Is there any greater betrayal than a young mother losing custody of her newborn child through the combination of dubious medical assertions, illegitimate legal strategies and the indecent use of power and influence?
When situations like this arise, we as a community must ask ourselves what we can do to help.
The high profile child custody case involving Beth Alexander, from Manchester, and her Viennese husband, Dr Michael Schlesinger raises such a moral dilemma and therefore should challenge each and every one of us.
Beth Alexander and Michael Schlesinger lived in Austria. During their court proceedings, Dr Schlesinger claimed that his English wife Beth, a Cambridge graduate, had suffered post-natal depression and mental health problems, and that therefore their three year-old twin boys were “at risk” in her custody. Beth Alexander and others who know her deny these claims. But the Jewish community in Vienna have closed ranks around Dr Schlesinger to protect him, whilst apparently demonising the children’s mother.
It seems that Beth Alexander was originally told by the head of the Vienna Chabad congregation that her husband was only willing to give her a Get – religious divorce – if she agreed to abandon her claim for custody of the two boys. When British Rabbis subsequently approached the Viennese Chabad Rabbi, they were informed that he refused to become involved. They then intervened on the mother’s behalf to eventually secure the Get.
It is admirable and comforting that senior British Rabbis and thousands of supporters have rallied in a Facebook campaign to Beth Alexander’s side in her quest to regain custody of her young sons.
The essential challenge to each one of us lies in the heart-wrenching appeal of a Manchester Rabbi, written to the Viennese Rabbis, wherein he describes Beth Alexander’s unpleasant situation of living in a hostile community which supports her husband in many areas, including the legal one, while she is far from her parents and family, and on her own without a support system. He requests that fair play be maintained by the Viennese Rabbinate and intimates that their ‘refusal to get involved’ cannot serve the best interests of the children.
Without knowing all the details of the case at hand, the language is all too familiar to me personally as the mother of a daughter who was the innocent victim of baseless “post-partum” accusations, even after documented expert medical proof to the contrary was presented. Unsuspecting mothers should immediately seek expert medical advice (even second and third opinions) when any ‘medical claims’ of post-partum depression are levelled against them.
It seems that there is a new social disease in our communities these days. I call it ‘post-partum repression.’ All too often, the moment a religious woman with young children decides to leave her husband, the accusation of post-partum depression and ‘madness’ is levelled against her in an attempt to remove the children from her and simultaneously destroy her reputation.
Where post-partum depression is used against women and, particularly against their children, this is nothing more than misogyny at its worst. If we remain apathetic to the use of this means of ripping children away from their mothers, we face the prospect of becoming a society devoid of compassion.
We must exercise objectivity and be willing to entertain the possibility that a mother of young children may have legitimate reasons for choosing to exit her marriage. Furthermore we need to act with uprightness here and make sure that our voices are heard in routing out the ill-practice of post-partum repression.