Clergy Abuse at The Gates of Perdition: An Amalgam – Part 1 of 7

The Ohaiv Sholom Congregation:
An Amalgam of Rabbinical Experiences

As Narrated in the First Person
by Rabbi Aaron Weiss
Former Rabbi of Cong. Ohaiv Sholom of Paducah, Kentucky*

“Free at Last.
Free at Last.
Thank G-d Almig-ty
I’m Free at Last!”

* There is no such congregation and probably is no major Jewish community altogether in the city of Paducah.  The name of “Rabbi Aaron Weiss” and all other names in this rabbi’s narrative are fictional. This narrative tracks true facts. None of these events took place in Paducah or its environs, McCracken County, or Kentucky.

Continued at Part 2

The Offer to Begin As Rabbi of Cong. Ohaiv Sholom
of Paducah; Searching for a Home;
Intense Renovation; Arriving August 1, 2005

In March 2005, I was offered the position to become Rabbi of Ohaiv Sholom of Paducah (OSP). The position would begin in five months, on August 1, 2005.  Lisa and I decided to rent a home in Paducah rather than buy, in case the “match” would not prove successful.  To rent a home, we could not house-hunt immediately in March or April because, as a practical matter, one must start looking later — in June or July — for a rental that would start late August.   Lisa and I wanted to get settled-in to Paducah comfortably before August 1, so we decided to bear an extra month’s rental payment if necessary, and we began rental-house-hunting in Paducah a bit early, just after Pesach (April) 2005.   We were instructed to find a home within the area bounded by the Congregation’s long-standing Eruv in Canarsie Hills.  During a one-month search within that defined area, we could not find any suitable rental. As a result, in late May, we instructed our realtor to expand our search to include homes for sale.  Thus, through no fault of our own, we found ourselves beginning in late May 2005 a search for a house to purchase.

We searched for three weeks and found only one home within the entire Eruvarea that had a suitable floor plan for a Rabbi who regularly would be inviting Shabbat dining guests, and would be providing housing accommodations for Shabbat sleep-over guests, and we promptly made an offer.  Although the layout worked, that one house needed significant overhauling; intense gutting and renovation.  We acted rapidly to close, but closing was delayed because the sellers failed to comply with several contractual obligations, including termite treatments. They finally closed in late July, less than one month before my August 1 employment would begin. We then conducted a massive internal overhaul of the house, conducting “six months of renovating” over the next three weeks, by having crews working around the clock, often on top of each other.  Everything needed to be gutted, including toilets, doors, plumbing fixtures, ceiling acoustic material, all carpeting, and internal floor damage.  With G-d’s miraculous help, the house was ready for our occupancy on the day that employment was set to begin. We arrived with the mover on that day.

Voluntarily Traveling Weekly
from Greenville to Paducah-and-Back
to Meet Ohaiv Sholom Families and to Stem
Ohaiv Sholom’s Severe Membership Losses
from the Two-Year Rabbinical Vacuum;
First Difficult Encounters with Herb Levine;
A Pervasive Mood of Member Negativity;
Ohaiv Sholom’s Negative reputation
Among Rabbis and Laity

For months prior to our arriving in Paducah, I began traveling to Paducahfrom my home in Greenville every Thursday morning to teach a weekly Women’s class at Ohaiv Sholom on Prayer.  It was my voluntary gift to my new Shul — not compensated nor under contract.  The class was well received and attended.  Also prior to arriving, Lisa and I volunteered to travel the 90 minutes from Greenville to Paducah (and then 90 minutes back) on a regular weekly series of consecutive Wednesdays nights, for several months, to have dinner with different Ohaiv Sholom families.  These hosting families would invite guests for “dinner with the new Rabbi and Rebbetzin” so we could meet the congregational families and begin overcoming institutional damage that had occurred within OSP as a result of the long delay between Rabbi Warshovsky’s departure and my selection.  That is, in our gauging the long-term possibilities for energizing our new community, we wanted to arrive in August with a “running head start,” even though I was not yet employed by OSP.  However, before the weekly dinner meetings even began, Herb Levine called my home and engaged me in a profoundly long phone conversation that included his particularly strong opposition to these planned dinner meetings.  I was very surprised and uncomfortable, and sought Mike Goldstein’s and Meyer Berlinsky’s assistance in dealing with Herb’s intense opposition to Lisa and me accepting these invitations.  Meyer Berlinsky was Board President at the time.  Mike Goldstein, a Board officer and former President, had been a strong proponent of my candidacy for the rabbinical position.  The dinner meetings were ratified and permitted.

During those Wednesday night dinner meetings, which were meant to introduce ourselves, offer our energy, and to gather data to help us identify pastoral and community needs, we learned that the Shul membership included widespread segments of deep demoralization and malaise.  We were told at several meetings that Friday night Shul attendance, which once had been above 150 worshippers, was down to an average of 35 men and fewer than ten women, as the choir had dissolved and energy and enthusiasm had dissipated. We were warned that there was no meaningful children’s program and that teens wanted nothing to do with OSP after Bar Mitzvah.  We were told that the front office included a temperamental office manager who scared newcomers away, and that membership had dropped by more than 40 family units in two years, from nearly 300 to approximately 230.  Several people told us that they themselves wanted nothing more to do with Ohaiv Sholom, but they had accepted dinner invitations because they had heard we are nice people, and they wanted to come just to warn us not to move toPaducah.  These comments were made publicly, in the presence of others at these regular Wednesday dinners.  Lisa and I were quite surprised at the intensity of the negativity.  We were told that the previous rabbi’s departure had been handled disgracefully and that Ohaiv Sholom had a horrible name in the county.  Mike Goldstein told me that rabbis had told him that the interview-and-selection process itself was disgraceful, and that rabbis had never before encountered such disrespect in a selection process.

I began phoning rabbinical colleagues of mine within the Yeshiva Universityand Rabbinical Council of America communities.  I was told that, among rabbis who had interviewed for the position that I had been offered, a consensus had emerged that the inside-people running the Shul are coarse and crass people, do not have a clue how to treat a Rav, and that I therefore would have my “hands full” and might want to reconsider taking the position.  The most common advice I received was: “You will have to educate them, Aaron.  Good luck.  We do not envy you.  They are a very difficult congregation, with very prust leaders, one of the worst in America when it comes to understanding the relationship between Rav and laity.  Either you will educate them, or they will ambush you as they did to [Rav] Ezra [Warshovsky].”[1]

Mike Goldstein’s Plot to Depose Meyer Berlinsky
and to Fire Paula Kaganowitz,
to Create a Position for the Unemployed Isaac Mendelson;
Rejecting Goldstein’s Plot and Making an Intense Enemy;
Goldstein Warns Me About Jerry Miller

The first signs of the political intensity that was in store came early.  Mike Goldstein, the new Vice President, with whom I expected to enjoy a close relationship, approached me early in a private meeting in the synagogue vault-room that doubled as a library and classroom, and asked me to help him depose Meyer Berlinsky, the President.  This meeting took place within my first six weeks in Paducah.  Mike Goldstein stated to me that Meyer Berlinsky was becoming increasingly befuddled, was “losing his grip,” and was “not capable of handling the responsibilities of the President.”  This was a period when Meyer Berlinsky was negotiating the possible sale of his business and necessarily was flying to Belgium for related meetings, and Mike Goldstein explained that this posed an “excellent opportunity to get Meyer out.”  He stated to me that Meyer Berlinsky, Jerry Miller, and their Executive Board had made a shambles of the two main responsibilities they had undertaken in the prior eighteen months:  terminating Rabbi Warshovsky and searching-for and selecting a successor Rav.  In addition, Mike Goldstein stated that Paula Kaganowitz, the front-office bookkeeper, is “completely incompetent” and “has been fired from every Jewish organization she has worked in.”  He urged me to work with him to: (i) depose Meyer Berlinsky from the Presidency, (ii) get him elevated from Vice President to President, (iii) ask the Board that Paula be terminated, and (iv) work with him, once he would be elevated to President, to hire Isaac Mendelson in lieu of Paula in a new role, as Executive Director.  “Imagine how much we will be able to get done,” Mike Goldstein said to me, “with you as Rabbi, me as President, Herb [Levine] as Gabbai, Rosie [Levine] in the front, and Isaac as Executive Director.”  Isaac Mendelson, at the time, had been suffering through an extended period of employment uncertainty, alternating between working for his wife, doing some private tutoring in science, and seeking employment as an educator.[2]  Mike Goldstein further instructed me to start drawing up job tasks for the new executive director he planned to employ after supplanting himself as OSP President in lieu of Mr.  Berlinsky.

I explained to Mike Goldstein that, much as I looked forward to working with him closely, I could not be part of such a scheme, that it was an internal matter for the laity to decide a Board President’s competence, and as the Rav I could not accept a role in such a process.  He continued expanding and explaining that the only two significant things the Board had tried doing in the past two years under Meyer Berlinsky and Jerry Miller were (i) firing Rabbi Warshovsky and (ii) selecting a successor – and, on both scores, Meyer Berlinsky and Jerry Miller had failed miserably: (i) Rabbi Warshovsky’s termination had been mismanaged into a congregation-wide scandal and county-wide controversy, and (ii) the selection committee could not find a new Rabbi through more than a year of interviewing candidates, while antagonizing and alienating several.   Nevertheless, I still maintained that it is outside a Rabbi’s purview to participate in a plan to depose the President, and I had no reason to seek Paula’s premature departure. Mike Goldstein’s relationship with me immediately started becoming increasingly hostile.  The change was abrupt and forceful.

Similarly, before the first Board meeting that I attended, Mike Goldstein spoke to me by phone and warned me that “Jerry Miller is a bully.  He yells and tries to intimidate people at Board meetings.  I hope that, as Rabbi, you will use whatever influence you can to help keep him under control.”  As a result, I devoted my first Board Meeting D’var Torah (Rabbinic Message) to urge Board members to speak with each other in respectful tones, even if they differ. At that first meeting, I was struck by the power of my words: Jerry Miller did not bully anyone during the meeting.  He did not yell or try to intimidate anyone.  It was only later that I would learn that, although Jerry Miller is a bluntly direct person — and even intensely offensive and hurtful, with other significant character failings — he does not bully at Board meetings, yell, or intimidate through yelling.  I had been told a lie about Jerry Miller, and it initially had impacted my impression of him.

Encountering a Surprising Prevalence Among Congregational Insiders
of Spreading Gossip and Slander (“Loshon Horo”) About Each Other

The process of lying and loshon horo (gossip and slander) soon emerged as endemic, even epidemic, to a degree I never before have experienced in my rabbinic or other Jewish professional career.  For example, at a Wednesday night dinner meeting at the Falk home, attended by Ted Wechsler and Sarah Rubinstein, Edith and Sol Blau, Mitch and Debbie Reich, and Margie and Bill Josephson, a wide-ranging evening’s discussion covered areas ranging from Israeli politics to persuading the Blaus not to drop Ohaiv Sholom membership.[3]  Inter alia, Leah Falk raised a controversial question at the dinner table, pointedly asking whether I would organize a “Women’s Minyan” at Ohaiv Sholom.  Because the introductory/social meeting was attended by a disparate range of people, and we were focusing on recruiting and retaining the Blaus while opening up to Sarah Rubinstein and Ted Wechsler, I opted to sidestep the controversial discussion and not engage in a debate with my host family.  To avoid a conflict, I asked Leah: “Are there ten women in the Congregation who want a Women’s service?”  As I had anticipated, she responded “no” — and, with that, the issue died. Nevertheless, I learned a week later from Mike Goldstein that “a rumor [was] spreading throughout the Shul that Rabbi Weiss is planning to start a Women’s Service at Ohaiv Sholom.”  I asked him where that falsehood had started.  He explained that “a number of people are talking about it.”  He refused to identify the sources.  I believe I have since identified the sole source.

The rumors and falsehoods — the epidemic of loshon horo — never stopped. In my second week at Ohaiv Sholom, I was called by the Novinsky Family, who attend Chabad, and they asked me to deliver a eulogy at the funeral and burial of their matriarchal grandmother, “Bubby Shaindl.”  Although I was newly arrived in Paducah, the Novinskys asked me to deliver a eulogy, supplemental to Chabad Rabbi Zeitman’s, because I had a relationship with the same Novinskys dating back twenty years.[4]  At the cemetery, Rabbi Zeitman mistakenly called on me to recite only a Psalm.  Eric Novinsky had asked that I further eulogize, and I acceded to the Novinsky Family’s wishes. At Shiva services later that week, a circle of the Novinsky brothers, their respective nuclear families, and sister Terry Novinsky surrounded me and thanked me profusely for my having agreed to eulogize on such short notice and for the words I spoke.  Meanwhile, back at Ohaiv Sholom, Mike Goldstein reported to me that “people all over the Shul are talking about your gaffe at the Novinsky funeral.”  I asked “What gaffe?”  He answered: “Everyone was embarrassed that, when Rabbi Zeitman asked you to recite a single Psalm, you also delivered a eulogy.”  He quoted one prominent Shul member, his friend Bessy Mendelson, as saying, in my “defense,” that “it was a rookie’s error.”  I have practiced in the Rabbinate for more than twenty years, and it was no error.  I am no rookie.

Mike Goldstein’s Hostility and Animus Intensify as
Herb and Rosie Levine Begin Campaigning Against Me;
Herb Levine’s Effort to Have Me Replaced Becomes All-Consuming;
Mike Goldstein Becomes the Public Voice and Advocate for Having Me Removed

Mike Goldstein’s attitude toward me continued intensifying in hostility, and it became increasingly clear — from loshon horo comments he would make to me about Meyer Berlinsky and Jerry Miller, to comments he would make to me on behalf of Herb Levine — that something was very much awry.  It was clear to me, for example, that Meyer Berlinsky in fact had a full “grip” and that  Jerry Miller, for all his crude hurtfulness, in fact never yelled, bullied, or intimidated through yelling.  And both Herb and Rosie Levine became increasingly unreasonable and outright antagonistic.  Soon, they were campaigning in tandem against me.

On a regular basis during my first month as Rabbi, Herb Levine approached me to tell me that he is the official Shul Gabbai, the “Religious Authority of Ohaiv Sholom,” and he directed me that the Shul has a wide range of ecclesiastical customs and that he expects me to comply with them. There were many strange ecclesiastical customs that Herb Levine sought to enforce through me, despite my never before having encountered them in half a century’s living as an Orthodox Jew.

At one Executive Committee meeting, I was told by Mike Goldstein in the presence of Meyer Berlinsky and Jerry Miller, that Herb Levine — not the congregation or any rabbi — is the creator of most of these customs and, further according to Mike Goldstein, these are “not Shul customs, only Herb’s customs.”  I was advised by others, however, that Herb Levine had come to regard his “religious authority” position as quasi-rabbinic, and that I would do best to do whatever he tells me to do.

I attempted to accommodate and mollify Herb Levine regularly.  I would politely oblige him, allowing him to lecture me in several painful “private meetings” during which he would lecture me in nonstop hour-long monologues.  I accommodated his “customs.”   When Herb Levine’s beloved cousin died tragically, I virtually camped out with the Levine family at the hospital for most of two days, mostly round-the-clock.  After the cousin died, the McCracken County coroner decided to conduct an invasive autopsy of him, offending Jewish values. Herb Levine was mortified.  I devoted all my skills and knowledge that I had acquired through my career to negotiate the matter with the coroner’s office and to assist in finding a legal loophole by which to spare Herb’s cousin from being dissected.  My efforts were successful.  No autopsy was performed.

Nevertheless, despite my best efforts, I encountered constant bitter-and-acerbic criticism from Herb Levine.  He told me he was compiling and maintaining “lists” of all my “mistakes” and “shortcomings.”  During some of his multi-hour “private meetings” with me, lecturing me as discussed above, he would pull out a paper scrap or several scraps that he would identify as such a “list” he had been compiling. Herb criticized me for not saying “Yasher Koach” (“Good Job”) enough.  He criticized me for looking at aTalmud volume in between Torah aliyas one Shabbat, stating that I was so immersed in the Talmud that I had failed to shake someone’s hand.  He added his warning to me that, from his seat’s vantage point, he was carefully watching and scrutinizing everything I was doing — in his words: literally my every move, my every gesture — and had become convinced that I, a rabbi of twenty years in the pulpit, was preparing my sermons during the Torah reading itself. When I taught subject matter that did not accord with the substance of one or another Torah Tape that Herb Levine told me he had heard in his car, he challenged the scope of my Torah learning. Others in the congregation soon were reporting to me that, by my second month in Paducah, Herb had spoken to them, hoping to build support for his desire to fire and replace me.  Indeed, he stated to me explicitly that his deceased father had been a Gabbai (sexton) and had taught him “a very important lesson — that a Rabbi always can be fired.”  Two representative incidents with Herb Levine are illustrative:

In September 2005, Zev and Susan Pilson invited me to participate at a Sunday evening party in a suburb of Paducah, celebrating the bat mitzvah of their daughter.  The time scheduling would preclude me from attending that Sunday’s Shul minyan for afternoon Mincha-Maariv services.  As a courtesy to the regular daveners, I announced that Sunday morning after morning Shacharit services that I would not be attending Mincha-Maariv in Paducahbecause I instead would be at the Pilson event, so asked everyone to make an extra effort to be in Shul that afternoon.  Later that Sunday, Mike Goldstein called me to explain how upset Herb Levine was that I had made that announcement without clearing it with him first.  He explained that I need to obtain Herb Levine’s advance permission before missing any religious service.  The next morning, at shul, Herb’s wife Rosie Levine, then the Office Manager, advised me that, in the future, it was my responsibility to clear with Herb any time I contemplated not attending a Shul minyan, even if necessitated by another Shul function.  In other words, if it will necessitate the Rabbi missing Mincha-Maariv services at Ohaiv Sholom, the Rabbi is not permitted to accept an invitation to deliver a blessing and a speech at a member family’s simcha celebration unless and only if Herb Levine first approves the request.  I held my peace but knew that such a practice is unheard-of in the professional rabbinate.

A final incident with Herb erupted as the congregation approached the end of the Sukkot festive season, the holidays of Sh’mini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.  We were bringing in seven college students from Yeshiva University, three ladies and four fellows, to help bolster the energy and ruach (festive spirit) of the Simchat Torah celebration.  In my rabbinic capacity, I scheduled the Yeshiva University (YU) students to attend all our main-sanctuary minyanim during the period of their stay, with one qualified exception.  For the morning of Sh’mini Atzeret only, I scheduled the Yeshiva University students to alternate in pairs at the Young People’s Minyan (a service I specially created for Ohaiv Sholom teens).  That is, two YU boys and two ladies would attend the teens’ service, while the other three were attending the main service, and they later would switch with their colleagues, so that the teens and pre-teens would benefit from the college students’ presence as role models, while other of the YU collegiates would participate in the main service.  Herb Levine was livid, extremely agitated by my plan, and demanded that the Yeshiva University students not attend the Young People’s Minyan at all, not even for that one Sh’mini Atzeret morning minyan.  I softly and respectfully explained that this was my call as Rabbi, and I would maintain my plan.

Within an hour or two of that discussion, Mike Goldstein called me. He reported that Meyer Berlinsky had called him, Mike Goldstein, to tell him that Ohaiv Sholom would not be bringing the Yeshiva University visitors toKentucky altogether if Rabbi Weiss persisted with his plan to have the YU students devote some of their time to the Young People’s Minyan.  I explained that my plan contemplated merely that two YU students would be at one Young People’s service, switching off in pairs.  Mike Goldstein told me that was absolutely unacceptable, and that is not what “the people of Ohaiv Sholom” want.  Confounded, I called Meyer Berlinsky and discussed my plan with him, and Meyer responded matter-of-factly that he had no objection to my proposal and assuredly had not expressed any concern or opposition to that plan to anyone.  He did not know what Mike Goldstein was talking about.  Ultimately, the Yeshiva University visitors came and participated pursuant to my plan, and we had a wonderfully successful holiday event.[5]  However, Herb Levine responded by formally breaking off from anything to do with me and escalated his opposition and campaigning against me into a full-scale open effort, with Mike Goldstein advocating that position within the Board, to have me terminated or at least not renewed.

In time, as Herb Levine’s opposition to me intensified after the holidays, Jerry Miller and Dave Bodinsky met with him.  Jerry Miller later reported to me that

“The problem really is very simple.  It is simpler than I realized. Herb wants to be the Rabbi.  That’s the whole problem.  I don’t know whether he is qualified or ordained to be a Rabbi.  If he wanted to be the Rabbi, he should have applied for the position.  But he did not apply, and you are the Rabbi.”

In a further example of the liturgical and ecclesiastical conflict between Herb Levine’s asserted role, as Gabbai, in direct conflict with my rabbinical role, one weeknight I invited someone who was mourning for a parent to lead our Maariv services. The fellow was in the eleven months of mourning for his parent, and such a mourner usually has preference to lead the service on days other than Shabbat, holidays, and certain other observances.  That night was the eve of a Rosh Chodesh (New Moon), which is a very minor quasi-holiday.  Mourners do not lead the services on the Shabbat or holidays, but the New Moon is very minor, and mourners may lead the evening service forRosh Chodesh.[6] Herb Levine explained that I do not know the Jewish law, and — according to what he had learned through his late-life study of Jewish law, primarily though Torah Tapes to which he listens during his daily drives to and from work — a mourner may not lead Rosh Chodesh services.[7] I later was interrogated at a specially convened “urgent meeting” of the three-man Executive Committee, attended by Mike Goldstein, Jerry Miller, and Meyer Berlinsky, pressed as to how I could make such a “wrong” rabbinic ruling, inviting a mourner to lead the Rosh Chodesh Maariv evening services.  In the course of being interrogated, I was told that Herb Levine had reported to the Executive Committee and the Board that my extending him this invitation to the mourner provided a clear example of my inadequacy as a Rabbi: “Rabbi Weiss does not know basic Jewish law because Jewish law clearly forbids a mourner from leading services on Rosh Chodesh.”  I responded by handing each member of the Executive Committee photocopies of a wide scope of mainstream halakhic sources, documenting explicitly that a mourner may indeed lead services on Rosh Chodesh at Maariv and Mincha services.[8] This experience would mark the first of several times that Meyer Berlinsky and Jerry Miller would meet with me to challenge my knowledge of halakhic sources, notwithstanding my nearly 25 years of Torah study, from elementary-school yeshiva through yeshiva high school through semikha ordination at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary; my more-than-decade of pulpit rabbinical service at Young Israel and Orthodox Union congregations, and my membership in the Rabbinical Council of Kentucky.[9]

Ecclesiastical Difficulties with Herb Levine Get Exacerbated
As His Wife, Rosie, Begins Degrading Me
at Her Office Manager Post in the Front Office;
Yelling at Me for Bringing 4 Siddurim  (Prayer Books) into My Office
and for Touching “Her” Fax Machine;
Mike Goldstein Erupts in My face in Front of My 13-Year-Old Son

The difficulties in the sanctuary with Herb Levine increasingly flowed into the front office with his wife, Rosie Levine, and further intensified as Mike Goldstein assumed the role of their advocate within the Board of Directors, becoming increasingly hostile, nasty, and even vicious to me.  Several people within the congregational community warned me that Mike Goldstein has a unique loyalty to Herb, extending into various personal, non-ideological reasons he has for taking Herb’s positions and fighting for them. In the most intensely vicious moment of this period, Mike Goldstein bolted into the Synagogue front lobby one Shabbat morning after I had just finished teaching a class on the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah at the end of the Hashkamah (Early Risers) Minyan, and — while the Hashkamah people were in the kitchen munching and conversing amid their weekly social Kiddush collation — Mike erupted, yelling at me, red-faced, for several minutes in the main lobby, right outside the sanctuary.  Only one person witnessed the incident — my thirteen-year-old son, Moshe, who never before had seen anyone speak to me, his father, that way.  During this horrible outburst, with Mike yelling red-faced into my face from within the zone of my personal space (as when a baseball manager goes nose-to-nose with an umpire), Mike Goldstein berated me in front of my son, citing a whole long list of complaints and inadequacies that I had heard previously only from Herb Levine and his “lists.”  However, in Mike Goldstein’s overheated version, he averred that he was speaking on behalf of “many people throughout the congregation,” and he stated that he was sharing things that “most of the people at Ohaiv Sholom are saying” about me.  Moshe — then age 13 — saw and heard all of this.

Meanwhile, as Herb Levine rifted from me, his wife Rosie Levine became increasingly and openly hostile to me in the front office during the work week.  She started talking profoundly rudely to me, then outright insultingly, even shouting at me occasionally.  Paula Kaganowitz, the other front-office staffer, witnessed all.  On one occasion, Rosie burst into my office and furiously shouted at me for having taken four of the shul’s 200 Siddurim daily prayer books from the lobby bookcase and having placed them on a shelf in my office.[10]  Shouting at me in my office, with the north door open to the front office allowing Paula to hear everything, Rosie demanded that I immediately return the Siddurim to the front-lobby bookcase.  I was absolutely startled, but meekly complied.  When I defensively explained to her why I needed easy access to four volumes, she then gave me four tattered-and-torn Siddurim instead from a bottom cabinet in the bookcase. Increasingly, it was being reported to me by Shul members that Rosie regularly was making derogatory remarks about me to them when they would call the office and speak with her about paying bills, sponsoring a Kiddush collation, or other forthcoming programs.  In the most bizarre situation, there ensued the Matter of the Framed Torah Montage —

Continued at Part 2


[1] I would later learn that Ohaiv Sholom’s low national reputation in the Orthodox Rabbinate is paralleled by its negative reputation throughout McCracken County among the non-Orthodox rabbinate.  At meetings of the McCracken County Board of Rabbis, I regularly have been told across-the-board, in the presence of others among the Reform and Conservative rabbis in attendance, that the insiders running Ohaiv Sholom are regarded as the nastiest and most difficult congregational Board for a rabbi to serve in McCracken County. This is a universally held opinion at the Board of Rabbis, and that is how I was welcomed onto that Board at my very first meeting.  Similarly, at the Rabbinical Council of McCracken County, a group of all Chabad Orthodox rabbis in McCracken County, I was warned: “Beware of the ambush, Aaron.  They ambushed Ezra, and they will ambush you if you don’t watch your back.  They are not like the congregations you know fromBoston and Atlanta.  They are very crude and prust. You have to educate them, or you won’t survive there. There is a very nasty and deceptive bunch of insiders running the Shul, even though the rank and file include many lovely people.”

[2] Over the subsequent two years, Mendelson briefly was employed by the local community Jewish Day School, Isaac Mayer Wise School (IMW), to teach history but was terminated after a brief stint.  His wife, Bessy Mendelson, has been a IMW Board member and active lay leader.

[3] With their daughter, Kimberly, slated to be Bat Mitzvah, the Blaus had decided to quit Ohaiv Sholom and join Chabad of Paducah; however, by evening’s end, they chose to renew their membership with Ohaiv Sholom because they liked Lisa and me, and my commitment to their daughter.

[4] The Novinskys were early supporters of mine two decades earlier, where I worked with them in the late 1980s to expand a new congregation of 9 families into 60 families in three years and built an Orthodox Day School.

[5] Casting a very unfortunate pall on the wonderful visit from the seven energetic and exciting YeshivaUniversity students, Meyer Berlinsky and Louis Minsky delayed reimbursing the college students for weeks after the students had returned to college in New York.  Meyer Berlinsky had instructed me, as Ohaiv Sholom’s liaison to Yeshiva University, to tell the students to purchase their flight reservations with their own credit cards and that  OSP would reimburse promptly, well before their next-month’s credit card bill would be payable.  In fact, as the students wrote me with increased desperation that OSP still had not reimbursed them for several weeks, as their high-interest credit card bills were coming due, my integrity and honor as Rabbi and religious authority were compromised as I kept assuring them that Meyer Berlinsky and Louis Minsky were instructing Paula to send the reimbursements, only to get new e-mails days later that the reimbursements still had not come.

[6] See, e.g., the Orthodox Union’s authoritative guide to mourning observances:  Rabbi Abner Weiss, Death and Bereavement: A Halakhic Guide (N.Y.: Orthodox Union, 1991), p. 142; Rabbi Chaim Binyamin Goldberg, Mourning in Halachah (N.Y.: Mesorah/Isaacscroll, 2004), p. 378 ¶ 11.

[7] As with many Jewish customs and practices, there are more than one view.  However, the actual mainstream law, in fact, is that a mourner does not lead the morning service on Rosh Chodesh, but he indeed may lead the evening Rosh Chodesh service.

[8] I needed to provide the documentation with English translation because my interrogators, accusing me of ignorance of Jewish law, could not understand the authoritative rabbinic texts in their original Hebrew as I tried reading it for and explaining it to them.

[9] During my more than two years at Ohaiv Sholom, Meyer Berlinsky never once attended a Sunday or weekday morning service.  Other OSP Board members whom I never saw don tefillin include Louis Minsky and other Board members.  I also never saw Benny Belcher or Ed Haimowitz attend a weekday morning service in more than two years.  Jerry Miller attended an average of once or twice a month.

[10] I had done so because I use four Siddurim whenever I meet with a prospective new Bar or Bat Mitzvah candidate and the two parents.