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Friends in High Places

Rachel Ginsberg

President Carter was perhaps Rabbi Efraim Stein’s most famous friend, but certainly not the only contact he cultivated on Capitol Hill. Rabbi Stein, rav of the Faltishaner beis medrash in Boro Park, has put his forceful personality to use over the last four decades rubbing elbows with the top power brokers in the US government, primarily to help Jews who have found themselves in legal entanglements.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

rav stein with carterRabbi Efraim Stein shrugs off the glamour when he reminisces about his tête-à-tête with former US president Jimmy Carter as the two of them flew on Air Force One from Washington to New York in early 1980.

“We were close personal friends,” says Rabbi Stein, who got to know Carter when he was running for president, and later through missions to Washington as a political emissary of Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe ztz”l.

President Carter was perhaps Rabbi Stein’s most famous friend, but certainly not the only contact he cultivated on Capitol Hill. Rabbi Stein, rav of the Faltishaner beis medrash in Boro Park, is a captivating orator who’s put his forceful personality to use over the last four decades rubbing elbows with the top power brokers in the US government, primarily to help Jews who have found themselves in legal entanglements.

“The Satmar Rebbe gave me my first ‘job’ in pidyon shvuyim [redeeming captives],” recalls Rabbi Stein, whose wife is the Rebbe’s great-niece. “The first ‘case’ he gave me, about 40 years ago, was to help a Jewish woman who was locked up in a federal penitentiary — she got unwittingly involved in legal complications over her head. I went to Washington to visit Senator Javits, somehow used my skills, and got her released. From then on the Rebbe sent many cases my way.

“I’ve been blessed with much hatzlachah in this area, a siyata d’Shmaya that defies logic. Years later, when I parted ways with Satmar, I ‘stole’ something from them: I stole the mitzvah of pidyon shvuyim and kept it for myself.” Today, Rabbi Stein, no longer a youngster, is the rabbinic advisor and executive head of Dror, an organization that provides legal assistance and family support to Jews facing incarceration.

 

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