I decided to investigate some of the rabbis who worked at the Mesivta of Long Beach. (It was also called Torah High School. After Chaim Weiss’ murder, the name appears to have been changed to Mercaz Hatorah.)
The first name that got my attention was Rabbi Samuel Waldman. In 2014, he was arrested on Federal distribution of child pornography charges by the Department of Homeland Security. At the time Waldman was arrested, he was a teacher at the Bais Yaakov of Boro Park.
Waldman wrote the book “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” published in 2002. In it, he thanks 2 Mesivta rabbis (Levi Dickstein the rosh yeshiva and Chaim Zelikovitz, a teacher) for hiring him as the yeshiva’s mashgiach. The mashgiach is the equivalent of the dorm counselor, confidant and mentor to the yeshiva boys. It appears that Waldman was the mashgiach for 8 years, all of them when Rabbi Shlomo Lesin was the school administrator. I’ll get to Lesin shortly.
In his book, Rabbi Waldman also acknowledges his former rabbi and Torah teacher, Rabbi Gabriel Bodenheimer. Bodeheimer was convicted of child endangerment when he was principal of a yeshiva in Monsey, NY. Rabbi Waldman also acknowledges Rabbi Yisroel Belsky who reviewed his book. Belsky is notorious for publicly accusing the father of a boy who was molested in Lakewood, NJ of molesting his own son. Belsky also publicly exonerated Rabbi Yosef Kolko who was arrested for the crime.
Even after Kolko admitted in court that he molested the boy and was sentenced to nearly 13 years in prison, Belsky refused to retract his disgraceful accusation against the boy’s father or admit that he was wrong in exonerating Kolko. Partly due to Belsky’s accusations, the Lakewood Orthodox community made life so unbearable for the boy and his family, that they had to leave the state for their own safety.
The Rabbinical Council of America, the largest Orthodox rabbinical organization in the world, called Belsky “a distinguished scholar”. I’m not making this up.
The second rabbi’s name associated with the Mesivta that got my attention was Rabbi Shlomo Lesin. He described himself as the executive director at the time of Chaim Weiss’ murder. He was employed by the Mesivta from 1969 until 2004. During his tenure, not only was Chaim Weiss murdered with no one cooperating with the police, but several years earlier another boy committed suicide by hanging himself in his dorm room shower. The police investigating Weiss’ murder publicly complained about the lack of cooperation they received.
In 1999, the Mesivta and Rabbi Lesin asked for a zoning variance so they could build a dorm for 186 students including guest accommodations in their Long Beach neighborhood. It faced fierce opposition from some of the neighbors. Some of them were opposed to having a very large dorm put in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Others resented that the Mesivta owned 16 properties in Long Beach and didn’t pay any taxes or municipal fees on any of them, saddling everyone else with the expenses of running their community.
The Mesivta responded to the opposition by taking out ads in a local paper accusing them of anti-semitism. The leader of the neighborhood opposition was Jewish.
In 2014, Rabbi Lesin was involved in a nearly identical zoning case, this time as vice president of Yeshiva Gedolah Na’os Yaakov in Lakewood, NJ. The yeshiva asked for a zoning variance to allow for a dorm for 96 students in a residential neighborhood. Rabbi Lesin claimed to the zoning board that it was necessary to locate the yeshiva in a residential neighborhood to avoid anti-semitism.
He referenced the murder of Chaim Weiss nearly 30 years earlier and said that it is his belief “that the crime was an attack fueled by hatred of their community and way of life.” (Asbury Park Press – February 25, 2015).
The police publicly debunked that anti-semitism myth 2 days after Chaim Weiss was murdered. “Police said the killing did not appear to be motivated by anti-semitism” (Lodi News-Sentinel, November 3, 1986).
Rabbi Lesin himself publicly asserted at the time of Weiss’ murder that there was no anti-semitism in Long Beach. “Lesin told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he has been there 17 years and has felt no anti-Semitism during that time.” (Jewish Telegraphic Agency 11/13/1986)
Even the Mesivta’s principal didn’t believe anti-semitism was involved. “School Principal Avram Cooper, who was also the victim’s 11th-grade teacher, told police that the murder appeared to have no anti-Semitic overtones.” (New York Daily News 11/2/1986)
Rabbi Lesin’s assertions to the zoning board that Chaim was murdered due to anti-semitism are shameful and inexcusable. All the evidence so far points to the murderer being someone affiliated with the Mesivta, not anti-semites.
“Detectives now believe the murderer was a student or a faculty member, multiple sources said. “How could this happen and nobody hear or say anything? Somebody’s got a secret,” said Nassau County Police Capt. John Azzata.” (New York Daily News 10/30 2015)
Anti-semites rarely murder a yeshiva boy in his bed, leave his dorm room, return later, move his body, open his window on a frigid November night to let his soul escape (in accordance with Orthodox tradition) and then light a yahrzeit candle in his memory. It seems that perhaps Rabbi Lesin is trying to use Chaim Weiss’ brutal murder to advance his zoning variance goals.
The zoning variance was eventually denied. The yeshiva responded by suing the zoning board and Ocean Township, NJ in Federal court. The lawsuit complained of the zoning hearings being “packed” with opponents, as if the right to public assembly and free speech is something nefarious. The lawsuit also alleged that the zoning variance was denied partly because of “unsubstantiated fears”, “hostility” and “prejudice against Orthodox Jewish men”. Sounds like Rabbi Lesin is claiming anti-semitism again.
Even the neighborhood residents don’t believe the yeshiva’s anti-semitism claim.
“The legal firm representing the applicant always claimed anti-Semitism,” said Paul Meyerowitz. He said the township has about 10 Jewish institutions and schools “from Orthodox to Conservative to Reform” and two mikvas.
“My parents helped build that building and I attended school there,” when it was the site of Hillel Yeshiva, said Meyerowitz. “Believe me, that building cannot accommodate 96 men.”
“The charge of anti-Semitism is absurd,” said Meyerowitz. “I was even accused of being anti-Semitic and I’ve been on the boards of five synagogues and have been president of one.”
“Resident David Nussbaum said he worried the implication that anti-Semitism played a role in the denial would drive a wedge between Jewish and non-Jewish residents.
“I’ve always felt this is a zoning issue and the choice made to turn it into a social issue was ill-advised,” he said. “I hope hard feelings are not exacerbated by outside forces for those of us who live here and all get along pretty well.”
(New Jersey Jewish News – 5/2/2016)
The Zoning Board hearings
“Rabbi Lesin described the Yeshiva and the students that study there to gain leadership skills and character development. He described the students to be an elite group, comparing the Yeshiva to Harvard University.”
Zoning Board minutes 10/23/14
“Ed Horn, 1901 Logan Road, asked if the school will follow the laws set forth by the Constitution, the State, the County and the Township or if they follow religious laws. Rabbi Lesin said that they follow all the laws of the United States.
“Cindy White, 240 Woodcrest Road, asked the Rabbi how long it was before he called the police after the body of the student was found. Rabbi Lesin said that he called the police immediately when they found out and that he spoke to the police and investigators immediately.
Zoning Board minutes 2/25/15
Rabbi Lesin makes 4 claims at the zoning board hearings:
- The yeshiva exists to teach the students leadership skills and character development.
- The yeshiva is on a par with Harvard University.
- The yeshiva abides by all governmental laws.
- That when Chaim Weiss was murdered, he spoke to the police and investigators immediately.
As to Rabbi Lesin’s last claim implying immediate cooperation with the police, this is what the police said:
“Police said their initial investigation was hampered because yesterday was the Jewish Sabbath. Officials of the yeshiva would not agree to discuss the case extensively until sundown, when the Sabbath ended.”(New York Daily News 11/2/86)
“Edwards said some 140 students were initially interviewed when the crime was first committed, but they all “lawyered up” and claimed they didn’t know what happened. “We got nothing,” Edwards recalled.
(New York Daily News 10/30 2015)
No one assisted the police until 10 hours had passed from the time detectives arrived at the crime scene. Ten hours is an eternity in a murder investigation. It gives the murderer ample time to hide the murder weapon, conceal evidence and it allows witnesses to coordinate their stories if they want to protect the murderer.
The failure of Mesivta officials and students to cooperate in a murder investigation is a brazen violation of Jewish law. Using the Sabbath as an excuse not to cooperate immediately shows that the rabbis and Torah scholars at the Mesivta are either completely ignorant of basic Jewish law or are hiding something.
Shortly after Rabbi Lesin’s yeshiva filed the Federal lawsuit, there was a fire in a single-family house a few minutes from the yeshiva. The house burned down to the ground. Fire marshals discovered that approximately 2 dozen of Rabbi Lesin’s yeshiva students were living in the house illegally. The fire marshals discovered 27 beds in the house.
So much for Rabbi Lesin’s promise to the zoning board that the yeshiva follows “all the laws of the United States”.