Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Rubashkins - Jekyll and Hyde

Their charitable acts are legendary. Truly a marvel to behold. The Rubashkin family are heroes to a great many people they have helped - both privately and publicly. Here is just a partial description of what they have done:

Moshe Rubashkin has taken widows on trips to Israel and bought them vouchers to purchase clothes for the holidays. On weekday evenings, a group of unmarried young women gathers in his basement for a program he sponsors, called Nightlife. The Rubashkins fund religious schools for children in the neighborhood and support other schools around the country. For 46 years, the elderly Rivka Rubashkin has risen before dawn to manage the Crown Restaurant, an Old World deli where anyone can eat for free. On the Jewish holidays, neighbors say, Moshe crams 100 cots into his President Street mansion to accommodate out-of-town visitors who have no place to sleep. His wife cooks for everyone. For years, Aaron and Rivka kept the basement of their Borough Park home open so that homeless and mentally ill people could stay there.

And this - from the Village Voice - a news source that is hardly sympathetic to religious causes. I’m sure that this description just scratches the surface. Their charitable acts probably go much further, wider, an deeper than this publication has room to publish.

But is giving charity and doing charitable acts a reason to behave as badly as this family’s business enterprises has? I don’t think so. The constant stream of news stories coming out of Postville and Crown Heights these days is enough to make a grown man cry.

New information keeps coming out about how these people operate that is nothing short of sickening. I’m not even going to discuss their well known problems. Those stories have been discussed to death. I am talking about lesser known evils that have now surfaced but until now not well publicized.

As I’ve said many times every accusation is only that – an accusation – until it is proven in court. The Rubashkins deserve their day in court. But much of what is now coming out has already been in court and adjudicated. And it isn’t pretty. In previous businesses there were convictions of illegal storage of hazardous waste and writing hundreds of thousands of dollars in bad checks from an empty bank account! All dating back to the year 2002 and culminating in prison terms .

One of the most egregious things that this family did was to another religious family who was in competition with them.

Many of you may remember the name Miriam Shear. She came to fame when - while on a bus ride to the Kotel - she was brutally attacked by some of the Charedi thugs who live in Jerusalem. But that was not her first encounter with brutality. It was a brutality of another kind: The Rubashkins drove her own kosher food establishment out of business and her family into bankruptcy. Here are excerpts from her story in the Village Voice:

The regional representative for her Atlanta distributor, Hudie Lipszyc …warned her to get out of the kosher-food business, telling her, she says, that if she didn't, the Rubashkins would retaliate… "They are going to squash you," ...he told her that she was actually in danger.

Incensed, Shear told Lipszyc that not only was she going to ignore his advice, but she planned to open another store in Detroit.

She consulted with the (Detroit) vaad, the local rabbinical council there. ...Agriprocessors meat was also the main source in town. Shear wanted to obtain permission from the rabbis before opening up shop. …They gave her the go-ahead.

Before they were going to open the branch, Shear got another call from the vaad: The distributor was taking her to a rabbinical court. Shear called the distributor... (who) threatened to spread a rumor that the (their) Canadian chicken looked so clean because it was bleached, and that the meat she was going to sell didn't hold up to kosher standards. Once again, she says, she was told that the Rubashkins would "squash" her.

Soon, Shear's friends began to tell her about rumors spreading in the community: that her meat lacked kosher certification. Shear scrambled to get a certification letter from the Orthodox Union. She tacked the letter up in her store. But the rabbinical court made things difficult…

A month after opening, some distributors that she had lined up to stock the store with products suddenly stopped selling to her. Shear says they didn't return her calls.In July 2006, nine months after opening, the Shears shut the doors of their Detroit store. They were almost bankrupt. Their house went into foreclosure.

I have no problem with hardball competitive practices. But this goes way beyond that. It was ruthless. It involved lies and intimidation. It was disgusting and did not live up to the charitable reputation the Orthodox Jewish public had of them. It sounds more like how organized crime acts.

One might accuse the Village Voice of being anti Semitic or anti religious (although that remains to be proven). But I don’t think one can accuse Mrs. Shear of that!

But the Village Voice is not the only one talking. Here are some excerpts from The Iowa Independent. It is an interview of Stephen Bloom who wrote a book on Agriprocessors - published in 2000:

There are cultural practices that Iowans are not accustomed to that the Jewish Hasidim adopted. These range from paying bills to hygiene to how they kept up their property….

There are certain business practices that this particular company followed that were particularly irksome for locals, for state regulators and for federal authorities.

When the comptroller of the company told me that they were not going to pay their bills, that they were just going to wait and wait and wait, I knew this was not going to fly. And they are still doing it. Another appalling business practice is that many of the workers who were arrested and jailed and deported had paychecks that were never picked up. Those paychecks have now reverted back to Agriprocessors

The beef might be kosher, but that’s about it. The Hasidim at the plant probably care more, I think, about the well-being of the cattle they kill than the human beings that they employ...

Alcoholism is rampant. There are drunk drivers. There are guys that don’t know how to drive, and there are fender benders all the time. When I was in Postville this last time, there was a fender bender at 4 p.m. The guy who exited his car was staggering. I have to assume he was drunk.

This scenario is far cry form the reputation that this family enjoys in the religious community. It is almost as though the Rubashkins have Jekyll and Hyde personalities.

It seems like the end of the line for the Rubashkins. Their empire has indeed crumbled. What a sad fate for the beneficiaries of their charitable works and for all the Jewish people.