Takeaway From the Celebration of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin

I thought long and hard before deciding to write and post this piece. I know there are many who will dismiss what I have to say immediately. There will be those who will misrepresent the points I make.  I do hope however that you try and keep an open mind, and really try and think about what you read here. I know that doing so will allow constructive and productive conversation to follow, and that is my goal. In order to make change, you must step out of your comfort zone and swim against the waves.

I want to start off by saying that I agree with and even applaud President Trump for his decision to commute the sentence of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin. His punishment was excessive and extreme. If you understand the circumstances around the case and trial, you cannot deny that. In addition, I have personal ties to the Rubashkin family, and I am thrilled and overjoyed for all of them. I sincerely hope that the release of Shalom Mordechai will bring true peace, comfort, and joy to his family.

It was remarkable to witness the unity, the coming together, the passion and energy. As the news spread like wildfire, celebrations began all across the world. They didn’t let up, lasting until the wee hours of the morning and beyond.

With the celebration came those who questioned if we should really be celebrating a convicted felon. Are we excusing or celebrating his actions? Is a heroes welcome truly deserving of someone who broke the law, and Torah law as well?

I saw many responses to such questions. “We all make mistakes”. “Who are we to judge”. “He was treated unfairly because he is Jewish”. “He has helped thousands with his charity”. “He is a good person”. “Love of a fellow Jew trumps all”. “We don’t leave ANY Jew behind”. I think that all these are reasonable responses on some level, but it did get me thinking. Do we as a community actually believe these things, or is it just lip service?

Yeshivas around the world celebrated last night because of all the reasons I listed above. What about all the kids whom those same yeshivas have kicked out on to the streets without thinking twice? Were those kids given the same benefit of the doubt? Were those kids not worthy of being treated like family? What made it okay to leave them behind?

Our community is suffering from a rampant drug issue. Kids who feel they have been judged and mistreated are turning to drugs for answers and relief. The results have been devastating, many times fatal. Why is it so easy to turn the other way? Where is the unity, energy, and love for those who are struggling so mightily? Why are the streets not full of people standing up for them? Why are we not taking the suffering and death of so many of our youth personally?

Speaking to some of these kids as the celebrations went on – shook me to my core. An entire community fought for one man and made a difference. Their tireless efforts resulted an outcome that many couldn’t even dream of. They did it with love, determination, and belief. Truly incredible! So why stop there? What made him worthy, and them not? Hundreds if not thousands of our youth are waiting to feel just a drop of that same love and belief. The isolation and desperation they feel is a different kind of prison, but a prison still. A prison they must suffer in having not broken any laws. A prison sentence that for many will last a life time.

Leaders of our community spoke out. Musicians and entertainers shared their thoughts on social media and at concerts. Facebook feeds were full of people sharing videos from celebration in their cities. At the same time a child of ours is in an alley, alone — with a syringe in his/her arm.

Silence.

Enough of the hypocrisy! Let’s take the energy, passion, unity, and love of the last 36 hours and show Chaim, Mendel, Leah, and Chaya that we TRULY believe that NO ONE should be left behind. That we really do believe that EVERY Jew is family, and we take care of our own. Let’s show them the very same kindness, belief, and understanding.

Let’s learn a valuable lesson from the last eight years. When we come together, when we unite as one people — we can make a difference! When we don’t give up on our family, miracles happen! Let’s all take a long hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are just giving lip service, or do we actually practice what we preach. Each and every one of us can and needs to do better. Period. One of ours is desperately waiting and counting on YOU.

In the past I have spoken out in defense of the Chasidic community, when they have been generalized and labeled because of the actions of a select few. At the same time, I will not bite my tongue when I feel there is an real issue that needs to be addressed. The events of the last couple days have helped me realize that we simply are not making enough progress, and we have only ourselves to blame.

I too know what it’s like to sit in prison. I will never stop speaking out to make sure no one else in OUR family has to sit there too. I will not stop until all of our families feel the same joy, comfort, and peace of having their families whole again. Will you join me?

About the Author
At the age of nineteen, Leibel Mangel left his home and family in Cincinnati, Ohio to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces as a lone soldier. As the son of a Rabbi and the grandson of one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz - serving in the IDF was not a matter of if, but rather when. Leibel served as a machine gunner in the Kfir Brigade, where he took part in numerous high profile anti-terror operations including the tragic discovery of the bodies of Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah who were kidnapped from Gush Etzion in 2014. Leibel has used his story and experiences to continue his service by fighting for Israel in both mainstream and social media and in cities throughout the country. Leibel is also the recipient of a 2017 Jewish People's Choice Award.
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