31 August 2021

Adoption in a time of family catastrophe in Italy and Israel

Amit and Tal Biran
with children Tom (L), and sole survivor Eitan (R)
Times of Israel

My late father Les was adopted. He was very happy to live with his aunt Sarah whose house was just around the corner from his biological parents and siblings. And he saw his brothers at school each day. But it wasn’t until Long Lost Family started on British tv in 2012 that the important questions were asked.

1. When his mother Annie was hospitalised for years, why did his father Solomon keep only the two teenagers and not the four youngest siblings under 10?
2. Of his mother’s brothers and sisters who fostered the four youngest children, why did the others eventually go back home but Les remained with the aunt?
3. Why did my father lose his proper family surname?
4. Did his biological mother still love him as much as she loved the other siblings?

Les passed in 2015, and I haven’t discussed adoption since. Now DUTA has raised the important issues anew. 

Let us examine the popular cable car that takes tourists from Stresa on Lake Maggiore to high on Mt Mottarone, in 20 minutes. Mt Mottarone reaches 1,491 metres and overlooks the pictur­esque lake and the Italian Alps in Piedmont. The dual cable system is split into two sections, 2+ ks between Stresa and Al­pino, then 3 ks between Alpino and Mottarone. The two cars each carry up to 40 passengers.  

ABC News reported that a mountaintop cable car plunged to the ground in northern Italy in May 2021, killing 14 people. The photos showed the cable car’s crushed remains in a thick patch of pine trees on Mt Mottarone. The Alpine Rescue Service said that the cause of this very serious accident had not been determined. In fact the cable line had had important maint­en­ance work, including changing the cabl­es, in 2016 and had only rec­ent­ly reopened after coron­avirus lockdowns. It appeared that a cable broke, sending the car careen­ing until it hit a pylon and the trees.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi condoled with the families of the victims, particularly the seriously injured chil­dren. Two ch­ildren were flown to hospital where the 10 year old died after card­iac arrests. The younger child, 5 years-old Eitan Biran, was cons­cious on arrival and und­erstood some Italian. His surgery stab­ilised multiple fractures, but had no idea about his dead parents. The hospital said nobody had contacted the hospital about him.

Searching for survivors and bodies
Sky News

Italian author­ities told Israel's Foreign Ministry that 6 Israeli nationals from one family had died. The 14 people who died on top of Mt Mottarone included Eitan Biran’s father Amit Biran 30, mother Tal Peleg-Biran 26, younger brother Tom, and great-grandparents Barbara and Yitz­hak Cohen of Tel Aviv. All five were buried in Israel a few days later by their devastated relatives.

Leap to May 2021 when The Guardian reported that an Italian judge has ruled that the three men detained over the cable car crash in northern It­aly could leave prison for now. Pro­secutors were invest­ig­ating susp­ected involuntary mansl­aughter and negligence. Perocchio and Nerini, own­ers of the Lift Company, were freed pending the outcome of the in­vestig­ation because, the judge wrote, there was no proof against Nerini and Peroc­chio yet. Tadini, the man in charge of operating the lift, was placed under house arrest.

Jewish Chevra Kadisha
Taking the coffins back to Israel

Now back to adoption. The Times of Israel reported that the Israeli family is fighting to adopt survivor Eitan Biran. His aunt Gali Peleg wanted custody of the orphan, claiming the aunt Aya Biran-Nirko in Italy is a stranger to him. Peleg was starting legal proc­eed­ings to adopt her nephew Eitan Biran; he has been living with an aunt from the other side of his family in Italy, since being released from a Turin hospital in June. Peleg, sister of Tal Peleg-Biran, accused Biran-Nirko, the Italy-based sister of Amit Biran caring for Eitan, of kidnapping the boy and prev­enting him from having a normal childhood. The boy doesn’t know the pat­ernal aunt at all, Peleg said at a press conference beside her husband and lawyer. She said short visits with the boy mandated by an Italian court had left him feeling as if he had done something wrong and they did not want him. In a few years he’ll look back and see where he grew up and who his parents were and it’s impor­tant that he knows that his family wanted him.

Though Eitan had some spent time in Italy, Peleg’s husband Ron Peri claimed that his Israeli parents had never wanted him to be there for long and would have wanted a quality Jewish education in Israel. He claimed that the family had only learned of Biran-Nirko’s existence recently and hinted that vast amounts of Go-Fund-Me money could have motivated her sudden appearance. Biran-Nirko is an Is­raeli who did her medical degree and post-grad work in Italy. Eitan suf­fered severe trauma in the crash and Biran-Nirko took on the temporary task of dealing with the hospital and his recovery. 

Since then Eitan was moved into his aunt and uncle's home in Travacò Siccomario nel Pavese. And an Italian court has ordered Ms Biran-Nirko to allow Eitan’s other aunt and grandmother to visit him as often as they can get to Italy. Bitter custody battles are losers for all the parties.

I am devastated by this story for two reasons. Firstly Joe and I, along with all the other medical graduate colleagues and their spouses, spent 3 years doing the House Year and Junior Residency in Israeli, British or European teaching hospitals. We too had two boys born overseas, exactly like Eitan and his baby brother, and brought them back to Australia before their schooling started. Secondly how will Eitan feel about the final adoption decision and will he have all his questions answered?


Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Dear Hels - a heart-breaking story and Eitan's childhood will be riddled with unanswered questions, the more so with the divisions between the two families. I do hope he will have a choice in the matter and not get any more conflicted than he must already be. A thought-provoking post .. thank you - Hilary

Hels said...


Yes indeed. I understand that in adoption cases, everybody wants to protect the surviving children from pain. But divisiveness and conflict is never going to reduce a child's heartbreak. Nor does not answering the child's natural questions.

Now something else occurs to me for the first time. I was always supportive when my father discussed his adoption, but is it possible that the next generation (me and my sibs) inherits the uncertainties?

bazza said...

I don't think that there could be any good outcome from this story - only a 'best' outcome. It's really heart-breaking to think of the near (and long-term) future for that poor child...
By the way, I never knew that you had a medical background!
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s contemporaneously cantankerous Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

Joseph said...

Hels Long Lost Family seems to say that no matter how wonderful a baby's adoption was, the adoptee still has questions when he or she is 30, 50 or 70. Even more so when the adoptee was not a baby.

Hels said...


I thought the photo of Eitan Biran (above) was so EXACTLY the same as my first son at 5, I immediately burst into tears. Even more so because we lived in a large Tel Aviv hospital during Joe's 1.5 years as a houseman, in the smallest doctor's flat you have ever seen. And although he was born in London, we always spoke Hebrew to our first son. By the way, he has lived in Israel since the late 1990s :)

Although the Italian-based aunt would do her best to bring Eitan up, imagine taking him away from his heartbroken grandmother and aunt in Israel, from his Hebrew language and from his Israeli school system.

Hels said...


I agree. Those who had happy adoptions, especially from infancy, don't want to change their lives but they do want to know about their roots. But children who had unstable adoptions, or were old enough to remember their parents well, have an entirely different set of questions to ask, and emotions to deal with. What a tragedy it was in Italy.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, What a terrible story this is, and while I do not understand all the international law and ramifications, it would seem that the child's nationality/passport would determine which laws would allow future custody, not simply the country of the accident. Incidentally, there is a scenic mountain cable car in Taipei, the Maokong Gondola, that is frequently shut down for maintenance, weather conditions, or other reasons. It seems that they are being super safe with it, although I suppose nothing can be totally risk free. Let's hope there are no more such accidents.

DUTA said...

I believe the families from both sides will do their utmost for the little survivor.
Perhaps, it would be better for Eitan's future that he grows up in Italy, Europe.
At this stage, it seems Israel and its region have little good to offer to the young generation.

Andrew said...

Always the questions, what is best for the child in the longer term and will the child receive love and sustenance, and in this case I offer no opinion.

mem said...

It is my experience that the trauma of one generation does affect future ones . I guess that biblical ? verse about the sins of the fathers springs to mind . We now know that this is probably via epigenetics . It also helps explain the problems endemic in the First Nations communities around the world.
I just hope these families can truly put aside their doubts and work together harmoniously to bring about a "best situation" for this child. No doubt there will be court cases regarding money to compensate for the loss of his family so it may be that this aggravates the narcissism in the families and actually hinders the healing . If I was in charge I would make it very clear that any money was to go into a trust fund that would NEVER be under the control of guardians and then see who stuck around.
I have some cousins who adopted a little boy very soon after he was born . His early childhood was great and his parents loving and aware but when he got to adolescence the wheels fell off for a while in pretty serious way . All is well now because he is back in contact with his parents and seems to have come through a terrible emotional crisis centered around his origins and why he was relinquished. He actually had invented a whole scenario as to why this had happened which was a dark dark story rather than accept that the truth was one of poverty and poor birth control. His parents were quite traumatized but they all seem to have come through this awful time and are in a goodish place now so I guess commitment won out in the end.
My foster daughter also has been traumatized by her abandonment by her Russian parents but has come to terms with the fact that her parents were living in a very different world from the one she now inhabits . I worked hard on helping to understand the history of Russia and Belarus at the time of her birth in an effort to get her to see that she was a victim of history rather than that there was anything at all to do with her as a human being. I think this helped her but I guess that acheing hole of uncertainty will always be there. I just hope the love of her family will always reassure her of her worth as a lovely human being .

Hels said...


agreed... but in the meantime, I believe the Cableway Stresa Mottarone needs to move quickly to find out what happened with the accident. And even if the Italian insurance already paid for the 14 funerals, they still need to sort the long term medical, surgical, counselling and legal services for Eitan.

Hels said...

You have it spot on! Your cousins adopted a little boy very soon after birth. His early childhood was great and his parents loving and aware, but when he got to adolescence the wheels seriously fell off. My thought is that the wheels fall off for most adolescents, even those brought up by loving natural parents.

How much more so when there is an issue associated with biological parents and adoption.
It seems inevitable that alongside the normal adolescent chaos, there is a unique emotional crisis centred around the adoptee's origins.

Hels said...


it is very relevant that Taipei has a scenic mountain cable car that is frequently shut down for maintenance etc. Just to give one modern example, the Swiss Federal Transport Office warned that 400 cable ways must take supplementary measures to ensure their safety, after chairlift fatalities back in 2008.

The three men in the Italian cable car disaster were released from gaol after a judge indicated blame rested largely with the service technician who intentionally disabled the car’s emergency brake because it kept locking spontaneously. But Italy is still waiting for a royal commission or a criminal court case to locate responsibility.

Hels said...


I hope you are correct that the families from both sides will do their utmost for the little survivor. He has a difficult enough future ahead of him, without family fights.

But if something terrible happened to one of my grandchildren, I would tenaciously fight to get him/her into my care. Most of my grandchildren live within 1 km of my house, so we can walk regularly and see each other.

Luiz Gomes said...

Boa noite. Cada país tem leis diferentes sobre o processo de adoção. Infelizmente algumas crianças são escolhidas pela cor da pele e dos olhos.

Hels said...


true... every nation does have different rules and standards for adoption. But for over a century adoption was always designed for the convenience and happiness of the adoptive parents. Especially since they were very often a childless couple.

Now it is vitally important that adoption be organised for the mental health and happiness of the adopted child.

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