June 6, 2012
The Curious Case of Rabbi Alan Abrams
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Abrams, when asked if he was a member of either the IRF or NAJC, or if he had ever donated to UTJ, said he had “disposed” of his online resume, which he said was three years old. He said he had sent an application to IRF, but that it was never received, and he said he is “active with UTJ.”
Regarding the NAJC, Abrams said he is a member “in good standing.”
He described it as “an affiliate membership. It’s just a different amount paid. I’m an affiliate member.”
Asekoff, however, clarified that affiliates of NAJC are not considered members of the organization. “We intentionally do not use the word member,” She said. “He was never a member.”
It is possible that because Abrams presents himself as a rabbi, he may be subject to less scrutiny than others would be. At Roze Room, the employee who interviewed Abrams may have been less vigilant in her questioning than she would have been with a nonclergyman.
“I don’t know if she’s religious, but she keeps the faith,” Beker said of the interviewer. “Obviously, when a rabbi comes in, there are certain things that you automatically assume, and I think her interview was not, perhaps, as thorough as I think it should’ve been.”
Hecht, who interviewed Abrams before he started work at Windsor Terrace, said he had made a good first impression.
“He seemed like a very nice man, a very caring person, very compassionate,” she said. “And he did a really beautiful job leading the services.”
Hecht said she did check his references and performed a background check on Abrams as well.
“Nothing showed up that would’ve been a question to us,” she said.
Adding to the challenge, the idea of consulting with rabbinical organizations before hiring a rabbi appears to be more helpful in theory than in practice.
For Bisman, Abrams’ former rabbi, the fact that Abrams was not a member of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix when he lived there is as significant a statement as any rabbinical body can make about another purported rabbi’s status.
“Except to deny someone admittance to a particular board of rabbis, the rabbis, per se, have no ability to regulate or inhibit individuals from calling other people rabbis if they call themselves rabbis,” Bisman said.
In other words, if Abrams calls himself a rabbi, all that any Board of Rabbis can do is deny him membership. But with so many rabbinical organizations in existence, it can be hard to gauge which certifications are relevant.
Indeed, rabbis, even when they are suspicious of another rabbi, are often reluctant to say or do anything publicly to call into question a rabbi’s credentials, perhaps in part because they fear they might be sued.
This fear of litigation appears to have kept at least one other person who came across Abrams in the past from speaking up about him later on.
Days before this story went to press, I spoke with Mike Blumhoff, a primary-care physician who is the majority partner of Alliance Urgent Care, a company that runs six medical clinics in Arizona. Blumhoff was one of the three doctors who, in 2007, filed a complaint with police alleging that Abrams had stolen $73,000 from them in a complicated scheme involving loans from a medical equipment company.
“The same thing that he [Abrams] did to us he had done to several other businesses,” Blumhoff told me.
Abrams was arrested, his home was searched, but the charges against him were eventually dropped, Blumhoff said, because the judge in the case decided that the doctors had been complicit with Abrams.
“There were no charges filed,” Abrams wrote in an e-mail in response to questions about Blumhoff’s allegations. “I have never been charged with anything of the like in any State or jurisdiction.”
And because the Maricopa County attorney did not proceed with criminal prosecution, Blumhoff said that he and his partners would only have been able to pursue Abrams’ company in civil court. Blumhoff said other doctors and veterinarians had tried to sue Abrams in the past, but he and his partners never did.
“We did a quick asset search and his company had nothing,” Blumhoff said.
A few years ago, Blumhoff did notice that Abrams had begun calling himself a rabbi. Blumhoff considered calling the organization with which Abrams was then affiliated, but ultimately decided against it.
“If I call them and I say, ‘Hey this guy’s a fraud,’ I could have some liability there,” Blumhoff said. “I didn’t feel comfortable calling him out, but the thought certainly crossed my mind.”
In Abrams’ case, the fear of litigation appears to be warranted. According to Roze Room’s Beker, after his termination from the company, Abrams alleged that a female employee had sexually harassed him during his two-week orientation period.
According to Beker, Marina Kats Fraigun, a lawyer representing Abrams, later sent an e-mail to Roze Room’s attorney demanding a “significant” sum of money as a settlement.
Reached by phone on June 4, Fraigun would not comment, nor would she say whether she was in fact continuing to represent Abrams.
On March 10, Roze Room filed a suit against Abrams, claiming fraud and extortion.
In an e-mail responding to questions about these claims, Abrams wrote that his cases with Roze Room “are in the midst of being settled with no admission of liability.”
Meanwhile, Daniel Perlman in mid-May began serving as Abrams’ attorney in reference to the case involving Jay and Elener Jacobs. Perlman cited the ongoing law enforcement investigation as the reason Abrams is refusing to answer questions about where Elener Jacobs’ property is, as well as whether Abrams had emptied her bank account or if Abrams ever took possession of her Social Security checks.
Perlman did claim, however, that Jay Jacobs has been harassing Abrams with e-mails and phone calls. Noting that Abrams had brokered the mother-son reunion, Perlman suggested that Jay himself was just looking for money.
Perlman further said that he believes Abrams’ intentions “were charitable.”
“He developed a very close friendship with Elener Jacobs,” Perlman said. “Obviously it’s not ending well.”