(JTA) – A Cleveland-area rabbi was sentenced to six months in prison on Monday for soliciting underage sex, capping a sad and shocking saga for the area’s Jewish community.
Among those who testified on Stephen Weiss’ behalf in a bid for leniency was a prominent rabbi in the Conservative movement.
Weiss, formerly senior rabbi at B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike, was sentenced for the crimes of attempted unlawful sexual conduct with a minor and possessing criminal tools. He had been arrested and charged after a sting operation last April and pleaded guilty to the two felony charges in January. Weiss, 61, will be required to register as a sex offender for 25 years.
Appearing as a character witness for Weiss at his sentencing hearing was Rabbi William Lebeau, a former dean of the rabbinical school and former vice chancellor at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Lebeau currently serves as a senior consultant for rabbinic and institutional leadership with the Rabbinical Assembly, the professional association for Conservative rabbis.
“I first met Rabbi Weiss when he was a rabbinical student and I’ve maintained a close relationship with him to this day. I’ve come from New York City this morning because I wanted to share with you in court my experiences with Rabbi Weiss over the more than three decades that I’ve known him,” Lebeau said as he opened a three-minute statement on Weiss’ behalf, according to a recording of the hearing.
In the rest of the statement, he described “the Rabbi Weiss that I know” as “beloved by his classmates and respected by his teachers,” “especially admired for his qualities of kindness and sensitivity,” “his inspirational teaching of children and adults” and his support for congregants experiencing trouble.
Lebeau noted that Weiss felt remorse and had sought professional help in the wake of his arrest.
“Significantly, over more than 30 years as a rabbi there was nothing close to a grievance about his rabbinic service or his personal conduct,” Lebeau said. “There was nothing that would have predicted this aberrant moment in his life. I respectfully ask you your honor to consider the case of Rabbi Weiss in the context of the life of devotion to his family and to his community that he lived prior to this tragic event.”
Weiss had already pleaded guilty to the crimes; Lebeau and Weiss’ daughter appeared as character witnesses as part of his attorney’s effort to secure a more lenient sentence. Weiss’ legal team had argued that his 2022 solicitation of an undercover police officer posing as an underaged boy was an aberration in Weiss’s three decades of rabbinical activities. His lawyer also cited a 2018 brain injury as a relevant factor in his behavior.
Some in the community questioned the decision of Lebeau, a widely admired mentor in the Conservative movement, to testify on Weiss’ behalf.
“I have a great deal of respect for Rabbi Lebeau. He’s a very important person in the movement,” Rabbi Noah Bickart, an endowed professor of Jewish studies at John Carroll University in Cleveland, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Bickart had been a student at JTS when Lebeau was its dean.
But, Bickart said, “Choosing to support and defend Rabbi Weiss here, as opposed to the community that was victimized or potentially victimized, was the wrong decision to make.”
In an email to JTA, Lebeau said, “I chose to make a personal statement referring to the Stephen Weiss I have known for 35 years and the qualities that defined him, as I said in the courtroom, ‘prior to this tragic event.’”
The Rabbinical Assembly, with which Lebeau is currently associated, had harshly condemned Weiss’ alleged behavior upon his initial arrest in April 2022 and suspended his membership, making him ineligible to apply for jobs or participate in other activities.
“These deeply disturbing accusations betray the sacred trust our communities put in their clergy and must be fully and immediately investigated and dealt with appropriately,” the group said in a joint statement with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism at the time.
The Rabbinical Assembly began publicizing a list of suspended and expelled rabbis in 2021, amid a widespread reckoning over whether Jewish organizations had inappropriately obscured misconduct by rabbis and other leaders.
“Rabbi Lebeau’s testimony was not on behalf of the Rabbinical Assembly,” a Rabbinical Assembly spokesperson said in a statement this week, which noted that the group is now in the process of expelling Weiss permanently. “And his testimony did not seek to justify nor excuse the behavior for which Steven Weiss was convicted.
Lebeau had previously defended a different rabbi accused of inappropriate behavior towards children. In 2014, according to the Forward, he had supported a rabbi in Savannah, Georgia, who had given a lesson to a class of 9-year-olds about child sex trafficking filled with explicit language, alarming many parents.
Back then, Lebeau told the Forward the accused rabbi was “one of the kindest, most sensitive, caring people among all the students I met,” and expressed particular concern about the damage the incident could do to the rabbi’s reputation, saying, “This is a man’s life and a man’s reputation.” No crime was ever alleged to have taken place with the rabbi in Savannah.
Bickart said he was unfamiliar with the Savannah case but had a theory about why Lebeau spoke on behalf of the rabbis in both cases.
“I think Rabbi Lebeau honestly just wants to defend rabbis,” he said. “My sense is that Rabbi Lebeau is probably the go-to person to be a character witness for anybody.”
Still, Bickart said, he found the choice to testify on Weiss’ behalf meaningful.
“As somebody who’s a parent of a boy precisely the same age as the fictitious victim in this case, it’s hard for me to see an important rabbinic mentor seemingly take more seriously the concerns of a convicted sex offender than of the community,” Bickart said.
Prosecutors for Ohio’s task force on internet crimes against children disputed the arguments of Lebeau and Weiss’ attorney that Weiss’ conduct was a brief irregularity, saying that he had shown evidence of premeditated action. Weiss had previously sent explicit messages to an undercover officer posing as an underaged boy in 2020, and waited for hours in order to separate his target from his parents in 2022, when he was arrested.
B’nai Jeshurun, where Weiss had served since 2001, suspended the rabbi immediately upon his arrest in 2022, and he resigned days later. The congregation had determined in its own investigation that Weiss had not engaged in any illegal or illicit activity at the congregation itself. After Weiss’ sentencing was announced, the congregation’s president and senior rabbi emailed congregants to offer counseling services.
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)
Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station
This is a developing story.
(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.
An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.
Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.
The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.
The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.
Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.
The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.