Thousands back tug of love custody mother

By Jessica Elgot, July 12, 2012
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More than 6,000 people in a Facebook group have called for a resolution to a divorce dispute in which a British mother has lost custody of her twin sons to her Austrian ex-husband.

Manchester-born Beth Alexander lost a bitter battle over custody of her three-year-old sons, after her marriage to Viennese doctor Michael Schlesinger broke down.

Now, a British-based campaign has attracted thousands of supporters all calling for UK rabbis to persevere with the case and for Austrian rabbis to convince Dr Schlesinger to consent to rabbinic mediation.

Around 700 people have signed an online petition calling for a “fair resolution” and campaigners have set up a website and a Twitter hashtag, #helpbeth.

Ms Alexander said: “There is a lot of anger, from people all over the world. People in Manchester have told me they will withdraw their donations from Chabad, because of the way Chabad has behaved in this case, supporting my husband.”

Richard Verber, a former fellow pupil with Ms Alexander at King David High School, Manchester, said he had set up the petition “to show support to the UK rabbis who have intervened”.

He said the next stage of the campaign would be to ask people to speak to their local rabbis about the case, and urge them to use connections to press for a resolution.

The JC reported two weeks ago that senior Manchester rabbis, including the registrar of the Manchester Beth Din, Rabbi Yehuda Brodie, had pleaded with the Vienna rabbinate to intervene. The head of Vienna Chabad, Rabbi Jacob Biderman, previously told the rabbis supporting Ms Alexander that he was unwilling to become personally involved in the case.

Dr Schlesinger has temporary custody of the two boys while the matter is still working its way through the Austrian courts.

The couple do not yet have a civil divorce, and Ms Alexander said her husband had granted her a get only after the intervention of Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, former head of the London Beth Din.

But Austria’s chief rabbi, Chaim Eisenberg, has insisted that although Dayan Ehrentreu authorised the get technically, it was the Vienna rabbinate who had convinced Dr Schlesinger to issue it.

Rabbi Chaim Kanterovitz of the Yeshurun Hebrew Congregation, Manchester, said: “It must be in the best interests of the prestigious Vienna rabbinate to resolve this distressing situation as soon as possible, especially where two young and tender vulnerable children are affected.”

Chief Rabbi Eisenberg said, in a letter seen by the JC, that Dr Schlesinger had declined mediation by rabbis, and urged Dayan Ehrentreu “to write to him, to applaud him for his co-operation at the get and to offer to come to Vienna again to meet the couple.” Ms Alexander said she had received no response from the Vienna Chabad.

Court documents say Dr Schlesinger believed his wife had suffered mental health problems and post-natal depression, claims which she denies. Despite renewed attempts to speak to Dr Schlesinger this week, the JC was unable to get any comment from him.

Last updated: 10:57am, July 12 2012