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
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
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
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
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
Readers are urged to pray for Devorah Nitza bas Tali and Danielle
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(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:
(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:
Further information may be had by writing to
, or at
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: email@example.com
Ambassador Yehuda Milo, Embassy of Israel, Via Michle
Mercati 14, Rome, Italy 00197, Fax: 011-39-6-3619-8555