Across Israel, Meir Panim responds to the growing needs of the country’s 1.75 million impoverished residents through various food and social service programs.
A standing-room-only crowd of mourners paid tearful tribute Monday night to Yoseph Robinson, the beloved liquor store employee gunned down last Thursday as he tried to protect his girlfriend from a masked gunman.
Robinson, 34, had become something of a celebrity in Brooklyn’s Orthodox community. A Jamaican-born convert, his story of leaving behind what he described as “a world of drug deals, street crime and violence” and a stint as a hip-hop recording entrepreneur for a Torah-observant lifestyle made him a popular speaker and an inspirational figure.
Hours before presiding over Robinson’s funeral at the Shomrei Hadas Chapel in Boro Park, Rabbi Kenneth Auman, spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Flatbush, told The Jewish Press that Robinson had been coming to his synagogue “for a year or so – every Shabbos. He was always impeccably dressed, and he davened with a lot of kavana.”
Robinson, said Rabbi Auman, was “really a wonderful person; my family had him in our house for Pesach lunch and we had such a lively conversation. He felt perfectly comfortable with us; he could make himself comfortable with anyone.”
Rabbi Shimshon Sherer, of Congregation Zichron Mordechai, recalled during his eulogy that Robinson would often attend Shalosh Seudos and listen closely to the rabbi’s divrei Torah, always going out of his way to come over afterward to tell him how much he enjoyed it.
Rabbi Moshe Tuvia Lieff of Agudath Israel Bais Binyomin, another shul frequented by Robinson, referred to the deceased as Yoseph Hatzaddik (Yoseph the Righteous) and touched on the honor Jewish tradition accords righteous converts.
It was his unassuming manner and sunny personality, say those who knew him, that drew others into Robinson’s orbit. Whether they got to know him well or were simply customers at MB Vineyards, he had a way of endearing himself to people of all backgrounds.
“He had a true simchas hachaim [joy of life] about him,” said an occasional MB patron at the levaya. “He was always smiling and ready to go out of his way for you. Once, when I needed help getting the items I’d purchased into my car, he immediately came to my aid and when I tried to give him a tip he refused in that special way he had. He gave me a big smile and a wave of the hand as he went back into the store.”
MB Vineyards proprietor Benjy Ovitsh was more than Robinson’s employer; he considered himself a close friend and spoke at the funeral of Robinson’s many unusual traits, of his charitable nature, of his drawing on his own experiences to counsel young people.
Also speaking at the levaya was Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who characterized Robinson’s life as a Kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name. Robinson, said Hikind, taught us what it means to care for our fellow human beings.
Robinson’s brother-in-law Shawn Walters, speaking for the family, told mourners that “the Jewish community saved [Yoseph's] life. They didn’t judge him because of his past.”
Walters described his initial mystification at Robinson’s decision to become an Orthodox Jew but said he came to understand and respect the decision, and had even become curious himself about Judaism.
Many in the Orthodox community were disturbed at the news that Robinson’s body would not be interred in a Jewish cemetery but would be flown to Jamaica for burial there.
Rabbi Auman told The Jewish Press he would be leaving for Jamaica Wednesday morning. “We’re going to go along. I plan to go, and his boss Mr. Ovitsh, and some volunteers from Chesed Shel Emes. The family has a burial ground in their rural home – or where they used to live. A family backyard. We’ll have the service there in Spanish Town, some 25 miles from Kingston, where the family lives.
“He’ll be buried there. There’s nothing we can do about. The family was insistent. So we’ll make it as Jewish as we can. They agreed to a Jewish service. There will be no crosses in the room during the service; it will just be a plain room.”
* * *
Robinson was killed when a gunman entered MB Vineyards at Avenue J and Nostrand Avenue Thursday night, apparently intent on robbing the store. When he pointed his gun at Robinson’s girlfriend, Lahavah Wallace, and demanded that she remove her jewelry, Robinson intervened.
“Yoseph grabbed the guy’s wrist,” Wallace told The New York Post. “The guy pulled back and pointed the gun back at me. Yoseph reached for the gun again. He jumped over the counter and wrestled with the guy and told me to go.”
After running to a room at the back of the store with Robinson’s cousin, Wallace heard three shots and called 911. When she felt it was safe to return to the front of the store, Robinson was on the floor, blood flowing from his wounds.
It became obvious, in the immediate aftermath of Robinson’s murder, just how much he meant to the community and how deeply his murder touched Jews and blacks alike.
“Yoseph always tried to bring the two communities together,” said Chaim Deutsch, founder of Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol. “He was such a sweet person – nobody had anything bad to say about him – and it’s tragically ironic that it was his death that brought the black and Jewish communities together to mourn this special person.”
At a press conference on Sunday, City Council Members Mike Nelson, Jumaane Williams and David Greenfield, along with State Senator Eric Adams and Assemblywoman Rhoda Jacobs, announced they would add several thousand dollars to the city’s $12,000 reward for information about Robinson’s killer.
Addressing himself to the gunman, Councilman Williams said, “This type of person [Robinson] can bridge communities, and you killed him. He’s gone.”
(Based on a number of tips, police reportedly brought in a possible suspect for questioning on Tuesday. As of Tuesday afternoon, however, the individual had not confessed to the crime.)
Writing on the African American-oriented website bvblackspin.com, Dr. Boyd Watkins, founder of the Your Black World Coalition, called Robinson “a role model for neighborhood children,” adding that “Even though he’s gone, it is really powerful to see how much of an impact he made in his neighborhood.”
“May Yoseph rest in peace,” Watkins concluded. “He is my hero.”
Robinson’s close friend Shais Rison eloquently summed up Robinson’s life and legacy. “Yoseph was proud to be a Jew and he was proud to be a Jamaican and he never let either aspect of his identity overshadow the other. His life was filled with compassion and selflessness. He did us proud both as a black man as well as a Jew of color.”
* * *
In an interview with The Jewish Press just a little over two months ago (“Jamaican Hip-Hopper Turned Orthodox Jew,” June 11), Robinson said it was a chance encounter with a Hirsch English edition Chumash a little over a decade ago in a Judaica bookstore that sparked his “fundamental connection to Yiddishkeit.”
After converting under the auspices of the Los Angeles Beis Din – he described the process as a two-and-a-half year program that “centered on the weekly parshah, the halachos of Shabbos and kashrus, and the taryag mitzvos” – Robinson eventually made his way back to New York, where he’d been raised after coming to the U.S. as a twelve year old.
He spoke of his regiment of Torah study, noting he had “a chavrusah with whom I learn Mishnah Berurah, I learn parshah and mussar almost daily, and I have begun venturing into the mighty sea of Talmud.”
Asked about how he’d been treated by Brooklyn’s Orthodox community, he said, “For the most part my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Many people have opened their homes and their hearts to me, and have treated me like members of their own family. These new lifelong friends are a true credit to Yiddishkeit, and beautifully fulfill the mitzvah of v’ahavtem es ha’ger.
“As in every community, however, there are biases that persist. I do get stares and occasionally hear some thoughtless comments, but I choose to focus on the positive.”
Though he described his experience – and the experience of other non-white Orthodox converts – as “heartwarming and enriching,” there were some issues involving what he termed “bias and unequal treatment.”
On that score, he felt “changes are necessary to allow a Yid such as myself, who happens to be dark-skinned, to feel secure and equally represented under the banner of Klal Yisrael.”
Nevertheless, he said if he had a message to potential convertsof any color or background it would be “if one is seeking spirituality, Judaism, practiced correctly, is the ideal vehicle for achieving that aim. I personally find it meaningful and fulfilling – but once you come aboard, keep in mind that while the Torah is flawless, people are not.”
(Supplemental reporting by Rabbi Yaakov Klass and Shlomo Greenwald)
About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
American born Oleh to Ginot Shomron, Ari Harow, returns to the Prime Minister’s office.
The IDF opened fire on the terrorist as he was throwing a stone at a moving vehicle.
A plan to stop tax evasion also threatens to break all limits of confidentiality of Americans in Israel.
The Arab League refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in the framework of current peace talks with the Palestinians, as per Israel’s demand. On Sunday, Arab League foreign ministers released a resolution at a meeting in Cairo that supported the decision by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “The council of the Arab League […]
Sexist and often violent, corrupt and even anti-Zionist Haredim in Beit Shemesh create a false image of the city.
IDF releases photos of the weapons captured from the Iranian smuggling ship, Klos-C
Syrian rebels have killed approximately 500 Hezbollah soldiers, including at least 15 in the past 10 days, according to sources quoted by the Beirut Daily Star. Social media and websites have depicted photos of the dead Hezbollah members, complete with praise for their “martyrdom” for carrying out their “jihadist duty.” Videos have been posted that […]
The Palestinian Authority terrorist convicted last year of bombing a bus in Tel Aviv in 2012 was sentenced on Monday to 25 years in jail. The explosion on the local bus wounded 28 people. The terrorist, Mohammed Mafarji and who was 18 years old when he bombed the bus, said he carried out the attack during […]
A New York personal trainer has pleaded guilty in federal court to being part of a group of men who used violent means in exchange for pay to force Jewish men to give their wives religious divorces. David Hellman, 31, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J. and could be sentenced to up […]
The spokesman for a faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) tried to kill himself with a knife on a main street in Ramallah on Sunday, sources told the Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency. The man reportedly cut his neck with a knife but passersby saved him. He was reported to be in serious condition in […]
The time difference between Israel and the United States is now only six hours following the beginning of Daylight Saving Time in the United States and Canada early Sunday morning. Israel moves its clocks forward on Friday morning, March 28. The exceptions to Daylight Saving Time in the United States are Hawaii and Arizona, but […]
Tunisia has barred Jews on a Norwegian cruise ship from leaving their cruise voyage and stepping foot in the country after theirboat docked in Tunis, according to B’nai Brith Canada. “The cruise line has a responsibility to its passengers to advise them of this discriminatory policy in advance. Better still the cruise line should avoid […]
The terrorist tried to grab the gun of an IDF soldier near the crossing.
Eli Cohen is now the nationally-known face of electoral integrity and honesty in Israel.
A Jerusalem woman is trying to hold on to her umbrella while withdrawing some cash at a Meah Shearim ATM, Sunday, March 9, 2014. The rain appeared out of the blue (which is how rain should), after a warm week that started to feel like summer. Well, it don’t feel like summer no more. Last […]
What really makes one wonder about the affinity felt by certain Jews for Grant was the welcome mat he put out for some of the country’s most pernicious anti-Semites.
With 2013 marking half a century since Kennedy’s fateful limousine ride in Dallas, the current revels are exceeding the revisionist frenzies of years past, with a seemingly endless parade of books, articles and television specials designed to assure us that, despite everything that has come to light about him since his death, JFK was a great president, or at least a very good president who would have been great had his life not been so cruelly cut short.
As someone who for the past fifteen years has been writing a column that largely focuses on the news media, I’ve read what is no doubt an altogether unhealthy number of books on the subject. Most of them were instantly forgettable while some created a brief buzz but failed to pass the test of time. And then there were those select few that merited a permanent spot on the bookshelf.
George W. Bush has been getting some positive media coverage lately, with recent polls showing him at least as popular as his successor, Barack Obama, and a big new book about the Bush presidency by New York Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker (Days of Fire, Doubleday) portraying Bush as a much more hands-on chief executive than his detractors ever imagined.
Readers who’ve stuck with the Monitor over the years will forgive this rerun of sorts, but as we approach the fortieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War – and with the stench of presidential indecisiveness hanging so heavily over Washington these days – it seemed only appropriate to revisit Richard Nixon’s role in enabling Israel to recover from the staggering setbacks it suffered in the first week of fighting.
Shakespeare had it right. The evil that men do indeed lives after them. Case in point: Nahum Goldmann, who served in a variety of Jewish and Zionist organizational leadership posts from the 1920s through the 1970s.
Oscar “Ossie” Schectman, who scored the first basket in the history of the league that evolved into the National Basketball Association, died last week at age 94.
It’s certainly been a while, hasn’t it? And yet it seems like the conversation was never really interrupted, as I’ve enjoyed, in the three and a half months since this column last appeared, many an interesting exchange, via e-mail and phone, with some very intelligent readers.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/global/tears-tributes-for-beloved-slain-convert-yoseph-robinson/2010/08/25/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online:
No related posts.