Klal Yisrael erupted in joy over the early evening news Wednesday that President Donald Trump had issued a commutation of Sholom Rubashkin’s 27-year sentence, freeing a man who in eight years has became an exemplar of achdus, the subject of countless tefillos, and a repository of hope and faith for so many.
Within minutes of the news flash, more than 1,000 people began dancing in front of Rubashkin’s butcher store in Boro Park, with large sections of 14th Avenue closed off.Maariv in “770,” the Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights, was recited in the nusach of Yom Tov, and there was dancing in dozens of shuls marking the end of Chanukah — from Monsey to London and Yerushalayim.
“He is a Klal Yisrael Yid,” Moshe Gold told Hamodia. “The entire Klal Yisrael, from all walks of life, davened for him for years and are now celebrating.”
A Hamodia reporter standing on 14th Avenue in front of the store, owned by Mr. Rubashkin’s father, Avraham Aharon, texted: “Must be a thousand people here.”
Songs such as “Didan Natzach,” “Chasdei Hashem” and “Ahalilu” were roared out by jubilant supporters across the Jewish world. Celebratory parties sprang up spontaneously and dancing went on until late into the night.
Mr. Rubashkin, a 57-year-old father of 10 children, was greeted in Monsey last night with ecstatic singing and dancing, with thousands of people rushing to his home in Southgate. He had been released hours earlier from Otisville medium security prison in upstate New York where he spent the past nearly eight years.
Haindel Breuer, a Kol Mevaser announcer, tweeted Wednesday night that Mr. Rubashkin was in the middle of a Chanukah mesibah with his fellow inmates on Wednesday evening when he received the news.
“He just finished reading a letter from one of his children that said, ‘Hashem will help and you’ll be released today,’” Breuer posted. A warden then walked in to tell him that he was getting released immediately.
The commutation ends a years-long effort by numerous askanim, elected officials and justice campaigners. The White House wrote in a press release that the president made the decision after he was “encouraged by bipartisan leaders from across the political spectrum, from Nancy Pelosi to Orrin Hatch.”
“This action is not a Presidential pardon,” the statement said. “It does not vacate Mr. Rubashkin’s conviction, and it leaves in place a term of supervised release and a substantial restitution obligation, which were also part of Mr. Rubashkin’s sentence. The Presidents review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case and commutation decision were based on expressions of support from Members of Congress and a broad cross-section of the legal community.”
The statement added that “a bipartisan group of more than 100 former high-ranking and distinguished Department of Justice (DOJ) officials, prosecutors, judges, and legal scholars have expressed concerns about the evidentiary proceedings in Mr. Rubashkin’s case and the severity of his sentence. Additionally, more than 30 current Members of Congress have written letters expressing support for review of Mr. Rubashkin’s case.”
The letter written by the elected officials had focused on the absurdity of giving an upstanding citizen such an outrageously long sentence.
“Mr. Rubashkin is a devoted husband and father, a deeply religious man who simply doesn’t deserve a sentence of this length, or anything remotely close to it,” they wrote in a letter that urged President Trump to use his “executive clemency power to commute the patently unjust and draconian 27-year sentence imposed upon Sholom Rubashkin, a first time, non-violent offender and father of 10, including an acutely autistic child.”
The commutation was President Trump’s first use of this power, although he had earlier pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio. A pardon wipes out a conviction entirely; a commutation reduces a sentence to time served but doesn’t vacate it.
Over the years, Mr. Rubashkin’s family members and a group of dedicated askanim, led by his pro-bono attorney Gary Apfel, waged a tireless battle to bring to an end to what has been widely perceived as a travesty of justice. They cited significant indications of prosecutorial misconduct, including evidence that prosecutors knowingly presented false testimony at his trial.
In an email to Mr. Rubashkin’s supporters, Mr. Apfel expressed the family’s profuse gratitude.
“I am delighted to share with you that a short while ago, the President commuted Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin’s sentence. Sholom Mordechai, Leah, the entire Rubashkin family and I are so grateful, and thank you, for all of your support!”
Rubashkin’s longtime attorney, Guy Cook, praised the decision, saying his client “has finally received justice.”
“The sentence previously imposed was unfair, unjust and essential a life sentence,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “President Trump has done what is right and just. The unrelenting efforts on Rubashkin’s behalf have finally paid off.”
Agudath Israel of America said in a statement that “through today’s action, President Trump has shown that he too understood that something went terribly wrong in the prosecution and sentencing of Sholom Rubashkin — and, further, that he would not allow this blot on our criminal justice system to stand uncorrected. The president deserves to be congratulated and thanked — not only by Mr. Rubashkin’s family and friends, but by all who care about fairness and justice.”
“Agudath Israel,” they added, “has long advocated that Sholom Rubashkin be freed from prison and reunited with his loving family. That day has finally arrived. Baruch HaShem.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican credited by Pres. Trump for his advocacy on Mr. Rubashkin’s behalf, tweeted that the release “is a real Hanukkah miracle.”
“I am proud to be a part of a large, bipartisan group of members of Congress who, along with over a hundred former senior justice officials, have been calling for Mr. Rubashkin’s release for the past eight years,” he posted.
The saga began on Oct. 30, 2008, a Friday morning. The Rubashkins were living in Postville, Iowa, at the time, where he ran the world’s largest kosher slaughterhouse. His home served as the center for hachnasas orchim for dozens on a regular Shabbos, and Mr. Rubashkin was seen as the patriarch of the local Jewish community.
Federal agents rang the bell that morning and arrested Mr. Rubashkin for what would turn out to be a 10-year, painful chapter in American Jewish annals. The story united Klal Yisrael, with asifos taking place to support him in cities across the world.
Mr. Rubashkin started married life in kollel as he prepared to go on shlichus, a unique Lubavitcher program in which young couples are assigned to cities all over the world where they establish Chabad centers, bringing Yiddishkeit to the locale. The Rubashkins were sent to Atlanta, Georgia, where they stayed for a year.
Then, his father’s slaughterhouse opened in Iowa and the young family felt the tug to perform their shlichus in a different way.
“Agriprocessors had opened up the year that we were in Atlanta,” Leah Rubashkin, Sholom’s wife, told Hamodia in an interview years ago. “Like my husband felt, you know, ‘instead of coming in with this shlichus idea I felt I could make a bigger impact in kashrus and in making kosher meat available by going out to Agri.’”
Eventually, the Rubashkins started a Jewish community and established a cheder in Postville, Iowa. At its peak, right before the federal raid on May 12, 2008, the town had over a hundred Jewish families. One person from California came there to start a bedding company, another woman opened an insurance brokerage firm — and a frum doctor even came to Postville for his residency since he needed experience in a rural area.
The raid tore apart the company, and Mr. Rubashkin was convicted in 2010 for charges associated with trying to help keep it afloat. Successive appeals were all turned down.
Mr. Rubashkin’s freedom on 3 Teves is an irony not lost on the Rubashkins. In the Hamodia interview, his wife was asked how she manages to get through life with the situations pulling her down.
“I heard a vort from my sister-in-law,” she responded. “A Yid has to live with aleph beis gimmel. Aleph is emunah, beis is bitachon, and gimmel is geulah. If you live by aleph and beis, then Hakadosh Baruch Hu will give you gimmel… That became our little mantra, it was like a cheerleading chant between us to get through this time.”
For example, Mr. Rubashkin’s first bail hearing was on 3 Shevat, and he was allowed out on bail after several months of jail. Prosecutors had claimed he was a flight risk and would flee to Israel where he had automatic citizenship as a Jew.
The dancing in their house went on for hours that night. After cleaning up from the celebration, Leah suddenly told her husband, “Aleph beis gimmel!”
Startled, Mr. Rubashkin looked at her quizzically.
Aleph — the first day of the month — was the court case when we only had emunah that everything will work out, explained Leah. Beis, the second day of Shevat, was the verdict, and gimmel Shevat was his geulah!
Wednesday’s news, which came just at dusk of 3 Teves, was the ultimate aleph beis gimmel.
Mr. Rubashkin’s first words as he got into the car to leave for home reflected this.
“Emunah and bitachon brings geulah,” he said, his wife sitting next to him. “Aleph, beis, gimmel — today is gimmel Teves, the besurah was on beis Teves. We ask that the Eibershter bring the geulah now!”