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Dancing With Injustice on My Mind

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With one week left to the wedding of my eldest child, I am looking forward not so much to the occasion as to simply seeing my daughter married to her fiancé. I want to dance with abandon at my daughter's celebration, but I am an informal person and the formality of a wedding leaves me cold. I'm fortunate that most of the heavy lifting has been done by people much more responsible than me. My wife, whose husband abandoned her to the labor. Eddie Izzo, the gentlemanly and professional head of Main Event Catering, and finally the Rockleigh Country Club, who are black belts at Jewish weddings.

With everyone encouraging me to simply get out of the way, I have strangely found my mind gravitating toward those who are suffering the pain of being ripped away from family and unable to participate in special celebrations.

Gilad Shalit was much on my mind until the miracle of his release to lionhearted parents who spent four years in a tent outside the Prime Minister's office until their son was returned to them. Jonathan Pollard, whom I visited in Butner, North Carolina, and who has languished in prison for a quarter century, has occupied my thoughts, especially after Vice President Biden, in a counterproductive effort to demonstrate to 15 Rabbis in my home state of Florida that President Obama is worthy of Jewish support, said, "President Obama was considering clemency, but I told him, 'Over my dead body are we going to let him out before his time. If it were up to me, he would stay in jail for life." Biden, who can be consistently relied upon to say something extraordinarily stupid, is normally a good and warm-hearted man, which is why his cruelty is so puzzling. Would he really prefer to die than allow a man whose own prosecutors asked for "only a substantial number of years in prison" but ended up receiving a life sentence to go free?

More than anyone I have found myself thinking of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin, currently serving a sentence of 27 years in prison for financial and bank fraud. Rubashkin is the father of ten children, the youngest of whom is seven. He has a son who is mentally handicapped. He has already missed another son's Bar Mitzvah and stands to miss the weddings of six children through the course of his brutal sentencing. Overlooking his long record of philanthropy and modest living, prosecutors actually sought to punish him with life imprisonment until they came under fire from six former Attorneys General of the United States for their extremism. In the end they sought 25 years but Judge Linda Reade added two years of her own to the first-time non-violent offender. To give you an idea of the harshness and unjust nature of the sentence, Mark Turkcan, the president of First Bank Mortgage of St. Louis -- ironically the very same bank Rubashkin loaned from -- misapplied $35 million in loans which resulted in losses of approximately $25 million. Yet he was sentenced by a federal judge to one year and one day in prison. No less an authority than The New York Times wrote in a June 21, 2010 article about Rubashkin, "The sentence... was unusually high in the recent history of financial crimes -- longer than the term for Jeffrey K. Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, and L. Dennis Kozlowski, the former chief executive of Tyco." The media demonized Rubashkin when he was charged with massive immigration violations and 67 counts of hiring minors but failed to highlight the fact a jury of his peers acquitted him on all 67 counts.

Perhaps the most curious fact of the case was that it was later revealed that Judge Reade was heavily involved in planning the 2008 immigration raid at Agriprocessors′ Postville plant, which Rubashkin ran. Rubashkin's defense attorneys requested a new trial arguing that "federal law and U.S. Supreme Court rulings would have required Reade to remove herself from the trial." The ACLU, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and the Washington Legal Foundation filed amicus briefs protesting the judge's involvement in the case with the prosecution, which the ACLU′s Randall Wilson said "immediately gave the appearance of unfairness." The ACLU further stated, "Mr. Rubashkin's conviction should be vacated and he should get his 'day in court,' with a tribunal that is not an arm of the prosecution. Due Process demands it. The Separation of Powers Doctrine demands it." Yet Rubashkin's appeal was denied by a Federal Appellate court. Forty-five members of Congress have now written to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder asking for an inquiry into the handling of the case but Holder has thus far taken no action.

The trial of Conrad Murray has had me thinking a great deal about Michael Jackson. I remember when I was close to him watching tabloid, untruthful journalists invent stories and manufacture scandal about him just to sell newspapers. There was little he could do while his reputation was destroyed and distortions about him treated as fact. As his Rabbi and defender I inherited some of his tabloid enemies and know what it feels like to be unjustly and gratuitously attacked by discredited journalists, knowing that any response will simply make their lies grow. No doubt Sholom Rubashkin, who has been subjected to a campaign of vitriol so intense that prosecutors even argued with no evidence that he was planning to flee to Israel, has experienced the pain of seeing one's name slaughtered utterly in the public arena with virtually no opportunity to respond.

But as a father of nine I chiefly focus on the unimaginable pain of a father of ten being unfairly separated from his children for most of his remaining life.

In previous columns on Rubashkin I wrote of the obvious need for him to be held accountable for his actions so long as such punishment was commensurate with the crime. But that conclusion is now being superseded by my outrage at the monstrous injustice of a 27-year sentence imposed on a man for financial wrongdoing when others guilty of similar crimes received a fraction of his sentence.

At a Jewish wedding a glass is broken by the bridegroom to remind us that while the couple builds a new home, G-d's holy Temple remains in ruins. I plan to dance up a storm at my daughter's wedding but will do so remembering the lives of those who have been tossed by a tempest of injustice and who languish forgotten by a community too ashamed of their errors to clamor for simple justice.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has just published "Ten Conversations You Need to Have with Yourself" (Wiley) and will shortly publish "Kosher Jesus" (Gefen). He is in the midst of creating the Global Institute for Values Education (GIVE). Follow him on his website www.shmuley.com and on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.