A letter from the president of the Vienna Jewish community, Oskar Deutsch, offering to help the British Jewish solicitor, Beth Alexander, to take part in the upcoming June barmitzvah of her twin sons, Samuel and Benjamin, has been denounced by a furious Ms Alexander as “a whitewash” and “a tissue of lies”.
Mr Deutsch wrote to the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, last week, offering to help Ms Alexander, who has been in prolonged dispute with her ex-husband, Dr Michael Schlesinger, since shortly after the twins’ birth nearly 13 years ago. The couple have fought many battles in court, during which Dr Schlesinger challenged Ms Alexander’s fitness as a mother, while she accused him of calling on his contacts in the Vienna Jewish community in order to impede her relationship with the children.
In his letter to Chief Rabbi Mirvis, Oskar Deutsch states that both he and “many members of our community, tried to mediate and find solutions” to the apparent intractable breakdown of relations between Dr Schlesinger and Ms Alexander. He writes: “The Jewish community did not participate in the court case beside the fact that many members individually helped her before, during and after the hearings”.
Ms Alexander describes this as “a complete fabrication. I never received help at any time. I was always alone with my lawyer. I asked people to come along as my witnesses. I asked my neighbour to come as my witness and she kept adjourning and eventually refused. People were terrified to say publicly that they supported me”.
She claimed that she had received phone calls from women whose husbands had told them they were not allowed to support her. “Everyone and anyone who tried to support me was warned off — I was left totally isolated [in Vienna] in a den of thieves”.
Ms Alexander said that the situation had developed “way beyond the barmitzvah. My latest application is to transfer sole custody [of the twins] back to me. We are looking for justice to be done, and those responsible must be held to account. To offer me a crumb, to be present at the barmitzvah, is an affront, it is insulting. It’s an insult to all my supporters who have written in their hundreds, pleading with [Dr Schlesinger] to bring the children back home to their mother”.
Oskar Deutch, after a conversation with Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis — who flew to Vienna in 2018 to try to resolve the situation — now says that everyone should “rally behind the immediate goal of helping Beth to participate at her twins’ upcoming barmitzvah”. He has told the Chief Rabbi that he personally has contacted Dr Schlesinger and reports that “he says he never declined Beth attending their sons’ barmitzvah and is still willing to allow her to see the boys within a framework both need to commit to”.
He emphasises that “the ruling over the children’s custody is a legal one and has been made by independent courts. The Jewish community did not participate in the court case… no president, no rabbi and no community official is able to influence or even overrule a court hearing”. Nevertheless, he says: “One cannot hear about Beth’s fate without being deeply touched… I feel her pain”.
In relaunching her campaign to gain custody of her sons, Ms Alexander has given power of attorney to a controversial religious figure, Rabbi Moshe Friedman, who is based in Antwerp. According to the Jewish Telegraph, he has staged a “dramatic intervention” and has pledged to “reunite” Beth Alexander with her sons.
The paper quotes him as saying that the Vienna Jewish community “feared his involvement in cases and described it as “a game changer. The community fear me. This is their worst case scenario,” he told the paper.
He has been involved in a number of high-profile court cases, notably one in which he sued after a school in Antwerp refused to accept his sons as students at a girls’ school. In 2006 the New York- born Friedman took part in a Holocaust revisionist conference in Tehran, organised by the then Iranian president, MahmoudAhmadinejad. But he has strenuously denied that he “played down” the number of those who died in the Holocaust and says that there is a “lot of smoke” cast upon him by various authorities.
Rabbi Friedman says he was Chief Rabbi of Vienna — “it’s an indisputable fact” — between 2002 and 2003. A list of rabbis of the IKG, (the acronym for the Vienna Jewish community), does not show his name; but Rabbi Friedman says the IKG went to court — and lost — a case which they pursued in order to draw a distinction between media references to him and the acknowledged Chief Rabbi Paul Eisenberg.
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