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Jewish World Review
Nov. 2, 2004
/ 18 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
The senseless murder of a hero and saint
Binyamin L. Jolkovsky
A cross-dresser bludgeoned, stabbed, and strangled my friend
Rahamim "Raymond" Sultan, who spent much of his life at Midwood, Brooklyn, was 75.
He'd been living alone for several months since his wife, Atara, died.
Childless, he was lonely. He was having a hard time making ends meet, and an
even harder time with the man whom, in part to offset his loneliness, he'd
allowed to become his boarder. I know, because he told me. He used to sit
across from me in our small Chasidic shul.
When folks in synagogues in this corner of Brooklyn began buzzing Wednesday
that a senior citizen was murdered in a grisly attack, few knew the details.
In hushed tones, between amens, people chalked up the violent death to an
unfortunate side of life in the big city. These things happen.
A few hours later, the tabloids hit the streets blaring headlines like the
New York Post's "KINKY WACKO KILLED ROOMIE." Of the few who allow such
papers into their homes, most didn't put the two together. After all, to
people here, "kinky wacko" and "Orthodox" mix like meat and milk.
I can't say Rahamim and I were close. I didn't even know his last name. But
we chatted over plates of herring, glasses of seltzer, and challa rolls at
the end-of-Sabbath communal meal. When I pressed Rahamim -- the name means
"merciful" -- for details about his troubles and offered to help, he'd flail
his frail arms. "It's being worked on," he'd say, week after week.
Nobody would have blamed Rahamim for being bitter. He landed on American
shores from Syria as a child and spent much of his youth in and out of
foster homes. He told fellow congregants he had no family. He did, however,
have an infectious smile, and he always had a good word for those he met.
Other people, he'd say, had "real" troubles.
Rahamim would take his meals at Young Israel Senior Services. It was an
employee there who noticed that he hadn't shown up in a few days. When the
cops went to check up on Rahamim, a bearded man wearing blue eye shadow,
pink fingernail polish, pink pumps, and a low-cut shirt opened the door.
Though at first Howard Goldstein, 47, denied knowing where Rahamim was, a
putrid smell soon led the cops to his decaying corpse. It had been
bludgeoned, stabbed, and strangled. Mr. Goldstein was arrested.
In my synagogue on the Sabbath, a flyer announced that Rahamim's brother,
who nobody knew existed, was sitting shiva, and it gave the address. It also
announced a Sunday memorial service. In polite language, it mentioned that
donations could be made to Chesed Shel Emes, a society that guarantees
Jewish burials for the indigent.
At the service, held at Congregation Bnei Yosef on Ocean Parkway, in a room
with stunning Judaica frescos, about 40 of his friends and community members
gathered. A number of participants told me they didn't actually know the
deceased but came to show support for the family. Of Rahamim's family there
was only an estranged nephew.
How did a Syrian Jew, who had different customs and enunciations of Hebrew
and who did demographic research about Brooklyn's Sephardic community, end
up frequenting a Chasidic synagogue? It was a question Rahamim was regularly
asked. His answer: He enjoyed simplicity and song. While Syrian synagogues
are like a king's palace, he preferred chipped benches and chairs.
Last year on Shabbes Chanukah after evening services, Rahamim and I stood
schmoozing as our co-congregants made their way home.
"Let me tell you a story," he began. "You may not know this, but I wasn't
always religious. I used to be a truck driver. One dark winter night I was
hauling freight through fly-over country. The highway was empty. In the
distance I saw a small light that became larger as I moved closer to it.
Finally, when I was nearby I recognized it to be a menorah standing a
window. It sent shivers through my body."
Rahamim paused and I thought he was going to cry.
"What struck me," he continued, "was the fighting spirit we Jews have. In
the middle of nowhere a Jew was proclaiming to the world, OI am Jewish and I
am proud.' It was at that point I decided that if a Jew in some isolated
place could do what he did, then I, from New York, should certainly act more
Though he had the heart and soul of a poet in his later years, Rahamim
earlier on was a member of the Jewish Defense League. An affiliated group,
Voice of Judea, sent out a notice about Rahamim's memorial service via
electronic mail, and at that service a participant read a letter from Mike
Guzovsky, who leads a Kahane faction in Israel. It trashed those in America
for allowing a "hero" and "saint" to be murdered.
I asked Rahamim once to recount some of his exploits, something a number of
ex-JDLniks I know enjoy doing. He would only smile and adjust his hearing
aid. After I repeated the question, he would politely demur. "The ways of
the Torah," he would say, quoting Proverbs, "are pleasantness."
How ironic that a man who renounced violence ultimately ended up its victim.
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Binyamin L. Jolkovsky is JewishWorldReview.com's Editor in Chief. A version of this column appears in today's New York Sun, where the author recently became a weekly columnist.
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