But Rachel isn't on vacation. After suffering years of unspeakable abuse and cruelty in her own home, she fled to Bat Melech, the only organization in Israel that provides shelters for battered women from the national religious and ultra-Orthodox populations. Together with 10 other women and their children, she is staying in the shelter, recovering from years of trauma and facing the challenge of beginning a new life in a sector of society that seems to deny that domestic abuse even exists.
The discreetly located facility in a residential neighborhood has been created out of two large houses joined together. This particular shelter, one of two Bat Melech facilities, offers refuge, support and intense counseling four times a week for women for six months, plus therapy and support for their children, and longer-term legal assistance in the event that there are protracted custody battles, as often happens. The shelter is currently at full capacity; indeed, women are sometimes turned away because there is insufficient space.
Bat Melech was founded in 1995 by a young divorce lawyer named Noach Korman. When he learned that one of his clients, who had fled her home in fear of an abusive husband, was sleeping with her young child in a hotel lobby, he rented an apartment for her in Jerusalem. This became the group's first shelter.
The women at the group's two shelters apparently represent only a fraction of those suffering domestic violence in the religious sector. His organization's hotline receives between 60 and 100 calls per month, says Korman.
The emotional abuse included an element unique to the Haredi world, which Korman describes as "spiritual abuse": husbands using Jewish ritual to degrade their wives. Rachel's husband would refuse to sing "Eshet Hayil," the traditional Sabbath song praising one's wife, and he wouldn't hand her the wine after kiddush.
"He would say the prayer blessing the servants and the animals of the household, and he would look straight at me so it was clear I knew that that is what he considered me," she explains.
Rachel has sacrificed a great deal to escape a life of abuse: She has had no contact with the four older children she left behind; she only has the four youngest with her, over whom she is fighting for permanent custody.
Ronit, 33, another Bat Melech resident, has even more horrific stories, which, again, seem incongruent with her calm and dignified appearance. Tall, with a colorful scarf wound around her head, Ronit escaped three months ago from a violent seven-year nightmare of a marriage in northern Israel.
Like Rachel, Ronit also suffered extensive sexual abuse; there was no love and affection in their physical relationship, only violence. Finally, he beat her in the face and broke her front teeth, and after that she fled for the sake of her children.
"I saw what it was doing to my kids, they could feel it all around them. My children used to wet their pants from fear when he was around. They were terrified of him. Today, they never ask me where he is," she says.
Throughout Ronit's marriage, she was afraid to report the attacks because her spouse was a police officer, and because "when someone looks so religious, people don't believe they are capable of this kind of behavior."
Though she feels safe at Bat Melech, Ronit worries intensely about what will happen when she leaves - even fearing she will become yet another murdered wife: "I am scared of what will happen when my husband catches me. We've had no contact since I left. None. He's made no attempt to contact me. His silence frightens me. I'm afraid he must be planning something."
Touring the recreational area, one sees that it is particularly challenging for the mothers and staff when some of the children are forbidden from watching television and videos, or playing computer games. In one of the recreational rooms, there is a screen to sit behind and read books, and girls and boys must be separated.
Korman says that the percentage of religious and Haredi women who return home is low compared to other groups. That is because, he believes, the women who come to Bat Melech shelters truly do so as a last resort. Women there also tend to stay for longer periods of time than at the secular facilities as they figure out how to live independently.
Some of the names and identifying details of women mentioned in this article have been changed for their protection.