His clenched fist landed furiously on the desk like a gavel pronouncing judgment. He looked up at the detective with his pathetic, tear-rimmed eyes desperately straining to get out the words, “I’m innocent.”Dan desperately wanted someone to believe him. He didn’t kill Abe; all he ever wanted was to reveal the truth. However, Dan’s indefatigable pursuit of the truth revealed in Abe something far more disturbing than anything Dan could have imagined.
Rabbi Abraham Goldstone was the spiritual leader of congregation Beth Emeth of Princeton New Jersey for over 25 years, and in that time he had amassed a generous amount of followers. He had also gathered just enough detractors to cause even the most self-assured person a significant amount of angst. Rabbi Goldstone rarely fretted publicly about those who passionately despised him. He could always justify their displeasure with the notion that it’s acceptable to have differing opinions. A concept that Dan agreed with in principal but detested when conveniently embraced by those empowered to make all the decisions.
Dan was still in shock from what had happened. He sat in the familiar chair behind the closed door of the synagogue office with armed police officers standing behind him. There was a large intimidating detective sitting in front of him barking out questions. “Witnesses said they heard the Rabbi yelling at you moments before he fell from the roof of the synagogue to his death. Is that true?”
With an often self-destructive propensity towards honesty, Dan answered “Yes.” Dan nervously used his feet to shuffle around the items strewn across the floor. These items had once occupied the now barren desk in front of him. Dan answered again with a louder and more deliberate tone, “Yes, but I didn’t killed him. I never wanted him dead.”
“So how did he fall from the roof?” the detective snapped back.
“I don’t know.”
“But you were up on the roof with him alone, weren’t you?”
“Yes, but I didn’t see him fall; maybe he slipped or something?”
“But you said he wasn’t near the edge of the roof and he was on his knees.”The detective yelled angrily.
Dan placed his head in his hands and began to sob. Dan was mourning the loss of the Rabbi who he had once been so close to while digesting the magnitude of the allegations. Dan couldn’t fathom why anyone would think that he was capable of killing Rabbi Goldstone. However, as he thought about all the awful things Abe had done to him, his anger grew, and he realized that history had shown that lesser infractions had transformed greater men into ruthless murderers.
The detective demanded, “Tell me again, why were you and the Rabbi fighting?”
“Like I told you, it was the same fight we’ve been having for months and the same one we had at last night’s board meeting.” Dan knew that the subject of the argument really didn’t matter. He and the Rabbi had been fighting for over three years and while the content of the disagreements varied, the underlying theme was always the same. The Rabbi believed that all synagogue business was his to decide and that the board of trustees was simply there to carry out his orders. But, what really infuriated Dan was that no one could see it. Synagogue decisions were rarely attributed to the Rabbi. Through his prodding, prompting, and lobbying, board members would capitulate and then regurgitate his positions as if they were their own. Dan tried to expose the charade, but like a prisoner in solitary confinement, no one could hear his pleas. In retrospect, Dan knew that if he had just let things go like everyone else, the Rabbi would still be alive and he wouldn’t be in this predicament.
“Damn it! Why were you fighting?” the detective yelled.
Dan rushed to answer, “I felt the board should audit all of the transactions from the Rabbi’s discretionary fund.”
“…and the Rabbi didn’t like that idea?” the detective responded sarcastically.
“No, he hated it. He felt it compromised the privacy of those receiving the funds. He also said, “we’ve never done this before.”
“Why didn’t you just tell him he had no choice?” the detective replied.
“I did, but he coaxed the board into voting on it. They all voted against the audit and while many admitted to me privately that they were for the audit, they said they weren’t willing to oppose the Rabbi.”
“If no one was willing to support you why didn’t you just let it go? I mean, this is just a volunteer role.”
Looking down on the ground and feeling dejected Dan responded, “That’s a good question.”He then suddenly perked up and leaned toward the detective with his hands gesticulating. “I wanted the truth to be revealed. I wanted everyone to know why we weren’t auditing the Rabbi’s fund.”
The detective took the bait, “…and why was that?”
“…Because no one wanted to admit the truth!
“No one had the courage to stand up to him and tell him that it wasn’t his decision. It was pathetic; they all acted like children fearing disapproval from a parent. So, I invoked my presidential power and told them all that I was auditing his funds anyway. The Rabbi then stormed out of the room and said he wouldn’t put up with this disrespect.”
“But that doesn’t explain how you ended up on the roof tonight fighting?” the detective asked.
Dan reluctantly obliged and began to lay out the events of the evening. Dan arrived at the synagogue around 6 o’clock. He found the doors unlocked yet there seemed to be no one in the building. He had come straight from work and was holding up his family’s dinner to sign what the Rabbi had referred to as a few important papers. Earlier in the day, the Rabbi left Dan two voice messages to remind him that he would leave a folder with certificates on the office desk. Dan told the detective that he had just gotten off the phone with his wife when he opened the folder and saw the certificates he needed to sign. As Dan flipped through the certificates, he became angry, threw the folder and then proceeded to throw everything else off the desk. As Dan told the story, he pointed to the mess on the floor and was surprised to see his phone lying there among the chaos. In all the commotion, he hadn’t even realized it was missing. When he reached for his phone a large black boot suddenly appeared and stepped on it.
“What do you think you are doing?” said the deep voice of one of the officers that was standing behind him.
“I was just going to pick up my phone,” Dan said innocently.
The officer stared at the detective and waited for his nod, he then gradually lifted his foot from the phone. Dan then quickly grabbed his phone and slowly sat up with one eye fixed to the officer
“Why were you so angry about the certificates?” the detective asked.
Dan explained that these were the certificates that the board of trustees present to a child on their Bar or Bat Mitzvah. He told the detective that he didn’t mind signing the certificates. Actually, Dan viewed this responsibility as an honor and cherished the thought of a future elderly person reminiscing as they glanced at his scribbled name on the yellowing certificate. What angered Dan was that the certificates didn’t need to be signed for at least another three weeks. Dan was at the synagogue every day; surely, this could have waited. Dan knew that the Rabbi’s obsessive-compulsive nature was behind this urgent request. He became enraged as he thought of the numerous times the Rabbi maliciously excluded him from more presidential-like responsibilities claiming that he didn’t want to burden Dan with such nuisances.
“So how did you end up on the roof?”
“After I threw everything off the desk, I could hear loud footsteps coming from the roof. I knew someone was up there.”
Dan was distracted from the telling of his story for a moment and began looking at his emails on his phone.
Dan then continued. He described how he proceeded to the storage closet in the back of the synagogue and climbed the ladder to the roof. Dan’s head popped out of a small opening at the top and spotted the Rabbi on his knees.” Dan called out, “Abe!” The Rabbi flinched and slammed the phone that was in his hand against the air conditioning unit in front of him.
Impatiently the detective asked, “Why was the Rabbi up there?”
“I don’t know; he said something about the air conditioning unit.” Dan didn’t think anything of it at the time as he often found the Rabbi in odd places in the building attending to non-rabbinical tasks. “When I asked him what was wrong he started in about the audit again and begged me not to press the issue.”
“How did the conversation escalate? People heard you fighting on the roof.”
“I told the Rabbi that there was nothing he could do to stop me from going through with the audit. I wasn’t going to back down and he wasn’t going to manipulate me into getting his way.”Dan played out the scene as the Rabbi, from his knees, grabbed a large rock beside him and threw it at Dan’s head. Dan froze as the rock whistled past his ear. The Rabbi screamed, “Dan, “I hate you! Go to hell!” Dan then described something that would haunt him for the rest of his life. The Rabbi stared right through him and said with a deep-seated anger, “…you will regret this decision.”
The detective insisted, “What happened next?”
Dan stammered and mumbled, “Um, I don’t remember, I think I ran back to the ladder and quickly climbed down from the roof.”
Incredulously the detective said, “You don’t remember?”
Distracted again, Dan looked down at his phone and noticed the red number one on the phone icon. He tapped the icon and was shocked to discover that he had an un-listened to call from the Rabbi at 6:23 that evening. This was just around the time they were on the roof. Dan realized that the Rabbi must have inadvertently dialed his cell phone when he startled him on the roof.
“What’s this?” the detective said as he grabbed the phone from Dan’s hand.
Dan said, “Give that back!”
“You have a phone message from Rabbi Goldstone?” The detective placed the phone on the desk, put it on speakerphone, and hit play. Dan tried to snatch his phone back but the officers grabbed his arms and held him back. A few seconds of weeping came from the phone. Then in the distance, Dan’s voice could be heard calling, “Abe!” The familiar conversation then continued almost word for word as Dan had described it. Dan then tried to squirm out of the officers’ arms just before his voice rang out from the phone, “I know your secret, I know all about your mistress and how you are supporting the child you had together.”
Dan was now crying and gasping for air. “I didn’t want anyone to know about it. I wasn’t going to tell anyone. Dan collapsed into the chair and described the Rabbi’s last few moments alive. “It was awful; he was weeping and rocking back and forth in a fetal position. He looked up at me with a horribly sad look upon his face. He then propelled his body from a rocking motion into a roll that seem to last forever until he reached the edge of the roof and then disappeared into the night. I didn’t think he would kill himself. I didn’t want it to end this way. All I ever wanted was the truth.”
Craig Sherman has lived in the Princeton area with his wife, Helena, for more than 24 years. They have two sons. Craig has worked for Dow Jones, Merrill Lynch/Bank of America, and Bristol Myers Squibb. He is also a writer and voice over artist at Voices from the Close and is writing a book.