Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Jewish Press deserves praise for Dr. Neustein article last week


At 9:26 AM, Blogger jewishwhistleblower said...

Although I will continue to criticize the Jewish Press editorial board for it's unresearched, one-sided, biased and unobjective support of Rabbi Mordechai Tendler and criticism of the Forward and Jewish Week, I wanted to echo Michael Lesher's support for the article by Dr. Amy Neustein last week.

also see:

1) Letter
Posted 1/12/2005
Mothers And The Courts
As the co-writer of Dr. Amy Neustein`s From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running From the Family Courts — and What Can Be Done About It, I was gratified to see her article in The Jewish Press (“From ‘Childless Mother’ To Family Court Reformer: My Story,” Jan. 7). It was researching and writing about Dr. Neustein`s personal story that first made me aware of the severity of the problems facing mothers who bring child abuse charges into today`s family courts.

Dr. Neustein and I have studied thousands of cases in which the courts penalized mothers for making such accusations. We hope our book will begin to change the system. But it`s already an important milestone when Dr. Neustein`s story appears in a paper like yours. Thank you.
Michael Lesher, Esq.
(Via E-Mail)

2) Article
(JWB: I have removed the victim's name from the article)

From `Childless Mother` To Family Court Reformer: My Story
Posted 1/6/2005
"Can a woman forget her child?" Those words of
the prophet Isaiah have haunted me for almost 20
years. In 1986, I lost my six-year-old daughter to a
malfunctioning family court system that punished me
for trying to protect my daughter from abuse. Next
month, I will be delivering a keynote address to the
"Battered Mothers Custody Conference" at Siena
College near Albany, New York. The distinguished
speakers will include New York Administrative
Justice Jacqueline Silbermann and former family
court judge, and New York State legislator Karen
Burstein. All through the conference, I will be
thinking of my daughter, S.

This remarkable three-day event (January 7-9)
is the brainchild of Siena psychology professor Mo
Therese Hannah, an advocate for abused women and
children, with whom I have had the privilege of
working for the past year. Mo is a Catholic and I am
an Orthodox Jew. What brought us together was a
common family court experience — and a
determination to protect other mothers from the
judicial cruelty I suffered.

Almost two decades ago, I became a "childless"
mother — a mother whose connection with her
biological child was completely severed by a court. I
didn`t abuse my then six-year-old daughter, nor did I
deny her love, attention, food or medical care. On the
contrary, I loved S with all my heart and soul. I
tried to protect her, believing her when she reported
being abused by her father. I was punished because
the family court didn`t want to listen to her.

The court took my daughter from me on the
fourth day of Succot, 1986, never to return home. For
almost a year after that, I couldn`t accept the loss. In
the middle of the night, I would wake up and
instinctively walk to the bed in my daughter`s room,
thinking she would be there. Sometimes I even
thought I heard her voice in the house, and that
everything would be normal again. I thought if I tried
hard enough, I would hear the familiar sounds of her
laughing, singing and playing — that she would be
back with me.

I yearned to hold my daughter in my lap, to sing
to her, to put her to bed, the way I had night after
night, when I would sit beside her and she would
recite K`rias Sh`ma. But each time I was pulled up
against the cold reality that she was gone. I could not
see or touch her: I was denied the pleasure of
attending a school play, a graduation ceremony, even
her Bas Mitzvah.

I think I might have given way had I not
retained the Orthodox Jewish faith in which I was
raised. I refused to resign myself to the role of
childless mother. I fought to get my daughter back,
and when I failed in the courts, I went on national
television, reaching out to mothers across America.
Every year, shortly after the mourning of Tisha b`Av,
I would hear Isaiah`s words read aloud in shul:
"Hatishkach isha ula, meracheim ben bitnah?" (Can a
woman forget her nursling child? Can she withhold
her caring for the child of her womb?). Those words
engraved themselves into my memory. I knew that no
woman who lost her child to the courts could ever
forget her, and that G-d would never forget, either. I
knew with every fiber of my being that I could never
give up the struggle. Something had to be done to
make the madness stop.

I am a sociologist, and as I continued my own
struggle, I learned that I was not alone — that an
epidemic of childless mothers — mothers made
childless by decrees of the family courts — has swept
across America. After I told my story on television,
first dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of other
mothers began to call, tearfully or furiously describing
how they had been shut out of the lives of their
children for trying to protect them from abuse.

I decided to chronicle and study the human
tragedy of which I was now a part. I gathered data
ceaselessly, collecting case files from mothers across
the country. I moved back to my parents` home in
Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, where I set up a round-
the-clock counseling center for mothers who were
losing their children to the courts.

My dear mother (aleha hashalom) was as
devoted to counseling mothers as I was, often talking
with them late into the night. In fact, as other people
joined me in providing counseling, many of the most
desperate calls were routinely routed to my mother,
who was soon known to suffering mothers throughout
the country as "Grandma Shirley". They never knew
that they were being counseled by a rabbi`s wife.

Over the years, I have continued to turn my pain
into productive work. I have published critical
commentaries on the family courts in academic
journals. I have been invited to speak at the National
Institute of Justice, the Albany Medical College
Department of Pediatrics, and the Jane Addams
College of Social Work.

Most recently, with Michael Lesher — a writer
and lawyer who is also a ba`al t`shuvah — I conceived
the idea of a book detailing the family courts`
backlash against mothers who try to protect their
children from abuse they believe is being perpetrated
by the other parent. Our work has taken two years to
complete, but it will be published this spring as the
lead title of the University Press of New England, a
consortium of university presses including Brandeis,
Tufts, Northeastern, and Dartmouth. It is as the co-
author of this book that I have been invited to speak
at the Battered Mothers Custody Conference.

From Madness to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are
Running From the Family Courts — And What
Can Be Done About It is an expose of the family
courts` treatment of mothers and children in litigation
involving suspicions of abuse by fathers. Professor
Hannah has called this book, "a groundbreaking new
book that is perhaps the most highly readable
scholarly work I`ve encountered in my 14 years in
academia. The very first to provide the historical and
contextual chronology of this system`s steady decline
into chaos and corruption over the past two decades."

The removal of a child from a mother leaves a
breach that never heals. Childless mothers cannot
recapture the years that were taken from them. But
when we begin to acknowledge the damage that has
been done, and to change the institutions that have
caused it, we can begin to heal our world. The world
cannot and will not be made whole until the courts
respect the sacredness of the mother/child bond — the
very cornerstone of Jewish life.

I came to this task through pain, but it has
become a holy bond. Fighting the creation of more
childless mothers in our family courts has become my
personal tikkun olam.

Amy Neustein, Ph.D., co-author of From Madness
to Mutiny: Why Mothers Are Running From The
Family Courts — And What Can Be Done About It,
lives in Edgewater, New Jersey.


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