Just when you think things in Crown Heights couldn’t get any stranger, they do.
Last December, we chronicled the tale of the powerful Rubashkin clan — the Crown Heights Lubavitch family that practically ran the kosher meat-processing business in America, until they were brought down by a huge immigration raid and a host of legal troubles.
Throughout the national news frenzy, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights was like the eye of the storm: as chaos ensued, people gathered in solidarity with the Rubashkins. When Moshe Rubashkin had to appear in court in Philadelphia — the twice-convicted felon was accused of illegal storing hazardous chemicals in his abandoned Allentown textiles factory and then lying to the EPA — hundreds of religious Crown Heights residents woke up at 5 a.m. and came to the trial by busload. Even people who privately disagreed with his conduct were there to support him.
For those crimes, Moshe Rubashkin — the brother of Agriprocessors meatprocessing plant CEO Sholom — was sentenced to sixteen months in a federal prison, where he is currently serving time. For two years prior, Moshe also directed the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, a publicly-funded social service organization whose leadership doubles as the neighborhood’s rabbinical council. (It’s a powerful position for many reasons — not the least of which is that its leader has the power to appoint the rabbi who certifies the meat that is considered kosher by neighborhood supermarkets).
No one seemed to mind that he had been twice-convicted on felony charges. And the strange thing is, even though he went to jail in November, he remained president of the council until elections were held in May.
In May, Moshe Rubashkin’s ticket lost the election. And then, something strange happened: Over the past few months, Moshe’s family and supporters have waged a court battle to retain control of the council.
They have asked a judge for a restraining order against rival rabbinical leaders who won the election. In May, the rival leaders obtained a restraining order against them from a Brooklyn judge. The judge also prohibited the Rubashkin camp from coming close to the council’s Bank of America account.
(Two years prior, Rubashkin had been prohibited from handling the council’s money when he was convicted on a felony charge of writing $325,000 in bad checks. But that didn’t stop him from being elected to the leadership position, or folks like Mayor Bloomberg from calling him when he wanted to convey a message to the community).
Recently, a letter from the Rubashkin camp showed up on one of the rival leader’s blogs. The letter, from a leading rabbi, was a religious mandate saying that “even from jail,” Rubashkin was allowed to lead the council until he could appoint another leader. “He is the most corrupt rabbi in the world!” screeched an anonymous post on an anti-Rubashkin site. Yesterday, the dueling rabbis were in court again.