By Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen, of Congregation Beth El of Manhattan ©2022
Former Principal of Chalutzim Day School 1984 to 1988
Former Teacher in Chalutzim Day School 1980 to 1988
In 1986, Chalutzim Day School of Philadelphia – the first and largest full time “Messianic Jewish” private school in the world, was going to graduate its first high school class out into college.
The school had started in 1977 in two basement rooms in Overbrook Park, a western suburban Philadelphia neighborhood right next door to “The Main Line.” By 1986, it had over fifty students, five full time faculty, and a dozen part time faculty, including cooperative programs with local accredited high schools, and a Principal: me. One of our first two graduates had been admitted to an honors program at a prestigious local university: the next year, our one lone graduate would be admitted to an Ivy League college.
It was an occasion. As I was the main high school teacher and chief onsite administrator of the school, and I had come from a prep school background, it seemed de rigueur that our School’s first graduating Senior Class have a graduation class ring. So, I designed one and had it executed by ArtCarved: “the” graduation ring company at the time.
Our two graduates received their rings, and I got one for myself to mark the occasion. Our first high school graduation.
My ring was stolen from my rented room in Yohanna Chernoff’s home a few years later, it turns out, by a fellow member of my Philly congregation who had a gambling problem; and I found out later, he had hocked the 18 karat gold ring for gambling money. On my 40th birthday in 1995, my wife, Debi, arranged to have an identical ring made for me as a gift. I have been wearing the reissued ring ever since.
Chalutzim School in which I served for eight years as a teacher and the last four years concurrently as its Principal – and its host congregation Beth Yeshua in which I served for nearly fifteen years as a musician, teacher, and group leader: have both totally erased me from all memory and mention. So much so, that when Chalutzim Academy had its 30th anniversary celebration, my name was not mentioned even once. I know this from appalled former students who attended the event. A parent of one of the students, when visiting the school during the early 2000s, remarked to me, “You pretty much built that school, and there is nothing in the building to show you ever existed.”
My wife and I became “whistleblowers.”
We discovered one of the synagogue’s elders – Joe Finkelstein, who is now living in Arad, Israel had been embezzling music ministry funds from albums in which I was a major investor and co owner, and he had also been committing a malicious and horrific slander spree against me and my wife to cover for his thieving, and for whatever other sick things were going on in his soul.
Finkelstein had been caught “red handed.” He did not come honorably forward: he had initially mocked the very idea he could be held accountable, and was dragged to accountability, trying to lie his way out the whole way. If he had the “King David” reaction to Nathan proclaiming, “You are the criminal in this story!” there would be a glimmer of redemptive hope to Finkelstein; but all he did was try to lie and blame shift, and when it became apparent there was no way to succeed at doing so, he folded and just asked how to get free of the situation.
There was copious documentation and were multiple witnesses to all Finkelstein’s criminal and anti ethical deeds. He tried to lie his way out for several hours, but could not. He even tried one very heinous “set up” to make me, as his victim, look bad: but it backfired on him, as members of Kol Simcha came forward and testified to Finkelstein’s full awareness of his own evildoing as demonstrated to them moments before he committed his act of emotional torture on the Cohens: Finkelstein’s crime of literal “sadism.” This act of Finkelstein was a direct abuse of office and abuse of the trusts of Kol Simcha as its director, and of the main stage of the annual international MJAA “Messiah Conference” as a tool for his own sick act of harm: it defiled the holiest of sites in the entire Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) and Beth Yeshua religious calendar year: the main stage at “The Conference” during a worship service with around a thousand or more Believers gathered from all over the world. It was this act of sadism, and all the false witness Finkelstein committed to achieve it, that most fully demonstrated how truly sick Finkelstein was in mind, soul, and spirit.
As part of a very gracious deal offered to him so he could go on after such a moral morass, Finkelstein wrote out a full confession, signed in attestation as truthful and accurate by the his fellow elder Joel Chernoff, brother of the rabbi of Beth Yeshua, David Chernoff. [See link here for Confession Document]
Finkelstein’s confession not only detailed his misdeeds, but stated directly I had done nothing wrong to deserve such treatment by the obviously deeply unhealthy Finkelstein. It affirmed my standing as a rabbi – the highest ethical standard in the Scriptures – and that I “certainly served nobly and well” my entire 13 year tenure in the music group Kol Simcha that Finkelstein had led, and I had been to Finkelstein, “above all, a faithful friend.”
Finkelstein’s several year crime spree came to light at exactly the same time his rabbi, David Chernoff, had been telling the whole world that “God’s Spirit just keeps on affirming” Joe Finkelstein should be the next assistant rabbi in Beth Yeshua.
David Chernoff was now “out there” in public with his array of statements about God’s Spirit confirming Finkelstein for elevation into the rabbinate (1Tim 3 level “overseer” standing) … when the Scriptures say a man who has been on a 5 year spree of thefts, slanders (harmful untruths) and breaches of fidelity to his lower office should NOT under ANY circumstances be raised into the highest echelon of spiritual ratification: the rabbinate.
David Chernoff’s solution to the above embarrassing dilemma was not, as it should have been, to thank God for revealing an unqualified candidate before he was installed.
Chernoff appeared to have decided that if he used the singular influence he had inherited from his late father, Marty Chernoff, to kill off Finkelstein’s victims’ social and vocational standing in Beth Yeshua and the MJAA/IAMCS, then everyone Chernoff really cared about could go their merry way once Bruce and Debi Cohen were socially and vocationally dead in Chernoff’s sphere.
So, David Chernoff’s solution to Finkelstein’s crime spree was create a new, fantasy version of the Finkelstein Affair in which Finkelstein (the witnessed, on paper self confessed perp) was somehow the good guy, and Finkelstein’s victims (me and my wife) were the villains.
Chernoff had the evil or insanity or both to tell me to my face in August 1998 in regard to the Finkelstein Affair, “You want to know ‘the truth,’ Bruce? You did it all to yourself.” So, Joe Finkelstein having for several years stolen, lied, lied more, slandered, broke contracts, and even done acts of what could only be called “sadism” – while I was accused of nothing, and affirmed as “above all, a faithful friend” who had “certainly served nobly and well …” –– that all distilled down for David Chernoff into me having somehow done it all to myself.
Cue music from Hitchcock’s Psycho.
I mean truly, a psychopathological situation. What is that old saying?
“Sociopaths are never, in their own view, the villain in any scenario: they are always either the hero, the victim, or both.”
Most alarmingly, as if to say to the whole world, “Joe did nothing seriously wrong,” David Chernoff not only went right ahead and ordained Joe Finkelstein into an office for which he was Biblically directly disqualified; Chernoff instantly made Finkelstein, a recently discovered financial criminal, the Finance Officer of the MJAA’s rabbinical association, the I.A.M.C.S. The evil and madness of this situation hardly needs explanation. Who would make a recently caught and convicted rapist the dean of a girl’s boarding school? I mean – really, folks.
So – why do I keep wearing my Chalutzim ring?
Isn’t it a symbol of terrible betrayal and abandonment?
Well yes, it is.
But it symbolizes other, more important things as well.
Firstly, it symbolizes my eight years in the school as a teacher and administrator. I don’t want to allow a liar and apparent sociopath like David Chernoff deprive me of the beautiful array of memories and relationship experiences I had during my eight years in Chalutzim Day School: now named, “Chalutzim Academy.” Several of my students stayed in touch across the years and even tapped me for counsel into their adult years: I performed the wedding of one of my students after I had become a Rabbi, and officiated at her daughter’s naming ceremony in Jerusalem. I am still in relationship with former students to the present day, and I’ll be damned if I am going to let a pathological liar like David Chernoff take that away, just to preserve his own ego about his mistake elevating Finkelstein (whom Chernoff knew to be a disastrous failure as a father and leader before he chose him to be a reliable “yes man” in his congregation and in the MJAA/IAMCS as soon as Chernoff could place him in the Exec Committees of those associations).
Secondly, my wife devoted great energy and love into finding the jeweler in Philadelphia who had manufactured my original design for the Chalutzim ring, and got him to reproduce it exactly from my original sketch and spec sheet, which he still had on file when she found him. Her devoted act of love in recovering my stolen treasure for me is as much a part of what I cherish as the school history the ring betokens.
Thirdly – this ring is the only remaining, consistently viewed evidence of the blood, sweat, and tears of my first post-college decade of work: the fruit of not only my own labors in my education, but the three generations of Cohens/Canareks and Garfields/Garfinkels who preceded me. I’ll be damned if I am going to let a low-life like David Chernoff or his crew erase four Jewish generations of dedicated efforts by my forebears to allow me the education and opportunities they afforded me.
So, I wear it still.
For my wife, Debi. For my students Rachel, Marika, Keri, Ari, Oona, Jamie, Jeremy, Erik, Rachel, Becca, Karen and all the lower grades I didn’t teach directly, but supervised; and for my fellow faculty Linda, Dinky, Sharon, Caren, Cathy, Lynn, my assistant teachers Candy, Mindy, and Kathy and the many others who served during my tenure.
To paraphrase Forest Gump: “Low life is as low life does.”
From David Chernoff, not honorable acceptance of a mistake which God graciously warned him about in time to prevent: no, instead a heinous cover up by raining harm upon innocent victims: a whistleblower attack, just like the lowest of criminals do to witnesses for the prosecution.
Kill the witness(es), and (accountability for) the crime evaporates.
David Chernoff’s and Joe Finkelstein’s and every other accomplice in their Watergate/Dreyfus style coverup is this: “All liars go into the lake of fire prepared for God’s Adversary and his minions.” (Revelation 21:8)
All means all.
My Chalutzim ring, stolen and then recovered, reminds me of the truth of these matters, as established in due process, documented and confessed by the criminal himself, witnessed in attestation by David Chernoff’s brother, Joel.
So I wear it still.
As for “The Perps” in these matters? The Chernoffs, Finkelstein, Jamie Cowen, Russ Resnick, Elliot Klayman, Judah Hungerman, Bob Cohen, and all the perps in this matter face burning through all eternity, unless they truly repent.
May God visit them all with “the repentance that leads to life.”
But that would require that they (a) confess, (b) commit never to repeat their sins (c) pay the price in restitution of harms done, and punitive/community protective steps (like stepping down or out of office).
I don’t know of anyone who believes the Chernoffs and other perps in this matter possess either the genuine spirituality or the humility to take the steps that would lead them to eternal life.
So in late 2022, as Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote in Cats Cradle, “and so it goes.”
The photograph of my hand with my Chalutzim ring on it was taken today, 14 October 2022: the same day I wrote this blog entry. I wear my Chalutzim ring still – even today.
Bruce L. Cohen
New York City • Sukkot 2022/5783