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Ghostville

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This morning I got the president of Gal Investments, Gabay Menhel, on the phone. The Israeli-born Menhel heads a real-estate company in Postville, Iowa, where federal agents Monday hauled off 390 employees of the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse on suspected immigration violations.

Many of those workers were tenants of Menhel, who says his properties now resemble a ghost town. “One guy here, one guy there, most of them are gone,” he said. “It’s very scary.”

Menhel said he doesn’t know how many of his (former?) tenants were employed at Agriprocessors, the kosher slaughterhouse with a checkered history of food and safety violations in addition to its habit of hiring undocumented workers.

Unsurprisingly, Menhel didn’t want to guess how many of his tenants might be in the country illegally. He did speculate that 80 percent of them were foreign-born and that when the Feds showed up Monday with their helicopters and their search warrants, many of them bolted.

“They are very scared of authorities,” Menhel said.

Because of that fear, Menhel said his company tries “to take little information” from prospective tenants. He dismissed a suggestion that might indicate they have something to hide. Menhel said even his “top worker,” a man he insisted was in the country legally, had fled with his family after the raid. To where? He didn’t know. “This is too much, too scary,” the man told him.

For now, Menhel says the prevailing feeling in Postville is fear. All the restaurants are closed and news agencies are reporting that students aren’t showing up for school. “People are scared, scared what’s going to be with their town,” he said. “It’s a big uncertainty.”

Asked about his company’s website – which features a picture of the headquarters of Chabad at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, where the late Lubavitcher rebbe once held court, even though his business is done entirely in Postville – Menhel had this to say: “That’s the picture of our rebbe. Everything in Jewish faith is God, you know. Everything should reflect God. Even my home page should reflect godliness.”

And besides, Menhel added, none of his customers go to the home page anyway.

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