New York – Just hours after word broke that President Donald Trump had commuted his sentence, Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin received a hero’s welcome at his family home in the New Hempstead section of Monsey.
Thousands took to the streets in Brooklyn and revelers packed Lubavitch world headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights, where cases of Smirnoff were rolled in to celebrate the good news, an unexpected gift from the White House that came in the final moments of Chanukah.
But the level of joy in Monsey was off the charts as throngs of people packed the two block long South Gate Drive where the Rubashkin family has been living for the last several years in order to be the first to greet the 57 year old after his release from the federal penitentiary in Otisville.
Police blocked off streets in all directions to accommodate the sudden influx of cars to the area, with some drivers abandoning their vehicles and walking because traffic had come to a complete standstill.
Photographer Shimon Gifter was the first member of the media to speak with Rubashkin after his release in an exclusive VIN news interview that took place aboard a coach bus as he prepared to leave Monsey for a trip to Brooklyn to visit his parents in Borough Park, Lubavitch world headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway and the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens.
Free of Otisville and its orange prison garb and surrounded by family members including some grandchildren that he had never met, Rubashkin was dressed in a black jacket, pants and hat and a white shirt as he spoke about the importance of being “b’simcha” at all times.
Asked what message he would like to send to President Trump, Rubashkin said that he prays for Trump every day.
“G-d should bless him and the United States of America,” added Rubashkin.
Rubashkin said that it was just before 4:30 PM when events began to unfold.
“I was eating seudas Zos Chanukah, that the Aybishter should make a nes and the Aybishter made a nes,” said Rubashkin. “They told me to leave the cell and they didn’t tell me anything. And they took me to a different building and that was when they told me that the president had assigned clemency.”
Even guards at the prison were taken aback, according to Rubashkin.
“The guards, some were very surprised,” said Rubashkin. “Others were very, very happy.
“Thank G-d people like me and I never got into any trouble,” said Rubashkin before bursting into a smile and a heartfelt laugh.
Rubashkin said that he feels that prayers and the unity displayed as members of every segment of the Jewish community worked together on his behalf played a role in his release.
“It shows you what ahavas Yisroel can do, that’s what I’m thinking” said Rubashkin. “With ahavas yisroel, we all unite and we find that we are all brothers. We love each other. We ask Hashem, our father, to help us and he helps us.”
New Hempstead resident Leah Aaron was one of several hundred people crowded onto South Gate Drive when Rubashkin arrived home. Rabbi Meshulem Nussen Spiegel of the nearby Beis Medrash Tefila L’Moshe was standing at the door of the Rubashkin home dressed in his spodek and his yom tov finery.
“He made a booming Shehechiyanu and everyone said ‘amein’ and the crowd just started singing and dancing,” said Aaron.
One of the younger Rubashkin children could be seen at an upstairs window looking out at the crowd while Mrs. Leah Rubashkin stood at the front door with her husband.
“He spoke and said he never let go of the sefer Shaarei Bitachon,” said Aaron. “He always had it with him and when he got out he still managed to hold onto that sefer.”
Aaron noted that while many who are released from a lengthy prison ordeal appear haggard and defeated, Rubashkin was beaming.
“He had a glow and was talking to the people there,” said Aaron. “The emotions were incredible. You saw tears in people’s eyes, people just standing there taking it in. It was freezing but no one wanted to move.”
Another bystander who spoke on condition of anonymity described the atmosphere as euphoric and noted that within just one week, President Trump performed two powerful actions to validate the Jewish people. A statement issued tonight by Agudath Israel of America echoed those sentiments, expressing appreciation to President Trump for today’s action.
“The president deserves to be thanked and congratulated, not only by Mr. Rubashkin’s family and friends, but all who care about fairness and justice,” read the statement.
A song written by Yossi Green in honor of Rubashkin and others in prison went viral. Green explained that he had written the song several months ago at the request of the Munkatcher Rov who asked him to use the words ‘motzi asirim u’fode anavim.’
Green said that this was the 54th song he had written for the Munkatcher Rebbe who usually keeps the songs private.
“Last night, for some reason, by the eighth lecht of Chanukah he pulled out this song and they sang it for hours,” said Green, who released the song publicly tonight, with the permission of the Munkatcher Rebbe, in honor of Rubashkin’s release.
As hundreds gathered in Lakewood to sing and dance in celebration, thousands thronged to 15th Avenue and 55th Street to the brick home where Rubashkin went to greet his parents. It was a sea of black all around, with numerous police cruisers present to control the massive crowds who spilled into the streets and found spots on fire escapes and on porches in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the man whose release they had been praying for for years.
After singing with the many well wishers, Rubashkin asked those gathered on the street to say “Shema Yisroel” with him before addressing the crowd in Yiddish, offering brachos and emphasizing ahavas yisroel as the key to bringing the ultimate redemption.
Inside the house, it was an emotional moment as Rubashkin was reunited with his parents as a free man. There were joyous screams as he hugged and kissed his mother who was seated at a table surrounded by women, with onlookers bursting into spontaneous song, and another tearful exchange as Rubashkin embraced his father Aaron. Visitors jammed into every available square inch to share in the long-awaited moment, where Rubashkin recited Shema out loud for the second time.
Despite the late hour, Rubashkin appeared energetic as he once again boarded the bus that had been hired for the night, traveling to 770 where he was met by thousands more jubilant and frenzied supporters.
Live music and dancing echoed throughout Lubavitch world headquarters, as people did their best to get near a beaming Rubashkin, who was carried through the crowd on the shoulders of one man, shaking hands with the many individuals who came to wish him mazel tov.
Rubashkin spoke enthusiastically in a mix of English and Yiddish, thanking President Trump for commuting his sentence, describing him as a messenger of G-d.
After leaving 770, Rubashkin and his wife Leah made a pre-dawn visit to the Ohel of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Cambria Heights, leaving kvittlach and davening at the Rebbe’s tzion.
Video below Credit: Shmuel and Dov Lenchevsky
Photo below in Borough Park credit: Eli Wohl.
Photos below in Crown Heights credit: CrownHeights.info