Love-tug mum nails rumourmonger ex-friend
BY PAUL HARRIS
TUG-of-love mother Beth Alexander, who is fighting in Austria for custody of her four-year-old twins, now knows the source of the untrue story about her mental health. It was that which led to a court granting her husband custody of Samuel and Benjamin after a flawed psychiatrist’s report concluded that she was incoherent, inarticulate, had disjointed thoughts and was paranoid.
Now Mancunian Beth, 29, who is divorced in Jewish law from her Austrian husband Dr Michael Schlesinger, has confirmed what she had suspected for the past three years — that her former Viennese best friend, herself an Orthodox mother of five, had tricked her into attending Ezra, a Jewish support centre, to discuss weaning her babies on to solids.
Unknown to Beth, the support worker had been briefed that Beth was suffering from post-natal depression, which she was not, and was the reason the appointment had been arranged.
In her friend’s presence, the worker confirmed that Beth was not suffering from depression. But in an emotional telephone conversation this week — their first contact for more than three years — the friend admitted that she had then told four other close friends that Beth did have post-natal depression and needed to support her husband.
The story spread throughout the close-knit Vienna Jewish community and gave Beth’s husband useful ammunition in his eventual custody case.
Her former friend says that not a day has passed that she has not thought of Beth nor regretted
what she did. She added that she had no idea why she did it. As we reported last week,
Beth is allowed to see her twins for just six hours a week and on alternate Sundays, but Samuel
and Benjamin are not permitted to stay overnight with her.
Beth told last week how the twins were a year behind in their educational development and had lost teeth which had become rotten. She disputes the fact that the children’s best interests are being served living with their father, but the court will not reverse its decision to allow the children to remain with him, maintaining that they are settled in his home.
This despite the court accepting new psychiatric reports contradicting the original report on Beth which suggested she was suffering from mental illness.
An appeal has been submitted to the Austrian Supreme Court by her solicitor, Dr Astrid Wagner, who told the Jewish Telegraph: “This is Austrian law. This is a case where only Austrian law is to decide and not in Britain.”
She confirmed that custody had been given to Dr Schlesinger based on the original psychiatric diagnosis of Beth. She said that the court should request a new psychiatric assessment of Beth, rather than base its decision on the original flawed report, adding: “Judges make mistakes in the UK, too.”
She went on: “This is a very special case. Mr Schlesinger is from Vienna and very good with the community and has many friends. She comes from Great Britain and Mr Schlesinger is from this society. It’s hard for a stranger, with language and so on.
“The longer the children stay with the father, it gets worse. It is not good to change their circumstances. When children are older, say 10 years, they go to other parents”.
She insisted: “I think it is possible I will win in the highest court. It is very important for Beth to see the children as much as possible.” She admitted that there seemed to be “some prejudices” against Beth.
Beth, who is forbidden by Chabad to collect her children from the kindergarten they attend, is also not allowed to attend special events, like Chanucah celebrations, in which they are involved.
Rabbi Jacob Biderman, head of Chabad Vienna, and director of the school, told me: “I don’t know if she is forbidden to pick the children up from school and they will probably be doing what the court have told them to do.
“I am extremely busy and not going to occupy myself with this story. I tried to do enough for Beth and I didn’t find her in any way to be thankful.”
He said he thought it would be “a very nice idea” for Beth to be allowed to speak to teachers about her children’s progress, although the school has barred her, based, she says, on an alleged lawyer’s letter which she has not seen and from whom she does not know.
Rabbi Biderman added: “Some time [she can speak to teachers] but not on such a pressure day as Thursdays. I’m so overwhelmed, I’m seldom in town, I have so much to do. “I really feel that someone should be helping her but someone who has time for it.”
He suggested that should be Austrian Chief Rabbi Paul Eisenberg. He maintained that Chabad did not support the father but added that he believed Jewish law said that, from the age of six, children should be with their father. “Personally, I believe that children should be where it is best for them,” he said.
Beth insists that Rabbi Biderman forwarded confidential emails to her husband and Constance Thau (a High Court judge) without permission. Rabbi Biderman said he did so because she probably asked him for something and he forwarded the documents to those he felt might help.
He confirmed that he had written a report for the court saying that the twins were faring well. Beth told the Jewish Telegraph that far from being ungrateful, Rabbi Biderman refused to speak to her, claiming he was “too busy”. Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister, community rabbi of Vienna, insisted that “as much as it seems like it”, he did not believe that there was any kind of conspiracy
working against Beth.
“I think it’s a rather unfortunate chain of decision-making processes. It’s very hard to know what can be done because the longer this custody case has gone on the more decisions that
have been made.”