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A New Martyr
First, there was Sharansky. A true hero and martyr, the problem was that he was old news. And he wasn't especially frum. So then, the yeshivish community came up with a new martyr and hero: Shalom Rubashkin. And now, there's another one.
The Pesach edition of Hamodia has a feature story for the festival of freedom, "Bowed But Not Broken: Mr. William Rapfogel Shares His Journey Of Endurance And Growth Through The Prism Of Prison." For those who are unaware (such as readers of Hamodia, which never reported this story), Rapfogel was the CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. In 2014 he was convicted for a grand larceny scheme over many years involving millions of dollars. Rapfogel conspired with an insurance company to have his organization pay inflated insurance premiums, for which he received cash kickbacks.
Now, first I must say that there is a world of difference between Rapfogel and Rubashkin. Rubashkin, in everything that he has ever written and said (except to the judge), never expressed any contrition. In contrast, Rapfogel says that he made mistakes, that he let people down, that he hurt people. Halevay that we should ever hear such words from Rubashkin.
On the other hand, Rapfogel claims that the only thing he did wrong was tax evasion and that he had nothing to do with the grand larceny scheme for which he pleaded guilty and was convicted. Now, personally, I don't understand why Hamodia expects us to believe this. According to the press reports, quoting the attorney general, Rapfogel was receiving cash kickbacks to the tune of approximately $30,000 a month, and they found $400,000 in cash in his various homes. In court, Rapfogel said “I knowingly stole more than $1M from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty as part of a scheme in which insurance premiums were inflated.” I'm not sure why Hamodia sees fit to completely believe Rapfogel's current denial and not mention the crimes for which the courts convicted him. Furthermore, assuming that the court verdict was based on truth, he wasn't just doing tax evasion (which itself is a much more serious sin than the yeshivish community generally considers), but he was actually stealing millions of dollars from charity funds intended for the poor.
The general problem here is that yet again we have the charedi community making a martyr and hero out of a criminal. The narrative is all about how the Big Bad Goyim are out to get the Jews, and how this ties in to Zman Cheruseinu. It reinforces the message of the Rubashkin debacle, in which the responsibility for tzorres lies with the goyim, not with the brave, faithful Jews. The thing that needs to be done, says Rapfogel, is that the Jewish community needs to fight to change the law, such that people who are not actual murderers do not go to prison and should instead do community service. There is no mention of educating people to, y'know, not cheat and steal.
In the interview, Rapfogel complains about "the feeling of repugnance on the part of the community towards people who go to jail.... There's a real stigma when people come back; we need to fight that." Actually, I think it's fantastic that the Modern Orthodox community, of which Rapfogel is a member, generally has a social stigma against convicted criminals. If only such a stigma would exist among the Hamodia readership, then perhaps we would see less frum people in prison.