z3From The Other Side Of The Bench

By David J. Seidemann, Esq.

There we sat: me, my client, the religious scribe, three rabbis who were serving as the beis din, two more rabbis who were appointed as the witnesses, and another rabbi who was appointed as the messenger to deliver the get, the religious-divorce document, to the woman later that evening. It looked like check-in at the El Al ticket counter. The ex-wife-to-be had decided not to attend, so a shaliach, a messenger, was necessary.

We had convened at a lawyer’s office in Manhattan last week for the get procedure and, trust me, the lawyers and professional staff at that posh firm had never seen anything like this before.

But we were not alone. In the room with us were famed NFL quarterback Joe Namath, former New York Rangers star Mark Messier, baseball legends Hank Aaron and Pete Rose, and boxing champ Muhammad Ali.

Now, I know what you are thinking, and you are right. Of course they were not there in person, but all of their pictures were. We were in a room called the “champions’ room,” and the wall was covered from floor to ceiling with signed pictures of those winners, as well as pictures of other sports champions. It provided a perfect backdrop for what all of us there believed was a day we had thought would never come.

In fact, behind the sofer, the scribe, was a picture of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, inscribed with the immortal words uttered by sports announcer Al Michaels when the team upset the Russians’: “Do you believe in miracles?” This gathering was truly a miraculous event, an event almost five years in the making, and one with many heroes and champions.

The wife in this case had once been a practicing Orthodox Jew. She married my client and they raised two children together. Things happen, as they say, and the lady decided to abandon religious practice and adopt what some would call an alternative lifestyle. Obviously, that was a pattern of behavior that my client, an Orthodox Jew, could not tolerate.

At the onset of the litigation, when my client was represented by another attorney, the wife made accusations of domestic violence. My client was forbidden to contact the wife, and was not permitted to be alone with the children. If he could not find a supervisor, he would not see his children.

The father’s heartache over his alienation from his children was surpassed only by his heartache over the children’s’ alienation and distance from the traditional Jewish lifestyle they had observed.

A year or so into the litigation, I received a phone call from a local Jewish social-services organization inquiring if I would assume the handling of this case. The cards were stacked against us, as the wife had custody of the children and an order of protection keeping the father away. But these types of cases are my passion.

The children, who had once been in yeshiva, were now in public school. I filed a motion before hero number one, the judge who ordered a hearing. It was the wife’s contention, through her attorneys, that a yeshiva education was lacking compared to that of public schools, including but not limited to the fact that yeshivas do not teach tolerance of “alternative lifestyles.”

Enter hero number two, a local rabbi who teaches at a local Hebrew day school. He took the stand and delivered some of the most compelling testimony you have ever heard. He withstood vigorous cross-examination by the wife’s attorney and was able to defend Orthodox Judaism and yeshiva education beyond words. The judge was impressed and ordered the children back to yeshiva.

But things never go smoothly in my line of work, and certainly not in this case. Within the first week of yeshiva, the boy was expelled. A knife was found in his knapsack. How it got there is still in dispute. Use your imagination.

The boy was now back in public school, while his sister remained in yeshiva.

All the while, my client’s brother and the brother’s wife–and one of the most special families you will ever meet in this community–held my client’s hand, and their home served as a place where he could visit with his children, until of course accusations were made against them as well. They did not give in and neither did my client.

When it came time for my client to stand trial for his alleged threats of violence against his now ex-wife, the wife did not appear. Do you believe in miracles?

Another yeshiva was found for the boy but somehow that didn’t work out either.

Our refusal to capitulate on any issues and our refusal to take a plea on the domestic-violence charges had this case swirling in purgatory. We were crestfallen when the judge who had been handling the case was transferred to a different county. He had been most sympathetic to our point of view, as evidenced by his many rulings ordering the mother to re-enroll the children in yeshiva and to refrain from any actions that would sabotage their continued enrollment.

As a side point, I was walking on the street about a month ago and bumped into the judge who had been presiding over the case. He asked me how his yeshiva kids were doing. The judge, by the way, is Irish.

Then came an interesting offer from the other side. They would agree to remove the boy from public school if we would agree to remove the girl from the right-wing yeshiva she was enrolled at. Their offer was to place both children in a more centrist Hebrew day school setting.

Interesting proposal. I asked three well-educated and respected rabbis here in America and was told that this was a question I should ask Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman in Israel.

I flew to Israel and presented the entire case to Rav Shteinman, and I mean everything. Based upon his advice and ruling we made the deal, and both children are thriving in their new Hebrew day school. Do you believe in miracles?

It took us about another few months, but the orders of protection against the father vis-à-vis the children were dropped, and father and children have been reunited and have spent much quality time together.

The last details of the finances were smoothed out last week and the only remaining issue was the get.

The wife would not agree to use the beis din chosen by the husband, and so last-minute arrangements had to be made for a different beis din to convene. She also expressed her preference not to attend, so the more-complicated version of the proceedings ensued. Then the messenger and his entourage had to drive to a different borough to effectuate the service of the get upon the wife.

There are so many other little miracles that occurred along the way and so many heroes and champions. My client is a very blessed man. The friends who held his hand along the way, and the extent to which they extended themselves to him and his children, is nothing short of miraculous. v

David Seidemann is a partner with the law firm of Seidemann and Mermelstein and serves as a professor of business law at Touro College. He can be reached at 718-692-1013 or ds@lawofficesm.com.

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