CHICAGO, Dec. 4 (JTA) – Members of Chicago’s Jewish community are expressing shock and dismay about the arrest of a former temple cantor and his wife of a few weeks.
The two were charged in connection with a prostitution ring. Joel Gordon, 51, who has served at several Chicago-area synagogues, was charged Nov. 21 with keeping a house of prostitution following a police raid on three massage parlors, operated out of private apartments in the northern suburbs.
His wife, Alison Ginsberg, 23, was charged with prostitution and keeping a house of prostitution.
Gordon was most recently the cantor and spiritual leader of Congregation Shirat Emet, a now-defunct synagogue in the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove, Ill.
Cantorial colleagues of Gordon’s were stunned by the news.
Cantor Shlomo Shuster of Ezra Habonim-Niles Township Jewish Congregation trained Gordon as a cantor. He remembers his student as “very talented and bright– but one who liked to dance on the edge.”
“I’m very sad,” he continued. “It’s very bad for all Jews, for the profession, and it’s a disgrace to God’s name, especially for a member of the clergy, who wears the mantle of God.”
Cantor Eric Wasser, president of the Midwest Region of the Cantors Assembly, said, “Obviously, we want to give anyone the benefit of the doubt until due process has taken place.”
Gordon, he said, “has a real musical talent. We will offer our support in whatever ways we can. Certainly, there have been clergy with problems before, but this is pretty unique.”
Wasser, whose group is affiliated with the Conservative movement, said he had not seen Gordon in a couple of years. Gordon used to be active in the organization, helping to plan programs, Wasser said, but had curtailed his involvement the last several years.
Gordon resigned from the Cantors Assembly last week.
One of the founding members of Shirat Emet, Betsy Delman, expressed a mixture of anger and heartbreak at the news of Gordon’s arrest.
“Once you get over the shock and disgrace of his part in something so sleazy, you feel sorry for him,” said Delman, who remembered Gordon as a “Pied Piper” with children.
“What was it that turned him in this direction – the demise of his synagogue; his age? His voice was incomparable. Was it all just superficial? Was there another person in him? Was there something that made him change? How do we explain to our children what a supposedly spiritual man has done?”
Cook County Sheriff’s Police said female employees at three Golden Touch Massage parlors offered sexual favors for money and the business featured massages performed by nude women.
As part of the undercover investigation, a female officer applied for a job with the owner of the business. The officer was told by the owner she could make between $600 and $1,100 per day working for him, but that all activities performed would be “illegal,” the sheriff’s department said.
Both Gordon and Ginsberg declined comment, when reached by phone at the home of her mother. When asked if their lawyer, whom she refused to identify, would comment on their behalf, Ginsberg said, “Don’t call him. He doesn’t want to be bothered.”
Several other people were also arrested in connection with the ring. All were released on bail.