Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin was born in Brooklyn, NY, on 28 Tishrei 5720 (October 29 1959) to Avraham Aaron and Rivka Rubashkin. Recent immigrants from Soviet Russia which they had fled ahead of the invading Nazi army, they were known for their selfless attention to the needs of others.
Although his parents are fervent Chabad Chassidim, he spent his early childhood in non-Chabad local schools Stolin and Torah VaDaas. His many friends and classmates represented a broad cross-section of other religious communities, an experience which taught the young Sholom to disregard communal divisions and embrace all people as individuals regardless of affiliation.
His formal schooling complete, Sholom was sent out on a community service mission, as is customary in Chabad circles. He spent a year in Buenos Aires, Argentina helping the local community start a Yeshiva.
At the age of 22 Sholom Mordechai met and married his wife, Leah Goldman. They spent their first years of married life in Brooklyn. His time was spent studying and teaching. Acknowledging his family obligations, he also worked for his father at the Brooklyn butcher store.
When the opportunity to enter his chosen profession arose, he moved his small family to Atlanta, Georgia, where he took up a teaching position with his father’s blessing. His successful stint as an educator in Georgia was short – he had to leave after a year to help his father in the family business.
Back in Brooklyn, Sholom resumed his earlier balancing act, doing his best to follow his dreams of community service while living up to his family obligations. Things changed in 1987 when his father, seeking to shore up his business’ supply of beef, invested in a shuttered packing plant in the Postville, Iowa.
Sholom and his family moved west, with the comforting thought that although it was not what he had envisioned, his new occupation was also a community service – providing Jewish communities with a basic staple that met the highest standards of Kashrus, Jewish dietary law.
Initially, Sholom settled his family in S. Paul, MN and made a weekly commute to and from Postville. Despite the difficulty of putting a 3 hour commute between himself and his family, seeing them only over the weekend, the community of S. Paul could provide the quality Jewish education he insisted upon for his young children, and that consideration outweighed the difficulties.
After three years, Sholom took the first tentative steps towards the creation of a local Jewish community in Postville with the opening of the Postville Cheder, an elementary school. A Mikveh and a Minyan having been in place for the commuting Rabbis since the plant opened, all the necessary ingredients for Jewish communal life were now in place, and the community began to blossom.
The burgeoning Jewish community he had started reflected his accepting nature. Visitors always remarked on the beautiful and unique nature of the community, the peace and serenity of the countryside reflecting in the brotherhood and unity between the members of the diverse community.
Sholom was accessible to all, both within his community as well as the broader Postville community. He was known as the address to turn to for help, continuing his family’s legacy of selfless attention to others.
His grueling work schedule was his obligation to his family â€“ his passion was in helping people, be it with financial aid, a listening ear or a wise word.
Success breeds enemies as surely as it breeds friends.
Despite initial culture shock and a business dispute regarding proposed annexation, Sholom’s, and the Jewish community’s, relationship with the broader community was amicable.
The annual Taste of Postville event celebrated the varied cultures that made Postville their home, the Jewish community among them. Sholom contributed to local communal projects and events.
It was no surprise, then, that when the attacks came, they came from outside the town. An animal rights organization attacked Sholom for details of Shchita, religious slaughter, not to their liking. The UFCW workers union, failing to convince the plant’s employees to unionize, launched a brutal campaign to subdue the company economically.
The final blow came with a euphemistically labeled workplace enforcement action in May 2008, in which federal agents swooped down and brutally rounded up employees, seized the companies books, and constructed an elaborate case accusing Sholom of knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and of bank fraud.
Sholom’s treatment at the hands of law enforcement, the Justice Department, and the judiciary are detailed elsewhere, but suffice it to say that he was unjustly treated, charged and sentenced.
Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin and his family are now fighting for his release with the indispensable assistance of justice loving people everywhere.