The following is a transcript of the remarks of Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel at last night’s dinner of Agudath Israel of America:
B’rshus Chavrei Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, shlita, Chavrei Hanesius, shlita, Admorim, Rabbonim, and Roshei Yeshiva, our choshuve group of honorees, all of our dear guests. Thanks to each and every one of you for coming here tonight. Your presence gives us tremendous chizuk, for which we are deeply grateful.
I will have occasion to say something about our major honorees as we move forward in the program. But I also want to take a moment to say how much I appreciate our Avodas Hakodesh honorees: Daniel Baumann, Yitzy Eckstein, Yisroel Golding, Shimon Katz, and Baruch Rabinowitz.
At Agudas Yisroel, we try to choose our honorees for their character, integrity, and sterling middos. I hope you will all agree that this year’s group of Avodas Hakodesh awardees are exactly the kinds of people we should hold up as role models in our community.
The same is true of the dinner chairman tonight, my good friend Howard Tzvi Friedman. Reb Tzvi, you bring great honor to Hashem and to Klal Yisroel in everything you do, and we’re very proud to have you with us tonight.
Two weeks ago, I had occasion to speak at two gatherings, one in Flatbush and one in Boro Park, at which we said Tehillim as a z’chus for Sholom Mordechai Halevi Ben Rivka.
The mere fact that I can simply mention his Hebrew name, and virtually every single one of you in the audience knows exactly who I am talking about, and why we were davening for him, says a lot about how the Rubashkin case has galvanized our community over the past weeks and months.
At the risk of stating the obvious, none of us who have been davening for Mr. Rubashkin, or who have been involved in the shtadlonus efforts on his behalf, condone in any way any of the criminal activity for which he has been convicted. Aderaba v’Aderaba.
I don’t mean to be melamed chova, chas v’Sholom, but we need to do all in our power to eradicate, once and for all, the shady dealings, the unethical conduct, the casual attitude toward the law of the land, that is all too often exhibited by members of our very own community.
It is for this reason that Agudas Yisroel is taking numerous concrete steps to bring about improvements in this area. At this year’s convention, the Thursday night plenary program , attended by over a thousand Yidden and addressed by our leading gedolim, was devoted exclusively to this topic. Since this past summer, we have sponsored approximately ten seminars devoted to the concept of dina d’malchusa dina, with specific programs developed for yeshivos, shuls, gemachs, businesses and individuals, in the greater New York area, on the West Coast, in the Midwest, all over.
But distancing ourselves from criminal activity does not mean distancing ourselves from the plight of a precious member of Klal Yisroel – our brother! – who has been pursued by the government in this particular case with a zealousness that borders on vindictiveness, with a harshness that borders on viciousness.
Should we simply look the other way when federal prosecutors insist that a Jewish defendant be denied bail on the grounds that, as a Jew, he is entitled to automatic citizenship in the State of Israel? Or that he should be deemed a flight risk even if he wears an ankle bracelet which tracks his every move, surveillance cameras are posted outside his residence, his passport and other legal documents are confiscated and a 24-hour security guard is stationed outside his house?
Should we stand aloof when the federal government conducts an unprecedented raid on a kosher slaughterhouse in the heartland of Iowa, unleashing a veritable army of 600 federal agents in heavy riot gear supported by Blackhawk military helicopters hovering menacingly overhead?
Should we just go on with our daily business when federal prosecutors ask the judge to impose a life sentence on a Jewish man with no prior criminal record, convicted of a non-violent white-collar crime, a man with ten children including a sixteen-year old autistic son, a man whose charitable activities on behalf of not only his own Jewish community but the larger society are legendary?
In an unprecedented display of across-the-board revulsion at the government’s demand for a life sentence, no fewer than seven former Attorneys General of the United States, from left to right and all points in between, have written a letter to the judge expressing their horror at the prospect that Sholom Rubashkin would be sentenced to life in prison.
If they can speak out, can’t we?
Dear friends, these are extraordinary times. One gets the sense that things are changing, in a dangerous direction. Even here in this benevolent malchus shel chesed, dark clouds are beginning to hover on the horizon.
When the New York Times reports on page 1 that the statements and actions of the president of the United States signal a clear shift in U.S. policy toward Israel, that is cause for concern.
When our governmental leaders, at the highest levels, make an international incident out of a mid-level bureaucratic approval of plans to proceed with building housing units in Ramat Shlomo, an almost exclusively Charedi stronghold, there’s something troubling afoot.
And when the U.S. Justice Department pursues a Chassidishe yid with an unprecedented barrage of prosecutorial artillery, it should cause all of us to shiver.
As I said at the Tehilim asifos in Brooklyn, Va’yar Yaakov es p’nei Lavan v’hinei einenu imo kismol shilshom. Things are changing. We need to recognize that when we daven for Sholom Mordechai ben Rivka, we are really davening for ourselves.
And if things are changing in the society around us, we need to change too. Not only in the intensity of our tefilla, but also in the intensity of our shtadlonus.
A few months ago, after one of our local Brooklyn Congressmembers signed on to a letter endorsing the infamous Goldstone report and its criticism of Israel, a number of Agudas Yisroel askonim met with that Congressmember and made it clear that this was totally unacceptable. A day later, she retracted her signature.
A small victory perhaps, but an instructive one. We need to make our voices heard in the halls of government, more clearly and more powerfully than ever before. We have already started and will be continuing the process of organizing lobbying missions to Washington to speak to our elected officials about these vital issues.
We at Agudas Yisroel recognize that we have to step up to the plate in these extraordinary times. Join us. Support us. Get involved. We need you,
We must do ours – and the rest is in the hands of Hashem.
It now gives me great pleasure to introduce our guest speaker tonight, Mr. Guy Cook. I first got to know Guy over a year ago when I travelled to Iowa together with a number of other Orthodox Jewish organizational representatives to visit Sholom Rubashkin in the Dubuque County Jail, where he was imprisoned awaiting trial. Since then I have had the privilege of working closely with Mr. Cook and other attorneys involved in the Rubashkin case – most notably Nat and Aliza Lewin of Washington D.C., who are not able to be here tonight but are well-known to all of us, and who have played an extraordinary role in organizing the advocacy efforts on Mr. Rubashkin’s behalf.
What has struck me especially about Guy Cook is that this man, a native Midwesterner, with little exposure to the Orthodox Jewish community, has not only lived up to everything we had heard about him as one of Iowa’s top criminal defense lawyers, but has also displayed a remarkable sensitivity to the special nature of this case and the needs of a Chasidic Jew caught up in a merciless criminal prosecution.
Mr. Cook is a partner in the firm of Grefe and Sidney in Des Moines, and has previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. He is a past president of the Polk County Bar Association and is a member of the Board of Governors of the Iowa State Bar Association.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my privilege to call upon Mr. Guy Cook.