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

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

Continued from Part 6                   Continued at Part 8 (forthcoming)

Meanwhile, the incident, having been perpetrated three weeks before the High Holy Days, posed me with a significant theological leadership dilemma.  Mike Goldstein often would lead Ohaiv Sholom’s Friday night Services, the only services he felt competent to lead. For close to two years, he had been leading eighty percent of the Friday night services, with other guests and members occasionally stepping in to lead such a service approximately once monthly.  There is an aspect of communal honor in leading a service, and the person who so leads serves as the intermediary between G-d and Man, symbolically carrying the congregation’s prayers to G-d’s throne, as it were.  Because the role of leading services is a religious honor and carries practical theological significance, a body of religious law has arisen to circumscribe the rubric of who leads.  Under any understanding of the ecclesiastical literature, a person who walks into a Rabbi’s office, threatens the Rabbi, curses the rabbi, and throws the Rabbi’s business cards around the office amid threats is inappropriate for such honor.

I thought long and hard about ruling, in my role as rabbinic decisor of Jewish law, whether to bar Mike Goldstein from leading the Friday night service.  I knew that such a ruling would be deemed petty by my opponents.  On the other hand, Jewish law clearly barred him from leading the service.  I took a carefully crafted compromise position, explaining that I would not permit Goldstein to lead for the next three Friday night services because these were the Fridays leading to Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).  After that, in the hope that Mike Goldstein privately would have atoned, the prohibition would be lifted.  In this way, I could apply Jewish law, avoid the issue festering, and I added that I never before had ruled Mike Goldstein ineligible to lead services despite so many other provocations through two years.

Within a week of my ruling, Regina Schwartz, writing to me in her capacity as Board President, ordered me to allow Mike Goldstein to lead Friday night services.  She described Mike Goldstein’s assault on me in my office as “the recent unpleasantness” and falsely added that Goldstein had been leading the Friday night service “for ages.”  On behalf of the Board, she stated that Mike Goldstein was to lead services.

I, in turn, obtained a formal written rabbinic ruling from a prominent rabbinic authority at Yeshiva University, my ordaining seminary, that I was acting properly in barring Goldstein from leading the service.  In addition, under the terms of my contract and the by-laws of the synagogue, I took the position that this was a purely ecclesiastical matter and decision, beyond the Board’s authority.  The Board and I exchanged two sets of letters.  I stood my ground.  Mike Goldstein did not lead another service until after the Day of Atonement.

The High Holy Days of September 2007;
Another Vacation Day is Stolen;
The Woody Guthrie Debacle on Yom Kippur Night

Rosh Hashanah 2007 fell on Wednesday evening, September 12, continuing through Friday, September 14.  Under my contract, Wednesday is my day off every week.  Because the weekly free day does not “accrue” to the next week if I voluntarily choose not use it that week, Meyer Berlinsky and I had crafted an informal agreement that, if a synagogue need arises on my day off, I will attend to the synagogue urgency that day and instead may take a different day-off that week.  That was the accepted practice through the first two years I was at Ohaiv Sholom — until September 12, 2007.

My Wednesday “weekly day off” for September 12 clearly was going to be an intense synagogue work day, with Rosh Hashanah beginning in the evening when I would be conducting the annual two-hour Rosh Hashanah Eve service, beginning at 5:40 a.m.  Because the day was going to be so busy, I scheduled and conducted meetings, including trying to help with a significant marital dispute, for that Wednesday morning, too, and scheduled myself for time to finalize preparing my six sermons for the next three days.  Thereafter, from early evening, it would be Rosh Hashanah, one of my busiest holidays of the year.  I would conduct a three-hour evening service, then be hosting the cantor and his family for dinner at my home until 11:00 p.m.  Thus, my synagogue work day ran 18 hours that Wednesday. Accordingly, because I would be working full-blast on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (Rosh Hashanah) and had a full day of meetings and classes on calendar for the day before Rosh Hashanah, I took that week’s weekly day-off on Monday, September 10.  By so doing, I was following the standard office practice that had been established through two years of my tenure.

In an extraordinarily hostile action, Louis Minsky ordered Paula to mark the rabbi “absent” on Monday, September 10.  Thus, he stole a vacation day from me.

Through the two days of Rosh Hashanah and the Shabbat day that followed, my wife and I hosted the cantor, his wife, and her parents for six full meals, and the Cantor and his wife slept over our home for those three days.  I conducted services and delivered sermons that were praised quite heartily by large numbers of the members present. Sadly, approximately thirty membership households among our best friends and supporters were gone, having resigned membership disgusted over the way I had been abused, intensified after the new Board took office on June 1, and fully exacerbated after my two supporters resigned from the Board in early June.

A  week later, my wife and I again hosted the cantor, his wife, and this time his parents as Yom Kippur Eve set in.  The service is the most somber and solemn Jewish service of the year, marked by the chanting of the haunting Kol Nidre prayer, which hearkens back to the tribulations faced by Jews during the Spanish Inquisition.

On that night, which always draws the largest attendance of any worship service all year, Regina Schwartz felt that she had the maximal audience in the building for building congregational spirit.  She chose that Kol Nidre night to demonstrate that Ohaiv Sholom is a place of fun.  Immediately after my Yom Kippur Eve sermon, which had set the tone for Yom Kippur with solemnity and deep spiritual meaning, Regina Schwartz ascended the bimah platform and directed the several hundred people in the room to sheets that had been left on their respective chairs.  The sheets contained lyrics that Regina Schwartz personally had written, to the melody and cadence of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is My Land,” with a repeating chorus of:

This Shul is my Shul.

This Shul is your Shul.

Ohaiv Sholom of Paducah.

So proud to make it mine.

One big Jewish family

In McCracken County.

This Shul was made for you and me.

Another representative stanza contained these lyrics:

Later at Kiddush,[1]

[U]nder the awning,[2]

Families are fressing[3]

In their best dressing[.]

The big tent’s awning

Is white and shining.

This shul was made for you and me[.]

Sitting in my Rabbi’s Chair on the bimah (sanctuary platform) that Kol Nidre night, I had the opportunity to look out on the visages of the assembled congregation.  In seeing the shocked and disgusted facial expressions, I could think only of the scene in Mel Brooks’s “The Producers,” when the Broadway audience experiences “Springtime for Hitler” in the first act.  Jaws dropped.  People shook their heads in disgust, and some buried their faces in the palms of their hands.  Others marched out of the synagogue.  It was a Yom Kippur that could have happened only at Ohaiv Sholom Congregation of Paducah.

The Kol Nidre Debacle of Friday Night, September 21, 2007 stands with the March 18, 2007 AGM, and the Mikvah-groundbreaking-and-ground-refilling fiasco as another profound embarrassment with which Ohaiv Sholom of Paducah will be associated for a generation.

The Tuesday, October 9, 2007 Board Meeting 

(Starting on October 9, 2007, at a tumultuous OSP Board Meeting that will be decribed more fully later, there began a three-and-a-half-month drama that saw the Ohaiv Sholom Board intensify pressure on me to resign.  The pressure focused on making the Rabbi’s life so miserable that he would beg to leave Paducah.  Those efforts in fact caused one member of my family to suffer a medical emergency that resulted in emergency-ambulance hospitalization. During that period, I initially enjoyed the pro bono legal services of Bradley Hoenig, who had rushed to my defense when Mike Goldstein had confronted me in my rabbinical office three weeks before Rosh Hashanah.

(After the tumultuous October 9, 2007 Board meeting, I further retained the legal services of Aubrey Thompson, formerly the litigation head of the Labor and Employment legal department at Jones Knight in Los Angeles, who recently had represented a Rabbi who also had been brought to Paducah by many of the same people I encountered at OSP.  They had brought that Rabbi to become the IMW Head of School.  A year later, the Rabbi encountered very different issues from mine because his role as Head of School at a Jewish community school that did not teach Talmud, or even Mishnah, or even Rashi, or even Chumash, or even Siddur differed from mine as an Orthodox congregational rabbi. Nevertheless, once IMW’s Board had decided to replace him, for reasons unrelated to my situation, that Rabbi then encountered many of the same kinds of abuses from the same people I had encountered. Attorney Aubrey Thompson, a non-Jew, represented that Rabbi successfully and therefore was well situated to protect me, having met and encountered many of the same despicable practices and characters that shocked him.  Even so, Mr. Thompson and I ultimately sought the additional active assistance and intervention of two prominent Rabbis based at Yeshiva University (YU), in dealing with the OSP Board.  In the end, and at our request, the YU rabbis persuaded Ohaiv Sholom to hire their own expert attorney, an important step on which we insisted so that they better could understand from their own paid expert advocate the depths of liability they were facing.  It was the opinion of the YU rabbis that they never before had encountered any congregation-rabbi conflict situation approaching the depravity of what the Ohaiv Sholom of Paducah Board did to my family and me between August 1, 2005 and January 22, 2008.  For a period during this time, YU even blacklisted Ohaiv Sholom, an unprecedented step.)


Continued from Part 6                   Continued at Part 8 (forthcoming)

[1] The Kiddush is a social collation, where congregants eat foods after the Shabbat morning service.

[2] Because of space shortage in the OSP building, the congregation erects a circus-style tent on its grounds six months a year.

[3] According to Uriel Weinreich, Modern English-Yiddish Yiddish-English Dictionary (N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 1968), the most authoritative lexicon in the field, to “fress” is to “gorge oneself” on food.  One who “fresses” is a “glutton.”  Id at 455.  The night and day of Yom Kippur are a public fast when no eating or drinking whatsoever is permitted.