Dwek Faces Shunning, If Not Death
Solomon Dwek, the central figure in the FBI's arrest of five rabbis on money-laundering charges, is likely a pariah in the Syrian Jewish community that once praised his business acumen and philanthropic acts.
His own rabbi father spoke emotionally about the case to his congregation, while those who have been shunned in the past say Dwek will be ignored, spat upon, and even in mortal danger if he returns to the Deal area he once called home.
But a local Jewish community group said the allegations against a few should not overshadow all the good the Syrian Jews have done.
"One of (the) core values we embrace is a deep and abiding respect for the law," said the Sephardic Community Alliance, an umbrella group that includes more than two-dozen Syrian organizations.
In what sources describe as an extremely emotional speech at Deal Synagogue July 25, Dwek's father, Rabbi Isaac Dwek, strongly denounced the act of a Jew informing on other Jews, without specifically mentioning his son.
Rabbi Dwek then asked the community to pray for him and his family. Rabbi Dwek is head of the synagogue and one of the leaders of the local Syrian community.
Rabbi Dwek could not be reached for comment.
Other religious leaders arrested include Rabbi Saul Kassin, 87, of Brooklyn, spiritual leader of the Syrian Jewish community; Eliahu Ben Haim, 58, of Long Branch, principal rabbi of Congregation Ohel Yaacob in Deal; Mordechai Fish, 56, rabbi at Congregation Sheves Achim in Brooklyn, and Fish's brother, Rabbi Lavel Schwartz, 57. All were charged with money-laundering.
Acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra said the rabbis acted like "crime bosses," typically charging a fee of 5 to 10 percent for each money-laundering transaction. Sources have identified Dwek as the cooperating witness named in the criminal complaints. Thirty-nine others, including three mayors and two assemblymen, were arrested on charges ranging from bribery to attempt to sell kidneys.
Lawyers: Dwek misled rabbis
"Mr. Dwek was a student of Rabbi Fish, and Rabbi Fish thought of him as a son," said Michael Bachner, who represents Mordechai Fish. "He trusted him, and never in his wildest dreams would have thought that this student would have been involved in criminal conduct and would have attempted to manipulate or engage him in criminal conduct."
Nahum's lawyer, Justin Walder, said Dwek was "seeking to be absolved for his immense wrongful conduct by implicating another." Kassin's lawyer, Robert Stahl, also said his client was misled by Dwek.
Dwek was arrested by the FBI in 2006 on bank fraud charges after he deposited a phony $25.2 million check at a PNC Bank drive-through lane in Eatontown and then transferred $21 million to other accounts.
Long Branch resident Sandi Shapiro said she believes Dwek entrapped the rabbis by asking them for help.
"This is something that is really bothersome to me," said Shapiro, a real estate agent who said she is Jewish but is not a member of the Syrian community. "Not only did these people believe him and believe in him in his own community, they trusted him. I don't believe in corruption, especially when it comes to government, but for him to go to these people, with taxpayers' money, he gives it to them, he bribes them; it's entrapment."
Several posters on Web sites frequented by ultra-Orthodox Jews have labeled Dwek a "moser," or snitch, and called for him to be ostracized from the community, or worse.
"He is a filthy snitch and should be dealt with accordingly," wrote an anonymous poster on a Yiddish news site, Voz Is Neias.
Speaking July 25 on a Jewish radio program, Sam Hirsch, a lawyer and former state assemblyman from Brooklyn's Borough Park, said Dwek "should have been killed" after informing on other Jews.
According to an article posted on the "The Jewish Week" Web site, Hirsch later backtracked, saying he was referring to a concept of traditional Jewish law that called for reformers to be killed but that no longer applies today. Hirsch could not be reached for comment.
Shmarya Rosenberg, a former ultra-Orthodox Jew from St. Paul, Minn., who was excommunicated about 5 1/2 years ago, said Dwek will be ostracized from the community in which he once had such high standing.
Rosenberg, who said he was shunned after he questioned a Lubavitch rabbi about not doing enough to save Ethiopian Jews from persecution, said Dwek's actions are seen as much worse by the Syrian community.
"I don't think he'd be safe if he went back there," said Rosenberg, who runs a Web site, www.failedmessiah.com, which publishes articles that are often critical of ultra-Orthodox Jewry.
"They'll completely ignore him, they'll spit on him, call him names," Rosenberg said. "He'd walk into a restaurant and everybody would walk out. He's the worst of the worst to them. The code of Jewish Law says, you have to take people like that and shun them, and preferably, kill them."
Yet some leaders in the close-knit Syrian Jewish community have called for introspection and soul-searching in the wake of the arrests. On July 28, a hastily called legal symposium in Brooklyn's Borough Park drew an overflow crowd of ultra-Orthodox men.
The symposium included an emotional speech by Naftali Tzi Weisz, the grand rabbi of the Spinka sect in Brooklyn, who recently pleaded guilty in a separate money-laundering case.
According to an article from "The Forward," Weisz told the audience, "We must have to express our wish that these matters will never happen. We have to commit that in the future this will never happen again."
The Sephardic Community Alliance, an umbrella group that includes more than two dozen organizations, released a statement this week that was posted on the popular Syrian Jewish Web site www.symall.com. The statement says the group is taking "pro-active steps to deal with the situation," and notes that the allegations of wrongdoing by a few should not tarnish a proud and close-knit community known for its generous charitable donations and for taking care of its own.
"These allegations are profoundly troubling to us," the statement reads. "But at this moment we must remember that they are just allegations. If over time these allegations prove to be true, we must be clear that this conduct is unacceptable and that it goes against every value and teaching our community holds dear. We have worked hard over generations to uphold the values of the Torah and better the lives of our children, and one of those core values we embrace is a deep and abiding respect for the law."
Rosenberg said that he believes some good will come from the July 23 arrests.
"It's going to force some level of change," he said. "If nothing else, these guys will be a little bit more careful."
Here's video of Dwek passing a $25 million dollar bad check in 2006: