Influential Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn are calling for the removal of District Attorney Charles J. Hynes following the acquittal last week of Bernard Freilich, a prominent Hasidic rabbi, on charges of witness tampering. Coming in the wake of a grand jury’s failure to indict four cops accused in the killing of Gidone Busch in Boro Park last year, the Freilich prosecution is seen as the latest in a series of wrongs directed against the Orthodox community.
In the Freilich case, an immigrant couple, Moshe Israel and Anna Shapiro, alleged that the popular Boro Park rabbi—who until his arrest was also a special assistant to the state police—threatened to have them killed unless they dropped allegations of incest and rape against Ms. Shapiro’s father.
“Hynes went after Freilich with a vengeance,” says Rabbi Leib Glanz, a leader of the Satmar Hasidic community, referring to the D.A.’s decision to assign two top deputies, Michael Vecchione and Jay Shapiro—his lead prosecutor on death penalty cases—to the Freilich case.
In a dramatic response to Freilich’s acquittal, about 2000 Boro Park residents attended a celebration in his honor on Saturday at the Satmar Hasidic shul. On Sunday, the head rabbis of each ultra-Orthodox sect in Boro Park met with Freilich, and in speech after speech referred to him and their community as having survived “persecution and prosecution.”
“This is a man with 25 years of service in the public life of Boro Park,” Rabbi Glanz told the Voice. “He was instrumental in creating Tomche Shabbos,” an organization that feeds thousands of Hasidic families each week.
During the trial in Brooklyn Supreme Court, Ms. Shapiro testified that Freilich had come to the couple’s Boro Park home last April on the day before she was to give grand jury testimony, and told them that if she testified they would wind up “in the cemetery.” After she appeared, she alleged, Freilich showed up again and pledged to make good on the threat. Freilich maintains he has never spoken to the couple.
Since his acquittal, Freilich—who friends say once got up at sunrise to help Hynes’s campaign—warns the D.A. of political trouble ahead. “The community doesn’t trust Hynes anymore,” Freilich says, “and he’s obviously going to have problems regaining their support.”
As family members celebrated Freilich’s victory, an uncle gave a short vort (talk) over kosher Chinese cuisine: “This month is Purim, the holiday that commemorates Jewish freedom from their Persian persecutor, Haman. Today, the wicked Haman has once again been defeated by the pious Mordechai—this time Freilich.” One way to interpret the analogy, he explained, is that “the prosecutor, Vecchione could be Haman, while Hynes, his enabler, is the King.”
“I will not be excited to support Hynes again,” Glanz told the Voice. “It’s unlikely that anyone running against him will be worse.”
In a March 10 editorial, the ultraconservative Jewish Press declared: “What bewilders us is the alacrity with which D.A. Hynes indicts persons such as Rabbi Freilich, which is in sharp contrast to his categorical reluctance to [indict the] police officers who shoot a Jew dead on the streets of Boro Park. In our view, there is something very wrong in the way business is conducted in the Brooklyn D.A.’s office.”
“I’ll put it to you this way,” says Reb Avraham, a prominent Hasidic activist who goes only by that name, “regarding the Busch case, the Boro Park community is more furious with Hynes than they are with Giuliani. Hynes was supposed to oversee a fair investigation,” but failed to indict the four cops involved in the shooting of Busch, 31, in Boro Park.
Doris Busch Boskey, Busch’s mother, alleges: “Hynes never had any intention of getting an indictment, and he didn’t even pursue the possibility of lesser charges. I hope my son’s ghost hangs heavy over Hynes, Giuliani, and Police Commissioner Howard Safir as a constant reminder of his senseless murder and the lack of accountability and justice.”
Raphael Eisenberg, a witness to the Busch shooting who testified at the grand jury hearing at which the officers were cleared, told the Voice that the D.A.’s office seemed to be looking for any minor discrepancy to invalidate testimonies. “Hynes’s career is dependent on his popularity among the police,” he asserted.
Reb Avraham maintains that anti-Hynes feelings are now so strong that many Orthodox Jews would join with African Americans—”two communities that have been wronged by Hynes”—to elect a black moderate. “He did some good, but it’s over now what with the legacy of Busch, Freilich, and other cases.”
Avraham translates the last line of a full-page editorial in the March 10 edition of Nayis Baricht (News Report), a major Yiddish-language paper: “. . . perhaps the time has come for [Hynes] to bring his political career to an end and retire while it can still be said that the good of his administration outweighs the bad.”
According to many ultra-Orthodox Jews, there has been much good. For the last decade Hynes has enjoyed a cozy relationship with Brooklyn’s Orthodox communities. Henna White, a Lubavitch woman who serves as Hynes’s liaison to the Jewish community, points to what she sees as culturally sensitive preventive programs for pedophiles, batterers, and drug users that Hynes’s office has initiated over the last two years.
“Hynes is a very caring D.A.,” she maintains, “and the community knows it. The recent incidents are not going to influence Boro Park’s feelings toward Hynes.” White says she was particularly impressed by the way Hynes handled the Crown Heights riots.
However, following the Freilich case, Hasidic leaders who attended the trial are alleging that one of Hynes’s aides made anti-Semitic comments during his summation. Last week, the Jewish Press promised to print portions of the summation—which is currently being transcribed—in upcoming issues, allowing readers to “judge for themselves the appropriateness of some of his comments.” Last year in another controversial case that left the Orthodox community in a state of fury, the same aide allegedly made comments in private to a prominent rabbi and to his lawyer that were construed as anti-Semitic. The lawyer on that case, Roger Adler, told the Voice, “I was shocked when the aide made comments that sounded like more personal attacks on my client than intellectual discourse regarding his innocence.
After Freilich was indicted last year, Orthodox leaders reached out to black Brooklyn assemblyman Clarence Norman—a close friend of Hynes’s—beseeching him to share their concerns with the D.A. The Hasidic community has made other unorthodox alliances regarding Hynes. Park Avenue Synagogue rabbi David Lincoln wrote to Hynes asking why he took such an aggressive stand against Freilich, whom he described as “an outstanding man.” Lincoln told the Voice that Hynes has spoken at his synagogue at least once, “but I think he has lost some credibility over this matter.”
Andrew Stettner, executive director of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, agrees. “We are disappointed with the D.A. Across the board in the Jewish world—and in the Asian and black communities—there is a widespread feeling of injustice.” JFREJ has been organizing events at which secular and religious participants have united in support of petitioning Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate the Busch case.
In the aftermath of the Busch and Diallo cases, the United Jewish Appeal’s Young Lawyers Committee met two weeks ago with Reverend Calvin Butts of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church and Gidone Busch’s brother Glenn Busch, a New York-based lawyer. “In my brother’s case, Hynes never indicted,” Busch told the group. “We need independent prosecutors in police brutality cases.”
On March 5, Congressman Jerrold Nadler reproved attendees at a UJA professional breakfast in Manhattan for not putting more pressure on the Justice Department to help the Busch family, implicitly criticizing Hynes’s office.
“There are certainly questions that have gone unanswered,” he said, such as, “What went wrong in this investigation?”