July 13, 2024
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Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin to Speak at Englewood’s Cong. Shomrei Emunah

On December 20, 2017, President Donald Trump commuted Rabbi Sholom Rubashkin’s 27-year prison sentence for bank fraud. An executive in Agriprocessors Inc., a kosher slaughtering and meat-production company in Pottsville, Iowa, owned by his father, Rubashkin never gave up hope that he would be released from a draconian sentence, unprecedented for the charges. In commuting Rubashkin’s sentence, President Trump cited support from a bipartisan group of more than 100 former high-ranking and distinguished Department of Justice officials, including six attorneys general, prosecutors, judges and legal scholars “who expressed concerns about the evidentiary proceedings and the severity of his sentence.”

Facts have slowly come to light indicating that the sentence was made unduly harsh by undisclosed conflicts of interest and machinations by the presiding judge in the trial and her husband.

Rubashkin is coming to Englewood’s Congregation Shomrei Emunah on Shabbat, November 9-10, to share what he learned during his eight years in prison about keeping his faith and his values. He will be speaking several times during Shabbat, including at an RSVP-only luncheon, on themes including “Finding Hashem in the Darkness” and “Overcoming Adversity with Simcha.”

Rabbi Menachem Genack, spiritual leader of Congregation Shomrei Emunah, and CEO of OU Kosher, certifiers of Agriprocesssors’ kashrut standards, said that his message goes beyond this case. “He has a story to tell of emunah and bitachon. I have known him and his family for years. I visited him many times in prison. He could have been crushed by his eight years in prison but he kept his yiddishkeit during his adversity and difficulty.”

His family never gave up hope for his release. In an interview with Hamodia, Rubashkin’s oldest daughter, Roza Weiss, said that after he was convicted, her grandparents gave up their restaurant in Crown Heights that had been devoted to giving people free food with dignity, and her grandmother decided to say the entire Sefer Tehillim every day. Weiss related that her grandmother “had such emunah and bitachon that he’d come home that when we broke the news to her she was totally unfazed. My aunt told her, and she simply said, “Yes, so when is he coming?”

Rubashkin’s wife, Leah, was similarly steadfast in her belief he would be released. The Chabad news website, www.Collive.com, reported that she carried her husband’s hat, white shirt and kapota in the car so she would be ready and prepared to get a call the moment he was released. It was a good plan. Rubashkin’s lawyer, Gary Apfel, told Ami Magazine that when he was given the go ahead to call Leah, “she was driving over the George Washington Bridge on her way home from Brooklyn. ‘Don’t go home,’ I told her, ‘just go straight to Otisville (prison). Sholom Mordechai is waiting in the warden’s office for you to pick him up.’”

When Rubashkin came home to Monsey, hundreds of people came by to wish him a mazel tov. He then went to his parents in Brooklyn, where thousands of people came to the home to wish him well.

Rabbi Genack said Rubashkin’s story resonates with people because the sentence was so harsh and the motivation was possibly anti-Semitic. “If you look through the papers, you’ll see how unfair it was and how he had bipartisan support for a reduced sentence. Rabbi Rubashkin is an honorable man who made some mistakes. The real crime was the prosecution.”

In a blog entitled “The Backstory of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin,” Rabbi David Eliezrie, president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County, California, who became involved in efforts to help Rubashkin, wrote that the trouble began when a union tried to organize the plant and Rubashkin resisted. He tried to mediate between Rubashkin and the employees but they dropped the negotiations. The union responded with unsubstantiated charges of unsafe conditions, child labor and animal abuse. Then PETA got involved as part of its campaign to outlaw kosher slaughter.

There was a “military style” raid on the company for its alleged hiring of illegal immigrants. Rabbi Genack said that “the shock-and-awe-raid, replete with a Black Hawk helicopter, guns and wholesale arrests, used resources that were far disproportionate to what should have been necessary for an adequate pursuit of their allegations.” He said that after the trial, Rubashkin’s attorney learned that Judge Reade, who tried the case, took part in planning the raid and should have recused herself. Also, her husband had been buying stock in a private company that owned the jail where illegal immigrants served their sentences, in anticipation of the raid.

Rabbi Eliezrie wrote, “The federal government had been informed a few months earlier that Agri began using E-Verify to ensure that new hires had thorough background checks. Employment practices at Agriprocessors were no different than a hundred other meat plants in the U.S. The only plant chosen for a military-style raid was the one who rebuffed attempts to unionize and happened to be owned by a Hasidic Jew.” Rabbi Eliezrie said he visited the plant shortly after the raid and found that it was “modern, clean and subject to government safety inspections. The dire conditions described by the unions and echoed by the social justice rabbis, PETA and the media, who had not visited the plant, did not exist.”

Contrary to reports of mistreatment of employees, Rabbi Genack said that Rubashkin was known for his chesed. In a blog titled “The Facts in the Rubashkin Case Speak for Themselves,” author Yomin Postelnik wrote that Rubashkin was known for paying medical bills for his workers’ children. He sponsored many youth organizations and helped numerous people, even giving thousands of dollars to a student who was getting married.

Rubashkin was exonerated of the charges but that did not deter what Rabbi Genack called “the prosecution’s win-at-all-costs strategy.” The government started looking for things. Rubashkin was charged with breaking a law for which no one was ever prosecuted—that purchasers of cattle must pay for them within a week.

Rabbi Eliezrie wrote that to secure a line of credit, Rubashkin reported receivables to the bank on a regular basis. The US attorney discovered that he had exaggerated the amount of the outstanding invoices. He had never missed a loan payment and the percentages he exaggerated were not excessive. Still, the prosecutors demanded that Rubashkin be forced out of business. The business went bankrupt and the loan went into default. The prosecutors claimed bank fraud and arrested Rubashkin. “They destroyed the business, an anchor of the region,” said Rabbi Genack. At his trial, Rubashkin said he came in to the businesses at his father’s direction, but was not a trained businessman and should have remained a teacher.

After his indictment, Rubashkin tried to sell the company but the prosecutor’s directive that forbade anyone in the Rubashkin family from being involved with the company scared off potential buyers. In an op-ed Rabbi Genack wrote in June 2010, he stated, “The family members were the ones who knew the wholesalers, the distributors and all the customers. Without being able to consult with those who knew the business best, the risk of failure for a buyer or investor was too great.” The “No Rubashkin rule” resulted in a fire sale, which in turn resulted in a loss for the banks and a longer sentence for Rubashkin.

One of the banks acknowledged the prosecution’s role in its losses. The president of Freedom Bank read the editorial Rabbi Genack wrote in the Cedar Rapids Gazette and wrote to Rubashkin’s attorney, “Today’s guest editorial ‘Overzealous Prosecution’ is the best I have seen. He only got about 10% of the government screw ups in there but it is a good start.”

Rubashkin’s lawyers filed a motion to vacate, set aside or correct the judgement in September 2013. The memorandum stated: “Following the trial, Mr. Rubashkin discovered, and presents in attached affidavits, that during his trial the government repeatedly concealed from him and presented affirmatively misleading testimony on the government’s direct forceful interference in the bankruptcy sale of Agriprocessors, which caused a diminution in value of the sale and a corresponding increase in the length of Mr. Rubashkin’s sentence. Further, the government withheld its contacts with Judge Reade where it attempted, ex parte, to influence Judge Reade by conveying substantive information about the government’s charging strategies and ongoing undercover investigation. Finally, the government appears to have withheld exculpatory evidence provided by testifying witnesses.”

Sholom Rubashkin did not get his sentence corrected but he did get it commuted. He is free and at home, although he was advised by his attorney not to comment for this article. He will tell the people who come to hear him speak that no matter how bleak life can appear, never give up hope, and always have bitachon and emunah. He is a living example.

For more information about Sholom Rubashkin speaking at Congregation Shomrei Emunah, or to reserve for lunch, visit https://www.shomreiemunahnj.org/.

By Bracha Schwartz


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