By Debra Nussbaum Cohen (Jewish Daily Forward)
January 13, 2010
It was hard not to feel sympathy for Roza Hinda Weiss as she stood before some 700 Lubavitch women last Sunday night and asked them for money.
At an “Emergency Rally for Pidyon Shvuyim,” or Redeeming a Captive, she was trying to raise $1.5 million for her father’s legal appeal. In November her father, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, was convicted on 86 counts of financial fraud relating to Agriprocessors, the country’s biggest kosher meat processing plant, which he ran and was owned by his family.
Weiss, a tiny young woman in her 20s wearing glasses, a simple sweater and skirt and a dark sheitel, seemed fragile, as she stood on stage in the Crown Heights girls’ school. Her voice broke slightly as she related the trials of going door to door in Monsey, N.Y., after her father’s arrest in October 2008, asking Hasidic Jews there for money on cold fall nights as her husband and three very young daughters waited in the car.
Little did most at the rally know that the very next morning Roza would be by her husband’s side in an Albany courthouse as Rabbi Yaakov Weiss pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child in a plea bargain relating to charges rooted in his sexual molestation of two 13-year-old boys in 2007.
One of his victims is the son of another Chabad family that lives in a nearby town.
Weiss was found guilty of one count of child endangerment, but admitted his guilt under oath, acknowledging that he “touched his penis to the buttocks” of two different boys in the Albany community mikvah, and on the phone urged one of his victims to lie to his mother and police about it.
At the time this molestation took place, the Weisses had two very young daughters and Roza was pregnant with their third. Her husband was teaching children in the Hebrew school he established in Colonie, along with doing other outreach work for which emissaries of the Chabad movement are known. The Chabad organization in charge of emissaries suspended him when he was indicted last August.
Because Weiss accepted the plea bargain that was offered by the DA in order to “spare the children the rigors of a trial,” the prosecutor told me, his maximum sentence will be 60 days in jail. He will be on probation for three years but is not required to register as a sex offender.
I wonder, what must it be like to be Roza Hinda Weiss, nee Rubashkin?
She grew up in a family of great means that was known, according to its many Lubavitch supporters, for its great charity. To be a Rubashkin in the world of Lubavitch was close to being royalty.
Before its downfall, Rubashkin Industries had annual income of $84.9 million, according to a widely-cited Dunn & Bradstreet report.
What happened to all that money?
His supporters needed to raise money to fund Rubashkin’s initial defense, and have already spent $2 million. Support is being solicited by committees like that at the Lubavitch, Crown Heights-based National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education formed to free this “captive.”
Though his supporters and advisors urged Rubashkin to accept a plea bargain offered by prosecutors before trial began, he proclaimed his innocence and, often carrying a picture of the late Lubavitcher rebbe as he went in and out of court, decided to go through with the trial.
And what is it like to be the mother of three very young children and married to a man who has pled guilty to sexually molesting 13-year-old boys in a mikvah?
Like most Lubavitch girls, Roza married early and she and her new husband began having children right away.
Will she continue to stand by her man now that he is a convicted child sexual molester?
Even if she wants a divorce, he holds the power because he must grant her a Jewish divorce, or “get,” which according to Orthodox Jewish law only husbands can grant wives.
If her husband’s downfall had happened before her father’s, she would have had access to the tools – i.e. money and influence – used by some Orthodox fathers in the cases when their estranged sons-in-law are refusing to give their daughters a get.
But now Roza Weiss no longer has access to that money and influence, or even to her imprisoned father. Instead of people coming to her to ask for help, she is asking them.
It is hard to know whether to pity her as a victim of the wrongdoings of the men closest to her, or view her with a different kind of pity, as someone who has totally bought (at least publicly) into the view that her father is a victim and bears no responsibility for defrauding banks and vendors of tens of millions of dollars. We also ought not forget the hundreds of South American workers, many illegal aliens, who were exploited by Agriprocessors’ management by being underpaid, undertrained and forced to live in Rubashkin-owned housing. While related federal charges against Sholom Rubashkin have been dropped, state labor department charges have not.
What she thinks of her husband is hard to say, but it is also hard to imagine living with a man under these circumstances, which she will do at least until his sentencing, slated for March 1st.
One thing was made clear in her speech to the Jewish women of Crown Heights, many of whom were moved by the young woman’s plight to write checks for her father’s legal defense fund: beneath Roza Weiss’ fragile exterior lies a woman whose determination is forged of steel.