Rav Yonason Binyomin Weiss, rov of Montreal, then led the assemblage in reciting Tehillim.
Some were concerned that holding the event on short notice and in bad weather would hurt attendance. But as people streamed through the doors of the large hall where the event was held, it was clear that the Rubashkin saga has hit a deep nerve in this city.
“I can’t remember a time when so many parts of the Torah community – Satmar, Belz, Vizhnitz, Lubavitch, Sefardim, Litvishe, kollel yungeleit – united under one roof like this,” said Rabbi Yisroel Besser, a Montreal resident who was one of the volunteers who helped coordinate the event on the Montreal side. “Busloads of people from different neighborhoods…they just kept coming.”
The event chairman, Rav Shlomo Leizer Meisels, with great emotion, referenced the words of the Yismach Moshe, who states that when Klal Yisroel is unified for a specific devar mitzvah or dovor shebekedushah, it is a clear sign that the endeavor is a special one that is endorsed from on High. The Yismach Moshe quotes the posuk which states, “Kol hamon kekol Shakai.” “In a case like this,” said Rav Meisels, “The voice of the masses is indeed the voice of the Almighty. It confirms that Hashem approves and wants us to engage in this effort.”
Rav Meisels related the famous parable in which two good friends expressed their willingness to give up their lives so the other could live. The king, watching them each claim that they deserve the death penalty and that their friend should be spared began to cry and said to these friends, “Please let me join your group! Please accept me as a third member so I can experience this amazing bond!”
“We hope and pray,” said Rav Meisels, “that when Hashem sees this incredible, unprecedented outpouring of ahavas Yisroel throughout this entire Rubashkin saga, He will say, ‘My dear sons, I want to join you all in this. I want to be an active member in the Rubashkin rescue team.”
Rav Meisels, in conversation with the Yated after the event, paid homage to the Montreal community.
“The whole idea of a Montreal event came from the Montreal kehillah itself,” he Meisels said. “They approached us and begged to be given an opportunity to take part in this special Klal Yisroel project, and they sure didn’t disappoint us. The askanim worked tirelessly for this event. When we were driving up north on the day of the event and saw the snow falling, we were very nervous. We knew that it is only natural for such weather to keep people away. Walking into the hall, we were pleased to see that ahavas Yisroel just defies nature. Klal Yisroel is on another level.”
Winks And Smiles From Above
A day earlier, at the sprawling Crown Plaza Hotel about an hour away, over 1,500 women at a Montreal Bikur Cholim event had heard a stirring address from Mrs. Leah Rubashkin. Organizers were taken aback at the turnout, ascribing it to widespread sympathy in the city for the Rubashkin cause.
“I’ve worked with the Bikur Cholim organization for many years. We never had this many at an event. In fact, I’ve never seen such attendance at any women’s function in Montreal,” one of the organizers told the Yated in a phone interview.
Mrs. Rubaskin shared an intimate glimpse of the faith that unites her family as they await Sholom Mordechai’s vindication.
She described incidents of Hashgachah Protis – what she calls the “winks” and “smiles” from Hashem – that have illuminated some the darkest chapters in the family’s harrowing saga. One of those “smiles,” she said, is the overwhelming support that has come from the Torah community.
“Klal Yisroel – each and every one of you – has kept us going. The achdus and the caring, your tefillos and support, your letters to Sholom Mordechai… It means so much to us. It’s literally a lifeline,” she told her listeners.
“Even before Mrs. Rubashkin uttered a word, she received a standing ovation,” said the event’s coordinator. “People just rose spontaneously in prolonged applause. As she spoke, we saw that she had an incredible ability to rise above her pain, to smile, to laugh, to see a silver lining. We were awed. We wanted to reach out to her and her family.”
That heartfelt response spilled over to the broader community and helped generate the massive turnout at the men’s asifa the following evening. “People streamed in with a sense of purpose. The room was emotionally charged,” said Rabbi Besser.
Behind The Rubashkin Mystique: Hope, Love, Responsibility
Following the recital of Tehillim, Rav Pinchos Lipschutz riveted his audience with a captivating view of the man at the heart of the Rubashkin saga.
He shared fascinating vignettes about Sholom Mordechai that opened a window into his personality, his legendary gemillus chesed, and how he endures the yissurim that have ravaged his life.
“He is a man full of hope and love and responsibility. He is a simple person. A good person. A person who deserves the unprecedented outpouring of tefillah and tzedakah on his behalf,” Rav Lipschutz said.
Spontaneous chessed of extraordinary magnitude, performed quietly, was Sholom Mordechai’s trademark, the Yated editor said. But his largesse was not limited to needy individuals. 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.
“Before Pesach, Sholom Mordechai 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.”
With the millions Sholom Mordechai made, he could have feathered his own nest, but he poured the money into the community and into countless charitable organizations worldwide instead.
Persecution Began With A Lie
Rav Lipschutz pinpointed the libels that destroyed Agriprocessors and that continue to take aim at kosher shechitah and Orthodox Jewry.
“The persecution of Agriprocessors began with a lie: that shechitah is inhumane. It began with the lie that Sholom Rubashkin got ahead by taking advantage of the weak, by feeding off the underprivileged, by being greedy. And these lies took root and continued to grow.”
Framing the lies told about Sholom Mordechai in a broader context, Rav Lipschutz said that “when we fight for Rubashkin, we are fighting for ourselves,” for the popular tendency is to paint all Jews with the same brush. “We are battling the ugly stereotypes which have victimized our people throughout the ages.”
Urgency Of Pidyon Shvuyim
Rav Lipschutz highlighted the urgency of the mitzvah of pidyon shuyim, citing the Shulchan Aruch which rules that“ein mitzvah gedolah k’pidyon shvuyim, there is no greater mitzvah than rescuing a Jew in captivity.”
One who refuses to involve himself in themitzvah ofpidyon shvuyim, says the Shulchan Aruch, transgresses many negative and positive commandments. These include “Do not harden your heart,” “Do not be stingy,” “Do not stand by when your brother’s life is forfeited,” “Do not watch passively as your brother is severely mistreated,” Love your fellow Jew as yourself,” and many others.
Rav Lipschutz concluded by thanking those present for their solidarity with Sholom Mordechai and his family.
“When the story of Rubashkin will be written,” he said, “it will be as much about you as about him. It will be a tale of love and sacrifice, of generosity and devotion. It will be a story of unity. About brothers and sisters coming together for a Yid in captivity… The rich and the poor… The thousands who came to the rallies in Monsey, Monroe, Skver, Boro Park, Flatbush, Lakewood, The Five Towns, Miami and Lakewood. And all of youwho came tonight.”
“Immoral, Unjust, Totally Wrong”
Following Rav Lipschutz’s address, Attorney Mark Weinhardt shared fascinating details of the case.
Mr. Weinhardt said he had “never encountered a client with Sholom’s spirit who, despite crushing blows and the darkest scenarios, can still smile, tell a joke, and hold on to his hope and humanity.
“Sholom’s fellow inmates – people ‘doing time’ for drug-dealing and committing all kinds of violent crime – heard that he was sentenced to 27 years for drawing more money from his line of credit than he was entitled to,” Mr. Weinhardt told the audience. “They didn’t believe him. For such an offense you don’t get 27 years, they said. They thought he must be hiding his past… Did you kill or kidnap someone? That’s what they wanted to know. It made no sense.
“To cage for 27 years a man who had no criminal record and never personally benefited from what they accused him of… Lock him up with violent criminals, drug dealers, bank robbers, hard-core convicts?
“It’s immoral, unjust, totally wrong and cannot be allowed to stand,” Weinhardt said.
“No Reasonable Set of Jurors Would Have Found Sholom Guilty”
The attorney recapped the federal and state cases for the audience, and summarized the key arguments in the appeal. Many present were unfamiliar with the fact that the federal trial had been tainted by revelations of ex parte communications between the judge and the prosecutors, and that these were grounds to wipe out the trial.
In addition, Mr. Weinhardt said that the charges of money-laundering – which added 15 years to the prison sentence – were totally unfounded and are additional grounds to vacate the sentence.
“No reasonable set of jurors anywhere would have found Sholom guilty of this offense,” the attorney said. “According to the facts on record, he simply did not commit this crime.”
American Justice Violated
Mr. Weinhardt also explained that in the American system of justice, “a judge is required to look not only at what person did but why he did it – what his motives and intentions were.
Had the judge considered Sholom’s intentions – to provide kosher meat for the Jewish community, not to line his own pockets – and had she weighed “his legendary deeds of charity with his time and money, both within his community and outside of it,” the sentence would have drastically lower, Mr. Weinhardt said.
“Sholom was sentenced as if the money his business made went into his private bank account for Ferraris, pricey vacations and other luxuries,” he said. “That injustice must be corrected.”
Weinhardt drew attention to the gross disparity of Sholom Mordechai’s sentence by pointing out that a senior executive of the same lender bank Agriprocessors had dealings with was convicted of defrauding the bank of over $20 million. The sentence meted out to him? One year and a day.
“That Is Why We Are Fighting”
Mr. Weinhardt said that the American legal system, despite its faults, “gets to the right outcome far more often than it fails to, and that is why we are fighting.”
He said the goal is to bring the case before the Supreme Court, whose judges are unbiased and unafraid to overturn a federal judge.
He noted some encouraging statistics: In five recent appeals coming from the 8th Circuit on sentencing issues, the Supreme Court ruled that the 8th Circuit was wrong and that its sentence was too harsh.
And since 2004, the attorney said, in 75 percent of 8th Circuit cases the Supreme Court has heard on appeal, it has ruled the 8th Circuit was in error.
Weinhardt cited the chorus of legal voices raised in support of Sholom Mordechai’s right to a fair trial, including 60 law professors who have gone on record as saying that terrible errors were made in the prosecution and trial, and 6 former attorneys general who decried the 27-year prison sentence as unreasonable, excessive and absurd.
The attorney said he had “never had a client who had the amazing amount of community support that Sholom has” and doesn’t expect he will ever see such a phenomenon again.
Mr. Weinhardt urged those assembled “to join the fight outside the courtroom,” and to make their voices heard “from here to Sholom’s ‘tomb’ in Otisville, NY… from here to Washington, DC and across the country.”
“With your help,” he said, “we’ll get this one right.”
Rav Shimon Zev Meisels, who has addressed previous Rubashkin asifos, spoke about the extraordinary emunah and bitachon demonstrated by Sholom Mordechai before this entire ordeal and especially since he was handed such a daunting nisayon.
Rav Meisels added that with the money and support that we dedicate to this cause of pidyon shvuyim, we “buy” a portion of the unimaginable yissurim and bizyonos that Sholom Mordechai and his entire noble family have endured.
Commenting on the impact of the asifa, Rabbi Besser said, “At a certain point, the mood in the room changed from compassion to anger. People were incensed at the fact that someone in a legal mess similar to Sholom Mordechai was incarcerated for just a year. That fact highlighted the rank injustice and craziness of Sholom Mordechai’s sentence.
“They were angry – and there was just one thing to do with that anger,” Rabbi Besser said. “Write a check. And hope that with Hashem’s help, the best possible appellate team can be assembled for the appeal to the United States Supreme Court.”