NY triplets separated at birth for experiment seek compensation from Jewish group


(JTA) — Siblings from a triplet that was separated at birth and given up for adoption as part of an experiment are demanding compensation from the Jewish organization they say is responsible for it.

Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland and David Kellman were in 1961 separated at birth in New York and adopted by three different families with varying financial means for a controversial experiment that sought to determine to what degree personalities are shaped by external circumstances.

They were placed in foster care by the now-defunct Louise Wise Agency as part of a study by the Manhattan Child Development Center, which would later merge into the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

The triplets were brought in for evaluations periodically by Dr. Peter Neubauer, a psychoanalyst with the Manhattan Child Development Center, according to the report.

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“It was cruel; it was wrong,” Kellman told the Post, which recounted the triplets’ story in writing about a new documentary about them, “Three Identical Strangers.” Featured at the Sundance Film Festival last month, it was celebrated as one of the event’s most memorable works.

Galland committed suicide in the 1990s. Now Kelklman and Shafran are demanding compensation, an apology and additional details about their case from the Jewish Board.

The boys never knew of one another’s existence until they were 19, when a coincidence at a college in rural Sullivan County reunited Galland and Shafran. Kellman was reconnected with them soon after when he and his adoptive mother saw news coverage and realized that he was their identical sibling.

“It’s not like we didn’t have great parents — we did,” Shafran told the Post. “But they can’t play God and they did. And for that they should do something,” he said, underscoring his hope for an apology and monetary compensation.

Neubauer’s sealed study, which has long been housed at Yale University, was not released, and requests over the years by its subjects to unseal it were rebuffed. After the completion of the film, director Timothy Wardle said, some of the thousands of pages of the study were made public but they were raw and heavily redacted.

In a statement to the Post, the Jewish Board distanced itself from the study.

“The Jewish Board does not endorse the study undertaken by Dr. Peter Neubauer, and is appreciative that the film has created an opportunity for a public discourse about it,” the statement said. “The Jewish Board had no role in the separation of twins adopted through Louise Wise,” it added.

The Jewish Board employs more than 3,000 people and provides services in areas including mental health, early childhood development and domestic violence. The nonprofit organization is nearly 150 years old, and as of 2014 had a budget in excess of $200 million.