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Posts Tagged ‘Yoseph Robinson’

Ex-Con Arrested In Robinson Slaying; Victim Buried In Jamaica

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Police last week arrested a suspect in the shooting death of Yoseph Robinson, a Jamaican-born former hip-hop artist who became an Orthodox Jew (front-page story, Aug. 27).

Robinson, a clerk at the MB Vineyards liquor store in Flatbush, was killed when he confronted a masked gunman who entered the store and demanded jewelry from Robinson’s girlfriend.

Eion Klass, an ex-con on parole after serving 11 years for attempted murder and robbery, reportedly told police he shot Robinson when the latter tried to grab his gun.

Klass’s lawyer said the confession was forced and that police had beaten his client. Police say the suspect was injured during an escape attempt.

Meanwhile, Robinson was interred in a family burial plot in St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. An eleven-person delegation from New York which included, among others, several Chesed Shel Emes volunteers; Rabbi Kenneth Auman of the Young Israel of Flatbush; MB Vineyards owner Benjy Ovitsh; and Robinson’s girlfriend, Lahavah Wallace, flew to Jamaica for the burial.

“Things went as smoothly as they could have gone – amazingly so,” Rabbi Auman told The Jewish Press.

“We had a funeral service in Spanish Town; his parents live there. I spoke, as did Yoseph’s father and Benjy Ovitsh. The actual burial was in St. Elizabeth – a two-and-a-half hour drive. Many family members come from St. Elizabeth and some still live there. We buried him next to two family members.”

The family originally wanted to bury Robinson next to his grandmother, but she has a cross on her grave.

“The family on their own,” said Rabbi Auman, “decided it would be appropriate to bury him elsewhere. They were very respectful. Chesed Shel Emes built a grave with cinder blocks so it formed a mechitza.

“We did seven hakafos to designate it as a Jewish cemetery.”

In his eulogy for Robinson, Benjy Ovitsh praised Robinson for living “his life according to standards of moral integrity that few of us ever attain. His interaction with others was predicated on the values of truth, respect, and loyalty.”

Ovitsh recalled the time Robinson told him he’d “found an envelope with cash in it and there was no way of identifying the owner. Yoseph said we should hold it and see if someone would come forward to claim it.

“He didn’t have to tell me he found it in the first place. He didn’t try to persuade me to split it with him by rationalizing that it was hefker – legally ownerless.

“A day or two later, an elderly, non-Jewish customer asked if we found an envelope with cash. Yoseph immediately handed him the money. The man was moved to tears, not because of the few hundred dollars, which he was certainly happy to have recovered, but because he was touched by the goodness of others – by the selfless, giving, loving nature of another human being. That was Yoseph Robinson.

“It was a beautiful Kiddush Hashem – sanctification of Hashem’s name.

“But he didn’t stop there. Yoseph carefully explained to our happily stunned customer that this is what Jews do, that it’s a mitzvah to return a lost object to its rightful owner. That man will forever – forever – see Jews in a special light.”

Tears, Tributes For Beloved Slain Convert Yoseph Robinson

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

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)

Tears, Tributes For Beloved Slain Convert Yoseph Robinson

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

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)

Jamaican Hip-Hopper Turned Orthodox Jew: A Candid Talk With Yoseph Robinson

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Yoseph Robinson was born in Jamaica, came to Brooklyn when he was twelve, and dropped out of school shortly thereafter. As a teenager, he moved to Philadelphia and became involved in a life of illicit street activities. In his early twenties and after a close brush with death, during which he was targeted by a rival Jamaican gang, Yoseph relocated to Los Angeles and set his sights on the Hollywood music scene. He became a Hip-Hop promoter and producer, and signed a lucrative album contract with Universal/Bungalow Records.

Yoseph Robinson before (2000)

At the height of his musical success and while indulging in all the material abundance Hollywood had to offer, Yoseph chanced upon a Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch edition of the Chumash. Yoseph’s life was transformed. He decided to reject the emptiness and egotism of the Hollywood lifestyle and embrace Yiddishkeit. Yoseph converted to Judaism and now lives in Brooklyn as an Orthodox Jew.

The Jewish Press: What was your first experience with Judaism?

Robinson: Interestingly, my first “experience” with Judaism or with Jewish people did not resonate with me at all. When my parents came to the United States my mother worked for a lovely Jewish family called the Schwimmers. My mother even kept a picture of the Schwimmer family on the mantelpiece in our home. I saw that picture almost every day of my childhood. In fact, my siblings and I were able to come to the U.S. only because the Schwimmers generously agreed to sponsor my family. The funny thing is, though, the Schwimmers being “Jewish” was simply descriptive, like saying the Schwimmers were Asian, or Puerto Rican. Jewishness or Judaism had no intrinsic or latent meaning for me.

My second contact with Judaism occurred when I was thirteen years old, a few months after I arrived in the U.S. I worked as a delivery boy for a kosher grocery store in Brooklyn. Since growing up in Jamaica was a unique cultural experience untainted with racial or religious prejudice, I had formed no previous conceptions about Jews. As a result, the kosher grocery experience left no impression on me one way or the other. It was only when I randomly walked into a bookstore asking for a bible and received a Hirsch English edition of the Chumash instead that I began my fundamental connection to Yiddishkeit.

Who performed your conversion, and what were the requirements?

The Los Angeles beis din, under the leadership of Rabbi Tzvi Block and Rabbi Aharon Tendler, converted me. My geirus [conversion] studies program took about two-and-a-half years to complete, and centered on the weekly parshah, the halachos of Shabbos and kashrus, and the taryag mitzvos.

How did friends and family members react?

When I decided to convert, my friends thought I went off the deep end, and my family tended to agree with them. After realizing that my decision was a serious, lifelong commitment, however, I did garner the respect of those closest to me.

How is dating within the frum world for a black Jew?

Currently I’m focused on my parnassah and professional endeavors, such as the memoir I’m writing and my speaking engagements. So I haven’t really experienced the frum dating scene. I am looking forward to it. I would add, though, that there’s clearly an elephant in the room when it comes to the question of dating. The fact that I’m asked that question so often seems to indicate the existence of some bias. In any event, I’ll certainly be able to discuss the issue more insightfully as I begin to date more frequently.

What is your current study schedule like?

I have 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.

How would you characterize your treatment and degree of acceptance by the frum community in Brooklyn?

For the most part, I must say, 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.

Are you in touch with other black geirim?

Interestingly, as time goes on, I have been privileged to meet many fascinating geirim of both genders and of many nationalities and ethnicities.

Has their experience with Orthodox Judaism been similar to your own?

By and large, their experience has been heartwarming and enriching. But they do voice some concerns of bias and unequal treatment. I certainly feel that some change or improvement needs to be made in this arena.

What kind of change are you referring to, and how do you expect this change to occur?

I feel that 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. This kind of change can only come about when a community joins the effort. Without meaning to sound didactic, I feel that social change or justice will not come about through legislative bodies. It will come from ordinary people like you and me. It all starts with honest and open dialogue.

What is your message to potential geirim of any color or background?

My message to geirim is that 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.

What do you hope to accomplish with the publication of your book?

I hope my book will appeal to people on multiple levels. In the U.S. there exists a fascination and mystique that surrounds all things Jamaican. In addition, my memoir provides an insider’s look into the dark side of drug running, which will ignite the imagination of a widespread American demographic.

 

Yoseph Robinson after (2008) his conversion

My first-hand accounts of the Hollywood music scene and celebrity lifestyles will leave readers thirsting for more tantalizing details. Not to drop names, but the book mentions my experience of double-dating with Jay-Z and attending private parties with Janet Jackson and Jamie Foxx.

Finally, my decision to convert to Judaism leaves people simultaneously baffled and intrigued. I have infused my spiritual journey with a humor, intelligence, and wit that will also capture the curiosity of the sophisticated, high-end reader. In short, I hope to entertain, enlighten – and inspire as well.

What’s next for you while you’re working to get your book published?

Well, hopefully I’ll be able to talk with President Obama brother to brother, asking him to let my people be. In all seriousness, though, I’m just striving to grow spiritually and, im Yirtzeh Hashem, [I] hope to be discussing the phenomenal success of the book with you in the near future.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/jamaican-hip-hopper-turned-orthodox-jew-a-candid-talk-with-yoseph-robinson/2010/06/09/

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