(L-R) Norman Seabrook, Jeremy Reichberg Philip Banks,and Jona Rechnitz (NYP)
There is absolutely nothing wrong with community activists seeking to establish good relations with the police department. But when such good intentions involve breaking the law in the form of bribery and corruption - that is a horse of an entirely different color.
I suppose the intentions of Jeremy Reichberg and Jona Rechnitz were in the best interests of their community. But the best of intentions does not excuse wrongdoing in its cause. From the New York Post:
The gifts were lavish — Super Bowl tickets and vacations to China and London.
The favors were troubling — using NYPD cops to provide security for private cash and jewelry deliveries and police escorts for funerals and airport trips to transfer bodies to Israel.
New details emerged Tuesday in the FBI’s corruption investigation into the police department, including how deep-pocketed businessmen who were the original targets of the probe sought out high-ranking members who they knew could “get things done for them,” sources told The Post.
“They don’t go to police officers or detectives. They’re too far down the food chain,’’ a law enforcement source said of the politically connected businessmen.
“They go straight to the top: the [commanding officer], lieutenants and other top officials at the precinct,” the source added. “They get things done for them. All they need to do is make a call.”
The favors ranged from getting police escorts for their own business deliveries, to crowd control during Hasidic weddings, and even receiving special security when Torahs are moved, according to sources.
I’m sure that both Reichberg and Rechnitz did not do any of this to enrich themselves. (Although it appears they did use them for personal security in at least one instance.) Special security for Hachnasas Sefer Torah (when Torahs are moved) is a communal benefit. But that does not at all justify what they did. It is not only illegal, it reinforces the stereotype of Jews not willing to play by the rules - trying to unfairly influence public officials to benefit only themselves.
With these actions they arrogate to themselves superiority and wisdom over all other citizens that play by the rules… thus getting better treatment by the government (in this case the police department) than other citizens.
It seems like there is never ending barrage of wrongdoing by ‘the people of the book’. A people that should instead be role models of behavior, teaching the world that by emulating us, they will achieve the highest form of ethical behavior. Instead we have the opposite. Religious Jews using their wealth to buy influence from the police.
This attitude is probably a holdover from a Jewish history in Europe that is replete with antisemitism. Often in the form of violent pogroms. Or blood libels. Jews needed to buy influence from government officials over the centuries just to survive. Bribes were probably common fare back then. It was a necessary part of life in the corrupt world in which they lived. That mindset carried over in this country with Jews that immigrated here. They thought that you had to buy influence here – just like you did in Europe. That – they thought – was a way of life everywhere.
From the Forward:
“Historically, police were viewed as part of the oppressors,” said Ezra Friedlander, founder and CEO of The Friedlander Group, a political consultancy focusing on ultra-Orthodox clients. “It’s in the DNA of Jews…to show appreciation to the police, so if the community ever needs police protection there’s that camaraderie.”
Except that bribery is an illegal way of showing appreciation. And the more insular you are, the less likely you are to abandon this attitude.
Of course Jews are not the only ones trying to buy influence with public officials. But non Jews do not represent the Torah. Their acts are just as reprehensible – but they are embarrassing only themselves. When religious Jews do it they are embarrassing the entire Jewish people.
‘Look at what the Torah teaches you!’ would not be an unreasonable reaction to seeing obviously religious Jews being caught doing things like this. Thankfully, the majority of American people are not like that. They generally are not judgmental of the whole by the acts of the few. Judaism is still the most admired religion in America. But I can’t help but wondering how long this will last if that attitude won’t change as this kind of thing keeps happening. And that would be tragic!
It is not enough to say that these people took nothing for themselves and that it was all done for the benefit of the community. Besides, many of the things the police department will do for us along the lines they were bribing police for - does not require bribes. At least not in Chicago.
I refer you to Rabbi Moshe Wolf. This man is a walking Kiddush Hashem. He is a chaplain for the Chicago Police Department. He is as honorable as they come. He does not use money to get the police to help the Jewish community. He uses his extraordinary Midah of Chesed. He is there for any member of the police department – day or night – to help them in any way he can. The good will he has built up is palpable.
I am reminded of a story (which I may have mentioned in the past). It was right after 9/11 and Chicago Community Kollel head, Rabbi Moshe Francis, received an envelope with some white powder in it. There was an anthrax scare at the time, and the fear was that this powder was laced with it.
The police department was immediately all over his house. It was swarming with police. Rabbi Francis stood just outside his house as each officer entered. When they saw that he was a religious Jew, they immediately asked him if he knew Rabbi Wolf and commented what a great a guy he was. One after another – Jewish or not - each saying the same thing. Rabbi Francis did not know Rabbi Wolf at all but thought, ‘What a Kiddush HaShem he was making!’ He repeated this story at one of the Kollel’s annual banquets.
The Chicago Jewish community is well served by the police department here. When we need police escorts or protection it is there in spades. Because of Rabbi Wolf’s altruistic efforts we are viewed with great favor. This is what they should be doing in New York. They need people like Rabbi Moshe Wolf to influence them. Not religious Jews involved in corruption.