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29 Kislev 5760 - December 8, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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World Wide Protest of Italian Court Custody Decision Against Two Jewish Sisters

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

An Italian court in Genoa and the Italian attorney general's office have recently behaved in a way that does not even give the appearance of fairness, as they gave custody of two young observant Jewish girls to their father -- a Jew who converted to Catholicism -- without hearing any of the witnesses for the mother. Duty, they apparently believed, requires them to "save" two Jewish girls from being raised as observant Jews.

Due to recent publicity about the case, the Italian Ambassador to the United Nations has received a tremendous amount of email protesting the Italian judge's decision to separate two Orthodox girls from their mother and force them to live with their practicing-Catholic father. The Embassy has even asked organizers of the email campaign, which includes the Orthodox Union, Project Genesis, and others -- to "let up." The Ambassador has responded to many of the emails with a form letter that Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblum, who has been active in the case, calls "nothing short of amazing."

The story began eight years ago when Tali and Moshe Duhlberg, native Israelis living in Genoa, were divorced and the mother was awarded custody of their two children, Nitzan then 6, and Danielle 2. Tali subsequently rediscovered her religious Jewish roots. Later she moved to Israel with her daughters and recently she remarried and moved to Bnei Brak. The girls were being raised in the warm and healthy community there, and they were flourishing.

Her former husband Moshe became a devout Catholic, and about the time of his conversion he demanded custody of the two girls, claiming that their mother's new religious lifestyle rendered her unfit to raise the children. The Israeli High Court, in accordance with accepted international custom that children are always returned to the state from which they left, ordered the girls returned to Italian courts for their custody decision on April 29, 1999. The Court expressed its "confidence" -- naively, it would turn out -- that the Italian courts would consider the girls' welfare.

Duhlberg, it is now clear, repeatedly lied to the Tel Aviv District Court and the High Court. But for those lies, the girls would not have been taken sobbing from their mother and sent to Italy. Duhlberg told the High Court that he would grant Tali the most liberal visitation rights and that if the girls could not adjust to being uprooted from their home, he would return them to Israel.

Most importantly, he told the Tel Aviv District Court that he had no desire to prevent the girls from being Orthodox Jews, and that he observed Jewish traditions and prayed every day. Every word was a lie.

Duhlberg has been baptized, and regularly attends mass and takes communion. The house in which the girls are imprisoned has crucifixes and madonnas prominently displayed. Duhlberg has forbidden Rabbi Joseph Momiliano, the rabbi of Genoa, to visit the sisters.

The subsequent custody proceedings in Italy, unfortunately, confirmed Tali's fears that adherence to an Orthodox Jewish life would be deemed prima facie proof of her parental incompetence.

It was clear in the Italian court that the girls' strongly expressed preference was to remain with their mother, who had been their primary caregiver since their birth. Yet the very vehemence of the girls' wishes was used against them and cited by Duhlberg's psychologists as proof of the brainwashing to which they were subjected by the "cult" into whose "clutches" they had fallen. Those same psychologists vilified and falsified Orthodox Jewish views saying that their life is cold and that they exploit children. They compared Orthodox Jews to everything from Serbian war criminals to cult members.

The Genoa court completely accepted these characterizations and refused to even hear any other perspective on Orthodox Jewish life. It refused to hear the testimony of official Italian rabbis and it refused to hear former Israeli Finance Minister and Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman, both of whom asked to be able to present their firsthand knowledge of Orthodox Jewish life. Many of the "findings" about Judaism of Duhlberg's psychologist were incorporated verbatim by the court without checking on their accuracy.

Upon the advice of the Italian attorney general, who intervened on the side of Duhlberg, the court entered a draconian custody decree virtually severing the girls from their mother and denying them any contact with their past life in Israel. Tali is allowed to speak to each daughter for no more than ten minutes twice a week, and only in Italian. Duhlberg is allowed to tape the conversations.

The girls are permitted to see their mother only three times a month, in a location designated by Duhlberg and in the presence of people chosen by him. Again, all conversation must be in Italian. Tali and her daughters last met in a room of six square meters, together with four "observers" sent by Duhlberg. The girls are denied the right to speak on the phone or to write to anyone besides their mother and their maternal grandparents without Duhlberg's explicit permission.

Duhlberg has separated the two girls from one another. He has forbidden them to talk in Hebrew or to have contact with anyone in Israel. He also prevented the rabbi of Genoa from speaking to the sisters or even to make kiddush for them.

In one surreptitiously written letter, Nitzan describes her father forcibly taking away her prayer book. When she continued to pray, he yelled in her ear that her prayers were worthless. Finally, she writes, "he grabbed my nose and mouth in a frightening manner, slugged me and pinched my mouth and nose and this really hurt me."

Not surprisingly, Antoinietta Simi, a prominent Italian psychologist who examined Nitzan's letters to her mother, found that despite the girl's "excellent intellectual capacity in analyzing and relating to the situation effectively . . . the danger to her mental balance or even her life, is real and imminent."

The following is a note written by one of the sisters: ". . . With the help of G-d, we will return quickly to Eretz Yisroel, we will meet Ima, who we miss so much. . . this whole [ordeal] will end quickly, with G-d's help. . . . Now we are like prisoners in a cage, but very soon, with the help of G-d, the cage will be broken and we will be able to fly. . . ."

Rabbi Rosenblum reports that Rome's "widely- respected Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Toaff issued a statement that sent shock waves through Italy and received front-page coverage, in which he censured the `bizarre' court decision removing the sisters from their mother and forbidding them to communicate with her in Hebrew." Rabbi Toaff demanded that the custody trial be held in Israel.

The author of a psychological report on the two parents noted that the girls' relationship with their mother was excellent, stressed the need for preserving an intensive connection with her, and described the father as "immature," "narcissistic," and prone to "uncontrolled bursts of aggression." He has threatened the older sister that if she does not comply with his wishes, he will have her committed to an insane asylum. Duhlberg attempted to convince the girls that their mother offered to renounce all custody claims for $10,000, and the younger sister has begun to believe him.

Rabbi Rosenblum writes, "Nothing can explain the absolute power the Genoa court has granted Duhlberg over Nitzan and Danielle other than its disdain for Jewish and Israeli life."

Rosenblum added that so far, Congressman Benjamin Gilman, chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Senator Daniel Moynihan, Yaakov Ne'eman, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Major Jewish Organizations, Rabbi Raphael Butler, executive director of the Orthodox Union, and Prof. Moshe Kaveh, president of Bar Ilan University, have all filed their protests with top Italian officials.

Italy has good reason to be sensitive to public opinion: Its UN ambassador, Francesco Paolo Fulci, is chairman of the UN Commission on the Child. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that a child has "a right to maintain personal relations and direct contacts with both parents on a regular basis."

Readers are urged to pray for Devorah Nitza bas Tali and Danielle bas Tali.

Those interested in taking a position on this issue may call or write the following:

(1) Ambassador Francesco Paolo Fulci/ Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations, 2 U.N. Plaza, 24th Floor, N.Y., N.Y. 10017. Phone 212-486-9191, 212-486- 1036 (Fax), or via email (

(2) His Excellency Ambassador Ferninando Salleo, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United States, Embassy of Italy, 1601 Fuller St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009. Fax: 202-483-2187.

(3) The Honorable Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, President of Italy, Pallazo de Cuirinale, Rome, Italy 00187. Fax 3906-46992384.

(4) The Honorable Massimo D'Alema, Prime Minister of Italy, Palazzo Chigi, 370 Piazza Colonna, Rome, Italy 00187. Fax: 3906-6783998.

Further information may be had by writing to , or at or

It may also help to write Israeli officials:

Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin, Ministry of Justice, 29 Salah A-din Street, Jerusalem, Israel 91010, Fax: 011-972-2- 628-5438 Email:

Ambassador Yehuda Milo, Embassy of Israel, Via Michle Mercati 14, Rome, Italy 00197, Fax: 011-39-6-3619-8555

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