Clergy Abuse at The Gates of Perdition: An Amalgam – Part 6 of 7

Clergy Abuse at The Gates of Perdition:
An Amalgam – Part 6 of 7 

Apprising all Appropriate Ohaiv Sholom and Orthodox Union Personnel
of the Schwartz Situation and the McCracken County  District Attorney Website

Continued from Part 5                   Continued at Part 7

Meanwhile, when the new Ohaiv Sholom Board that had been elected on March 18, 2007 took office on June 1, they elected Regina Schwartz as their President, Benny Belcher their Vice President, Louis Minsky their Treasurer, and Abe Kulik their Secretary.[1]

As had happened during the harassment crisis in 2006, I knew that I was morally bound once again to stand against corruption or its tacit endorsement or acceptance within the community, but I also recognized the political environment within the Ohaiv Sholom Board of Directors.  Therefore, as I had done during the harassment crisis, I first informed Rabbi Jeffrey Asher, Kentucky Director for the Orthodox Union, and sought his guidance in handling the matter of Regina Schwartz as newly selected Shul President.  To my deep surprise and regret, he responded without the concern about the District Attorney’s business-fraud prosecution that he had manifested a year earlier in the face of the sexual harassment crisis.  Defending Regina Schwartz, he stated that he does not know the facts and, besides, even if she did something wrong, she may have repented her sins.  I explained that repentance includes acknowledgement of wrongdoing, and she had entered an agreement that neither admitted nor denied the allegations, notwithstanding that her husband and she agreed to be bound by every detail alleged and demanded in the District Attorney’s original complaint against them.  Their civil settlement, in agreeing to be bound by all the D.A.’s demands and to pay a six-figure monetary penalty parallel to what the D.A. was seeking, was shameful for the President of an Orthodox synagogue.

Rabbi Asher continued saying that he would not take a position on the matter, and if I felt that strongly, I should report it to one of my three supporters elected to the Board.  I also reported it to Rhonda Tuchman, the OSP office manager, after she reported to me that Regina Schwartz repeatedly had been lying to her.  According to Rhonda, she was distraught that Regina Schwartz would deny having received e-mails or faxes that clearly had been transmitted successfully, and these and other such denials were putting Rhonda in awkward situations in dealing with the newly designated President on the necessary daily basis. I advised Rhonda that, in light of the McCracken County District Attorney’s posting, she should be aware that there may or may not be a problem with the accuracy of every fact that Regina Schwartz reports, and that Rhonda accordingly should be aware of the situation.[2]

By August 2007, all members of the Shul Board were well apprised that they had elected as their leader the subject of the McCrackenCounty D.A. web page.  The matter was discussed at length within the Board, and the Board still emerged ratifying Regina Schwartz’s presidency.  Upon Ms. Schwartz’s formal Board ratification as President, my two strong supporters on the nine-person Board promptly resigned from the Board.

In a series of false communications, oral and written, the Schwartzes sought to turn the shady issues around to indict the Rabbi.  They claimed that the real focus of culpability should be on the Rabbi for supposedly uncovering the matter. In fact: (i) I found out about the matter only after conducting a Spring 2007 Yahoo! internet search to learn about the virtually unknown new Board member whose support I needed to cultivate; and (ii) I further learned about it when I was sent internet hyperlinks by several others in OSP, such as Arlene Kamen, who demanded that I do something about the matter in my role as Ohaiv Sholom Rabbi to demonstrate moral leadership as the congregation’s spiritual leader.

Constant Rebuffs Against An Effort to Work  Proactively with the New Board;
The New Majority’s Forthright Hostility and Animus

After the new Board took office in June 2007, I drafted a 25-page comprehensive proposal outlining a vision for working together — Board and Rabbi in concert — to help build Ohaiv Sholom into a Great Shul.  Via U.S. first-class mail, I mailed a copy of my April 25, 2007 plan and proposals to every Board member. The Proposal was placed on the Board’s agenda for the first meeting after I submitted it.  However, it never was discussed.  Despite my monthly efforts to have the Proposal discussed by the Board, it never again appeared on a meeting’s agenda.

During my first year and a half at Ohaiv Sholom, among other initiatives I already had:

- Launched the Mikvah effort, over enormous internal opposition, prodding the Board to approve building a Mikvah, and further guided the vision of designing a “spa-like” gorgeous contemporary Mikvah on the Ohaiv Sholom campus;

- Leveraged my influence as Rav to create a new Sephardic Minyan, again over intensive internal Board opposition;

- Wielded my rabbinical position to move the Friday Night “Z’man Service” out of a back trailer, where it was a hidden afterthought, and into the Main Sanctuary, thus publicly according that service equal standing with the late Friday service that regularly would start improperly long after Shabbat began;

- Launched the first daily weekday Mincha afternoon service ever held in McCracken County during the half year of Kentucky Standard Time, and assured its continuing success by recruiting regulars committing to attend the service;

- Created a weekly Shabbat Young People’s Service for those between ages 12-18;

- Started a weekly Saturday Night Parent-Child Torah Study;

- Crafted and developed a monthly Sunday Morning “Father-Son Tefillin-an’-Chillin’ ” Service;

- Facilitated a plan and found the funding, including my personal out-of-pocket donation of $10,000 annually, to hire a full-time dynamic young couple to reside full-time in our community and expand our NCSY youth program, while also reaching into the local public schools with Jewish clubs;

- Introduced a full program of Adult Judaic Education, including a Daily Daf Yomi Talmud class that I taught, an expanded in-text Chumash-and-Rashi class, new weekly classes in Jewish Law, Jewish Values (Chovot Ha-L’vavot), and additional Shabbat classes in Weekly Torah Portion and in Talmud study;

- Markedly upgraded and expanded Chanukah and Purim celebrations, while dramatically increasing High Holiday attendance, shul memberships, and income;

- Privately raised the funds for and crafted an agreement with our High Holidays Chazan for him to come once every month to lead Shabbat services and special holiday celebrations; and

- Introduced a weekly class in Chumash and Rashi that I taught on the campus of IMW for Ohaiv Sholom youngsters and others attending IMW.

All these initiatives successfully launched and continued throughout my tenure at Ohaiv Sholom until the March 18, 2007 AGM debacle deflated the congregation. In my new April 25, 2007 proposals to the Ohaiv Sholom Board, I further proposed that we launch three new initiatives:

- An annual Banquet Dinner and Journal that would raise significant funds, comparable to such similar projects held by other shuls, with a further recommendation that we begin by honoring the Choir members in order to assure a successful inaugural dinner by having several honorees so that no one or two people would have to shoulder the full burden typically accepted by an honoree;

- A professionally run and designed, elegant Pre-School that would be sure to succeed because of the heavy demand for such a program in McCracken County, where county regulations limit the number of children who attend other such programs, assuring continued high demand for this highly profitable institution that also serves as a magnet for new memberships of young families;

- Make permanent a commitment to retain the services of a full-time resident young couple who would serve the congregational community as Youth Directors.

In a different effort to work with the new Board, I telephoned Louis Minsky and invited him to bring his family and join ours for a Shabbat dinner.  Louis responded that he would refuse my invitation because he “did not want to set foot in [my] home, to eat [my] food, or to have dinner with” me.  I asked him whether he would meet me for a cup of coffee.  He again refused, saying that he did not want to have coffee with me.

I then telephoned Benny Belcher.  I invited him for dinner with his family.  He refused. I asked him whether he would join me for coffee. He refused.

I phoned Sidney Elbogen and invited him for Shabbat dinner.  He refused, saying that he has Shabbat dinner with his extended family.  I responded by inviting the entire extended Elbogen family for Shabbat dinner.  Again, Sidney Elbogen refused.  I then invited him for a cup of coffee.  He stated that his “workload is too busy” to permit him time for a cup of coffee with me.

I called Meyer Berlinsky and invited him for a cup of coffee.  He responded “With pleasure.”  He added that he was busy at this time but would get back to me.  When he did not get back to me, I approached him one evening at the synagogue and asked him whether we could speak privately for five minutes. He stated that he did not think he had five minutes but would come by my office later at night to let me know for sure.  I was in my office that night, waiting until 11:00 p.m.  I then asked him a third time, and he stated “With pleasure” — but, first, he explained he was leaving for a vacation.  When he would return, he would have coffee with me “with pleasure.”  When he returned from his vacation, I approached him a fourth time.  He stated he had just returned from vacation but would get back to me.  I then e-mailed him twice two weeks later.  He never responded to either e-mail.  He never had a cup of coffee with me.

Dealing with Fall-Out and Membership Depression After March 18, 2007

As the newly elected Board members, individually and collectively, started freezing me out, refusing to meet with me, refusing to speak with me, refusing to address my proposals for enhancing congregational life, I also found myself compelled to deal with a significant amount of membership fall-out from March 18.  Dozens of families were talking about resigning their membership or, at least, not renewing in August.  Attendance at services — all services, the weekday mornings and afternoons, the Shabbat evenings and mornings — started dropping precipitously.  Many who had found solace and spiritual succor in the synagogue had stopped coming and felt lost. Every day for weeks, I was compelled to meet with people, supporters of mine, who had been shaken even worse than I had been by March 18.  They could not return to the Ohaiv Sholom building.

Most of my meetings with dispirited members who refused again to set foot in the shul building took place at the two CoffeeStar stores near the synagogue, one at a mini-mall at Broadway and Maiden Alley, the other at RiverPlace.  Individuals needed to see me, to speak to me, to hear that Lisa, Moshe, and I were all right, and — even more — they needed to talk to me, their rabbi, about their spiritual shock. They did not want to visit me in the synagogue, to walk in, or to be seen by the front office.  And they knew from prior experiences that discussions in the Rabbi’s office all were overheard in the front office unless carefully spoken in undertones.

In time, I was able to persuade several of these families to maintain their synagogue affiliation and to resume worshipping with us. Nevertheless, Ohaiv Sholom lost thirty or more families — approximately 12% of the membership — between March 18 and August 2007.  Meanwhile, among my critics a new slander arose:  “The Rabbi spends no time in the office any more; he is not working.”

Similarly, as a result of the fall-off in morning-service attendance, the backbone of my daily morning Talmud Class, Daf Yomi, had been broken.  Jack Rosen no longer came to participate or prepare breakfast.  Brian Varnsky fell away.  Others followed suit.  Having voluntarily taken on the intense load of preparing and teaching Daf Yomi, to accommodate Jack Rosen and some others, it now was time for me to retrench on that overwhelming additional commitment to my daily responsibilities.

The Meyer Berlinsky – Haskel Plotkin Mikvah Deal;
Secret Board Meetings to Plot the Rabbi’s Ouster

OSP finally had begun constructing a Mikvah.[3]  When I had arrived in August 2005, I learned that OSP had been carrying some $75,000 in a Mikvah Fund for many years, perhaps a decade.  The money had begun with a sizeable pledge made by an older man who sought to memorialize his wife.  After that donation was made, OSP began constructing the Mikvah, only to learn that it was digging into land without having the right to do so.  In OSP’s biggest debacle until March 18, 2007, the local government ordered Ohaiv Sholom to cease construction and to expend considerable funds to refill the crater it had dug.  The Mikvah effort stopped and remained paralyzed by the memory of “thousands upon thousands of dollars wasted and thrown out” — until I arrived.

Once I gained an understanding of the issues, I deemed the construction of an Ohaiv Sholom Mikvah one of my first four highest priorities.  I pressed for it, delivered sermons, met privately with volunteers and with the Rabbi of the Paducah Chabad, and I spoke several times with various officials associated with an agency in Atlanta that helps fund and build mikvahs (mikva’ot) around the country.  Soon, the Mikvah project was underway, with a lay volunteer taking full charge of the project.  In the months that followed, an architect was retained, outside rabbinic authorities were consulted, and a $550,000 Mikvah project took shape on paper.  Meyer Berlinsky, the lay volunteer, and I met to devise a fundraising campaign to obtain special gifts.  We then began active soliciting.  I raised several major pledges.

However, in the days after the March 18 AGM Debacle, I was called by every person from whom I successfully had solicited funds for the Mikvah effort.  Each and every donor I successfully had solicited canceled his respective gift.  In addition, related major gifts promptly were withdrawn. Faced with sudden financial pressures stemming from withdrawn major donations, Meyer Berlinsky undertook, apparently with Jerry Miller, to negotiate a deal for Haskel Plotkin, a wealthy Paducah Chabad member, to donate $100,000 to the Ohaiv Sholom Mikvah.  In return for that gift and a concomitant promise that another $50,000 would be forthcoming from Paducah Chabad, Meyer Berlinsky and Jerry Miller concocted a plan with Haskel Plotkin to convert the “Ohaiv Sholom Mikvah” instead into the “Paducah Community Mikvah.”  A separate four-person board of directors would be formed to govern and direct the Mikvah that had been contemplated as Ohaiv Sholom’s, with two people to be named by Ohaiv Sholom and two by Paducah Chabad.

Although this scheme to transfer Mikvah ownership away from Ohaiv Sholom and to an independent “community” corporation would advantage me personally if I were to remain in Paducah but would leave Ohaiv Sholom, I nevertheless opposed this scheme on several grounds because my fiduciary obligations as Ohaiv Sholom’s rabbi required me to advocate for Ohaiv Sholom’s best interests. Here was OSP having led the way to build a mikvah in Paducah, breaking ground on its own campus, bearing 75% of the cost, and now it would be handing 50% control of its mikvah on its grounds over to Haskel Plotkin’s Paducah Chabad, in return for a donation that comprised some 25% of the campaign budget. I was appalled at how much control Ohaiv Sholom would be giving up and how disproportionately little it would be receiving in exchange.  In trying to fathom the folly, it seemed that Meyer Berlinsky was impelled, as much as by anything else, by an overriding personal desire to show that he would not be impeded by other major donors and could build without them.  Because the Board majority had been hand-picked by Meyer Berlinsky during the AGM, as he wielded his blind-proxy votes, they dutifully voted as he advocated. As such, OSP ceded unilateral control of its Mikvah and instead, for approximately 28 cents on the dollar, conveyed 50% control of the structure. The institution’s name was changed from “The Ohaiv Sholom Mikvah” to “The Paducah Community Mikvah.” As my profound opposition to the arrangement became intensely manifest, I was frozen out of all behind-the-scenes negotiating between and among Meyer Berlinsky, Jerry Miller, and Haskel Plotkin.

For most of the two years since I had arrived in Paducah, Board meetings had been held the third Monday of the month.  Now, under the new “March 18 Board” that had been elected with Meyer Berlinsky’s blind-proxy votes to oust me or otherwise pressure me to leave, meetings were being scheduled clandestinely, so that the Board could meet without scrutiny from the paid membership or policy input or explanation from the Rabbi or the membership.[4]  The secret meetings — secret days, secret times, secret alternating venues, secret unpublished agendas — had become so frequent through July and August 2007 that I no longer could tell whether the Board even was meeting, as originally had been scheduled, on the third Monday of the month.  In another such case, the Board rescheduled its October 2007 monthly meeting from Monday, October 15 to Wednesday, October 17, my weekly contractual day off, when I visited with family in Greenville. The OSP Board Vice President, when pressed to justify rescheduling to a day and time when the Rabbi could not possibly attend, initially avoided disclosing a justification.  When pressed further, he wrote that the Board’s agenda did not require the Rabbi’s presence or participation at the monthly meeting.

Later, the Board would fabricate a Big Lie and claim that it was the Rabbi, not they, who had terminated lines of communication after March 18, 2007.  They would say, among other things, that the Rabbi unilaterally had stopped attending Board meetings.

The Ohaiv Sholom Board Creates New Abuses
and Brings New Pressures on the Rabbi to Resign;
A New Goldstein Incident — and Board Officers Ratify the Assault

Nevertheless, the members of the March 18 Board either did not grasp what was happening around them, as membership rapidly declined, or they did grasp it and decided to utilize the malaise as further justification for replacing the Rabbi.  They exacerbated the mood by trying to impose a series of increasing demands and “requirements” that veered beyond any reasonable reading of the Rabbi’s contract.  As the pressure against me intensified, it became widely inferred among my supporters that the Board was trying to induce me to resign.  One person who had spoken with Louis Minsky, the Treasurer, was told that the Board does not have the kind of money to pay the Rabbi a settlement.  Meyer Berlinsky, meanwhile, during the days leading to the March 18 debacle, met with two of my supporters and explored with them whether they could convince the Rabbi to take a year’s salary and just leave Paducah.  Meyer Berlinsky even offered to have the Board guarantee that they would make good to the Rabbi any capital loss sustained on selling his house during a down real-estate market, if only he would agree permanently to leave Paducah promptly with his family.  When friends told me that Meyer Berlinsky had been asking them to persuade the Rabbi to take the money and leave, I told them to respond to Meyer Berlinsky that the Rabbi is not resigning, the Rabbi is not leaving Paducah, the Rabbi will be in Paducah for at least the next ten years at one synagogue or another, and the Rabbi is not negotiating.

As the Board was increasing and intensifying its focus on making the Rabbi’s life difficult, hoping to induce me to resign, my two supporters on the nine-person Board themselves resigned in the aftermath of ongoing vicious Board activity against me and the Board’s confirmation of Regina Schwartz as its President despite the McCracken County District Attorney’s web page posting.  Between the continual use of Board meetings to focus on attacking the Rabbi, and the election of Regina Schwartz as President, they were finished with the Board — and with Ohaiv Sholom.  A month later, they each opted not to renew membership at Ohaiv Sholom for the coming year.

Once my two supporters within the Board were gone, all Hell broke loose. The Board sharply escalated its hostile efforts to force the Rabbi to resign.  On August 29, 2007, Louis Minsky personally entered my office and handed me a sealed envelope.  Inside was a three-page letter, signed by Meyer Berlinsky, Louis Minsky, Benny Belcher, and Sidney Elbogen — all on behalf of the President, Regina Schwartz — setting forth dozens upon dozens of new demands and “requirements.”  The demands were sprayed like shotgun pellets, scattering in all directions.  The Board demanded that I resume teaching my voluntary Daf Yomi class, which had dissipated nearly six months earlier, immediately after the March 18 AGM debacle.  Not one of the signatories ever had attended that class.  They insisted on formalizing daily office hours (except for Wednesday, my contracted-for day off) when they insisted that I must sit at my office desk, regardless of other pressing rabbinic duties and responsibilities outside the office like hospital visits. Having pressured me into maintaining such formal hours, which are not standard for busy rabbis with full-time agendas that include off-campus pastoral sessions and night-time classes and late-night meetings, they set me up for additional difficulties, precluding me from conducting personal pastoral care — including home visits and hospital visits — as I had been doing for two years.[5]

Further obstructing my pastoral role, the Board’s August 29 letter barred me from meeting with Ohaiv Sholom members outside my office.  However, a great many people refused to meet with me in my synagogue office because privacy within its paper-thin walls was so severely compromised there.  Unless a person would be extremely cautious to maintain his dialogue in a very soft undertone,  every word spoken in my office could be heard in the front office.  The lack of privacy was so severe, even before I arrived in Paducah, that I had negotiated into my contract, when I was hired, that the synagogue would be obliged to sound-proof my office from the front-office.  That provision of the contract was among other contracted-for provisions that never were honored.

Moreover, the Board “required” me to start reporting to them the subjects about which and the problems for which I counsel people each week.  Thus, for Board members who no longer dared attempt to access my personal calendar because I now carried it with me everywhere, or kept it under my own lock-and-key, this would mark a new effort to determine whom I was seeing, what I was discussing with them, monitoring my steps, and invading privacy.  Towards that end, the Board assigned Paula Kaganowitz, the front-office bookkeeper, the responsibility to mark the Rabbi “present” or “absent” each morning.  If the Rabbi would need to be out of the office, say for a hospital-visit emergency or a death in the community, he would have to submit a written reason to Paula Kaganowitz.  If the excuse were accepted by this front-office staffer, the Rabbi would not be marked “absent.”  Otherwise, he would be.  Under such a policy, it became increasingly impossible for me to conduct pastoral care at hospitals, at homes, or elsewhere.  The cost-benefit impact of the newly “required” office hours was stark:  while severely curtailing my ability to attend and be productive at out-of-office meetings and to conduct pastoral care visits at hospitals and private homes, only three visitors ever came to see me in my office during the first three months of “required office hours.” One visitor came for a serious conversation and pastoral need that as easily could have been scheduled flexibly in advance for a different time.  One came for the purpose of handing me a poem she had written in my support. And the third visitor, Mike Goldstein, came into my office abuse and assault me.

Mike Goldstein came to assault me on Monday, August 20, 2007, bursting into my office in a quiet rage. He confronted me with ferocious hostility, refusing to shake my hand as he entered, and proceeded to threaten me that he will make my life so difficult at Ohaiv Sholom that I will have no choice but to resign.  He demanded that I resign before the High Holy Days, three weeks away.  When I responded that I would not, he fumed at me, again in a soft-enough tone controlled so as not to be heard in the next room.  He verbally abused me.  And he then took the 50 or 60 business cards in my card-holder on my office desk, and he violently hurled them around my office.  He was absolutely red in the face. I promptly asked Paula and Rhonda to come in.  As they entered my office’s north door, Mike Goldstein rapidly scampered out the south door and fled the building.  Paula and Rhonda saw the scene on the floor, and they picked up the bent cards.

Uncertain how to respond to this outrage, I promptly phoned three close friends, each of whom advised me to retain an attorney.  Half an hour later, Bradley Hoenig, an Ohaiv Sholom member of many years, became my attorney and communicated directly with Mike Goldstein, forcefully advising him that we would be going to court and seeking a restraining order if anything like that incident recurred.

Continued from Part 5                   Continued at Part 7

 


[1] In beginning to assess more carefully Regina Schwartz as Shul President, it became increasingly clear that she was improperly selected for the office and would continue to manifest a grave disregard for perfect accuracy in all her comments. Complicating the matter of Regina Schwartz’s presidency, she further was unsuited for Presidency of anOrthodox synagogue because, under basic Jewish law, a divorcee may not marry a Kohen.  This is an explicit Torah law, very well known among Orthodox rabbinical authorities and laity alike. (Leviticus 21:7) Yet she is a divorcee married to a Kohen — and was made President of the only non-Chabad Orthodox synagogue in McCracken County.  Today her husband, Tobias, sits on the Ohaiv Sholom Board.

[2] The disclosure to Rhonda was confidential and not shared with Paula Kaganowitz.  Rhonda was obliged, by the nature of her job, much like an attorney’s personal secretary, to maintain a wide range of strict confidences, as people schedule pastoral meetings through her, confidential charitable allocations are distributed through her to people whose financial plights are not known in the greater community, and as a wide range of other confidential matters necessarily pass by her desk.

[3] A Mikvah is a ritual body of water in which married women immerse, typically once monthly, during their fertile years.  Under Jewish law, a Jewish community is bidden to construct a Mikvah even before it builds a synagogue.

[4] Under the Synagogue’s by-laws, all Board meetings must be open to the membership.

[5] By constraining me in the office daily during the prescribed “office hours,” all it would take is for one member to need to meet me at the office in the mid-afternoon, and there no longer would be enough time for me to travel to and from a hospital or home for a private pastoral visit that day.  Mid-afternoon meetings often are required for Bar Mitzvah study, timed for after the elementary-school day ends but before the family settles at home for dinner and the evening. Not only was it impracticable to get out of the office and be certain to return timely by such a mid-afternoon bar mitzvah study session, but I similarly would be precluded after such a mid-day session because I could not leave the office at, say, 4:00 p.m. and thereafter be certain I could return timely for the Mincha-Maariv afternoon-evening service at 6:00 p.m.