An ultra-orthodox Jewish community in London has launched a £1 million fundraising bid to finance legal battles against parents who want to take their children into secular society.
More than half of the fund was raised at a single event at the Bobov synagogue in north London, it is understood.
The money is reportedly used to pay for some of Britain’s “top barristers” to fight legal battles against parents who leave the close-knight Charedi community.
Some 1,500 people attended the fundraising meeting, called Rescue the Children Convention, in the Stamford Hill area of London.
A local rabbi letter wrote a letter in support of the event, stating the community wished to fight cases involving 17 children.
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“To our great pain, and our misfortune, our community finds itself in a terrible situation – 17 of our pure and holy children where one of the parents, God rescue them, have gone out into an evil culture, and want to drag their children after them,” wrote Ephraim Padwa, head of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (UOHC).
“This is a decree of apostasy and this situation has motivated our rabbis who are in Israel… to come here in a personal capacity to increase prayer and to gather money for legal fees, and to achieve this a convention has been organised of prayer and also to collect money.”
Posters and flyers, written in Hebrew, were seen advertising the meeting, where £600,000 (US$800,000) was raised for the fund.
Campaigners, some of whom are former community members, fear the fund will enable ultra-orthodox parents to win legal battles over child custody because they can afford the best lawyers.
A spokesperson for GesherEU, a charity supporting people wishing to leave Charedi communities, said child custody cases where a parent wants to give the children a secular education can be seen as a threat to the community.
“It is very common within the Charedi community for the religious parent to receive full financial support throughout the court process to ensure the children remain within the community. The parent who stays religious will receive fully funded solicitors and barristers with the sole intention of ensuring the children remain resident with the parent who stays in the community.
“The religious parent will be pressurised into filing for full custody and even lie in court so that the other parent is seen as ‘an unfit parent’ and lose custody/contact with their children.
“Often parents who leave will experience domestic violence as the religious parent will resort to threats and emotional and physical abuse to try and coerce their spouse to remain married and living within the Charedi community.”