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North Carolina community reacts to rabbi’s arrest


NEW YORK, July 3 (JTA) — A North Carolina community, already reeling from the news that a local Chasidic rabbi took part in an armed robbery a decade ago, is now dealing with the rabbi’s recent arrest for indecent exposure.

Rabbi Pinchas Lew, 31, of Chapel Hill, was arrested on misdemeanor assault charges on May 16 after a woman accused him of repeatedly touching his genitals in front of her.

The woman, a housekeeper in Lew’s home, reportedly said Lew had bolted all the doors and that she feared he planned to assault her. She managed to escape through a back door.

The woman filed a complaint with police two days later and Lew was arrested four weeks after the incident. He was released on a $1,000 bond.

Lew, married with five children, led religious study and frequently held services in his home for college students, most of whom attend the nearby University of North Carolina.

Lew, who could not be reached for comment, has taken a leave of absence from his job. A court hearing is slated for July 9.

Members of the community had just learned of Lew’s conviction for his part in an Iowa armed robbery 10 years ago.

Lew’s past conviction was written about in Stephen Bloom’s “Postville: A Clash of Cultures in Heartland America,” released last year.

The book examines tiny Postville, Iowa, where in 1987 a group of Lubavitchers opened a kosher slaughterhouse. Hundreds of Chasidim flocked to the town, but clashed with the locals — although one member of the community now serves on Postville’s City Council.

A chapter of the book is devoted to a 1991 incident in which an armed robbery and shooting shook up the town. Lew, who drove the getaway car, served 81 days in jail and was sentenced to five years’ probation.

“Clearly, there is deep community concern over the charges, particularly because this is an individual who is here to work with students. The whole incident is highly unusual,” said Lew Borman, executive director of the Raleigh-Durham Jewish Federation.

After the local community learned about the Postville incident, more than 100 members of the local Jewish community attended a meeting to hear Lew talk about his criminal past.

Coincidentally, that meeting occurred on the same day he allegedly assaulted the woman in his home.

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