Collapse, shock, and loss have rarely been more literal, cruel, and swift.
Some children who lose both parents are luckier than others. Eleanor Roosevelt, whose parents died when she was eight and ten, was fortunate enough to be raised by a loving grandmother with whom Roosevelt was close until her grandmother died.
Herbert Hoover, whose parents died when he was six and ten, went from a grandmother to an uncle before settling down with another uncle, whom he resented.
In this country, five-year-old Miri Firstenberg, who lost her parents in the 1954 terrorist attack on a bus in Ma’aleh Akrabim, was the first with her grandparents, but they could not bear the emotional burden and were transferred to a kibbutz which, as he later observed, could offer nothing like parental warmth.
And in 2015, at the fresh graves of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin, who were shot dead by terrorists on the outskirts of Beit Furik, the grandparents said of the four surviving children, aged nine, seven, four and eight months: “ We will raise them together. “
This is not what happened to Eitan Biran.
EITAN ARRIVED in Italy when he was one month old, when his father, Amit, went to study medicine at the University of Pavia. Amit’s sister, Aya, a doctor, lives in Italy with her husband, Or, and their two daughters. The couple wants to adopt Eitan, who has known them all their life.
That is also the plan of Eitan’s aunt, Gali, sister of the dead mother who wants to raise the child with her husband, Ron, in Israel. “My sister Tal,” he says, “wanted to come back here.” Gali was joined in this quest by her father, Shmulik Peleg.
That gap alone reflected a kind of family dysfunction that this country had never seen in such circumstances, despite its extensive experience with grieving children. But then the plot thickened even more.
With Eitan hospitalized in Turin with serious injuries, local authorities declared Aya in temporary custody. Shmulik, who flew in from Petah Tikva, now resolved to restart the situation. Claiming that he would take Eitan for a day, he took the boy to Switzerland, where he had arranged the private plane in which he was now taking the boy to Israel.
This week, the Tel Aviv Family Court ruled that Eitan will be returned to Aya and Or in Italy, and that Shmulik’s transfer of Eitan to Israel violated the 1995 Hague Convention on the kidnapping of children.
Shmulik has just lost a daughter and a grandson, and now he has probably also destroyed his chances of having custody rights. Therefore, it deserves and has the sympathy of all. Even so, what he did was not only illegal but also immoral, just as his arguments are not only unconvincing but also disgusting.
“I DID NOT kidnap him,” said the grandfather. “I saved him.”
He was part of a line of defense that his daughter and others on that side of the family joined. In Italy, they said, Eitan would attend a Catholic school and be cut off from his Jewish roots and his Israeli identity.
That is, the actual kidnapping of the child is not the physical one for which his grandfather was placed under house arrest, but a spiritual captivity, a new version of the Edgardo Mortara scandal of 1858.
Back then, a Jewish boy whose maid he had secretly baptized was forcibly taken from his parents, who lived in Bologna, which was then part of the papal kingdom. The Vatican insisted that since the boy is Catholic, he must be brought up Catholic and did not budge even under pressure from the US and European governments. Mortara lived the remainder of his 88 years as a Catholic and died as an Augustine monk.
This is not what Italy has in store for Eitan. His family there is also Jewish and Israeli, and their cause is supported by the Italian Jewish leader Emanuele Fiano, but more importantly, they and the environment in which they live are what Eitan has known all his life. The home they offer her there is the least painful transition from her past to her future, a version of the warm home that awaited the Fogel children in Jerusalem when they left Itamar.
The grandfather’s statement regarding the legal situation – “I don’t understand about the Hague Conventions, I am the child’s grandfather” – is no less inclined, perhaps more, and sadly recalls his 2003 conviction of violent behavior towards his wife while they were getting divorced.
In short, the Italian side of the family has the strongest case. This does not mean that they are morally impeccable.
The suggestion from the Israeli side that the massive insurance payments Eitan deserves should be kept in a trust fund until he is 18 and then go to it, has yet to be added to Aya and her husband.
The accusation of Shmulik, who was sidelined when Aya negotiated his temporary custody with Italian authorities, may or may not be accurate. Yet it reflects the unfathomable failure of both families to put aside their differences and jointly rehabilitate the wounded child that God has placed between them without father, mother, brother and traumatized for the rest of his days.
As of now, the fact that both families do not jointly build Eitan’s future means that instead of becoming the cure for his trauma, they are the extension of his calamity and an embarrassment to all of us.
The writer’s best-seller, Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Madness, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist story of the leadership of the Jewish people from ancient times to modernity.