Is a Child’s Identity and Culture Meaningless?

Posted on September 3, 1999 In Press Releases

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the largest mainstream Orthodox Jewish organization with nearly 1,000 member synagogues nationwide, has been carefully following a custodial case in Genoa, Italy whose progress has proved cause for much concern. This custodial case, between a divorced secular Israeli father and an Israeli mother who is a Ba’alat Teshuva, has caused alarm in the worldwide Orthodox community due to the malicious characterization of Orthodox Judaism as fanatical.

The judgment rendered by the Minors Court in Genoa in the case of Daniella and Devorah Dulberg, who are ten and fourteen years old respectively, will, in essence, separate these two young Israeli girls from their Israeli culture and religious heritage, forcing upon them a secular way of life against their will. Most shocking, this court decision was based on little more than the baseless vilification of traditional Judaism. Among the Court’s rulings is a prohibition against the girls speaking Hebrew, even to their own mother, and the demand that they attend an Italian school. The court ruling provides absolutely no exposure to their Israeli identity. Daniella and Devorah will be prevented from having any connection to their Jewish traditions, with which they identify deeply.

We are dismayed by the Genoa court’s denial of the girls’ basic rights. The judicial proceedings, in direct contravention to many provisions of the UN International Convention on the Rights of the Child, demonstrated the most callous treatment of these children, with an apparent disregard of their commitment to Judaism. This outrageous violation of the basic right to freedom of religion is unbefitting a public institution that should represent an enlightened and modern democracy. We have been appalled by the anti-religious attitudes and conduct of the court which have ridiculed Orthodox Jewish practices and attempted to depict Orthodox Judaism as a “strange cult.”

This dangerous precedent of attempting to deprive an Orthodox mother of custody of her children in a court of law has serious implications on future court cases, not only those that involve custody battles. Among the confounding procedures of the court was the refusal to admit the evidence of prominent and distinguished Israeli legal scholars as well as that of the Chief Rabbi of Genoa, who was barred from the court proceedings. Not even the girls’ grandparents were allowed to appear and testify — according to the court’s decision, they will only be allowed to speak to the children twice a month and are forbidden to speak to them in Hebrew.

With this and other similar rulings, the Court’s decision separates the children from their family and friends in Israel, a severe human rights violation which defies universal standards of decency and fairness. In their father’s custody, they will not be allowed to speak Hebrew, will not be able to practice their Jewish traditions or have the benefit of a Jewish education and will be forced to “re-enter models of cultural life and alternative conduct.”

The Orthodox Union strongly protests the decision rendered by the Court. It has very serious implications regarding prejudice against Orthodox Judaism and flies in the face of all values that enlightened, democratic societies uphold. In sympathy with the anguish felt by the Dulberg children, we call upon our members to act and write letters to Ambassador Francesco Paolo Fulci, Ambassador of Italy to the United Nations. Ambassador Fulci is a permanent member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and its Chairman.

Correspondence supporting the rights of the Dulberg girls should be sent immediately to the address below:

Ambassador Francesco Paolo Fulci
Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations
2 UN Plaza, 24th Floor
New York, NY 10017
212-486-9191 (Phone)
212-486-1036 (Fax)
E-mail at

For more information, please contact Betty Ehrenberg, Director, International Affairs & Communal Relations, at 212-613-8124 and stay tuned to