Archive for Judaism

Child Custody in Israel

*My first encounter with an Israeli occurred during my initial trip abroad way back in 1977.  I was eating at a youth hostel in Florence, Italy and met a young Israeli woman who wanted a male companion to hitchhike with her to Rome.  Although she was very independent this was a very practical consideration in those days because Italian men had the well-deserved reputation of having “wayward hands”.  The short term partnership went well and after a few hours we were able to meet with her friends, a group of  El-Al security agents, in Rome.  Spending a couple days with this group of “nice tough guys” I was able to understand the old saying-“five Israelis, six opinions”.

*Fast forward a quarter century to my first taste of a common European attitude toward Israelis.  It was my first post-divorce(from an Israeli woman-known as a “sabra”, a cactus sharp on the outside yet tender on the inside) Internet date.  I was finishing a very pleasant one-hour lunch in which it seemed this tall, attractive Dutch woman and I had a lot in common. After a lull in the conversation, she asked me, “So tell me a bit about your ex-wife”.  I was shocked that when I started with “She’s an Israeli…” the woman abruptly stood up and said, “I couldn’t possibly deal with an Israeli’s custody issues” and walked away like an Olympic race walker!  I was later to learn that among a majority of Europeans to be pro-Israeli automatically classifies one as anti-Arab and probably a bigot in general.

*Now, in regard to the above link, it is rather long but it does contain a good deal of common-sense child custody advice, amazingly starting with King Solomon’s decision in what was probably history’s first recorded child custody case.  The other very notable part of these paragraphs is that, just as Hebrew and Arabic are part of the same Semitic Language family, so too do these Chabad Society guidelines contain Muslim-like gender-based child custody elements: all children should be with the mother (with generous visitation and strict move away guidelines) until age six, at which time a boy goes to live with his father, while a girl stays with the mother.

*As with the other nations and regions covered in previous entries, Israel has its own peculiar set of demographics.  Its total population is only about 8.5 million, with 1.5 million Arabs(comprised of mainly Muslims and Christians) being part of that number.  Israel’s population growth rate is the highest in the developed world but much of that comes from its Arabs, the 20% of the population that is Orthodox and from immigrants.  Given the high influx of immigrants (and the difficulty of learning Hebrew, a language which, in its written form, omits vowels!), Israel has become a nation with one of the highest percentages of English speakers in the world: about 85%, which is nearly the same as Canada and higher than most EU nations.

*Israel more than almost any other nations has an unusual set of move away parameters. On one hand, it is geographically a small nation (especially if one excludes the almost one half of the total area which is the Negev desert) and it is only a 60 minute drive between its two largest cities, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  Thus, a domestic move away scenario (or visitation, for that matter) is not usually onerous for either parent.

*At this time we must say that one of Israeli’s greatest strengths, its high percentage of English speakers, opens the door to great global mobility, which can lead to some extreme move away situations. In 2008 I researched this topic in depth and found a very interesting website:  In that year I found that the number of US-Israeli child custody court cases was more than the US-Mexico, US-UK and US-Italy combined!

*In conclusion, let me go into one case from 2008 that vividly illustrates how, despite the existence of something called the Hague Treaty for international child custody (of which Israel is ostensibly a member) an Israeli-US child custody case can be, as the Brits used to say, “a sticky wicket”.  This case involves a California Jewish couple that had a young son and were in business together managing apartments. They both seemed to be relatively secular (or at least non-Orthodox) but wanted to take a year off in Israel to connect with the mother’s family (the father had no family there) and to have their son experience the culture and to learn Hebrew.  After the agreed-upon year, the mom decided that their real estate business needed immediate attention and she flew back home.  After a relatively short period, the father decided that he loved Israel and was staying, along with the son.  This of course was a great irony since the father had no familial connection to the nation and barely spoke Hebrew.  As I do recall, however, the boy had by then reached the “magical age” of six and this alone might have made it very difficult for the mother, no matter what Hague and American family law attorneys say on such matters. The bottom line, as I told my Temple University-Tokyo students two decades ago is that “demography is destiny”.  Many nations, especially in the EU, that signed the Hague treaty find themselves in a “demographic vise”, with fewer and fewer children to pay the retirement benefits for a rapidly aging populace. While Israel doesn’t fit the EU population model, it is surrounded by an often-hostile and very rapidly growing Arab region, which inclines it toward all types of self-preservation methods, including “holding their children tight”.



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