughter to him. "We had a special relationship," he said.
"She is a champion," Rabbi Rackman said. "What she stood for will live forever."
Mrs. Rackman was also known as a devoted mother and grandmother. Friends and family said she reveled in preparing Sabbath and holiday meals, especially Chanukah and Purim, and bringing her large family together, including nieces and nephews.
After being stricken with cancer in 1999, she constantly proved her doctors wrong when they believed there was little hope. A further setback came when she suffered the stroke.
But even while doing rehabilitation at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, Mrs. Rackman made an impact.
"We never got so many phone calls for one person," Aranoff recalled a hospital switchboard operator telling her. "Everyone is so concerned. I want to meet her."
Along with her husband and three children, Mrs. Rackman is survived by 10 grandchildren and two sisters, Phyllis Toporovsky and Shirley Hausman.
The Rackman family requested that donations be made to the Honey Rackman Memorial Fund of Agunah International at the Rackman residence.
- Emanuel Rackman
- Eric J. Greenberg
- Coney Island Avenue
- Agunah Inc.
- Susan Aranoff
- Honey Rackman
- Nathan Hausman
- Honey Hausman Rackman
- Lila Hausman
- Honey Rackman Memorial Fund
- Agudath Israel of America
- New York
- Crown Heights
- Staff Writer
- Human Interest
- Yeshiva University
- Breast Cancer
- Midwood Funeral Home