family · jews of color · Jews/Jewish/Judaism/Orthodox Judaism

Black Haitian Jewish Convert Loses Custody of Child After Conversion

Blogger MaNishtana is getting serious and asking people to sign a petition to help a black Haitian Jewish convert who has been treatly unjustly by child services both Jewish and non-Jewish and has lost custody of her son (“Let’s Sign This and Get Something Done”) it would seem because of her conversion to Judaism.

A fact: Anyone can call child services anonymously on a parent and make their life miserable. I had a relative who called child services regularly on someone she disliked to make her life impossible and get her child removed from the home. The child was repeatedly taken away and then put back in her mother’s custody when it was discovered the anonymous tips were unfounded. Sadly, I have called child services myself but never had the luck of getting a social worker who actually did anything to ameliorate the situation.

This is the kind of story you will have to tell yourself isn’t true because if you believed it, you’d realize just how screwed up ACS (the Administration of Childrens’ Services) and the foster care system truly are in New York City and you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself…or sleep at night knowing that this is what happens.

Unfortunately, as I have had personal experience with ACS (and a half-sister who went through the foster care system), I can tell you that this story MaNishtana has chosen to publish is not a tall tale or an uncommon one.
I had to fight for three years to get custody of my sister and every court date, I sat with parents and children who could tell you stories that would give you nightmares. I fought for three years as my 14-year-old sister inched closer and closer to her 18th birthday:
1. even after a court psychiatrist had proven my mother mentally unfit and I had proven that I was working two jobs to support us both (at only age 21)
2. even after ACS couldn’t spell any of our names right or get any information correct about us in their reports, they said they thought my sister should remain in my mother’s custody because we hadn’t proven that she was unfit or physically abusive though they had done very little to investigate our situation.
3. even after an ACS social worker gave my mother my home phone number (but luckily not my address, too!) after ignoring my careful explanations that I had had to get several restraining orders–“orders of protection”–against my mother since running away from home at 17 because she had threatened to kill me and stalked me for numerous years after. I had to disconnect the phone and the answering machine because my sister would sob and shake every time she heard my mother’s voice on the machine. I started having recurring nightmares too (I had them for years after running away and receiving graphic death threats from my mother) after hearing my mother’s voice.
3. even though we provided ACS with a 13-page document (size 10 font) that listed all the encounters my sisters and I could remember collectively of the neglect and outright emotional, mental and physical abuse we had experienced in our mother’s hands.
4. even though my (normally deadbeat) father who shared custody wrote a letter sent via Fedex to ACS that said my mother was unfit and I should be given custody (yeah, don’t ask me where he was the first 17 years of my life!).
4. even though plenty of friends and family were willing to testify to knowing about the abuse and my mother’s mental state (yeah, don’t ask me where they were while I was living in fear for 17 years of my life!).
5. and an ACS social worker told my 14-year-old sister that family was family and if my mother felt she had to keep beating us that was okay and my sister didn’t have it as bad as he had in Africa
6. even though my sister threatened to kill herself if returned to my mother’s home (and she had told ACS and the court of her first suicide attempt at age 10 which occurred right after I ran away from home at 17 and my mother threatened to kill all my siblings–not the first time she had threatened to kill them. My mother had also told my siblings to pack their bags because she told them that if she didn’t kill them, she would throw them away in the garbage with all their things).
7. even though it was proven by the aforementioned court psychiatrist that my mother couldn’t tell right from wrong.
After hearing about my story from my bosses at CosmoGIRL! magazine, Dateline NBC wanted to do a story about me kidnapping my sister and fighting for custody of her. I had to decline because if I was told by my pro-bono lawyers that it would seem like I had kidnapped my sister for the publicity and “money” even though Dateline NBC was not offering to pay me but only hoped to highlight the ills of ACS.
And during the three year custody battle, even though I went to the welfare office in person, my mother continued to receive welfare checks for the two sisters I had kidnapped and for years, my sisters went without healthcare and I had to take them to free clinics because my mother refused to turn over their Medicaid cards.
Years later, when young Alejandra Sanchez was beaten to death with a mop handle by her mother, I pitched a story (“The Wrong Side of a Mop Handle”) about how I too had been beaten with a mop handle by my own mother and only by the grace of G-d had happened to survive to escape and come back to help my sisters (but not my youngest sister which to this day ACS has been left in my mother’s custody), a prominent NYC paper said it wanted to print the story but was scared of the legal repercussions even after I faxed them copies of court documents that backed up everything I had written.
Now if this blog post combined with MaNishtana’s blog post doesn’t spur you to action to AT LEAST sign this petition then I don’t know what will.
A friend who read MaNishtana’s blog quickly wrote back, “This is unbelievable. It can’t be true.” I nearly cried. I wish it was with disbelief. I wrote back: “But how could anyone who knows the intimate details of what me and my sister went through doubt yet another equally horrifying story?” Because every single day, people choose to put their heads in the sand willfully while they stand idly by as children all over the world are beaten, raped and tortured and robbed of their childhoods, of their innocence. I know this because I have lived it.

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