The announcement this week that Sholom Rubashkin had been sentenced to 27 years in prison for fraud prompted the Los Angeles Orthodox community to rally together Monday evening in support of Rubashkin, his family and the expected legal appeal of what many feel is a disproportionate punishment for a white-collar crime.
Rubashkin, the former CEO of Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, was convicted late last year on 86 counts of financial fraud. In addition to the prison sentence, the judge, Linda Reade, who sits on the federal bench in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, ruled Rubashkin must pay nearly $27 million in restitution to several banks.
Meir Simcha Rubashkin, 23, the fourth of the convicted man’s 10 children, arrived in Los Angeles on Monday to speak at the rally, which was attended by approximately 800 men and women from various local Orthodox congregations.
Held at the Moshe Ganz Hall on La Brea Avenue, the evening consisted of lengthy — and at times somber — speeches both objecting to the prison sentence and emphasizing the need for the Jewish community to band together. The speeches were preceded and followed by prayers for Sholom Rubashkin’s wellbeing.
A large banner, which read “Justice for Sholom Mordechai,” hung above Meir Rubashkin’s head as he spoke, and he stood out amid a lineup of speakers who all were much older men. White shirt collar unbuttoned and wearing a traditional black hat and black coat, Meir Rubashkin traced the emotional toll of his father’s experience since his arrest last year — from watching his father being handcuffed and taken away “like a common criminal,” to sitting in the courtroom while the judge announced the guilty verdict and while his father passed notes to his family saying, “Just tell everybody that I am unshaken in my faith ... I accept what comes,” to being angered by the judge’s decision to not allow Rubashkin to go home with his family between the verdict and sentencing, instead keeping him behind prison bars.
Meir Rubashkin also expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support for his father. “One of the things that gives him strength is to know that he has the backing of the Jewish world,” he said.
Certainly support was in abundance among the speakers at the rally, which included Rabbi Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, Rabbi Yaakov Krause of Toras Emes Academy and Rabbi Ezra Schochet.
They continually referred to Rubashkin as “our brother.”
Rubashkin, Rechnitz said, “is blatantly being treated unfairly,” and added that the judge’s decision to condemn the 51-year-old Rubashkin to what essentially amounts to a life sentence is an “unfathomable verdict.”
Krause, who told the crowd he has known Rubashkin and his family for 40 years, agreed with Rechnitz, calling the verdict “outrageous,” a sign of “clear prejudice” and “certainly anti-Semitism. No one condones criminal activity,” Krause continued, “but the scapegoating [and] the viciousness is enough to send shivers down the spine.”
Following the rally, Meir Rubashkin said he would see his father on June 22 in Cedar Rapids, where the judge was to officially announce the sentence.
Rubashkin, speaking in a separate interview, also echoed the rhetoric of a memo on the Web site justiceforsholom.org, which cites “the enormous disparity between the treatment of Mr. Rubashkin and others who committed similar [white-collar] offenses” but received lesser sentences.
“That’s racism at its best…or at its worst,” Meir Rubashkin said. He also spoke during the rally of what he saw as hateful sentiments in Iowa against Orthodox Jews.
Rabbi Sholom Weil of Los Angeles, standing next to Meir Rubashkin, agreed that Rubashkin’s sentence makes a statement about negative attitudes toward Jews. “It’s not about Sholom Rubashkin. It’s an attack on Jewish identity, Jewish ideals,” Weil said.
Rubashkin’s brother-in-law, David Goldman, stood in the audience, where there were not enough chairs to accommodate all those who had shown up. Goldman described the significance of such rallies. “It’s a matter of helping Sholom and the family emotionally and monetarily,” Goldman said.
Outside the rally, volunteers collected donations to support Rubashkin’s legal council for the expected appeal.
For more information on how to express concern regarding the handling of Rubashkin’s case, check jewishjournal.com articles.