Second Tacoma, Wa Woman Has Alleged Harassment Against Chabad Rabbi

Second woman comes forward with allegations of harassment against Tacoma rabbi

UPDATE 5:50 p.m.: Rabbi Zalman Heber has resigned his position as rabbi of the Chabad of Pierce County, according to a statement released by Heber through his attorney. It was unclear if he is also resigning his position as director. “That will be determined,” said Heber’s attorney, Barry Wallis.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Another woman says she is the victim of harassment from Tacoma Rabbi Zalman Heber.

Kim Shomer, 50, a Tacoma attorney, said she suffered a year of harassing text messages from Heber, the leader of the Chabad of Pierce County. The harassment culminated in the rabbi requesting a hug, which was a violation of the tenets of her faith, she said.

Kim Shomer, 50, a Tacoma attorney, said she suffered a year of harassing text messages from Heber, the leader of the Chabad of Pierce County. The harassment culminated in the rabbi requesting a hug, which was a violation of the tenets of her faith, she said.

Shomer and her husband, Spencer Freeman, 49, were both members of the Chabad until they formally split from the Orthodox Jewish center in December when they learned of similar behavior Heber allegedly inflicted upon the Jewish wife of a soldier at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Traci Moran.

Shomer’s story was known to members of the Chabad and The News Tribune, but she was reluctant to come forward until now.

Moran’s allegations against Heber came to light during an Army investigation into JBLM chaplain Capt. Michael Harari. The Morans allege Harari breached their confidentiality after they asked him for advice about Heber’s alleged sexually overt messaging. Harari banned them from the base synagogue and Heber filed a restraining order against them.

Heber has denied the allegations made by Moran. He and his attorney also declined requests to comment for this story.

In an interview with The News Tribune on July 29, which mostly focused on the Morans, Heber said he asked Shomer if he could express his emotions with her during a meeting in 2017 and confirmed that he asked Shomer for a hug and that she declined.

“She said, ‘Rabbi, you should know better,’” Heber told The News Tribune.

Shomer said no such conversation took place.

“I didn’t say, ‘You know better.’ I couldn’t get out of there fast enough,” Shomer told The News Tribune on Tuesday.

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Rabbi Zalman Heber in the sanctuary of the Chabad Jewish Center of Pierce County in Tacoma on May 25, 2012. Heber is currently at the center of allegations he acted inappropriately with at least two women at the Chabad. Joe BarrentineTHE NEWS TRIBUNE FILE

The body that oversees the Tacoma Chabad, the Chabad Lubavitch of Seattle and its leader, Rabbi Sholom Ber Levitin, have not responded to repeated requests for an interview.

Shomer was motivated to go public, she told The News Tribune on Tuesday, after recent news stories about Moran and Heber.

“I’ve turned the other way. I’ve forgiven. I’ve done all the right things,” Shomer said. “This is the last part that I think is right. The truth told from my point of view.”

Shomer said she had to work through shame and self-blame.

“He manipulated me, and I allowed it,” Shomer said. “I tried to make OK with it, and it’s not OK. And now he’s telling lies and I just wanted the record to be set straight.”

LAW COUPLE

Shomer, originally from Philadelphia, and Freeman, a Colorado native, met at the University of Puget Sound law school. They’ve been married 17 years.

Shomer is Jewish; Freeman is not. The couple chose to raise their two sons in the Jewish faith.

“Spencer and I decided, before they were born, that would be something we’d be doing as a family,” Shomer said.

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Tacoma attorneys Kim Shomer, 50, originally from Philadelphia and Spencer Freeman, 49, a Colorado native, met at the University of Puget Sound law school. They’ve been married 17 years. Although only Shomer is Jewish, they decided to raise their two sons in the faith. “Spencer and I decided, before they were born, that would be something we’d be doing as a family,” Shomer said. Drew Perine DREW.PERINE@THENEWSTRIBUNE.COM

The couple met Heber at their youngest son’s bris in 2007.

When her sons were about five and seven, they began attending Hebrew school at the Chabad. Later, the family started going to the synagogue for special events and Jewish holidays.

Shomer’s oldest son revered Heber, even dressing like him on occasion, Shomer said.

“He held him in high regard,” she said of her son.

The family found themselves increasingly drawn to the Chabad, located on North Mildred Street in Tacoma.

“We were very charmed by what we perceived as the spiritual nature,” Shomer said. They were particularly interested in Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism.

The couple began having weekly Kabbalah study sessions with Heber in March 2015.

“I feel like that was his door into me,” Shomer said Tuesday.

At first, the texts from Heber to Shomer were routine: changes in schedules, children’s activities. But, as in Moran’s case, they allegedly became incessant and personal.

NO TOUCHING

Segregation of the genders at Chabads is strict. During Shabbot (Jewish sabbath) services, the men worship on one side of the synagogue and the women on the other. A partition separates the two sides, Freeman said.

Men and women do not touch each other, not even a handshake, according to the Chabad organization’s website. Women wear wigs and non-revealing clothing, Shomer said.

Freeman said he needed to learn etiquette when he became more involved in the Chabad. He recalled meeting Heber’s wife, Miriam, for the first time and attempting to shake her hand.

“There was this awkward moment when she put her baby’s hand in my hand,” Freeman recalled.

Shomer found the gender segregation and strict contact protocols appealing.

“It’s a rule you live by,” she said. “You just come to understand it. You don’t have to give it a second thought.”

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Rabbi Zalman Heber lights a menorah during a Hanukkah celebration at South 9th Street and Broadway in Tacoma on Dec. 9, 2012. Lui Kit Wong THE NEWS TRIBUNE FILE

Reprehensible Landlords pt. 2 – Sending Rats in Fridges to Terrorize Tenants – A Real “Ratmunis” and Some Shasho

Brooklyn Landlord Allegedly Created ‘Paradise’ For Airbnb Renters, Sent Rent-Stabilized Tenant Fridge With Rat In It

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One of the units at a complex of three buildings in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens that was advertised on Airbnb (Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Legal Services)

In what appears to be a gross exploitation of the home-sharing industry, a Brooklyn landlord with a history of violations has been renovating apartments into luxurious Airbnb rentals while allowing rent-stabilized units to languish in neglect for decades, according to a new lawsuit.

On Tuesday, a group of ten rent-stabilized tenants filed a legal complaint in Kings County Supreme Court against a family of building owners led by Miriam Shasho. In addition to a litany of harassment and housing violations, the tenants charged the Shashos with running an illegal Airbnb scheme out of three buildings in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, constructing units with separate heating and cooling systems and advertising the newly renovated units on Airbnb as “paradise and luxury in a beautiful flat.”

At the same time, the buildings at 599 Flatbush Avenue, 607 Flatbush Avenue, and 611 Flatbush Avenue have over the last four years racked up more than 220 housing violations, which include failure to provide heat and hot water, lack of repairs, posing a fire hazard, illegal construction practices, and electrical violations.

One tenant went without heat for 80 days, according to the complaint.

“From the day that I moved in, there’s always been a problem,” said Elizabeth Hayes, 65, who has lived in one of the buildings since 1981. “But in the last five years, it’s just been worse.”

Efforts to reach members of the Shasho family were unsuccessful.

The case substantiates one of the sharpest criticisms against Airbnb and other home-sharing platforms: that it incentivizes greedy landlords to harass and force out rent-stabilized tenants to make room for illegal hotel schemes. In New York, it is against the law to rent an entire apartment in most buildings for fewer than 30 days unless the permanent resident is present. The tenants in the lawsuit said they have witnessed individuals entering and exiting the newly renovated units, with the constant comings and goings of strangers making them concerned for their safety.

“He pours all of these resources into Airbnbs,” said Catherine Frizell, a housing attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services’ Tenant Rights Coalition who worked on the lawsuit. “Meanwhile his tenants have rodent infestations and are not being provided with heat and hot water. It’s dehumanizing, and it has to stop.”

About 15 tenants live full-time in the buildings, which have a total of 33 units, according to Frizell.

She said that as a result of both neglect and separate heating and cooling systems that tax the buildings’ electrical systems, the landlord had created an “unsanitary fire trap” for both residents and Airbnb renters. The tenants have reported frequent power outages in recent years.

Photos supplied by Brooklyn Legal Services show a starkly different interior inside the advertised Airbnb units, elegant apartments that could be mistaken for those inside a boutique hotel. One reviewer noted that the rental was “solid basic space that is very comfortable for two people,” while another wrote, “In an up and coming neighborhood that has it’s [sic] fair share of bars and restaurants.”

But the listings belied a much darker housing reality. Close-up shots of the tenants’ units show signs of cracking paint and water damage. In one tenant’s bathroom, a garbage bag has been attached to a wall as a stopgap measure for a leaking ceiling.

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One of the buildings, 607 Flatbush Avenue, is currently on a list of New York City’s most distressed buildings that is compiled by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development as part of an enforcement program.

Miriam and Egal Shasho have both made the Public Advocate’s Worst Landlord List. Egal was her husband who died in 2007, according to the Hunts Point Express. In 2013, a Bronx building linked to Miriam Shasho made headlines for a litany of similar infractions. (Efforts to reach members of the Shasho family for comment were unsuccessful.)

Tenants have also accused the landlords and their employees of taunting, harassing, and gaslighting the tenants, many of them black seniors.

In perhaps the most horrific example cited in the suit, one tenant was allegedly given a “refurbished” refrigerator containing a live rat.

Gretelle Phillips, 73, told Gothamist she had to buy her own stove after the one the landlord supplied turned out to be infested with roaches and rodents.

Phillips and her husband have lived in their two-bedroom unit for 39 years, paying $839 a month in a fast-gentrifying section of Brooklyn. Like other tenants, she said the landlord has been pestering her to leave.

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