Exhaling deeply after each breath, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, blasted the federal judge that sentenced Sholom Rubashkin for what he called, “corrupt thinking” and a “corrupt way of acting." "What’s happening here?” Rabbi Perlow asked the over 1,000 men and women who gathered in The White Shul for a rally on Dec. 22 for the imprisoned former executive vice president of Agriprocessors. “This is not the European governments who persecute us. Who would’ve thought in this community of freedom and justice this could happen?”
Shining a light on Iowa
By Michael Orbach • The Jewish Star
Exhaling deeply after each breath, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, the Novominsker Rebbe, blasted the federal judge that sentenced Sholom Rubashkin for what he called, “corrupt thinking” and a “corrupt way of acting.”
“What’s happening here?” Rabbi Perlow asked the over 1,000 men and women who gathered in The White Shul for a rally on Dec. 22 for the imprisoned former executive vice president of Agriprocessors. “This is not the European governments who persecute us. Who would’ve thought in this community of freedom and justice this could happen?”
Equal parts rally and Jewish theater, the event raised $160,000 for Rubashkin’s legal defense team. He is currently serving a 27-year prison sentence for bank fraud. The event had been heavily promoted inside the local Jewish community by numerous local rabbinical figures who encouraged their congregants to attend. Several of the rabbis sat on the dais including Rabbi Yitzchak Knobel of Yeshiva Gedolah of the Five Towns, Rabbi Yaakov Reisman of the Agudah of Far Rockaway and Rabbi Naftali Jaeger of the Shor Yoshuv Institute. The podium before the dais was draped with a poster of the heavily bearded face of Rubashkin alongside an American flag.
The crowd rose in small waves before each approaching rabbinical dignitary.
“Can’t be caught in Brach’s tonight,” one man muttered to his neighbor.
The event was also preceded by a robo-call from Rubashkin’s daughter, Roza Weiss.
“We are so thankful for all the tremendous help and support… Your presence and participation are a tremendous chizuk to our entire family and enables us to continue the effort to free our dear father who we will be reunited with soon.”
With the exception of Rabbi Pinchos Lipshutz, the editor of Yated Ne’eman and the man primarily responsible for fund-raising for the Rubashkin campaign, the speakers struck a complicated note: Sholom Rubashkin was certainly not innocent, but he didn’t deserve the punishment he received.
“None of us says Sholom Mordechai is innocent in the way he and his business ran,” Rabbi Perlow said. “But there’s a shuir (measurement); there’s a gvul (boundary). There’s a way of looking into people’s behavior.”“No one is suggesting that he’s innocent” said Rabbi Eytan Feiner of the White shul who delivered the divrei Torah at the event, “[But] nothing at all close to the harsh sentence.”
During his speech, Rabbi Pinchos Liphshutz regaled the community with stories about Rubashkin’s days in Iowa that veered to hagiography.
“He was a melech [king]… that lived in a prefab house,” Rabbi Lipschutz said. “His greatest joy was helping others.”
Rabbi Lipschutz told a story about how Rubashkin was caught handing money to one of his employees behind the plant. The money, Lipshutz said, was to pay for the woman’s son’s funeral.
“He was like a tzaddik out of the story books,” Rabbi Lipschutz said.
While the crusade for a new trial for Rubashkin has garnered impressive signatories including six former attorneys generals and 23 congressmen, inside the legal communities the 27-year sentence was not viewed so surprisingly.
“The sentence is high but not ridiculously so or unprecedented,” Stephanos Bibos, professor of Law and Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania Law School told The Jewish Star at the time of the sentencing. “What’s driving this is a rather by-the-book application of the stiff white-collar sentences that were jacked up in the wake of Enron, WorldCom and other corporate scandals of the last decade or so. The $26 million figure drives this unless the judge looks for a way around it and here she didn’t. Other judges would try to squint harder to reduce the foreseeability or intended loss — that can be an unclear and contestable issue.
“The Midwest is just a pretty conservative by-the-book region when it comes to federal sentencing. Rejecting the pleas for mercy based on the sick kid and charitable works is pretty standard.”
Other members of the Rubashkin extended family have faced legal trouble in the past year. Moshe Rubashkin, Sholom’s brother, served a 16-month prison sentence for storing hazardous waste in his textile mill. In January, Rubashkin’s son-in-law, Yaakov Weiss, admitted to molesting a 13-year-old boy in a mikveh in Albany. Milton Balkany, Rubashkin’s brother-in-law, was found guilty of attempting to blackmail billionaire hedge-fund manager Steve Cohen in November and will be sentenced in February. Balkany was defended by prominent criminal defense attorney and Lawrence resident Ben Brafman.
The rally seemed to have hit their target with Elie Kahn, a yeshiva student from Shor Yoshuv who said he was planning on giving.
“It made a pretty strong impact,” Kahn said. “Klal Yisroel needs to show solidarity for the world to see that the Jews came together for Rubashkin.”
Rubashkin found a supporter in Wendy Weiner Runge, who flew out from Iowa for the rally. Runge, a religious Jew and mother of four, is on trial in Iowa for financial charges stemming from a state-sponsored film tax credit program.
“I have a keen understanding of what his family is going through,” Runge told The Jewish Star. “This is how they do things in Iowa… It’s happening again. They felt I was an easy target: a frum yid (Religious Jew).”
Her lawyer has already filed a motion to have the case dismissed, and Runge alleged misconduct on the part of the Iowa prosecutors. Runge’s case, however, has not garnered the same public support as Rubashkin, and because of the trial she is already hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. She believed it had something to do with who she is and the nature of the case.
“I’m a woman and I made a film,” Runge said. “My job is to do hishtadlus (effort)… [and] my hishtadlus is to do what I can do shine a light on the evil in Iowa.”