CHERRY HILL, N.J. (Nov. 7)
Stripped of his pulpit and unsure of his future, former Rabbi Fred Neulander apparently set pen to paper.
But rather than write about the Nov. 1, 1994, murder of his wife — a murder that could cost him his life, if a jury finds that he ordered it — Neulander chose to write about his day-to-day experiences as a rabbi.
His book — “Keep Your Mouth Shut and Your Arms Open: Observations From the Rabbinic Trenches” — was published this week, as a New Jersey jury deliberated Neulander’s fate.
The book consists of vignettes about a rabbi’s dealings with people during important life cycle events. The 288-page paperback sells on the Internet only, for $17.95.
Neulander is accused of paying a hit man $30,000 to kill his wife of 29 years in the couple’s home. He maintains his innocence, saying he had absolutely nothing to do with his wife’s murder.
No fingerprints or murder weapon have been found.
Neulander wrote the book under the pseudonym Rabbi Adam Plony, which is a common term for someone who wants to remain anonymous, according to Rabbi Albert Lewis, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth Sholom.
Lewis’ shul is located near Neulander’s former M’Kor Shalom, which is one of the biggest synagogues in southern New Jersey. He had high praise for Neulander’s book and wrote a blurb for the publishing company.
“I read it a couple of months ago. There are some beautiful stories that happen to rabbis in life,” Lewis said, noting that the book contains both moments of familial joy like weddings and Bar Mitzvahs — and familial pain during sickness and death.
Some of those same elements set the stage for Neulander’s downfall. Two women who testified in the murder trial spoke of coming to Neulander in times of need — and ending up having affairs with him.
Neulander began the book about 10 years ago, and began working with literary agent Elizabeth Trupin-Pulli about six years ago. Trupin-Pulli had trouble finding a publisher, but said she always thought there was a market for Neulander’s stories.
About three years ago, she helped form Disc-Us, a small publishing firm out of Sarasota, Fla. The firm printed 3,000 copies of Neulander’s book.
Trupin-Pulli said that when she began the project she had never heard about Carol Neulander’s murder. Even after she heard about the case, Trupin-Pulli decided to continue working on it — because the book doesn’t deal with it
“It is a very humanistic book,” she said, noting that Neulander comes across as a “compassionate guy.”
Abby Konigsberg, of Moorestown, N.J., laughed when she learned of the book.
“He married me. He named my daughter. He talked to me when I was going to get married. I had spoken with him when I split up,” she said. “I don’t have any respect for the man whatsoever. In my family, they think he is guilty as sin.”
Konigsberg views the book as Neulander’s attempt “to cover his skin.”
Neulander officiated at the Bat Mitzvah of Temple University student Erin Kabo.
“I think he did it,” she said, referring to the murder. “There’s so many lies; everyone is lying about everything,”
Covered in many newspapers and on Court TV, the murder trial “is embarrassing,” Kabo said. “It’s embarrassing to me. It’s embarrassing for the congregation and for religion.”
Neulander isn’t the only author from M’Kor Shalom.
Former Assistant Rabbi Gary Mazo, who now heads a synagogue in Massachusetts, wrote “And the Flames Did Not Consume Us: A Rabbi’s Journey Through Communal Crisis.” That book deals with events surrounding Carol Neulander’s murder and how the M’Kor Shalom congregation dealt with it.
Mazo testified during the trial that Neulander seemed to be overly evident at the synagogue the Tuesday night his wife was killed. He also testified that he had seen Neulander in his office with an envelope filled with thousands of dollars in cash.
Also testifying during the two-and-a-half week trial was Leonard Jenoff, the hit man Neulander is said to have hired.
Jenoff and his roommate, Paul Michael Daniels, have pleaded guilty to killing Carol Neulander by beating her over the head until she died.
Throughout the trial, Jenoff said Neulander helped plan the murder and paid Jenoff for it. However, Jenoff also admitted that he has a history of lying.