Conviction of Brooklyn Bridge Gunman Brings Relief to Lubavitch Community

The conviction of Rashid Baz for the murder of Ari Halberstam and the attempted murder of 14 other Lubavitch boys has been greeted with relief by those whose lives were most touched by the violence, as well as by others in the Jewish community.

The verdict “was a big relief,” said Chana Kalmenson, the older sister of Nachum Sosonkin, who was seriously injured when Baz opened fire on a van full of Lubavitch teens traveling across the Brooklyn Bridge on March 1.

“We’re not getting back what we lost, and we don’t have the death penalty in New York, but at least we’re getting as much as we can,” she said.

Next to Halberstam, the 16-year-old who was killed by Baz’s bullets, Sosonkin, 18, was the most seriously wounded in the attack. He still has a 9-mm bullet lodged in his brain and is undergoing medical tests related to his brain damage.

After the verdict was announced Dec. 1, Halberstam’s father, Rabbi David Halberstam, told New York Newsday that Baz “has no remorse. His only remorse is that he didn’t kill every boy on that van.”

Baz, a Lebanese immigrant who has said he was traumatized by his war-torn childhood, could face up to 146 years in prison when he is sentenced on Jan. 18.

Baz, 28, showed no emotion in court as the verdicts were read. He was also convicted of weapons possession charges in the shooting of the van full of Lubavitch boys.

The boys had been returning to Brooklyn after taking part in a prayer vigil for the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, who had just undergone eye surgery in a Manhattan hospital.

Two Jordanian men, charged with hindering prosecution and with weapons possession, will be tried separately next year. According to Rabbi Shea Hecht, a cousin of Ari Halberstam’s mother, the guilty verdict brought “a tremendous sigh of relief and a tremendous thanks to God” in the Lubavitch community. “We hope that the judge will be very, very strict. Baz was successful in killing one, but his intention was to kill 15, and we hope the judge is as strict with all 15 counts” as he is with the murder conviction, said Hecht, who is also chairman of the board of the Crown Heights-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education.

In other parts of the Jewish community, the verdict was met with similar reaction.

“Let this be a message that bias crimes and acts of violence motivated by racism and anti-Semitism will not be tolerated and will meet with swift and harsh punishment,” said Anita Sher, director of the New York regional office of the Anti-Defamation League.

“The decision unfortunately will not bring back Ari Halberstam, but we hope that it provides a small degree of peace and consolation to his parents and the community,” she said.

Meanwhile, Sosonkin is slowly recovering from his wounds. He was recently released from a Philadelphia rehabilitation hospital and now lives with his sister’s family in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, where the Lubavitch movement is headquartered.

The Israeli-born youth’s parents reside in Israel.

Kalmenson, who has five children under the age of 8, takes her brother to his doctors and therapy appointments several times a week, helps him with his thrice-daily exercises and with his eating.

Sosonkin still cannot swallow and must be tube-fed. Because his balance is also still affected by the injury, he cannot be left alone.

“We have our hands full, but we thank God for all his miracles and hope for more,” said the 28-year-old Kalmenson.

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