Reality is stranger than fiction
Julia was two years old when her parents divorced. Both parents were immigrants from the former Soviet Union whose difficulties with integrating in Israel and a lack of personal compatibility had destroyed any chance for their marriage. When they divorced, the mother took Julia and moved to the south of the country, 3.5 hours away from her father, which in effect made him almost irrelevant in Julia’s upbringing.
The divorce has been unkind to the mother and she became addicted to alcohol, finding it difficult to function as a mother. Sweet Julia was neglected, found several times wandering the streets with her blond hair disheveled and her clothes dirty until Social Services told her mother that Julia would need to go to boarding school. The father was not consulted, he just received a notice about it.
Meanwhile, in the north of Israel, the father made an effort to rebuild his life, found a permanent job and started a new family. With Julia, who was eight years old by then, he kept in touch over the phone and by visiting her at boarding school once a month. During summer break she stopped answering his calls and he was convinced she was with her mother, who normally did not allow her to talk to him.
As time passed, the father called the boarding school counselor who told him that Julia’s grandmother had taken her to Russia and announced that she was not coming back. If I had not listened to the recording of the conversation with my own ears, I would not have believed that a teacher at a boarding school run by the department of Education and Social Services could indifferently inform a father about his daughter's abduction to Russia. She may or may not informed the police and Social Services, but when the school year began and Julia was not in attendance, it was clear that Julia was believed to be the child of no one and that nobody would look for her.
At that stage, we filed a motion with the court, which issued a stay order against the mother and grandmother, preventing them from leaving the country, and declared Julia an abducted minor under the Hague Abduction Convention. However, the grandmother was already in Russia and Julia, who kept a relationship with her father by texting via WhatsApp, told him that she was staying with her 16-year-old cousin in a remote village near Moscow. The police officers who were sent to find the mother encountered a wall of indifference and lack of cooperation and did nothing about it.
Four months have passed during which the father was trying to bring Julia back to Israel, without any help from the authorities. It’s not like a case of an 8-year-old Israeli girl who was abducted to Russia justifies funding a lawyer in Russia to invoke the Hague Convention.
Last week, the grandmother tried to cancel the stay order we issued against her and so we found out that the grandmother had arrived in Israel to receive medical treatment and could not return to Julia. The father, who realized that no assistance would come from the authorities, decided to embark on a mission to bring Julia back to Israel. He ordered a plane ticket to Russia and went to the little village where she was staying. He knocked on the door of the small apartment for a whole day, knowning that someone was inside by the dog barks that came from within. Finally, the cousin came out of his hiding place under the bed, opened the door and Julia jumped into her father's arms. It turned out that Julia was left alone for two months with her 16-year-old cousin in a small apartment, with the poor supervision of relatives of the grandmother who were relieved when someone came to fetch her.
One can tell a whole new story of the father’s journey back to Israel with the abducted Julia, but this week he landed with her in Israel and since then she has held onto him and refuses to let go. This week we filed a claim for custody and a motion for interim custody until the case is decided.
To be continued.
2. Jacob and Kochava
When Jacob married Kochava, he was a 38-year-old businessman who lived in Texas and had accumulated quite a bit of property. It was clear to both of them that a prenup was a condition to the marriage and Kochava, who used to tell him that she loved him not because of his money, happily signed it knowing that she would take care of herself after the wedding.
He had dozens of apartments and she felt she was entitled to them. She gave birth to three sons and for each birth she requested – and received – an apartment as a present. Jacob loved life and enjoyed them to the fullest, lavishly and enthusiastically. He wasn’t concerned with his health. He was relatively young and rich and so he did not imagine something could happen to him.
At the age of 49, his excess weight overwhelmed his heart. His secretary found him lying dead in his office on the morning of a sunny Texan day. He left behind him in Texas a wife and three sons and in Israel a brother and two parents.
Already at the funeral Kochava began to talk about the parents' apartment. It turned out that Jacob had bought an apartment for his parents before he knew Kochava. She believed that the apartment belonged to his estate and asked his parents to transfer it to her. The bewildered and grieving parents, who loved Jacob so much and were so proud of him, found it difficult to deal with such conversations while mourning. They promised Kochava that their grandchildren, her children, would receive everything after they were gone.
But Kochava, who had made sure to issue a succession order in Texas according to which she was the only heiress, wanted the apartment for herself and did not hesitate. From Texas she filed in Israel a lawsuit against the bereaved elderly parents, motioning to recognize the apartment as part of Jacob's estate and transfer it to her. Sounds terrible? Wait, there’s more.
Jacob’s father, an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor who never set foot in a law firm or in court, felt that it was too much for him. His elderly wife found him dead and with him a letter explaining that the prosecution caused him too much suffering.
We asked to delay the legal process or at least for the court to grant an extension to file a statement of defense. Kochava refused and insisted on running the procedure without delay. Nevertheless, the court gave us an extension to file.
This week we arrived with the 82-year-old bereaved widow to the hearing. Kochava came from Texas, heartless and full of fighting spirit. She refused any compromise. I do not remember when previously I had felt so righteous, legally and morally, or had to argue in a case where blood had been spilled, but an hour and a half later the lawsuit was dismissed.