The Novominsker Rebbe, Rav Yaakov Perlow, set the tone for the evening with an impassioned speech decrying the 27-year jail sentence meted out to Sholom Mordechai as “a terrible travesty of justice dressed up in legalities.”
“How can we be complacent?” he cried. “How can we distance ourselves? This is not how Hashem wants us to respond.”
He cited the Rambam in Hilchos Deios who explains how one must fulfill the mitzvah of ve’ahavta lerei’acha kamocha not only intellectually, but begufo, with concrete actions.
Quoting the posuk in Shemos that recounts how Moshe Rabbeinu sought out his enslaved brothers, Rav Perlow stressed that Moshe Rabbeinu’s response provides the blueprint for how we must respond to Sholom Mordechai’s plight.
His Pain Drove Him To Act
Rav Perlow cited Rashi on the words “vayar besivlosam” that underscores how Moshe identified with his people’s misery. “Nosan aino velibo lihiyos meitar aleihem,”Rashi says.Moshe focused his eyes and heart on his brothers’ suffering to the point where he was in anguish over it.
He did not content himself with assessing their situation while remaining personally aloof. He immersed himself in their pain and that pain drove him to act.
This must be our response to Sholom Mordechai’s bitter fate, to a prison sentence that is synonymous with lifetime captivity, Rav Perlow said. “Lo suchal lehisaleim, we cannot turn our backs on our obligation to help him.
“Our chovos halevavos, duties of the heart, must be matched by chovos ha’eivorim, duties of action,” he said. “Those duties can be reduced to a clear imperative: to give as much as we possibly can to help pay for the appeal that will, be’ezras Hashem, free Sholom Mordechai.”
Rav Perlow described the outpouring of support by tens of thousands of Jews who have attended rallies for Sholom Mordechai. “People outdid themselves in their tzedakah to support his legal defense. Our hischayvus cannot be less than theirs,” he said.
He reminded the assembled that six former attorneys general, and the country’s top legal experts and scholars, had protested against a life sentence, and had petitioned the judge for fairness. Their pleas were ignored.
When the punishment has no relation to the crime and no gevul, no reasonable limit, it is a mockery of justice, Rav Perlow said. “The Unites States is a malchus shel chesed, distinguished by its benevolence and its system of justice. For a judge and federal prosecutors to display such corrupt thinking in an American courtroom is beyond comprehension.”
The Rebbe concluded his address with a stirring appeal. “Who among us does not need rachamei Shomayim? There is no family and no individual in our community who has not been touched in some way by yissurim, lo aleinu. To merit Divine mercy, we must show mercy to one another. May our compassion and our efforts on behalf of others in their ais tzarah elicit rachamei Shomayim for all of us, and especially for Sholom Mordechai,” he said.
Standing Up For the Victim
Rabbi Eytan Feiner, rov of the White Shul, gave an inspirational and rousing address on the theme of ahavas Yisroel and responsibility for fellow Jews. He said that the Torah gave us the dimensions of Moshe Rabbeinu’s extraordinary humanity in a few brief episodes at the beginning of Pashas Shemos as a clear roadmap for how to navigate similar challenges in our own lives.
Whether in Mitzrayim defending a Jew from a cruel slave-driver or in Midyan standing up to the shepherds oppressing Yisro’s daughters, Moshe’s driving concern was to protect the innocent, even at risk to his own safety. That conduct illuminated for all future generations the level of ahavas Yisroel we must aspire to.
Rabbi Feiner urged the assembled to show solidarity with Sholom Mordechai by responding to the appeal, and to continue praying for his freedom as well as for Yehonosan ben Malka (Jonathan Pollard), Gilad ben Aviva (Shalit), and the two young men from Bnei Brak still imprisoned in Japan, Yaakov Yosef ben Raizel and Yoel Zev ben Mirel Risa Chava.
The Man Behind The Mystique
In a riveting address, Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz cut through the reams of words surrounding a high-profile case to give his listeners a profoundly personal glimpse of the man at the center of it.
People leaned forward in their seats as the speaker shared fascinating vignettes about Sholom Mordechai that opened a window into his personality, his legendary gemillas chesed, and how he endures yissurim that have wreaked such pain and destruction in his life.
Rabbi Lipschutz protested the lies used as a launching pad to destroy the former executive of Agriprocessors, and blatant falsehoods like those appearing in the Forward that continue to take aim at kosher shechitah and Orthodox Jewry.
That Can’t Be Rubashkin
In one of the most vivid vignettes, Rabbi Lipschutz related an incident in which, while chatting with a friend who had dropped by, he interrupted the conversation to take a telephone call from Sholom Mordechai in prison. The friend was impatient with the interruption and showed his annoyance.
Rabbi Lipschutz recounted the story:
“I said, ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s Rubashkin. He can only call at certain times.’ I put Sholom Mordechai on speaker so that my visitor would realize who I was talking to.
“Sholom Mordechai’s animated voice came across the wire. He was eager to tell me a vort. His speech was so full of simcha,you would think he was sitting comfortably in his own home. He is a man so full of life, his energy and joy are contagious. He tells over his vort with relish. He laughs at the punch line. There is nothing in his speech to tip you off that he is in a dreary prison, separated from his loved ones, locked up with murderers, drug dealers and thieves.
“I glanced at my visitor, but his annoyance had only deepened.
“Sholom Mordechai and I chatted a little more until his allotted minutes ran out. I wished him a good Shabbos, he wished me the same, and then he was gone.
“My visitor turned to me and blurted out, ‘How dumb do you think I am? You expect me to fall for that?’
“I was taken aback. ‘Fall for what?’
“‘A guy in jail doesn’t talk like that. If that was Rubashkin, he would have asked you what you’re doing to get him out. He’d be asking you if you wrote about him in the paper this week. He wouldn’t just be talking in learning. He wouldn’t be laughing so lightheartedly. You must take me for a fool. Come on. Who was it really?’
“‘I’m serious. It was Sholom Mordechai.’
“He was so floored, he just stared at me. As awareness dawned, he looked away, his eyes glistening. He finally whispered. ‘I always wondered what your preoccupation with him was all about… Now I understand.’”
In another telling vignette, the audience heard how Sholom Mordechai had made a withdrawal from the bank and was walking in the street with ten thousand dollars in cash. He passed a young man whom he recognized as an Israeli chosson bochur in the Postville Yeshiva. The boy looked dejected and barely exchanged a greeting. Sholom Mordechai drew him out. “Life can’t be that bad. Tell me what’s wrong,” he said.
The young man confided his tale of woe. He was supposed to have received a certain sum of money with which to pay for his chasunah and to start his new life with his kallah, but he had just learned the money would not be coming through. He was in despair. Sholom Mordechai listened quietly. He took $200 out of the envelope and gave the rest to the chosson. The young man peeked in the manila envelope and looked up dumbfounded.
“I think you made a mistake,” he stammered.
Sholom Mordechai smiled at him warmly. He said, “You know what? You’re right.” He took out the $200 he had kept for himself and placed it back in the envelope. “Here you go,” he said, pressing the envelope with the full $10,000 into the young man’s hands. And off he went.
[The grateful chosson shared this extraordinary episode with a close friend in Postville, who in turn repeated it to others.]
Spontaneous chesed of extraordinary magnitude, performed quietly, away from the spotlight, were Sholom Mordechai’s trademarks. But his largesse was not limited to needy individuals, Rabbi Lipschutz told his audience. It embraced the entire community of Postville, and far beyond the little town’s borders.
“He built and supported Postville’s one shul, Achdus Yisroel, and everyone davened there: Satmar, Lubavitch, Klausenberg, Litvishe, Sefardim, Ashkenazim, Americans and Israelis. Under his leadership, everyone got along. He founded an elementary school for boys and for girls and paid all the teachers’ salaries. Students went tuition-free. He started a yeshiva in town and paid all its expenses. He singlehandedly built a state-of-the-art mikvah.
“With the millions he made, he could have feathered his own nest. But he poured them into the community and into countless charitable organizations worldwide. Before Pesach, he would send someone the visit the shochtim, bodkim, rabbeim and other klei kodesh in town to scout out what they needed for Yom Tov. And then the delivery trucks would arrive. One family received a refrigerator, another a stove, a third one an air conditioner.
“People streamed to him for help from all corners of the Jewish world. His greatest joy was helping people. He never asked for anything in return.
“One would expect his home to reflect his wealth. But he lived in a simple pre-fab house at the end of an unpaved street. His door was never locked; anyone could come in at any time. As busy as he was, he made time for everyone. There was nothing worth stealing in the house. He didn’t even have a regular dining room set. Around his table were folding chairs.”
In The Best Of Times And The Worst Of Times
Perhaps the most revealing vignette was one of Sholom Mordechai in prison, stripped of his freedom, prestige and everything he once owned.
“When times are good, it’s easy to be an ehrliche Yid. But I got to know him after he was in jail,” related Rabbi Lipschutz. “This was after his conviction, when he was refused bail on the pretext that he might flee to Israel.
“He was going through torture that none of us should ever know. He saw everything he had built up over 18 years taken from him. He was mocked and vilified. He was cut off from his family. He was stabbed in the back by people to whom he had only done good. He was abandoned in his hour of need by fair-weather friends.
“When he heard his sentence read out in court, he made a Shehecheyanu for the opportunity to be mekayeim the mitzvah of bitachon under the most excruciating circumstances. His family was crying, and he was making a Shehecheyanu. He knew exactly what the sentence meant. He is a person of very deep and sincere faith. He flows with love, hope and trust in Hashem. He was that way in the best of times. And he is that way in the worst of times.
“At his suggestion, we began learning Chovos Halevavos on the phone. He knew Shaar Habitachon by heart. He doesn’t just know it. He lives it, moment by moment. We talk about emunah and bitachon. He lives it.”
To Protest A Lie
After briefly outlining the misconduct by prosecutors and the presiding judge who engineered the trial and 27-year sentence, Rabbi Lipschutz stressed the purpose of the evening’s event: to raise funds to pay for the costly work of the appeal, so that Sholom Mordechai is granted a fair trial and a chance to prove his innocence.
But that is not all, he said. “We are also here to protest a lie. The persecution and targeting of Agriprocessors and Rubashkin began with a lie that shechitah is inhumane. From there the lie mushroomed: Jews are greedy. Jews feed off the under-privileged. And as the lies took root and continued to grow, Sholom Rubashkin became the face of evil.
“When we fight for Rubashkin, we are fighting for ourselves. We are battling the ugly stereotypes which have victimized our people throughout the ages and continue to foment hatred to this day.”
All Jews Are Brothers
Rabbi Ephraim Eliyahu Schapiro, who traveled from Miami, electrified listeners with a heartfelt address that hammered home the lifesaving importance of demonstrating care and concern for another Jew.
Citing the posuk, “Hashmi’ini es koleich, ki koleich oreiv – Let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet,” he stressed the connection between the word “oreiv,” sweet, and“areivus,” responsibility.
When does Hashem have nachas from our davening and learning? When does he respond to our tefillos? When we ourselves respond with commitment and responsibility to a Jew in need.
When over 30 rabbonim and roshei yeshiva urge their mispallelim and their talmidim to attend a rally and set the tone for the evening by gracing the dais, that is koleich oreiv, Rabbi Schapiro said.
He said that the acid test for true areivus and ahavas Yisroel is when one cannot be tranquil if his fellow Jew is in dire straits.
Rabbi Schapiro concluded with a ringing tribute to Rabbi Lipschutz for his tireless crusade to raise community awareness about the injustice of the Rubashkin case and the dire need to come together to support Sholom Mordechai.
Applause swept the room as hundreds of people stood up in a heartening display of endorsement and solidarity.
“I Know Injustice When I See It”
The final speaker of the evening, Mr. Brett Tollman, former U.S. Attorney of Utah, who also served as counsel for Crime and Terrorism in the Senate Judiciary Committee, shone a spotlight on the many indications that justice was perverted in the Rubashkin case.
Although the hour was late, the audience snapped to attention. Questions about Sholom Mordechai’s guilt or innocence have roiled the Jewish community.
Tollman said that after many months of studying the Rubashkin case, his driving question is why a criminal investigation was warranted in the first place.
He said that the 163-count indictment against Rubashkin was unprecedented in legal annals of white-collar crime. Far from reflecting an extraordinary number of actual crimes, the indictment – and the act of returning to the grand jury seven times to pump up the number of counts – was unreasonable. These tactics were used to stretch just two allegations into 163.
The aim, he said, was to exert unbearable pressure on the defendant to plead guilty.
Tollman said that the two allegations against Sholom Mordechai were that he harbored undocumented immigrants – a case that would have, in all likelihood, fallen apart had it gone to trial – and that he overstated his ability to pay off his loans.
No Grounds For Fraud
The former U.S. attorney challenged the grounds for pinning Sholom Mordechai with fraud charges, because fraud implies intent to cheat. With the company making timely payments on its loan to the bank and never exceeding its credit line, and with the absence of a “victim” in the case, fraud was clearly not the intention here.
Where there is no intent to defraud, no unlawful pocketing of funds and no victim one can point to, fraud charges are unsupportable, Tollman said. But what of the fact that the meatpacking plant ultimately defaulted on its loans, causing the bank to lose its money?
Defaulting on a loan is not grounds for a federal prosecution, he said. “I believe that a well-intentioned businessman who makes a poor business decision should not be treated as a criminal warranting federal prosecution.”
In addition, he said, the government, by raiding Agriprocessors, driving it into bankruptcy and radically lowering its market value, “forced the company into a catch-22.”
Judge and Prosecutor Working Together
Even more troubling, Tollman said, is the evidence of unlawful ex parte discussions between the judge and the prosecutors. The extraordinary over-involvement of Judge Linda Reade in the strategy sessions leading up to the ICE raid, and the arrest of Sholom Mordechai, cast a shadow over the entire criminal proceedings.
“In my ten years in the Department of Justice, I never encountered anything close to this level of cooperation between prosecutors and the judge in a criminal proceeding, Mr. Tollman said.
“One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to realize that the magnitude of the interactions in this case crossed permissible bounds,” he said, slamming the 27-year prison sentence as severely inappropriate.
The former U.S. attorney spoke of the right to a fair trial as central to a democracy. He stressed that “the very essence of the legal foundation guaranteeing due process and the right to a fair trial is that the executive and judicial branches of government remain separate.”
“In the Rubashkin case, the checks and safeguards that are supposed to maintain this separation were virtually non-existent,” he said. In the absence of a fair trial, a jury’s findings of guilt are meaningless.
“I am not a Jew, but I know injustice when I see it,” the former U.S. attorney concluded.
His powerful indictment of the unjust process by which Sholom Mordechai was convicted and sentenced brought the audience to its feet in spontaneous, prolonged applause.
The evening ended on a strong note of unity, hope and trust in Hashem that the final page of this bitter saga will soon be written with joy and gratitude for Sholom Mordechai’s vindication.