Sunday, July 11, 2010

Remembering the Rubashkins in Happier Times, by Shoshanna Silcove

I like to remember our old friends Sholom Mordecai and Leah Rubashkin in happier times past. My husband Chaim and I both knew them as singles before we met each other. We were each independently welcomed as Shabbos guests in their home on President Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. On a date  I mentioned to Chaim that I was planning on eating the Friday night meal there. Without letting me know beforehand, he surprised me and showed up at the Shabbos table too. I felt awkward as I gazed across the table at the young man I knew would become my husband. I cornered Leah in the kitchen and told her that the Australian guy at her table was the man I was going to marry, only maybe he didn't know it yet! Leah discreetly jumped for joy and said she was so excited that two of her guests may get engaged. She told me that if we did then she was going to make our vort (engagement party). A few weeks later we did indeed get engaged and the Rubashkins made us a a beautiful vort, sparing no expense, extending the warmest hospitality as if we were their own mishpacha (family). I treasure the memories and the photos.

Sholom Mordecai and Leah were a role model couple for me as a new adherent to Torah Judaism. Their incredible strong marriage, and the warmth, generosity, and joyousness of their home,  encouraged me to want to embrace a Torah lifestyle.  They seemed to have it all--they were a young handsome couple with gorgeous adorable well behaved children, a fine home, a strong foundation in Torah knowledge, and a great sense of fun and humor. They attracted a constant stream of guests. Sholom Mordecai never seemed to tire of being a great host, constantly smiling and telling Chassidic stories, D'vrei Torah, and singing niggunim, often into the deep hours of the night. On Pesach he would go on into the wee hours of the morning. He never seemed to run out of vitality.

I knew that Sholom Mordecai's family had wealth but, it was never flaunted, as they were always down to earth and treated everyone with respect. They often had guests at their table from the fringes of society, but Sholom Mordecai and Leah treated all of them as if they were royalty.  Sholom Mordecai worked extremely hard in the family business, but he would often express that his heart was not really into being a businessman and that he knew there was more to life than making money. He dreamed of being a shaliach of the Rebbe, and the little spare time he had available was spent doing a tremendous amount of shlichas work, all without fanfare.

When I became pregnant the doctor ordered complete bed rest for me. As soon as Leah heard this she insisted we stay as guests in her home the entire Pesach. She had a house full of small children and was running an open home while waiting on me hand and foot the entire Pesach-- all with a warm and happy smile. I remember she made the best Pesach potato kogel I have ever tasted. She kept saying the entire time how much she loved Pesach, as she slaved away for hours on end in the kitchen. Her eldest daughter Rosa Hindy was quite the little helper and she wore an apron that said 'Brooklyn Balabustah" on it----totally adorable!  Sholom Mordecai enjoyed conducting a very long Seder and, if anyone at the table would start to nod off he would jokingly throw more matzah at them to wake them up. He would always say that life is short and it has to be enjoyed. He surely showed a gusto for living.

During those happy days some 20 years ago, if anyone had suggested that Sholom Mordecai and Leah Rubashkin's fate would have been anything but a fairy tale I would have simply laughed as it would have seemed totally preposterous to me. No one could have ever imagined the terrible tragedy that has befallen this wonderful family.

Often I think about Sholom Mordecai and picture him in my minds eye languishing in jail. I try to banish those horrific images and comfort myself in the knowledge of the strength of the man's character and his many merits. I also think about Leah and her ordeal and I am in awe of the great middos of this woman, a true woman of valour. When I find myself wondering why Hashem allowed special Yidden like these to go through such suffering I stop myself and remember that 'His thoughts are not our thoughts". We cannot ask too many questions like this lest we literally go mad as there is no comprehensible explanation. All we can do at this point is daven, and maybe that is really doing a huge amount.

In the meantime I like to think of my old friends Sholom Mordecai and Leah Rubashkin with great fondness and cherish the memories I have of them in happier times. 

May Hashem grant a complete yeshua (liberation) for Sholom Mordecai ha Levi ben Rifkah.





17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this touching story. May we hear good news.

Naftoli Biber said...

I appreciate your sharing your personal relationship with the Rubashkins with your readers. I didn't know Sholom Mordechi personally but when I lived in Crown Heights he stood out from the crowd as he always had a genuine smile on his face.

Hallie said...

Your reminiscences are touching. I didn't know the Rubashkins personally, but had heard about their amazing chesed. In the merit of all his communal deeds, may Hashem grant him an appeal, if not a complete release from a horribly severe sentence.

Milhouse said...

I find that this is something many people completely miss. When I talk about what good people the Rubashkins are, and how much chessed they do, people somehow imagine I'm talking about the tzedakah they give, and of course they say that lots of bad people give tzedakah, it's how rich people buy kavod, and even that giving away stolen money (as they characterise it) is no mitzvah.

But I'm not even talking about the tzedakah; cutting cheques is indeed easy if you've got the money to back them, and though the Rubashkins have indeed given away huge amounts of money that's not why I admire them. I expect rich people to give a lot of tzedakah. But I don't expect them to give of themselves, as the Rubashkins do. I expect a gevir to give a large donation to a soup kitchen; I don't expect him to turn his home into one. I expect him to support a homeless shelter; I don't expect him to take in a stranger who knocks on the door late at night, personally make him some food, make up a bed, and make him feel as if it were no imposition at all.

I expect a gevir approached on the street for a donation to refer the person to his secretary; I don't expect him to reach into his pocket and give the several thousand dollars he's just withdrawn from the back for his own use, so that he now has to go back to the bank for more. I expect a gevir to care for the poor en masse and in the abstract; I don't expect him to take a personal interest in each beneficiary of his largesse, know their names and their stories, and have a cheering word for them.

This is why I refused to believe any of the stories that were circulating about how Sholom treated his workers; that's just not in his nature.

Shoshanna Silcove said...

Indeed! SMR could not hurt a fly or stand to see one get hurt.

Anonymous said...

say tehillim and pray for him

Anonymous said...

He hurt a bank pretty badly. He also employed some minors in pretty poor conditions.

Repenting Jewess said...

SMR was acquitted of all charges related to exploitation of his workers and, soon G-d willing, he will be completely vindicated of all fraud charges too.

Repenting Jewess said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Is it your honest belief that he didn't employ underage kids in appaling conditions?

You say that "G-d willing" he will be vindicated of the fraud. Do you care whether or not he actually committed the fraud, you just want G-d to vindicate him. Or, is it your honest belief that he did not commit any fraud.

I guess I'm interested to know whether you care about the justice of this case, or whether you simply want him freed because he's one of your own.

Repenting Jewess said...

I will not allow any further discussion of the particulars of SMR's case here. Do that on other blogs or you can go to http://justiceforsholom.org for more information regarding his legal problems. The purpose of the article was to share my memories and offer a human side to the Rubashkins.

Suffice to say that anyone who knows me would know that I am not a person who defends someone out of some sort of Chabad tribalism. After studying the details of the case over the course of several years, I honestly believe, in fact, I know that SMR is completely innocent of all criminal charges and he will be vindicated, with G-d's help.

Anonymous said...

Will you allow discussion about your own views on the case?

I find it amazing that you "know" that he is innocent, but that you say this is unrelated to Chabad tribalism.

I'm also not interested in discussing the aspects of his case. However, given that this blog is about your views (eg, whether or not Chabad is a cult), you should allow comments about your views on SMR.

Repenting Jewess said...

This blog is a dictatorship since I choose the topics I want to discuss on my own blog. You can discuss what you want on your blog. I reiterate: I wrote this article to bring out the human side of Sholom Mordecai and Leah Rubashkin and that is all I wish to discuss here. I do not have to prove to anyone that my beliefs are not based on Chabad tribalism. Go to other blogs where there are heaps of megabytes rehashing all apsects of the case. I've had enough of that topic, for now, thank you.

Anonymous said...

No problem. I respect your wishes.

Pity though. It would have been an intersting discussion.

Repenting Jewess said...

It's a woman's perogative to change her mind. Maybe in the future, right now it is too raw for me emotionally and I would rather try to not dwell on it.

Anonymous said...

I want to share one story with your readers I heard first hand of this incredible Rubashkin family.
I recently was talking with a Yid from Eretz Yisroel who told me that one Tishrei he came in to crown Heights. And being that he was struggling financially he approached Sholom Mordechai who helped him cover his travel expenses.

Anonymous said...

I find it painful that people can throw mud at SMR. Do not judge another until you have stood in his shoes. Whatever SMR did or did not do was under difficult financial pressure. His sentence was out of complete proportion. Nothing more than blatant anisemitism.