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Is Rubashkin a hero or did he beat the system ?


Is Rubashkin a hero, or are we merely fascinated with someone who beat the system?

Like many of you, I heard the news of Shulem Mordechai Rubashkin’s release as it spread like wildfire on social media, WhatsApp, shul emails and even on major news outlets.

In just 2 hours I began receiving invitations to come to shuls in Marine Park, Crown Heights, Monsey, and around all of NYC that night and celebrate a victory of Hashem for making the impossible, possible. It happened at the twilight of the last day of Chanukah when Jews celebrate just this type of miracle, where HaShem delivered the few from the hands of the many.

His stirring words of Bitachon, faith in HaShem, thanking and crediting G-d with his release, were a huge Kiddush HaShem from a man who’d endured much suffering over the past eight years.

I started to see articles in the Jewish media praising the fact that Shulem Mordechai Rubashkin made it out and that the Jewish world was celebrating, but then I saw that critical articles in the Washington Post and some other outlets were asking why he was being celebrated if he was a convicted felon. Why wouldn’t he just go home, celebrate with his immediate family and keep quiet?

Then, to my chagrin, I saw how some of our frum, well-meaning brothers and sisters started criticizing our community for being so happy, for treating him like a celebrity, and that’s what got me to pen this article.

I am so saddened, not upset, that our own people start thinking like the average people reading these articles. If your brother or son was released would you say the same? Aren’t we all brothers? Shouldn’t we be happy for a family man who endured 8 years of prison, lost all his money and dignity, and lost family time he will never get back?

Some say, “he did something wrong and he needs to pay the price.” Ok, I agree, but this is not what the happiness is about. We are not rejoicing that he beat the system. He didn’t. He spent more time in prison than many others convicted of similar or worse crimes.

[As an aside, I wonder how many of us would be able to stand up to the scrutiny he did in all of our financial dealings and not have even one thing found that was questionable. So who are we to judge another, especially when we’re not privy to all the facts and details?]

The simcha comes from something else. Instead of getting a sentence comparable to what others received, Rubashkin was sentenced to 10,000 days in prison or 27 years, besides for the years spent in the agony of trial, court and pain and uncertainty. Effectively a life-sentence – because the malice of someone who had it in for him. Now, though, the sentence was reduced and he could begin to rebuild. We rejoice because the injustice had been reversed and a family was reunited.

It was not only Jews coming to his defense, nor was it only New Yorkers or Republicans. Advocacy for his release came from both sides of the aisle, from citizens, judges, politicians, federal agencies, and others. 

I can understand the general media for debating this, even being critical. Why not? That’s what they do. It sells papers and gets viewers. However, when our own Jewish Family doesn’t come out with unconditional love and support as we would for our own son, (even if our own son was deserving of it,) then we have moved from being “am echad,” a single, compassionate, caring family, and assimilated into just another apathetic part of larger American society.

Is Shulem Mordechai a hero? Maybe, maybe not; but he is definitely Family



Shea Rubenstein is the co-founder, Executive Vice President of the JCC of Marine Park and social entrepreneur

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