A stirring event took place in recent weeks that drew together scores of Rubashkin family, friends and supporters for a seudas hodaah and hakoras hatov. The gathering celebrated R’ Sholom Rubashkin’s freedom and the dedicated askonim who supported him in his long struggle for justice.
It was an evening that showcased the raw power of achdus to unite and electrify a community, to break down barriers and to achieve redemption.
Intended as a private, low-key affair, it did not aim for media coverage. But some extraordinary features of this memorable evening and the timelessness of its core message deserve to be shared with a wider audience.
The roster of speakers included Rabbi Shlomo Leizer Meisels, tireless askon throughout the Rubashkin saga; Rabbi Simon Zev Meisels, prominent rov in Kiryas Yoel who addressed many of the “Rubashkin Rallies; Rabbi Menachem Meir Weissmandl, Nitra Rov and rav hamachshir of the Postville plant and a strong advocate on R’ Sholom’s behalf; Yated editor Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz; Rabbi Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin; Attorney Gary Apfel; Professor Philip Heymann, speaking on videotape from Boston and Rabbi Avrohom Malach.
The evening began with a live performance of the Unity Song, based on a music video created five years ago by celebrities in the frum music industry who pooled their time and talent to rally support for R’ Sholom Rubashkin. Many in the audience recalled the unprecedented fusing of musical gifts and passion that made spirits soar with the hope that a community united could accomplish miracles.
Now, so many years later, this same song echoed from joyous throngs of people clasping hands on the stage as they sang and swayed to the music, celebrating R’ Sholom’s miraculous release. With a radiant R’ Sholom and his son, Moishy, right in the center.
WE WERE FIGHTING FOR TORAH. FOR OURSELVES.
“Tonight we’re celebrating achdus. That’s a word that gets thrown around a lot,” Rabbi Lipschutz told the audience. “But achdus is not just a word, it’s something real. It was the achdus we askonim had for this cause, it was the achdus and unity we created in Klal Yisroel – an achdus so rare and unprecedented— that got Sholom Mordechai out.”
Rabbi Lipschutz recalled the beginning of the painful saga when the first incitement against Sholom Rubashkin began by an animal rights organization who cast shechitah as inhumane, and the allegations were quickly exploited by a hostile media.
“Ten years ago, we started on a long, lonely path,” he reflected. “Who could imagine then where this would lead? There was a war being waged; it wasn’t just a war against R’ Sholom Mordechai, it was bigger than that. It was a war against shechitah, against the Shulchan Aruch. It was a war against us. And it was being waged on the pages of the New York Times, Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal…”
“These papers were full of what we refer of today as fake news. ‘There’s a kosher slaughterhouse down in Iowa that’s a complete jungle,’ they said. And congressmen on television were talking about ‘an evil man who runs this company who treats animals cruelly, who exploits and hurts people.’
“These were pre-Trump days when people didn’t know about fake news. And they believed it.”
“You may not remember but around the same time, there were people calling one of the finest mohalim we have a murderer,” Yated’s editor continued. “These two campaigns were going on at the very same time. Shechitah is inhumane. And mohalim are baby killers. How could we not fight back? We were fighting for Torah, for halacha. We were fighting for ourselves. And yes, we were fighting for R’ Sholom Mordechai.”
The battle to strip aside the façade covering up the real issues and to explode the lies and misinformation played out for years in the pages of Yated, as the paper’s unrelenting coverage rallied the Torah community.
Rabbi Lipschutz asked rhetorically how it was possible for the justice system to ascribe all kinds of lurid crimes and vices to a man of unusual kindness and decency, whom even the simple folk of Postville recognized as “a man of G-d.”
“Because he ‘walked with G-d,’ G-d walked with him. He was never alone. Nor will he ever be alone.”
“The neis that freed him came on Zos Chanukah,” Rabbi Lipschutz noted, “so that we could clearly see the Yad Hashem in these events. Even in a time of afeilah vehastara, we were zocheto see light, to see a bit of the ohr haganuz which shines on Chanukah. And through the achdus we created, we were zoche to experience a taste of what the world will be like when bayom hahu yiyeh Hashem echod ushemo echod.”
“Look around,” he continued, indicating the dais. “Here in one room we have a rov from Kiryas Yoel, the rov of Nitra… Rav Kotlarsky from Crown Heights… Rabbi Genack from the OU… In one room.! Where else could this happen? Look at the askonim from all machanos. Look what Yidden can accomplish together! People say it can’t be done, we can’t overcome our differences. We proved them wrong. We have to know we need each other, we can’t survive in golus without each other; we can’t bring Moshiach without each other.”
Applause broke out as Rabbi Lipschutz pressed home his point. “…We have a living example before our eyes of the miracles achdus can accomplish, and what tefilla can achieve! We have a living example of what it means to be a Yid, a good Yid. What it means to be a chaver. And what it means for a chaver to never be alone.”
INTO THE LOVING ARMS OF KLAL YISROEL
“It’s an open neis that I stand here before you,” began R’ Sholom Mordechai, “when two weeks ago I was still in the degrading matzav where a person feels he’s just a number, an object. Coming from that cold, dark place into the loving arms of Klal Yisroel, the singing and dancing and Yiddishe varemkeit…I have no words to describe my feelings. I want to thank all the askonim for their great mesiras nefesh, all of Klal Yisroel for their tefillos and davening for me all these years. Thank you for the help and chizuk you gave my family, and the hachlotos many of you took on, often difficult ones, as a zechus for me.”
R’ Sholom shared his feelings about what kept him b’simcha in prison, even in dark times when legal efforts to obtain justice were defeated, “when problems started piling up… when the koachof rah seemed to have the upper hand.”
In the “Alef, bais, gimmel” formula [Emunah and Bitachon lead to Geulah] that the Rubashkin family has made famous, R’ Sholom said he found the strength to maintain his emunah and bitachon throughout the long years of his incarceration.
“A human being is so limited. It’s only when he connects to Hashem who is beyond limitations that a person is then capable of overcoming his natural limitations, and doing what seems impossible.”
“Emunah is knowing that He alone can help me. Knowing that the Ei-bershteh is kulo tov, even if I can’t immediately see the tov. Emunah is being able to say gam zu letovah when it seems bad, yet having bitachon that He will grant me not only hidden good but revealed good. That’s a big avodah. That is what kept me going.”
R’ Sholom offered heartfelt thanks on behalf of himself and his family to President Trump for “the humane and righteous action he performed” in commuting his sentence. He noted that “Hashemsends nissim and yeshuos through the worthiest people;” that to be chosen as His agent of good is the highest compliment to an individual.
IN CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA… FAR FROM THE CAMERAS
Attorney Apfel thanked the many individuals who helped from behind the scenes to bring this long-running saga to its happy closure. He lauded the efforts of many high-ranking former justice officials including former US Attorney Generals Edwin Meese, Ramsey Clark; John Ashcroft and Michael Mckasey; former deputy US attorneys general Larry Thompson, Judge Charles Renfrew and Philip Heymann; former FBI director Louis Freeh, Professor Alan Dershowitz and many others.
Mr. Apfel shared fascinating details of the extraordinary efforts by three former deputy US attorneys general, two in their mid to high eighties, to negotiate a private deal in Iowa –from the cameras— after explosive evidence of government misconduct broke open the case.
Professor Heymann, Judge Charles Renfrew and Larry Thompson had traveled long distances at their own expense to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where attorney Apfel working with attorney Guy Cook of Iowa (R’ Sholom’s lawyer in the 2009 federal trial) had coordinated a meeting with U.S. Attorney Kevin Techau.
There they would present the evidence that implicated prosecutors from Techau’s office in illegal, disreputable behavior in the Rubashkin case, and hope to strike a deal.
“Our message to the U.S. Attorney was, ‘We’re ready to bury this evidence, to never use it against your office in any way. All we ask in return is that you commute Sholom Rubashkin’s sentence to time served.’
“We divided the presentation between the four of us,” recalled Apfel. “Professor Heymann had the most difficult task.”
“Why are we here, Mr. Techau?” Professor Heymann opened the meeting. “None of us know Sholom Rubashkin. We’ve never met him. Why should we care about him, and go to all this trouble on his behalf? It’s because we care about justice. We’ve all spent many years in the Department of Justice and its integrity and reputation are very important to us.”
Renfrew and Heymann then presented the incriminating “Rieland memo” that proved the prosecutors had knowingly solicited perjured testimony in the Rubashkin Sentencing Hearing, allowing the judge to impose the draconian 27- year sentence on Sholom. Seeing the U.S. Attorney’s intractability, Professor Heyman lost his composure.
“Your prosecutors wanted to punish Aaron Rubashkin but for whatever reason, decided not to indict him,” Heymann fumed. “Instead, acting as prosecutors, judge and jury, they punished him by destroying his business and locking up his son!”
“To do this, they used perjured testimony!” the former DOJ official practically shouted. “They either actively solicited or actively tolerated perjury! And in doing so, they ruined the reputation of a judge and put a terrible stain on your office, and on the US Department of Justice.”
“As a consequence of that, a fine man named Sholom Rubashkin has been torn from his family all these years. Shame on you! And shame on this office!”
Professor Heymann, speaking from Boston, shared his own perspective on the case, describing why, despite the failure to accomplish their goal in Iowa, he refused to give up.
WHY WE COULDN’T QUIT
Professor Heymann remarked on the “passion and conviction” of Rubashkin supporters that first drew his interest. “They were deeply committed in righting what they believed was outrageous injustice. They knew how to prod someone’s conscience.” He was impressed and decided to look into the case.
By the time he got involved, he said, activists had accomplished something very rare: “Six former Attorney Generals had publicly opposed a life sentence in the case that was ongoing. Over 150 justice officials had protested the injustice in the case,” Professor Heymann marveled. “Sholom Rubashkin’s supporters had organized half a dozen rallies in different communities…By word of mouth, through the media… the word spread and support rapidly grew.”
Professor Heymann noted his frustration over the apathy he encountered in the DOJ about the case. “We – my colleagues and I—tried our best. Many senior officials we went to with the facts of the case refused to get involved. They should have been outraged. With so many legal scholars advocating for a new trial or sentencing, they should have insisted on a thorough review. At the very least, they should have called a meeting with Sholom’s attorneys and listened to what they had to say.”
Professor Heymann noted how different things were during his own tenure with the Department, when the guiding principle was loyalty to justice, not to this or that individual. “We had a case of a man sentenced to 38 years in prison that we investigated [due to legal issues with the prosecution] and we took action. The Rubashkin case was ten times as bad!”
Although he and some of his colleagues battered away at the wall of indifference, “we were largely ignored,” he said. “The question is, when all of your efforts are not bearing fruit, why not quit?”
“We couldn’t quit. And that is because the people we were working with on the case, Rabbi Zvi Boyarsky and Gary Apfel, refused to quit. They were tireless, insistent. Their belief sustained our belief, and sustained our efforts to see justice done.”
In Honor of President Donald J. Trump
Attorney Yerachmiel Simins, one of the earliest askonim who gave generously of his time and expertise to the case, who interfaced with the defense team and enlightened and rallied the community, offered the following tribute to the President of the United States.
“It is a rare honor to have been asked by Reb Sholom Mordechai and his family to represent them in offering a special tribute and prayer on behalf of one of the harbeh shluchim laMakom, a remarkable individual who played a unique, towering role in this gevalidige simcha.
“I speak for the many askonim and many thousands in Klal Yisroel whose hearts and tefilos so beautifully united, the thousands who cried together and remained together throughout this long ordeal. At this moment, we voice our enormous gratitude to a man who, with courage, strength and conviction, in a moment of greatness, put pen to paper and instantly transformed a wrongful virtual life sentence into a new life of freedom for Reb Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, and a restored sense of justice for us all.”
“He did this without an agenda, without asking for anything in return. He heard the facts, cut through to the truth and did what his heart told him was right. That person is the esteemed and honorable President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump.”
“And so, al pi daas Torah, in line with our long tradition of blessing heads of state in the many lands in which our people have lived throughout our history, we now offer, Mr. President, in your honor and with heartfelt gratitude, a public declaration of these time-honored words of prayer and blessing.”
The prayer, recited by Mr. Simins in Hebrew, asked the Creator and Master of the World to safeguard President Trump and to cause his star to shine brilliantly; to bless him with great leadership, world stature and respect, success in his endeavors and lasting achievements throughout his tenure in office.