Sholom Mordechai is facing a 27-year prison sentence after being convicted in a show trial, in which prosecutors used a wildly inflated indictment, trumped up charges and unlawful legal tactics to secure a conviction.
Funds are being raised for a costly appeals process, and for a multi-faceted lobbying effort, to secure congressional support for a judicial review of a case that has come to symbolize prosecutorial abuse of power.
But the flaming injustice of this case was not what the three riveting speakers at Thursday night’s Lakewood women’s gathering focused on. Instead, Mrs. Rosa Hindy Weiss, Mrs. Leah Rubashkin and Rav Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro, in strikingly different ways, used the occasion to give tribute and to inspire.
The MC, Mrs. Bayla Stein, added an air of poignancy to the evening with her heartfelt words and divrei Torah.
A LIGHT SHINING THROUGH
Mrs. Weiss, daughter of Sholom Mordechai, shared a wrenching personal narrative about setting out on a journey to do the impossible: raising a small fortune to pay for her father’s legal defense after he was jailed without bail and all his property and assets were confiscated.
She traced her first bitter disappointments, going from door to door and coming away with only small amounts. “I remember feeding my newborn, exhausted and emotionally drained, staring at the suitcase at the foot of my bed, a large wheelie which we never really unpacked for months while we traveled around…”
Just when prospects seemed the most dismal, she said, a light shone through the darkness.
She described her encounter with Mr. Yerachmiel Simmins and Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz, who had never met Sholom Mordechai but warmly embraced his cause, as the turning point in the family’s ordeal.
Through its strong advocacy for Sholom Mordechai, and a steady stream of appeals and news articles, the Yated Ne’eman, led by Rabbi Lipschutz, turned a little known case into a strong grassroots movement. Tens of thousands of Jews have since adopted Sholom Mordechai as a brother, and are committed to gaining justice for him.
“I learned of the beauty of the Yiddisher folk,” Mrs. Weiss said. “Ashrechem Yisroel. How unbelievable the Jewish people are. There are none like them.”
“I met Yidden from all walks of life, all trying to help in whatever way they could. And whether it was fifteen dollars or a hundred and fifty thousand, their help came with such special brachos, such special kochos, such achdus!
“Hakadosh Boruch Hu must be loving this,” she said with a tremulous smile.
“HE WAS ON THE OPERATING TABLE…’
Mrs. Weiss evoked the scene in the courtroom four weeks ago, as Sholom Mordechai waited for the judge to impose a prison sentence, his family assembled in the gallery behind him.
“I sat next to my mother listening to the sentence being read… How did she find the strength to stay so calm? Here was my father on the operating table, as a death sentence was being handed down. He was jotting down his last wishes, looking straight into our eyes, giving us strength, a last lingering look that would have to last till who knows when…”
“These are my parents,” she told a visibly moved audience. “In the months after the raid, when things got so tough it felt unbearable, my father and mother would sit down, and the family too at times, and they’d learn Chovos Halevavos, Shaar Habitachon, and strengthen themselves.
“Because of that strength, my mother could tell her husband as they faced the frightening events of the past two years, ‘We’ve trained together for this for twenty-eight years.’
“Because of my father’s deep faith, from the witness stand he could calmly tell the prosecutors who are out to destroy him, ‘All I want in life is to serve my G-d.’
“These are my parents. Only people with this level of faith can hold their family together, so strong, so optimistic, so determined in the face of so much pain, waiting with complete trust for the day we can make a seudas hoda’ah.”
Brushing away tears, Mrs. Weiss thanked those present for their support, saying, “It warms my heart that my father is not just an example for me but for thousands of others. I am so lucky to be their daughter.”
I CARE ABOUT YOU
Rav Ephraim Eliyahu Shapiro, rov of Cong. Shaaray Tefilla of North Miami Beach, electrified listeners with a heartfelt address that hammered home the lifesaving importance of demonstrating an abiding care and concern for another Jew.
Citing the posuk of “Hashme’ini es kolaich, ki kolaich 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. Sometimes, the simple message of “I care about you” can overturn a life,” he said. It can give a despairing person a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
He recounted a stirring vignette of someone who reversed course in life and embarked on a journey of spiritual return after being shown unexpected sympathy and support from a Jew who witnessed his humiliation.
The speaker reminded listeners of the countless ways in day-to-day living in which a person can demonstrate “I care about you” to a fellow Jew.
He concluded with a ringing tribute to Sholom Mordechai, whom he called the “quintessential baal chesed,” the paradigm of a caring Jew in whose merit Hashem should be mekayeim “Tivneh chomos Yerushalayim,” the rebuilding of the walls of Yerushalayim.
LITTLE NODS, WINKS AND SMILES FROM ABOVE
In the final address of the evening, Mrs. Leah Rubashkin briefly revisited the harrowing events surrounding the government raid on Agriprocessors and the onslaught that left her family reeling.
She spoke of being humbled by the experience of being plucked from a position “where we had the zechus on being givers to a situation where we now are on the receiving end.”
She recalled a period of great blessing during which the Rubashkin family had the privilege of building up Postville into a community with two mikvaos, a shul that hosted so many diverse people and nuscha’os, yet remarkably remained one unified minyan. They also built a yeshiva, a boys cheder and a girls school.
Many of the institutions she and her husband founded have shut down in the wake of the government’s assault on Agriprocessors. Other parts of the once-flourishing community infrastructure are tottering.
“People ask me, how we are coping? I answer with two words: Shaar Habitachon.
Shaar Habitachon in Chovos Halevavos explains that when we put our complete trust in Hasehm, He responds. Hashem’s Hashgacha works hand-in-hand with a person’s bitachon, kemayim ponim el ponim. This is what keeps up going.”
Mrs. Rubashkin’s signature warmth and wit infused the room as she opened a window into a fascinating slice of courtroom drama that played out in the last few days of the state trial.
“We learned to recognize the small nods, winks and smiles that Hashem shows each of us along the way, little reminders that no matter how bad things look, He is running the show.”
One such “wink” appeared at the conclusion of the state trial, she recalled. The child-labor case was wrapping up and would soon go to the six-member jury. An individual who the defense had tried to empanel during jury selection, but who was selected only as an alternate, would then be dismissed.
“We sensed that this person saw the craziness behind the government’s arguments. We badly wanted him on the jury. But as an alternate, he would only be included in deliberations if one of the jury members dropped out.
“The trial slowly wound down to the final day. The case would soon be given to the jury – without the alternate. Suddenly one juror started to feel ill. ‘Do you want to be excused?’ the judge asked. Hope fluttered in our hearts. We held our breath, willing this juror to say, ‘Yes, I’m too sick to continue,’ so that the alternate would take his place.
“To our bitter disappointment, he said, ‘I think I can handle it.’
“But the judge decided to take a very unusual step. He was worried that the not-so-sick juror would suddenly need to be excused, leaving a five-person jury. In that case, the trial would end in a mistrial. No one wanted that.
“So he added the alternate to the jury and made it a seven-person jury. That extremely rare, last-minute decision by the judge was the ‘smile and wink from Above’ that filled us with hope.”
The alternate ended up becoming the jury foreman and leading deliberations to a sweeping acquittal: not guilty on all counts.
THE LONG ROAD AHEAD
Mrs. Rubashkin finished her talk to a hushed room by noting that what distinguishes this case is not her family’s bitachon – many people have bitachon, she said. Many go through challenges and come out stronger.
“What this case is really all about,” she said, “is the achdus and the ahavas Yisroel that has come to the fore. That Litvishe and chassidim, Lubavitchers, Satmar and Bobov, Skver and Belz, can all stand together on an issue. That’s truly G-dly!”
She described the heartwarming sensation of gathering all the letters that had been sent to Sholom Mordechai in prison, lifting his spirits with their messages of chizuk and caring. “Over 4,000 letters have come from children alone. Letters have come from countries and from schools around the world, crossing physical borders and religious roadblocks. From New York, New Jersey, Florida, California, Montreal, Toronto, Brazil, England, Argentina and Eretz Yisroel.”
Looking at the long and costly appeals process that stretches ahead, one is reminded of the words of the Honorable Bob Barr who addressed the massive Lakewood men’s asifa the Monday before.
“You must keep the heat turned up about the need for justice for Sholom Rubashkin. One rally, one gathering, one protest is not enough. His name has to resonate in the media, over the airwaves. No conversation should end without the words, ‘Sholom Mordechai must be free!’”
One can only echo Mrs. Rubashkin’s heartfelt closing words that in the zechus of the outpouring of achdus in our community, “the Aibishter should grant a geulah protis to each one of us and the geulah sheleimah to all of Klal Yisroel, bimeheirah beyomeinu.”