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We assign the first “Mothers of Valor” award to a mother who has been withstanding organized outrageous court-abuse and vilification since 1986:
Dr. Amy Neustein of Brooklyn, New York
We hastened to put up the first Mother of Valor award designation, even before our planning is complete for what we will be doing in the future. We start by giving a thumb-nail sketch of Dr. Neustein’s years of valor, which have earned her this well deserved award. Some time in 2011, after we have been able to raise funds for this purpose, we hope to host an event in Dr. Neustein’s honor, at which we will also feature some other significant contributors to the cause of bringing some relief, and justice, to court abused mothers and their children.
Amy Neustein, Ph.D., was married in the Orthodox Jewish faith, having come from a background of strict religious observance in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Rabbi Dr. Abraham Neustein (d. 2002) and her mother, Shirley Neustein (d. 2001) were prominent members of the Orthodox Jewish community where she was born and raised, and married.
Dr. Neustein married a medical doctor who still practices medicine in New York. The couple had one child, born in 1980.
(Since we have been approached by several individuals who insist that Dr. Neustein’s child will be emotionally upset if we honor Dr. Neustein on this website, we have decided, without assessing or judging the advice we have been given for veracity or even for logical consistency, simply not to identify the gender, name or current situation of the child. Accordingly, we refer to the son or daughter of Dr. Neustein simply as the “child” even though such person is obviously an adult now.)
Dr. Neustein and her husband, Dr. Ozzie Orbach, divorced in 1983. No lawyers were involved; it was an uncontested divorce. Dr. Neustein did not ask for child support and Dr. Orbach did not ask for custody; they agreed that the mother would have sole custody. Dr. Neustein’s husband also voluntarily gave her a religious divorce, known as a “get.”
For several years, Amy Neustein and her child lived with Dr. Neustein’s parents (Rabbi and Mrs. Neustein) in the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn where Amy Neustein had grown up. Whenever the father wanted to visit his child, he did so at the Neusteins’ house in Brooklyn (or at their summer house in Ellenville, New York). Amy Neustein tended to absent herself when her ex-husband visited their child because, as she testified later, she felt he was sometimes hostile or threatening toward her. Her mother, the Rebbetzin (Jewish word for a Rabbi’s wife) usually hosted the visits from the child’s father.
Rebbetzin Shirley Neustein, however, reported to Amy Neustein that on one of the visits, while Amy Neustein was out of town on business, she (the grandmother) saw the child’s father sexually molesting the child. As a result she ordered him out of the house, and he left.
Shirley Neustein, in a personal interview with Michelle Etlin some time before 1993, said that she had never wanted to take the matter to court. She and her husband felt that this kind of problem could be handled privately and quietly, so they simply arranged, with Amy’s consent, that all visitation between father and child after that incident would be in a public place, supervised by one of the grandparents, to prevent further problems. However, according to the Neusteins’ later testimony, the child resisted visiting her father even under such conditions. Soon after that, the father sued Dr. Neustein for custody, by filing for divorce all over again. (He later claimed that he did not remember that he had been divorced since 1983.)
At almost the same time, the Brooklyn child welfare system charged Dr. Orbach with child abuse – but also charged Dr. Neustein for having either failed to prevent the abuse (though she wasn’t present at the time) or for having made a false report of abuse (though it was her mother who had made the report, not she).
In October 1986, Judge Jeffrey Gallet removed the child from Dr. Neustein’s home and abruptly placed her in foster care under the supervision of Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, a private (but state-supported) agency in Brooklyn. Judge Gallet did this without holding a hearing to take evidence, or even giving advance notice to Dr. Neustein that her child might be taken away. He forced the six-year-old child into foster care by claiming that Dr. Neustein had missed an appointment with a psychologist (for an evaluation) in violation of a court order – although court papers show that no order was violated and that Dr. Neustein did nothing wrong. (The father had not yet had his appointment with the psychologist, either.)
The case then dragged on in Family Court for years, as Dr. Neustein fought for the return of her child. She testified in front of a New York State Senate Special Hearing in 1993 that there were “over 50 hearings on whether or not I had lied and not one hearing on whether or not my [child] was abused.”
In January 1987 the case was reassigned to Family Court Judge Leon Deutsch, whose law clerk, Shlomo Z. (“Steve”) Mostofsky would later become lay president of the National Council of Young Israel. Judge Deutsch’s conduct in this case came to the attention of then State Senator (now Governor) David A. Paterson, who convened special legislative hearings to investigate allegations of misconduct in the family courts, notably in the Neustein case. Paterson later wrote that he had been warned that his political career could be destroyed if he persisted in his investigation.
Meanwhile, Dr. Neustein’s belief that her own mother was telling the truth about what had happened to her child received further support. The child confirmed it to caseworkers, and one of New York’s leading experts on child sexual abuse (Dr. Anne Meltzer), stated in writing, after interviewing the child, her “strong reason to believe” that the child had been abused by the father on more than one occasion. The eyewitness testimony of Rebbetzin Neustein never changed or faltered, and there was no reason to suspect her of any evil motives.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Rebbetzin Neustein believed, heart and soul, that she was helping to defend her beloved grandchild. She was never accused of mental illness or other unfitness; her reputation for veracity and respectability was unchallenged until the day of her death in October 2001.
Nevertheless, sole custody was given to the father; when the child was finally allowed out of foster care it was to live with him. The mother’s visitation was strictly limited and supervised.
But we are not attempting to reargue the abuse case about a child who is now an adult. For the purposes of this web-page, we are particularly concerned about only one aspect of this long story: what we believe is incontrovertible evidence that Dr. Amy Neustein probably saved her child’s life. (We say “probably” because it is impossible to say a person WOULD have died at any particular time, only that they were in a life-threatening situation. Dr. Amy Neustein brought medical attention to her child during two life-threatening situations.)
Here is that story.
Since Judge Deutsch had decreed that Dr. Neustein was only allowed to visit her child for short periods, and that during those visits she was forbidden to take her child to her home (where the grandparents lived), Dr. Neustein needed to find a place to visit her child. Fortunately for her, Rachel Anolick (the wife of Rabbi Zvi Anolick), saw Dr. Neustein on television and was touched by her plight. She immediately offered to supervise the visits at her own house.
Judge Deutsch had also forbidden Dr. Neustein to seek medical attention for her child without the father’s express permission.
However, in the early months of 1989, both Dr. Neustein and Mrs. Anolick were extremely concerned about the child’s health, which they observed during visits. Basically, the child was growing skinnier and looking more undernourished at each visit. Ms. Anolick reported that the child was seriously underweight and appeared to be weak, dehydrated, ill and malnourished. Dr. Neustein was also very alarmed, but she was unable to get her ex-husband to agree to medical treatment for the child. (She later discovered that shortly before the fateful visit, a pediatrician had had blood drawn for lab tests, but the father, a doctor himself, had taken the blood sample from the pediatrician’s office with the promise that he would get it tested, which he did not do.) She consulted a doctor, who advised her to take the child immediately to an emergency room where, if the child needed medical attention, it could be given, and if not, the emergency room doctors would simply not admit the child.
Dr. Neustein knew two things. She knew that her child needed her to act without fear and trepidation, because the child’s life and health might be in danger. But she also knew that her act, in doing what was obviously needed to protect her child’s health and welfare, might be viciously punished by a court that had already victimized her at every turn.
Knowing these two things, and being a Mother of Valor, on March 30, 1989, Dr. Amy Neustein took her child to the hospital. The emergency room physician later described the child who was brought in that day (in a sworn affidavit) as “by far the worst case of emaciation I had ever seen.” He also swore that Dr. Neustein had acted appropriately in bringing the child for emergency treatment, which was immediately provided by the hospital, which promptly admitted her. Rachel Anolick described the child as looking, that day, “like a starving Biafran child.”
The child lived.
Several different doctors soon testified under oath to the seriousness of the child’s anorexia at the time Dr. Neustein brought the child into the emergency room. The child remained hospitalized for well over a month. Yet, amazingly, the necessity of the hospitalization is still being denied by many.
As she had feared, Dr. Neustein was savagely punished for her act, which had likely saved her child’s life. She was cut off from her child. Judge Deutsch ordered her visits indefinitely suspended and cut off all contact between mother and child. Those hostile to Dr. Neustein (in defense of the father or in defense of court personnel involved) seized upon this enforced separation to indoctrinate the child against the mother.
Dr. Neustein is paying a high price, to this day (and on this day) for the fact that she acted to rescue her child. And she is suffering the separation from her child to this day.
This did not stop Dr. Neustein from continuing to do everything possible to protect the welfare of her beloved child.
Three years after that hospitalization, in the summer of 1992, Dr. Neustein learned that the child was once again seriously anorectic and, in fact, had lost 11 pounds. Although she was prevented from even speaking with her child on the telephone, Dr. Neustein protested so effectively that a public outcry arose, and several New York politicians spoke out urgently on the issue, demanding that the child welfare system intervene to protect the child. Once again, the child began to recover and regain the weight that had been lost. Another dangerous situation was reversed by the actions of this Mother of Valor.
Protecting her child’s life was all that Dr. Neustein could do. She was still barred from all contact with the child. In addition, she learned that the child’s case was being “reviewed” by New York’s Fatality Review Panel, which normally only reviews deaths. Frantic, worried that somehow her child had died, she began to make inquiries, but her requests for information were rebuffed. For days on end no one would even tell her – not the father, not the child welfare system – whether her child was alive or dead. And to this day, nobody has provided a rational explanation of why the child’s case was referred to the Fatality Review Panel while she was still alive.
But, again, the child lived, thanks to Dr. Amy Neustein’s persistence, unselfish Herculean efforts, faith, love and fortitude.
Regardless of whether anybody – honest or dishonest, powerful or powerless, angry or compassionate, religious or secular – faults Dr. Amy Neustein for anything she has ever done before or after these two heroic deeds, she is to be honored and she IS HONORED, for these two deeds. She is our first MOTHER OF VALOR, and an example to mothers everywhere.
Controversy still rages around Dr. Amy Neustein. So be it. She has already won the most important battle that could ever have been waged:
HER CHILD IS ALIVE.