Judge won’t allow parents to take custody of Nazi-named children


A New Jersey couple who gave their children names linked to Nazism cannot have custody of their children, a judge ruled.

The children of Heath and Deborah Campbell have been in state custody for the last three years, since a local supermarket refused to print Adolf Hitler Campbell’s full name on a cake for his third birthday. The boy, now 6, and sisters adolfJoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell, 5, and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell, 4, remain in state custody, and the state also took custody in November of a newborn boy named Hons, according to UPI.

A Superior Court judge in New Jersey decided last week that the couple cannot regain custody of the children.

The Campbells plan to appeal the ruling and Heath Campbell told the Star-Ledger newspaper that he would give up his Nazism to regain custody of the children. He and his wife are now separated.

Man in custody implicated himself in Etan Patz’ disappearance


Police in New York say they have man in custody who has implicated himself in the 1979 disappearance of Etan Patz.

Patz, who was 6 at the time of his disappearance, never made it to his school bus stop in SOHO on March 25, 1979, the first time he had walked to the bus stop by himself. His mother did not realize that he had not been in school all day until he failed to return home at the end of the school day.

Police took the man into custody on Wednesday, and said they would release more details on Thursday.

In April, police dug up a basement in SoHo that belonged to a former handyman, Othniel Miller, which was located on Etan’s route to the school bus. No new evidence was uncovered.

Jose Ramos, 68, a convicted pedophile due to be released from prison in November, was declared responsible for Etan’s death in a 2004 civil case. But no one was ever arrested and charged with the boy’s disappearance.

At-risk youth; Much more Mathout; Donkeys vs. Elephants — the beef goes on


Custody Battle
 
Wendy Jaffe’s cover story on divorce focused primarily on the custody battles while neglecting alternative forms of dispute resolution, such as mediation, which can lead to far more peaceful results (“Who Gets the Shul?” Oct. 6).
 
In my role as a divorce mediator, I have worked over the years with scores of Jewish couples who are separating or divorcing to help them negotiate issues concerning their Jewish life and the Jewish life of their children. Couples in mediation are able to reach agreement on synagogue membership, synagogue dues and religious school fees, b’nai mitzvah costs, the wording on b’nai mitzvah or wedding invitations, as well as how they will share time with their children for holy days and festivals.
 
Not only is mediation less expensive than litigation, but the process results in far less acrimony and battle. Divorce, while maintaining shalom bayit, is indeed possible.

Rabbi Jeffrey A. Marx
Sha’arei Am — The Santa Monica Synagogue

 
Maher Hathout
 
It would have been irresponsible to stand by when a man is honored, even though he uses anti-Israel, anti-Jewish propaganda and participates in rallies that support terrorist groups, as he did at the Federal Building on Aug 12, where he was a keynote speaker and participants chanted, “Long Live Hezbollah” (“Controversial Muslim Leader Gets Award,” Sept. 22).
 
Hathout never distanced himself from them, nor, after his nomination, did he try to reach out and allay our understandable concerns. Instead, he lashed out, labeling us “un-American” fringe groups that oppose free speech or dislike Muslims. Hathout is free to say whatever he likes, but this extremist, divisive rhetoric and behavior should not be any city’s model for human relations.
 
We were not alone. Only four out of 14 commissioners voted for Hathout, with five abstaining and four absent. Steven Windmueller, dean of Hebrew Union College and a 1995 Buggs [Award] honoree, returned his award, stating that the [County Human Relations] Commission’s selection of Hathout stained the legacy of the award’s namesake.
 
There has been no “pressure” on us from “Jews in high places,” and we have not backed down. As rhetoric about the Middle East continues to escalate, the endgame of our protests is to send a strong message about desirable standards of discourse for Los Angeles, to educate the public about extremist rhetoric and to raise questions about who is a “moderate Muslim.”
 
We succeeded. We hope that Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders everywhere were paying attention and will strive for balanced, informed discourse as the standard for people singled out for special recognition.
 
Roz Rothstein
Director, StandWithUs

 
At-Risk Youth
 
I would like to applaud The Jewish Journal and Julie Gruenbaum Fax for courageously highlighting Aish Tamid and other programs in Los Angeles that offer “troubled teenage boys a way to curb self-destructive behavior” (“Orthodox Youth Not Immune to High-Risk Lifestyles,” Sept. 29). The topic of troubled teens is one of the most pressing and concerning issues facing our city, and it is important to supplement the article with a few additional facts and comments.
 
Firstly, while the core services and programs provided by Aish Tamid are tailored for troubled teens, we have also witnessed that not only troubled teens regularly attend and participate, but that there is a craving for our services by many different types of students. It is correct that our programs have been designed and appeal to troubled teens and/or students who have tried or are using drugs, but most Aish Tamid students are not druggies, and it is important to clarify this important distinction for the sake of all of our student participants.
 
It is also significant to note that the issue of at-risk youths is not restricted to only the Orthodox community, but that it affects all teens and young adults in our city, irrespective of their religious upbringing.
 
The article began with the mention of an Orthodox boy who overdosed on drugs, but many of us recall reading a little more than a year ago about the unfortunate death of a Los Angeles boy who was raised in the local Conservative schools and synagogues of our city who also died from a drug overdose.
 
In fact, after being mentioned and quoted in your 2005 article, Aish Tamid received a flood of phone calls from parents and school principals within the Conservative and Reform movements who confirmed that their children and/or students where facing the exact same challenges that was attributed to only Orthodox students in your recent article.
 
It would be naive of us to conclude that only Orthodox students are challenged with religious expectations, community and family pressures, academic and educational obstacles, questions on personal relationships, uncertainties on professional career options and, of course, the immense social influences of sex, drugs, alcohol, gambling and other self-destructive habits.
 
These are the challenges of all teens and young adults, not just Orthodox, and the Aish Tamid programs and services, especially the Pardes/Plan B alternative high school program, have been designed to provide resources and support to all Los Angeles teens, young adults and their parents, irrespective of their religious affiliation.
 
Rabbi Avi Leibovic
Founder and Executive Director
Aish Tamid of Los Angeles

 
Politicized Reports
 
Joseph M. Lipner makes several interesting points in his op-ed (“Israel Should Probe Accusations of War Crimes,” Sept. 29), particularly on the subjective nature of terms such as “war crimes.”
 
Unfortunately, his piece is marred by incredible naiveté regarding human rights NGOs. Claims that Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International “appear to be acting with good motives” toward Israel, or that they can be expected aggressively to take the side of civilians in any military conflict are not grounded in reality. They reflect the halo effect these groups cultivate to escape accountability.
 
Research carried out by NGO Monitor shows a different story. Amnesty and HRW released highly politicized reports and statements throughout the war. Amnesty published a scathing 50-page report focusing entirely on Israel’s actions, while hundreds of rockets fell on Israeli civilians daily. HRW even denied Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields.

When a couple divorces, the custody battle goes beyond dishes and children


Jews are not immune to America’s divorce endemic.

With one in two marriages ending long before the expiration date contemplated by the ketubah, rabbis frequently find themselves in the difficult position of having to officiate at bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings with families who continue to be hurt and angry about a divorce. Today’s wedding chuppah is called upon to accommodate not just the bride’s and groom’s parents, but stepfathers and stepmothers as well.

In fact, divorce issues can affect nearly every aspect of a family’s relationship with the synagogue, and with Judaism: Hebrew school, havurahs, Passover seders, Shabbat dinners and Chanukah celebrations are all impacted when a couple splits up.

Even trips to Israel.

Susan Chait and her husband, Michael, wanted to take Michael’s son from a previous marriage to Israel following his bar mitzvah. But the boy’s mother refused to give permission, even at a time when security was not an issue.

“Initially, we had the rabbi talk to her, but she wouldn’t change her mind,” Chait said. “Ultimately, we had to go to court. The judge was angry about the fact that she would stand in the way of her child taking advantage of a great opportunity. He said, ‘I am Jewish, and I understand the importance of a trip like this’ and gave us permission to take him on the trip.”

Chait said she believes the conflict between her husband and his ex-wife blinded her to her children’s welfare.

“And the really sad part of it is that the children know this,” she said. “My advice for parents in this situation is to put the love for your children over the animosity that you have for each other.”

Rabbi David Wolpe of Westwood’s Conservative Sinai Temple is a frequent witness to the battles that affect the synagogue when there is a divorce.

“High Holiday tickets are a very contentious issue,” he said. “They represent not only a monetary investment, but also a community, and it is very difficult for the parties and the synagogue to negotiate over who gets the community. Congregants often feel like there is a judgment of who is right and who is wrong. What tends to happen is the person who has the most friends or connections in the community ends up getting the shul.”

So what is the rabbi’s role in the drama?

“People often try to put the rabbi in the middle to make the difficult decisions, but one of the most important things is not to allow people to triangulate,” Wolpe said. “The rabbi needs to return [the parties] to each other so that they can work the issue out between themselves. The rabbi that doesn’t learn that is in a lot of trouble.”

Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom has also witnessed the impact of divorce on the synagogue.

“Families sometimes use the bar/bat mitzvah as the place to continue the unresolved battles for control, financial redress, custody, etc,” he said. “They can be unusually nasty, petty and mean. They put the rabbi in the uncomfortable position of reminding adults to stop fighting like children and to focus on the child and his or her memories of this special day. Weddings can likewise be difficult. Who stands beneath the chuppah?”

Steve Garren, an active member of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills, has witnessed the impact that his two-year separation has had on his family’s synagogue life.
“Even though we went to the rabbi before we split up, this is not something that clergy can tell you exactly how to handle,” he said. “When it comes to divorce, the rabbi doesn’t have the answer for how each family is going to do it and what it is going to look like. The reality is that when you first separate, the temple mail keeps going to just one address.

“When you split up you suddenly become a conversation piece among temple friends, which of course is something that you never wanted to be,” Garren added. “Our separation also meant that we were not in our havurah anymore.
“Passover this year was the first time that the four of us weren’t together,” he said. “The kids went with me one night, and the next night they went with my wife to her parent’s house. We both try to do a good job of minimizing the impact, but there is definitely an impact.”

Hebrew school, frequently a battleground between children and their parents, also finds its way into internal parental battles. Wolpe noted that divorce frequently impacts Hebrew school attendance.
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“Now Hebrew school becomes an additional weapon,” he said. “‘How come you didn’t take him to Hebrew school?’ Some parents work it out well, but many of them only care about Hebrew school to the extent that it is a weapon, and of course it is the kids that suffer.”

Susan Chait saw firsthand how Hebrew school became just another weapon in the divorce arsenal.

“Because my husband and his ex-wife had joint custody at the time his second son was attending Hebrew school, my husband’s ex would use skipping Hebrew school as a way to win her son over.”

So who does get the shul? It depends on the dynamic that the family ultimately chooses for itself. Feinstein noted that although the battles between divorcing Jewish couples can be nasty and mean, other times “divorce can liberate people to enjoy new relationships and a new life,” he said. “They can become better parents, better Jews and better people as they emerge from a marriage that was stifling and abusive. I’ve seen this, too. There are no easy generalizations.”

Today’s wedding chuppah is called upon to accommodate not just the bride’s and groom’s parents, but stepfathers and stepmothers as well.

Wendy Jaffe is the author of “The Divorce Lawyers’ Guide To Staying Married” (Volt Press, 2006). She can be reached at

Jacko’s Jewish Kids Going Muslim?


New allegations are being thrown Michael Jackson’s way, but this time they’re not child molestation charges. The reclusive Debbie Rowe, Jackson’s Jewish ex-wife and the mother who surrendered custody of their two children, is worried that the singer is allowing Prince Michael I and Paris Michael Katherine to be converted to Islam.

Since Jackson brought the Nation of Islam (NOI) into his home, Rowe has complained to friends that she does not want her children being exposed to their teachings, because she, and by extension her children, are Jewish, Fox News reports.

Rowe could not be reached for comment. However, Iris Finsilver, Rowe’s attorney, confirmed that her client is Jewish.

"The fact that all along Prince and Paris, who we were very close to, were Jewish is remarkable," Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a once close friend of Jackson, told The Journal.

"It seems incredible to me that Michael Jackson would not have told me that Prince and Paris are Jewish, unless he did not know," Boteach said. "It’s possible that Michael never knew that Debbie Rowe is Jewish. I don’t know that she’s a committed Jew that would have evidenced itself in any particular way."

Jackson, who pleaded not guilty Jan. 16 to charges that he sexually abused a boy during a sleepover at his Neverland Ranch, is free on $3 million bail and currently living with his children in a rented Beverly Hills mansion.

Security for the home and its grounds is being provided by NOI. Business associates and employees of Jackson are claiming that the Islamic group has also taken control of his business affairs.

Jermaine Jackson, Michael’s brother, has been an NOI member since 1989, and Grace, the Rwandan nanny Jackson employs to care for his children, is also a member of the group. It is not known if Jackson, a Jehovah’s Witness, has either converted to Islam or joined NOI.

"What Michael Jackson seeks to do is bring people into his life who he thinks will rescue him from his downward spiral," Boteach said.

Following his divorce from Lisa Marie Presley in 1996, Jackson married Rowe, a nurse who worked for one of the singer’s doctors. The couple had known each other for 15 years, and Rowe was six months pregnant with their first child when they married. Jackson and Rowe had two children together before divorcing in 1999.

The mother of Jackson’s third child, Prince Michael II, has been kept a secret.

Rowe met with two Jackson associates on Jan. 12 to say that if the situation with the nanny and NOI doesn’t change she will be forced to take steps to ensure that change happens, according to "Entertainment Tonight."

Boteach was pleased to see Rowe taking a public stand for her children.

"I was shocked to hear that [Rowe] was Jewish," Boteach said, "but since Prince and Paris are Jewish, I think they should be raised Jewish."

Climbing the Mountain


Back in 1991, David Brenner was king of the comedy mountain.

The comic had appeared well over 100 times on the “Tonight Show,” which he often guest-hosted in the 1970’s and ’80’s. He enjoyed lucrative Las Vegas appearances and was a perennial guest on TV shows like “Letterman.”

Then came the contentious court battle that knocked him, for a time, off the mountain. Brenner virtually disappeared for over four years as he struggled to win custody of his oldest son, Cole, now 17. It nearly cost him his career.

The comic had to drastically cut back his performance schedule or risk losing custody of Cole. His income declined by 80 percent as he paid $600,000 in legal fees. Brenner lost his Manhattan brownstone and his limousine. By the time he had won the custody battle, the clubs weren’t calling anymore.

Since 1995, Brenner has been immersed in another fierce battle — to rejuvenate his career. He took over a nationally-syndicated radio show, wrote a screenplay and worked the clubs. During a recent telephone interview, it was clear that all the work has paid off: Brenner is back with a vengeance.

He’s sold the screenplay, a wicked comedy called “Willpower;” he’s signed a multi-performance deal with the Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas; and his new HBO special, “David Brenner: Live and Dangerous,” will be broadcast live from the Venetian on Feb. 19. Brenner is also appearing at smaller clubs such as the L.A. Cabaret Comedy Club in Encino, where he will perform Nov. 5 and 6. “Those shows will have more of a neighborhood feel,” the Encino resident says, “because I’m a Jew who lives in the neighborhood.”

But don’t expect to see the old David Brenner, the master of the “hair-on-the-soap” brand of observational comedy. “That whole observational thing was just, ‘blah, blah, blah,'” he says. “Now I’m more into observations about things that concern me, like politics, crime, the economy.”

His comeback has taken some thought. When Brenner, 54, performed on “Letterman” in February, applause interrupted his act a record 16 times. But not a single job offer came his way the next day. “People just thought, ‘Brenner is always hysterical,’ and went off to lunch,” he says. So the comic thought up a novel way to draw attention with his HBO special.

Instead of performing a scripted stand-up routine, he’ll improvise a significant portion of his act, riffing off of news items he’s read that day in USA Today. “I’ll run with the material, even if it’s not tested,” he says. “I do that in small clubs, and I’ll do it live in front of millions of people on HBO. I know I have to make the wire higher and thinner than ever before. And I have the guts to do it.”

During a recent performance, Brenner quipped, “It was decided that Miss America can have had several marriages and several abortions, and that’s a good thing. Now Miss New Jersey can win.” When Dan Quayle “pulled his hat” out of the presidential race, Brenner joked, “he was most disappointed that the little propeller on top was broken.”

If improvising an act before millions takes guts, it’s something Brenner learned in spades while growing up in tough, poor sections of south and west Philadelphia. “I was in hundreds of street fights,” recalls Brenner, a Jewish-gang leader who always tried to deflect anti-Semitic violence with jokes. “We were tough Jews.”

Brenner’s grandfather was an Orthodox rabbi whose sons accompanied him to shul wielding bricks and bottles to fight the bigots. “Three of my uncles became rabbis and three became gangsters,” Brenner says. “And my father was not a rabbi.”

Lou Brenner was a bookie with steel-gray eyes who drank whiskey and smoked cigars. He was also the funniest person on earth, Brenner says. As a young man, Lou was a vaudeville comedian who came home one day with a Hollywood movie contract in his pocket. Lou’s father, the rabbi, nixed the deal. “He said, ‘You can’t work on Shabbat,'” Brenner says. “So my dad quit.

“But I remember going down to the pool hall with my father, the people gathering around him, screaming and laughing at his jokes. It was fall-down laughing… And on the way to the pool hall he would take me to shul. He went every morning to daven. He wore tsissis and carried a Bible.”

Lou was a man who cared about people, and David, as a young man, wanted to change the world. While still in his 20s, he made 115 documentaries on socially-conscious issues such as overspending by the Pentagon and poverty. He won an Emmy Award and headed the distinguished documentary departments of both Westinghouse and Metromedia Broadcasting. “I naively thought I could change things,” he says. “And then I realized people didn’t want to change.”

So Brenner, who had inherited his father’s penchant for comedy, tried his hand at stand-up in 1969. Two years later, he made his stunning debut on the “Tonight Show.” Within 24 hours of his appearance, he had received $10,000 worth of job offers. His career was well on its way.

Today, Brenner lives with his longtime companion, Elizabeth, a painter, and their two sons, Slade, 4, and Wyatt, 18 months. She takes the kids to synagogue while Brenner frequently performs for Jewish groups, including a recent fund-raiser for an Orthodox school. During an appearance at a Jewish event in Reno, Nevada, he quipped, “Jews in Reno? How did this happen? What, did your plane crash here?”

These days, Brenner’s comedy is more reminiscent of his socially-conscious documentaries than his “hair-on-the-soap” jokes. “I’ve come full circle,” says the comedian, who also takes pride in his highly-improvisational approach. “Anyone can study a script and perform,” he says. “But I write the material, ‘right now,’ live. Everyone in the audience will have a seat inside my comic brain.”

David Brenner will perform Nov. 5 and 6, 8 p.m. at the L.A. Cabaret Comedy Club, 17271 Ventura Blvd. Tickets are $10 plus two-drink minimum. For tickets, call (818) 501-3737.

A Battle With No Winners


The High Holy Day period that just ended is, for most Jews, a time of solitary reflection, aptly called the Days of Awe for its mood of confrontation with the Eternal. For some of us, though, it’s also a season for family togetherness, a cozy time to snuggle up with the ones you love most.

That, at least, is what billionaire investor Ronald Perelman seemed to be telling the judge in New York family court last month, just before he stormed out of the courtroom for the umpteenth time in what has to be the ugliest custody war in America.

Perelman and his third wife, Patricia Duff, are locked in an epic battle over the moral upbringing of their daughter Caleigh. Perelman contends that Duff, who converted to Judaism when she married him, is not fully abiding by their prenuptial agreement to rear Caleigh as an observant Jew. He wants certain guarantees from the judge, like keeping Caleigh with him until after Yom Kippur ends at sundown.

Duff insists she is giving the child a genuinely Jewish upbringing, even if it doesn’t meet Perelman’s expectations of Orthodoxy. She claims Perelman is simply seeking control, which wouldn’t be out of character. Both say they just want what’s best for the child. They’ve been at it for three years. Caleigh is almost five.

Religious custody fights are one of the rawest nerves in American marital law. They touch every religion, cutting to the very core of parental love and loss. In one landmark 1938 case in Amarillo, Texas, a mother contested the father’s sole custody on grounds that he was a Jehovah’s Witness. She claimed he wouldn’t let the child salute the flag or celebrate Christmas. The judge agreed, and ordered the child placed in an orphanage.

That decision was overturned on appeal. Thanks to it and others like it, courts now tend to let parents pass their values to their children unhindered. Most states give the last word to the parent who wins custody. The only limit is the child’s safety. One mother in Mississippi in 1977 had her custody challenged after she joined a snake-handling church. An appeals court judge ruled in her favor, saying there wasn’t much evidence the child would get bitten.

Even a prenuptial agreement won’t limit parents’ religious choices in most states. An influential 1989 Pennsylvania decision held that enforcing a religious prenuptial would violate “the First Amendment principle that parents be free to doubt, question and change their beliefs.” Courts now routinely permit parents nationwide to bring the kids to Mass en route to Hebrew school, or take them out for Chinese food after yeshiva. There are boundaries, though; in 1997, a Massachusetts court barred a born-again Christian father from teaching his children that their mother, an Orthodox Jew, was doomed to hell.

The exception is New York. Courts there routinely enforce prenuptial agreements, even when the parent’s beliefs have changed. That’s the core of Perelman’s case.

Looked at in the abstract, the Perelman-Duff case echoes some of the most painful dilemmas in modern Jewish life. Perelman, a prodigious giver to Orthodox Jewish causes, claims he’s fighting for his daughter’s Jewish soul. His lawyers suggest that Duff, despite her Orthodox conversion, never became fully Jewish. Duff, once a prominent Democratic fund-raiser, counters that civil courts shouldn’t be allowed to dictate a Jew’s level of religious observance, implicitly raising images of Israel’s religious pluralism battles.

But that’s in the abstract. When you get to specifics, this case is a one-of-a-kind doozy. Legal observers can’t remember a New York custody dispute this nasty or expensive. It’s already taken up most of Caleigh’s young life, and seems certain to scar the rest of it. Duff has been through 23 lawyers, by one count.

Perelman, 55, is one of the world’s richest men, with a fortune estimated between $4 billion and $6 billion. Associates describe him as domineering, acquisitive and “crudely charming.”

Raised in a Conservative home in Philadelphia, he’s become known for his passionate, if eccentric, devotion to Orthodoxy. He’s reputedly one of the biggest donors to Lubavitch. He’s also been known to throw parties featuring live actors posing as nude statues. Last winter, he reportedly flew a planeload of yeshiva students down to the Caribbean island of St. Bart’s, so he could have a minyan for Sabbath while reveling in the legendary topless paradise.

Duff, 45, is one of the most celebrated femmes fatales on the Washington-Hollywood glamour circuit. She’s been, by turns, a congressional aide and an aspiring actress. She reputedly introduced Gary Hart to Donna Rice. Even hostile interviewers feel compelled to comment on her beauty.

Duff and Perelman met in 1992. She was married, at the time, to movie executive Mike Medavoy, her third husband. He was married to gossip columnist Claudia Cohen, his second wife. They were wed in early 1995, a few weeks after their daughter — her first child, his sixth — was born. They separated 20 months later. They’ve been in and out of court ever since.

Religion is only half of their battle. They have a separate dispute raging over child support. Perelman pays $12,000 a month for Caleigh’s care, in addition to a reported $1.5 million a year in alimony. She wants the child support raised to $132,000 a month. She claims that since Perelman is a billionaire, while she is only a multimillionaire — she got about $20 million in the divorce settlement — she needs a little extra to give the tot a home life comparable to those visits with Dad.

Perelman dismisses the demands. He noted in one court session last spring that he fed Caleigh on $3 a day. That prompted a local tabloid to dub him “New York’s Cheapest Billionaire.”

In the end, if the Perelman-Duff battle teaches us anything it’s that you can have too much money. Both sides have spent endlessly on lawyers and publicists to ruin each other’s reputations. Perelman has accused Duff of taking Caleigh to an Easter egg hunt and baking cookies on Passover. Duff has accused Perelman of insisting Caleigh come for visits even when he wasn’t there. Court-appointed psychologists have testified that they’re both suspicious, self-centered tyrants. Nobody wins, least of all the child.

How the judge will rule is anybody’s guess. Some wags are suggesting the best path to follow would be the Amarillo precedent: send the poor kid to an orphanage.

Or better still, one legal expert suggests, send the parents.


J.J. Goldberg writes a weekly column for The Jewish Journal. Gene Lichtenstein is on vacation.

Changing Lives, Making Peace


Illustration from “Painting with Passion,” 1994. Photo-illustration by Carvin Knowles

Losing My Religion

Dear Deborah,

My husband and I have decided to get a divorce, and we have amicably worked everything out — finances, custody, etc. What has become acrimonious and ugly are our religious differences in raising our child, age 5. I am Jewish, and my husband is Christian, but neither of us ever took religion seriously until we had our child. We used to think that when the child got old enough, he would decide for himself.

How do we do this? We are fighting all the time. Can you tell us who, other than our attorneys, can impartially guide us. We each want the child to follow our own faith. Help!

Struggling

Dear Struggling,

One cannot be a Jew on Saturdays and Yom Kippur, and a Christian on Sundays and Christmas. Yet this is undoubtedly how it will play for your son after the divorce. So, although a mediator, family counselor or both may be able to “impartially” guide you, no matter what is decided, odds are that no one will be satisfied with the outcome because this is a question of fundamental identity and values, which, unlike time or money, may not simply be sliced in half. No one is going to win this one, but if you make this a contest, the biggest loser will be your son.

Place the focus upon your child, who is about to suffer a great loss and be forced to endure some difficult changes. The question is not about whether he will be Jewish or Christian, but, rather, how both parents may provide religious environments that are warm, informative and, above all, respectful enough to not engender turmoil, guilt or confusion.

Perhaps the simple truth is best for now: “Mom is Jewish, and Dad is Christian. You will learn a great deal about both religions as you grow up in each of our homes. When you are an adult, you will decide upon your religion, and we both will respect whatever you choose.” In other words, you probably have no choice but to