Friday, March 21, 2014

Schlesinger Twins: The Vienna community suffers from deafness and a stone heart

Over the past 3 years, the inboxes of the leaders of the Viennese Jewish community have been flooded with emails of requests and emotional pleas to intervene to help relieve the continued suffering of Samuel and Benjamin. And yet the so-called leaders continue to bury their heads and refuse to take responsibility for this tragedy happening on their doorsteps while the rest of the world looks on in horror and disbelief, desperately doing all they can to help.

With the writers’ permission to publish them, here are two of the most significant letters that fell on deaf ears:
From: Jonathan Arkush
Date: Mon, Nov 11, 2013 at 6:47 PM
Subject: Alexander custody decision
To: Beth Alexander; Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister; Chief Rabbi Paul Eisenberg ; Raimund Fastenbauer; Ariel Muzicant; Oskar Deutsch
Cc: “‘President’ of British Board of Deputies“

 Dear Colleagues and Rabbonim,

I am deeply troubled by the judgment, having been given its key points by a German speaking relative who read the full decision.  While I am an English rather than an Austrian lawyer, I do not believe our family law in this area to be dissimilar.  I continue to be at a loss to understand why the Court did not take as its starting position that the custody of young children should be with their mother.

As I understand matters, the Court stated in the judgment that it disregarded all suggestions made by the father that the mother was suffering from any mental  illness or should be unfit in any other way.  The basis of the decision was simply that, after two years in the father’s custody, it was in their best interests that this continued.  This seems to me to be a very inadequate foundation for the decision that leaves these young children in the custody of the father, which in effect means child-minders for much of the day, and the mother with such restricted access.  The position is made worse by the father’s tendency to cancel access visits by the mother.

I hope that I have not misrepresented the Court’s decision, as I have not yet seen a full translation.

I would like to express on behalf of the British Jewish community deep disquiet and strong reservations about this latest decision.

May I ask my colleagues who lead the Jewish community of Austria to make any suggestions as to what might be done to bring this deeply regrettable state of affairs to a just conclusion?

I realise that the Court has made a decision, but is it too late even at this stage to persuade the father to agree to a community-supported mediation ?  I can assure you that we in England would do all in our power to assist the process if such mediation could be arranged.

With cordial regards

Jonathan Arkush Jonathan Arkush
Vice President
Board of Deputies of British Jews
 From: Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag
Sent: 10 June 2012 22:42
To: Chief Rabbi Eisenberg,Rabbi Josef Pardes, Chabad Rabbi Jacob Biderman
Cc: Mag Raimund Fastenbauer (Secretary General of Board of Jewish Community Vienna)
Subject: Beth nee Alexander


נחום נתן גוטנטג
רב דק”ק ווייטפילד

Rabbi Jonathan Guttentag

Whitefield, Manchester
M45 7PD
10th June 2012
20th Sivan 5772
Chief Rabbi Chaim Eisenberg
Rabbi Yosef Pardes
Chabad Rabbi Jacob Biderman

Kvod Harabbonim hachashuvim shlita

Please pardon me for intervening like this from the outside, but as you know the case of Beth nee Alexander formerly of Manchester is causing anxiety.

From our perspective we can see a young lady living far away from her parents and family, having gone to get married in a foreign country and community, with that marriage broken down, now deprived of custody of and access to her children. She finds herself now set against a former spouse who has the advantage of local family support, natural community affinity, and knowledge of the civic law situation. Through the involvement of the civil authorities the mother has lost custody of her children and is now being deprived of access to them.

It would appear that justification is being made for this situation, based inter alia on some allegations that there is mental health problem with Beth or her family.

To an outsider these sound like biased accusations that would tend to get made in aggravated break down of a marriage. But they are simply not fair nor just. My wife taught Beth at Yavneh Girls High school in Manchester . She remembers her as a kindly, quiet and very fine student. Family Alexander in Manchester is a family with a good name for solidity and communal involvement. I believe that it is simply an unworthy slur for Beth and her family to be characterised in a manner that I understand that they are being portrayed, and most unfair. There are always two sides in any situation, and one would expect a kehilla and its leadership to ensure that reasonably fair play is being maintained. From what it appears in this situation, however, and for whatever reason, there is an unfairness and an injustice being perpetrated against Beth, a single woman in a foreign country, without proper support – pitted against a family, in a community with all the connections naturally available to them.

I believe that you as the rabbinic leadership of the Vienna kehilla have it within your power to provide fairness to the situation and relief to Beth and her family. I write to you collectively dear honoured rabbonim, to appeal to you – please do that which is in your power to have this matter sorted in a manner which will reflect fairness and justice and uphold the good name of the esteemed Vienna kehilla.

The hanhogo of a kehilla is in the joint hands of rabbonim and baaley battim, and for that reason you will I am sure agree that it is correct and appropriate for me to write at the same time to the lay leadership of the kehilla, which as you can I have done.

With many thanks
Bevirkos kol tov

Jonathan Guttentag


  1. Why don't Rabbis and leaders I Austria have any respect for their colleagues in England? Doesn't anyone in Austria care about justice? Two little boys have been denied their mother and the court has given no good reason. This must be challenged!

    1. I think your first question is phrased the wrong way round.

    2. The rabbis in England wrote very respectful letters (above) to the rabbis in Austria about a disturbing matter affecting one of their flock who moved to Vienna.

      The rabbis in Austria didn't even have the courtesy to reply to the rabbis in England. That is highly disrespectful.

      The question stands, why are the rabbis in Austria so disrespectful of the esteemed rabbis in England?

  2. "I continue to be at a loss to understand why the Court did not take as its starting position that the custody of young children should be with their mother."

    That's your problem, Sir. That is an incorrect starting point. And if your "starting points" are based on feminist ideology of women first, mother's first, wives first, you can suffer the consequences when society rejects it.

    There is absolutely no reason the "starting position" should be "that the custody of young children should be with their mother." The father has an equal right to request and receive primary custody.

    1. Ry, the problem is that in Vienna, the starting point is to look for which person is most abusive and violent, then award that person custody so that he can neglect the children. This is nothing to do with feminism and everything to do with the welfare of children, which sadly is something ry can't comprehend.

    2. Do you mean the starting position after the father tried to have the mother committed to a mental home?

    3. Ry, have you ever thought about the halachic position on this case? Have you ever heard of something called Torah?

    4. The Halachic position on custody is that father is awarded custody of sons once they are no longer breast-feeding.

    5. No it is not - we have been through this before.

  3. What would they be satisfied with? Beth can be given additional visitation rights; but as long as she will be fighting to take custody away from the father, there is no way she will receive any cooperation while she is waging that war against him. Let her agree that he will maintain primary custody and then he can agree that she can receive additional visitation without hindrance.

  4. what about overnight stays. not having to pay to see her children, taking them to the uk for holidays. not beinf rejected at their nursery. being told about their development. the list is endless. They will only thrive if she is involved more.
    My last point is that I am sure the father will still have issues if she agreed. I can see him saying one thing but doing another.

  5. RY why shouldn't Beth fight for custody of her children? If the boot was on the other foot, wouldn't the father be fighting for his children?
    There is no clear reason for Beth not to have custody is there? What good reason has the Court given? I say
    challenge it Beth. The father will never
    round a table and be reasonable. He
    never has! Beth. Sammy and Benji
    deserve to have you, Beth, their loving
    capable mother! Go for it! We, your supporters are behind you all the way Beth!

  6. All these rabbis and leaders are speaking out for justice, yet there is still silence from EVERY chabad rabbi around the world. Maybe they're just too busy fundraising for their chabad houses and ensuring they have the right friends in the right places to worry about inconveniences like justice.

    1. Look Schlesinger has proved his abuse to Beth after the marriage, so its proof he must have been an abusive husband before. What does that make the Courts? Abusive of course!!

  7. You are right Rabbi Biderman and Dr Bowman. What will make the father act on his children's best interests. They don't talk coherently at almosr five.
    Beth was blamed for their lack of speech development at 2. However, she is a professional language teacher
    teaching other people's children language. How is it Beth the mother with great parenting skills. a proficient
    teacher of language is being denied access to her children when they need her so much? I am very much with Jonathan Arkush of the BoD
    Something has gone very wrong in this case and questions need

  8. If their is no justification for the children to be with the father they should never have been taken away from the mother. Therefore, Sammy and Benji should now be returned to Beth.

  9. I agree Tova, Brian Jonathan Arkush and all Beth's supporers who have said that the court have shown no good reason, nor has the father,
    expect to say fathers are entitled to
    These children were taken away from their mother for no good reason and need to be returned to her. All the
    father is doing is laughing!. He doesn'
    t care about the children. This is just a power struggle! ! . He is playing
    games at his children's expense. It's so obvious! So cruel!

  10. TOVA HOLLENDER! Interesting how two people with the same name have two such different opinions! One is EVIL and one is KIND The evil one has no place in the human race! All she wants to do is as much damage as she can! . She doesn't care about two innocent little children. She sounds like she has a screw loose! I really have concerns about her! I wouldn't be surprised if she is the one behind
    this whole conspiracy, driving the
    father! She knows the true state of the
    boys, yet she doesn't care! Wake up Austria to this woman's evil ways. What women, mother, grandmother
    behaves like this? Only an evil one!

  11. Sammy you spelt my name wrong. My name is TOVA HOLLANDER! I don't know if the Austrian one who you decribe as evil spells it the same way!
    If she does, please don't confuse us. I would not wish to be associated with
    her. She is a disgrace to the Hollander

  12. Although I have stated last week that my position on this has changed in the past year (hi Avrohom!!) I must say that if these are the two most 'significant' letters then her support is poor.
    The letter from Jonathan Arkush admits that he does not have full cognisance of the case and I am amazed that such a respected solicitor can issue a letter in such circumstances.

    The letter from Rabbi Guttentag is simply ridiculous; remarkable in a glaring omission of any facts at all. Much of his statement seems to rely on an opinion of his wife who taught Beth at least 12 years ago!

  13. Avi Noffers The court has not offered any proper and just reasoning for their decision. Don't you think that as there is nothing clear about this case that retrial is in order?

  14. As far as I understand, it has been tried at two levels in Austria. The court HAS offered reasoning for its decision. The losing side rejected it.

    1. The court HAS awarded the mother visitation rights, yet the father feels he is entitled to regularly cancel these visits, often without giving any reason.

  15. Avi Noffers:

    How has your position changed over the last year on this matter?


  16. Avi Noffers What is the courts reasoning for their decision? We have repeatedly asked, but have been ignored. This tells us one thing that
    there is no reason and this makes the decision unjust!

  17. Hi Brav - thanks for your polite question. It appears that the mother is having all kinds of obstacles put in her way from having regular access to the boys. Also, it does seem rather perverse that she has to pay for the privilege of seeing her own children. I am, therefore, more sympathetic to her.

    However, when it comes to the court's decision (and my own, admittedly tangential, knowledge of her) I am still very sceptical about her version of events both leading up to and subsequent to the court's decision. I still find it hard to believe that there is a conspiracy involving the Austrian police, social services, day child care supervisors, two levels of court, the official Jewish community and all the women of that community. Much of her support seems to come from people living many hundreds (if not thousands of miles) away with a direct and current connection to her family but a distance (both spatially and temporally) from Beth herself. Not to mention some of the emotional, if not - dare I say it - hysterical, responses on this very site.


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