It was 5 p.m. on an especially wintry day. A few minutes after I arrived home, I heard a persistently irritating buzz. It was coming from the gate of my house in north Tel Aviv. I picked up the intercom receiver. An authoritative voice spoke to me from the other end.
“Hello, this is the police. I’m Officer Rahamim. Come out to the gate, please.”
The voice sounded officious and, naturally, I felt a little unsettled. However, I decided to stay calm and go down to the gate. I was a little more alarmed when I saw three police officers standing by the gate. They looked tense, as if they had come to arrest a dangerous felon.
The officers stared at me, surprise evident in their faces, perhaps even more surprised than I was about their unexpected presence. They examined me from head to toe.
“Hello,” I said calmly, trying not to lose my nerve. “How can I help you?”
The three police officers looked at me and then at each other. Their embarrassment was obvious. The officer standing in the middle of the three was holding a large envelope, partially open at the top, a sheaf of documents poking out. A summons to be delivered on the court’s behalf was pasted to the back of the envelope.
“Are you Mrs. Nicole Zonenberg?” the officer standing in the middle asked firmly.
“Ma’am, we have been asked by the family court in Tel Aviv to serve you with a summons regarding harassment and intimidation. You must report to the courtroom tomorrow morning, at eleven-thirty,” the officer said. He detached the summons from the envelope, which I now saw was thick with documents. He handed the summons to me and asked me to sign a slip acknowledging receipt. I took the document and signed his slip.
“Do you have anything else for me?” I asked.
The officer shook his head.
“Well, then,” I continued, “thank you very much and have a good evening.”
I hastily retreated from the gate and went back into the house. It was a good thing, I thought, that Itay was with his father. A scene like what had just happened was the last thing I needed my 9-year-old son to see.
I walked into my living room and threw myself onto the sofa. With trembling hands, I read the summons:
‘According to Section 7(A) of the Intimidation and Harassment Prevention Act, the court is entitled to issue a restraining order preventing intimidating harassment if it is of the court’s opinion that such an order is necessary for the immediate protection of the victim’s wellbeing.’
The person seeking to impose the restraining order was Razi Zonenberg, the man I had divorced over a year ago.
This should not have surprised me, but still, a small cry escaped my lips. Matan, my four-year-old, who was in the middle of playing a board game with his babysitter, ran to me in panic. He jumped into my arms and, as he hugged me tightly, asked, “Mommy, is everything all right?”
I stroked his head, holding him closer. “Yes, Matan. Everything’s fine. It’s just something urgent that’s come up at work… something I need to take care of. Everything is fine. There’s nothing to worry about.” I kissed his forehead and asked the babysitter if she could stay with Matan, and his younger sister, Shiri, until they fell asleep.
I kept my face blank until they had left the room. The man had no shame! The way he was abusing the court’s authority, so he could go on abusing us! I picked up the court summons and began reading again.
‘To: Mrs. Nicole Zonenberg.
Re: Court Hearing Summons
You are hereby summoned to a court hearing on Tuesday, December 11, 2018 at 11:30 am. The hearing will take place in the Tel Aviv Family Court, Judge Ada Levenburger presiding, where you will be required to provide your response to the enclosed claim issued by Mr. Razi Zonenberg. Please attend the hearing in appropriate attire.’
The top section of the summons also stated, ‘This summons, and a copy of the complainant’s full request will be provided to the respondent by the Israel police’. When I finished reading the summons and the judge’s attached resolution, I realized the police officers had failed to hand me all the documents involved in the case, as the full claim was missing.
I sat quietly, thinking. I did not know what the statement of claim contained, nor in fact, what the precise nature of the charges against me were. I did not have the faintest idea what Razi could possibly have claimed through his attorney, Lital Shalva, that would make the judge decide to summon me for an urgent hearing – in less than a day – to respond to Razi’s accusations.
Without the statement of claim, I had no way of forming a proper response to the charges, nor to prepare my defense tomorrow before the judge. It was almost five-thirty in the afternoon and the court secretariat was already closed. I realized I had to do everything in my power to find a way to obtain the information I needed. I couldn’t possibly show up unprepared for the hearing in the morning.
A quick surf on the internet informed me that this was a highly unusual form of court summons, used only in cases where the court feels there is an immediate threat to the complainant’s life. I panicked. Then apprehension set in. Could it be that Razi had found a way to frame me? No, that was impossible. Despite everything, we had been married for over 10 years and had two beautiful children together. I drank a glass of cold water and set my mind to the fact that tomorrow, in front of the judge, I had to get the upper hand and defeat Razi. Otherwise, I might find myself leaving the court in handcuffs, or being committed by force majeure to a mental institution – separated from my children. The main, most immediate problems I now faced were obtaining the documents, finding the time to study Razi’s claims, and then writing and filing a factual, rational reply. How else could I possibly reject all his claims – whatever they were – outright, one by one?
I tried to calm myself by doing some yoga exercises. Then, I mustered all my strength, pulled myself together, and went into my study. I sat behind my desk trying to focus on my next step.
It was 5:30 p.m. I still did not have the documents I needed; still did not know what I had been accused of. I didn’t even know if I needed to hire an attorney. I tried to focus on the task at hand. What did I know? What had I done? How could I get into Razi’s head? How, and where, could I find the information I needed?
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been overly surprised by Razi’s drastic move. Just two days earlier, after not having heard from him for a long time – since our divorce in fact – he had written to me. His email was strange, fragmentary:
‘Nicole… you loved me for many years. I did everything for you. I never stopped giving, and providing, and spoiling you. We travelled and had fun. I got into a difficult and challenging development project. I wasn’t home much, I’ll admit that, but you knew it would be like that. So why did you suddenly turn against me? What happened? Who lied to you? Who bad-mouthed me? Look God in the eye and tell me why you decided to divorce me. You know I have been as straight as an arrow all along. Perhaps there were times when I was too busy with my work, I’ll admit that much – but that’s all. Why didn’t you have faith in me? In us? Why did you throw away everything we had together? Don’t you have even a shred of remorse over what this has done, is doing, to the children? I don’t know what you may have heard, but I really don’t indulge in sex all day long. Why are you slandering me? Someone is lying to you, and you, in response, are in a hurry to lie to everyone else. Get off my case! I’m busy with work and don’t even have a girlfriend. Enough!
The day after that, late at night, I got an even stranger text message from him: ‘Shut up or I’ll make you shut up!’
When I received the two messages, I had no idea they would be a prelude to what was to follow. I had not replied to either message. I thought I would leave it at that. I did not imagine, not even for a moment, just how bad a state Razi was in, how badly he was still living and breathing his own lies. An involuntary shudder went through my body, as I sat in the chair in front of my computer.
Since we had divorced more than year-and-a-half ago, I had often found myself wondering how I had been able to live with such a person. How all those years I had failed to notice the signs. I have always thought of myself as a sharp, sober person; an assertive businesswoman who knows how to recognize manipulation and whitewashing. How then could I have failed to recognize the true nature of the man who had shared my bed, the man with whom I had spent so many years? And then there were our children, Matan and Shiri. I sighed heavily. He had become a complete stranger to me. And now, it seemed, a real enemy as well.
During our separation, and the days and months that followed it, I was in a state of shock, despite the fact that throughout our married life there had always been a small voice inside me, repeatedly trying to warn me that something huge was happening behind my back. But it was a voice I chose to ignore, using a variety of pretexts and excuses to delude myself. I allowed the blind illogic of love to convince me I was being paranoid, that I was just imagining things, fantasizing, because the alternative was simply unimaginable.
The full scope of what the private detectives had revealed to me had caught me unprepared, shaken me to the very depths of my soul. When we separated, Razi did not know everything I knew about him. I simply could not cope with all that information on my own, and had shared most of it with the people closest to me. To them, I had provided an unfiltered account. However, there were others with whom I had shared only part of the story. Fragments, hinting at the rest. More than anything, I did this because I was afraid my children would get hurt. I did not trust everyone to keep that sort of information to themselves. And I had also wanted to forget much of what I had learned. At that time, I could not have imagined I would ever need to use all the material I had gathered about Razi before we divorced.
Now, I read and re-read the summons the officers had served me with. I tried to focus. Instead, I felt paralyzed, and was unable to bring myself to do anything. I was overtaken by memories, by the clues that had always been there, but which I had failed to recognize in real time. Time was against me, but memories of the past resurfaced, crowding in, overwhelming me.