Fathers & sons


Remember the article in The New York Times Magazine by Zev Chafets about the Syrian Jewish community’s longstanding prohibition not only against intermarriage to non-Jews, but even to people who converted to Judaism? The edict was issued in 1935 by the community’s leader, Rabbi Jacob Kassin.

As the Times notes in an article titled "Syrian Sephardic Communities Shaken by Charges Against a Leading Rabbi," the late Syrian Jewish leader’s son, Kassin, was one of the rabbis arrested yesterday:

One of the five rabbis, Saul J. Kassin, 87, a slight, soft-spoken man who has written several books on Jewish law, leads the largest of about 50 Sephardic synagogues in the United States, Shaare Zion in Brooklyn. He is considered the leading cleric of the national community.

The congregation was founded by his father, Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, who was known from 1932 until his death in 1994 as the chief rabbi of Brooklyn’s Syrian Sephardic Jews.
In 1935, Rabbi Kassin’s father issued an edict forbidding both marriage outside the faith and marriage to Jewish converts, she said. At the same time, Sephardim, unlike the ultra-Orthodox who live at a remove from American society, attend public schools in the lower grades and are encouraged to succeed in business.

What will the community’s reaction be to these arrests? The Time story contains two different sorts of reactions:

David G. Greenfield, executive vice president of the Sephardic Community Federation, a group representing the approximately 100,000 Sephardim in Brooklyn, Manhattan and New Jersey, said in a statement, “The community is shocked and saddened by these allegations, which go against every value and teaching the community holds dear.” He added, “If over time these allegations are proven, we must remember that these are the isolated actions of a few individuals.” …

David Ben-Hooren, a member of the congregation and publisher of The Jewish Voice and Opinion, a conservative monthly newspaper, spoke to reporters at the synagogue, on Ocean Parkway.

"When the facts come out, we’ll find out that those rabbis never broke the law,” he said. “I believe they’re going to be vindicated. Knowing those rabbis for many years, I know that they devoted their lives to charity, and there’s no way that they benefited from any of those activities."

Along similar lines… as we noted yesterday, a key informant in the case appears to be another scion of an elite Syrian Jewish family, Solomon Dwek, who has been accused of defraudign PNC Bank out of $50 million:

He often lent money to families as well as students at the Deal Yeshiva, a religious school founded by his parents that educates students in the Sephardic Jewish tradition, several community members said.

Dwek’s father, Rabbi Isaac Dwek, and his mother, Raizel, founded the Yeshiva more than 20 years ago. Solomon Dwek served as vice president at the school before his arrest. Rabbi Dwek, the school’s president, and Raizel, its treasurer, both resigned from their positions after Solomon Dwek’s arrest.

Solomon Dwek’s wife, Pearl, also worked as a secretary at the school.

Both The Deal and The Asbury Park Press have previously done major features on his story. The New York Daily News, The New York Post and The New York Times all have fresh takes today. The News.

According to The Times, members of the community feel betrayed:

If some people in Deal were able to look past those financial sins — because of his largess, or because he had not been convicted in the 2006 case — his role in the charges against 44 people announced on Thursday, including rabbis who were important in the Syrian Jewish community, was seen by many of them as a betrayal.

As a confidential informant working for federal investigators in the wide-ranging public corruption and money laundering investigation, Mr. Dwek helped secure charges against politicians and rabbis from New Jersey and Brooklyn, including a relative by marriage: Rabbi Eliahu Ben Haim of the Ohel Yaacob Congregation in Deal, who is among those accused of money laundering. Rabbi Ben Haim’s daughter is married to one of Mr. Dwek’s brothers, according to someone who said he knows the family.

This Asbury Park Press report provided a window into how the sting allegedly went down:

… Dwek told targets of the money-laundering investigation that he was involved in illegal businesses, including the sale of counterfeit Gucci and Prada bags, as well as insurance scams and bank frauds.

The witness also openly discussed his bankruptcy proceedings and said he was attempting to conceal cash and assets, Marra said.

According to court documents, one tape-recorded conversation with Eliahu Ben Haim, a 58-year-old Long Branch resident who is principal rabbi at the Ohel Yaacob Synagogue, the cooperating witness presented Ben Haim with a $50,000 check and described it as the proceeds from "that guy who was holding. . . my money for me on that Florida insurance, uh, scam that I did."

According to records and sources, the check, drawn upon an account for a fictitious company set up by the FBI, was made payable to a charitable foundation operated by Ben Haim, with the expectation that the proceeds would be returned to Dwek at a later date. Ben Haim was to take a 10 percent fee for his services, according to the FBI charges. …

And overseas … Fox News reports that "the arrests were headline news in Israel on Friday morning, with the front pages of all three of the country’s mass-circulation dailies featuring pictures of bearded ultra-Orthodox Jews being led away by law enforcement officials. Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for Israel’s national police force, said Friday that Israeli police were not involved in the investigation. He would not comment further."

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