Snatched Away From Their Lives and Heritage, a Jewish Mother Fights for Her Children
By Yomin Postelnik
The saga of Julie Goffstein and her children needs to make all of us demand better. A travesty was done to children who were ripped apart from a loving and by all accounts good mother, from their heritage and from their way of life. Moreover, the tragic injustice done in this case should send shivers down the spines of every homeschooling advocate in the nation.
Julie was a loving mother of 6 boys, ages 5-15. She raised them with great care for their physical needs, their spiritual wellbeing and their personal development. Eleven character witnesses testified as to this at length, going into great detail regarding the great care that she showed for each of her children’s needs. She raised her children with warmth and with great emphasis on building good character traits, setting them up for happiness and success in life. The children’s principal, Rabbi Yuval Kernerman (an experienced educator who now directs an entire campus in Toronto, but was then the principal of Cincinnati Hebrew Day School), went into great detail into the mother’s tremendous parenting skills. Two court-ordered evaluations also recommended that the children remain with the mother and expressed similar views of her parenting.
This did not prevent the most horrific situation from unfolding. As soon as she filed for divorce from what she describes as a vindictive and spiteful marriage, her ex-husband filed for sole custody of all children. And he lost. The court ordered psychologist (one of the evaluators) as well as witness after witness documented how the kids were happy and well taken care of by the mother.
The father, a senior executive in the real estate industry, had a deep animus toward religious observance in general and the observant values of his children in particular. He proceeded to launch a battle against the mother’s religious teachings and observance and demanded that the children be ripped from the religious school that they had attended their whole lives and from any aspect of observance. The children were forced by court order to break holiday observance, including the Biblical rules surrounding these holidays that they held dear. All aspects of their upbringing, value system, deep-seated beliefs and culture were ripped away from them.
Shockingly, the judge also ruled that any attempt to console her sons by saying that she was fighting to return them to Jewish schools, would be deemed contempt of court. The mother was further prohibited from encouraging religious observance, or from even discussing Torah with her younger children, the judge deeming this to be interference with the custodial parent’s wishes. (It should be noted that everything about this case runs in stark contrast to hundreds of cases in which the religious upbringing of the child is recognized as crucial to their development and any attempt to force them away from it is rightly considered traumatic. Likewise, it bears mention that the father is an executive in the real estate industry, well connected with local politicians and has multiple millions at his disposal, while the mother is a struggling single parent, trying to raise her two oldest sons, who remain in her custody, and grapples with day to day expenses.)
In short, a biased judge acquiesced to the father’s demands. No care was given to the deeply held beliefs of the children (beliefs that also made them model citizens in society). No care was given to how they’d been raised their whole lives or to their culture. No care was even given to the deep relationship that each had with their mother. The mother-child bond was sacrificed on the altar of religious bigotry. Even a text of the mother trying to console the anguish of her child who had been ripped away was used in a contempt motion against her and sustained by the judge.
This case must make one take notice and do something. Four young children (then ages 5, 7, 9 and 11) have suffered tremendously. They were ripped away from a fine mother who was readily given custody of the two older boys. In the end, the central problem the judge had with her was her religion. The First Amendment was torn asunder, as was basic decency. The four younger children, torn from their mother, their brothers, their values and their upbringing, have experienced gross and ongoing problems and need all of our help.
The Jewish community and the Jewish people have always done everything to keep their children as members of our heritage. The beginning of the Torah Portion of “Vayigash” (Genesis 44:18) demonstrates how the brothers who had learned from the lessons of the past did everything including risking their very beings to save a child who walked in the way of G-d. Far less is needed in this case, but people must join in in support. This is the challenge of our generation. There is no more important mitzvah that one can think of.