Agudath Israel is planning on filing a friend of the court brief on behalf of a Jewish mother whose two children were placed in non-Jewish foster care. The organization claims that Renssellaer County Social Services in upstate New York violated state law when it placed the two children — a 2-year-old boy and 6-month-old girl — in non-Jewish homes.
Rabbi Mordechai Biser, general counsel for Agudah, said that the children’s mother requested they be placed together in a Jewish home, a request the agency did not fulfill. When Rabbi Biser contacted the agency, it refused to move the children, despite the availability of Jewish homes.
“I’ve never had this before,” Rabbi Biser said. “I’ve dealt with a number of situations where children have been placed in foster care. Once we make a protest, within 24 hours the children have been switched [to Jewish] homes.”
Agudah, a multifaceted Charedi organization run by a council of Orthodox rabbis, is submitting the brief before the mother’s parental rights have been fully terminated. Part of the social service agency’s refusal seems to stem from the complexity of the case. The mother, who is Jewish and “has a very Jewish last name,” according to Rabbi Biser, is a heroin addict who lives in housing projects next to the Orthodox shul. The boy was placed in his foster family, a lesbian couple,a year and a half ago. Rabbi Biser said that the couple’s sexuality has nothing to do with the protest. “We would be objecting just as vigorously if the boy was going to live with a non-Jewish heterosexual couple,” he said. When the woman’s daughter was placed in foster care a month ago, the woman, with the aid of the community, requested that they be placed together in a Jewish home.
“A Jew has a neshama (soul),” explained Rabbi Leible Morrison of the Beth Tephilah synagogue. “They want to do the right thing even if they themselves don’t do the right thing.”
It is unclear whether the mother requested that the children be placed in a Jewish home when the boy was initially placed in foster care. According to Rabbi Biser, both foster families are planning to adopt their respective children, but they will only be allowed if the mother’s parental rights are completely terminated, which is before the court.