UCLA Hillel Rabbi Beats Up Women, Wins Lavish Praise

By Anonymous,

I’m a loyal Hillel parent and steadfast contributor and, until very recently, here’s something I did not know:

On October 21, 2003, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the longtime director of Hillel at UCLA, emerged from a talk on campus by Alan Dershowitz and grew so enraged by a political discussion that he physically attacked Israeli-born Rachel Neuwirth, 57. He scratched her arm, then brutally grabbed it, hit her, tried to punch her face while screaming, “You liar!,” kicked her and dragged her to the edge of a flight of concrete stairs. Student David Hakimfar, who witnessed the assault, wrote in an on-line article in Jewsweek, “This was no brief moment of insanity. It was a long and deliberate attack. He was aware of his surroundings. Seidler-Feller was belligerently trying to find any means to strike Neuwirth.”

According to an article that collected testimony from a number of eyewitnesses, Dr. Roberta Seid says she saw Rabbi Seidler-Feller’s face contorted in rage as he dragged Ms. Neuwirth towards the stairs and tried to push her down. It took three students to pull off the rabbi from his victim, but as soon they separated him from her, he lurched at her again. If not for the fact that Ms. Neuwirth is an athlete with enough physical strength to resist his pushing, Rabbi Seidler-Feller could well have succeeded in shoving her down a flight of concrete stairs, possibly breaking her neck.

His violent rage not yet sated, the Orthodox rabbi then raced down the stairs in search of his next female victim. “I was fiddling with my video camera trying to figure out how to get it to work, when I looked up and saw Rabbi Seidler-Feller coming right at me,” says pro-Israel activist Allyson Rowen Taylor. “He spit right in my face, started screaming and lunged right at me. Somebody pulled him off me or I could have been really hurt.”

Now if this incident is news to you, here’s what you probably think happened next: Hillel immediately fired Rabbi Seidler-Feller, profusely apologized to his victims, and convened an organization-wide initiative to ensure all Hillel employees follow basic guidelines of civility and respect.

So let me break the news: Rabbi Seidler-Feller is still on Hillel’s payroll as a highly-prized employee. Far from apologizing, Hillel has attempted to smear his primary victim and buy her silence. And now that Rabbi Seidler-Feller has been forced by a court to issue a public apology and admit he’s guilty, Hillel overflows with lavish praise for him and his magnificent virtues.

How do I know? Let me backtrack a bit and explain. A few weeks ago, I noticed an on-line item that Rabbi Seidler-Feller had released a court-ordered apology in which he wrote, “Dear Ms. Neuwirth: I am deeply sorry that I hit, kicked and scratched you and called you a liar on October 21, 2003. By taking these unprovoked actions, I have contradicted the pluralism, peace and tolerance about which I so often preach.” I’d never heard of either him or this incident and the more I thought about it, the angrier I became that this man was still employed. I called the national office of Hillel in Washington, D.C., identified myself as a contributor, and asked a simple question: “What constitutes a firing offense for a Hillel rabbi? Apparently, publicly assaulting a woman does not.” A pleasant woman assured me I would get an answer shortly from someone higher up. Days went by, and despite my leaving phone and email messages, I didn’t hear a thing. Finally, I left a message saying I intended to write an article about their refusal to respond.

I promptly received an email from Jeff Rubin, Associate Vice President for Communications of Hillel’s national office in Washington, D.C., who wrote, “Rabbi Seidler-Feller, a master scholar and teacher, is a respected member of the Hillel professional staff. He brings passion and Jewish depth to his lectures, to his interactions with college students, and to his administration of UCLA Hillel.” (I agree with Mr. Rubin that Rabbi Seidler-Feller brings passion. The kind that winds up in the court system for four years.) Mr. Rubin went on to praise his advocacy for Israel and concluded by noting, “Insofar as the unfortunate incident involving Rabbi Seidler-Feller and Ms. Neuwirth is concerned, that matter has been resolved, and is behind us.”

I have no doubt Mr. Rubin and Hillel devoutly pray the matter is resolved and behind them. But it’s not behind me. And as I dug deeper, I learned it’s not behind other people, either, including those most directly affected by Rabbi Seidler-Feller on a daily basis – UCLA’s Jewish students. You will probably not be shocked to learn that Rabbi Seidler-Feller has exhibited anger issues before and is heartily disliked by many students. “With more than 4,000 Jewish students at UCLA, Rabbi Chaim’s Hillel attracts only a small fraction of students each week; hundreds, if not thousands, feel alienated and afraid to enter the new Hillel building,” writes David Hakimfar. “Why? Most students I talk to say that they have been shut out by Rabbi Chaim’s seeming polarity and castigations of students with views different from his own. Even many who hold similar political beliefs as the rabbi recognize his apparent lack of even-handedness when it comes to dealing with students that have opposing beliefs.” Mr. Hamikfar concludes by saying, “Due to the influence of Rabbi Chaim in so many areas, most students are afraid to speak out as I am doing now.”

Wow…Did you feel a chill when you read that? I surely did. Students afraid to speak out against their rabbi? What is this — The Sopranos or Hillel? Well, when you dig deeper and discover the kind of antics this man has been getting away with for years, you’ll learn why they’re so fearful. For instance, in 2003, according to Sharon Hes’s article in Think-Israel.org, students organized a meeting in a private home to discuss Muslim antisemitism at UCLA. The meeting was expressly convened to get away from Rabbi Seidler-Feller, whose career is based on the premise that Muslims are peace-lovers and he’s the indispensable man to prove it. Rabbi Seidler-Feller crashed the meeting and shouted down the featured speaker, student Ben Shapiro, preventing him from talking. “The rabbi, identifying himself as the Hillel director, warned Mr. Shapiro that he could “get into trouble for this kind of activity.”…One participant described Rabbi Seidler-Feller as ‘obstreperous, threatening, interrupting, scaring the kid.’ Several participants said the rabbi’s turmoil broke up the meeting.”

Issuing threats and vicious insults seems to come naturally to the rabbi. In an editorial entitled “Give kicking rabbi the boot” in the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper, David Lazar wrote, “If not for the shocking and inexcusable nature of the attack itself, Seidler-Feller should be let go due to the shameful way he conducted himself following the incident…Rather than accept responsibility for the attack, Seidler-Feller and his lawyer initially tried to shift the blame to the victim: ‘It was Ms. Neuwirth who accosted the rabbi…,’ Donald Etra, Seidler-Feller’s attorney at the time, told a Daily Bruin reporter. …Seidler-Feller even considered filing a lawsuit against Neuwirth for provoking him…”

Obviously, Hillel was complicit in this legal strategy, which included such adorable touches as the rabbi’s wife, Doreen Seidler-Feller, sending out a mass email asking for help to discredit the “monstrous Neuwirth.” (link Think-Israel). “We are interested in establishing a pattern of behavior on her part which is relentless, confrontational, abusive…We wonder about her mental health history…” and so on, wrote the devoted rebbetzin.

After dragging through the courts for four years, due to the rabbi’s refusal to publicly apologize, Rabbi Seidler-Feller has now finally conceded and written Ms. Neuwirth a letter of apology.

According to the terms of the settlement, the rabbi’s apology should be published in the local Jewish newspaper. However, in a marvelous stroke of good fortune for the rabbi, the editor of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Rob Eshman, is his dear friend (and a past president of American Friends of Peace Now, of which Rabbi Seidler-Feller was a founder) and refuses to print the complete text.

So for your viewing pleasure, here is the hard-won apology in full:

    “Dear Ms. Neuwirth: I am deeply sorry that I hit, kicked and scratched you and called you a liar on October 21, 2003. By taking these unprovoked actions, I have contradicted the pluralism, peace and tolerance about which I so often preach. I also have violated the humanitarian teaching of Judaism regarding kindness and respect for others that I am bound to uphold.

    I am also sorry for and deeply regret that, as a result of the October 21, 2003 incident, various statements were made in the media which you feel mis-characterized the incident.

    I am accepting 100% responsibility for my actions on October 21, 2003. I had no right to do what I did.

    Again, I am truly sorry. Please accept my sincere, heartfelt apology.


    Chaim Seidler-Feller”

Got that? He’s accepting 100% responsibility. Only don’t expect him to actually, you know, do anything about it. Sure, he’ll take the 36-hour anger management course the court mandated. No biggie. But he’s certainly not going to resign from his ultra-desirable job. In fact, right now, he’s enjoying a paid sabbatical till August, resting from his usual tiring labors of bullying students and threatening women. And he’s making a big splash on the lecture circuit, where he’s lionized as an icon of the progressive movement. On March 18, a few weeks after he issued his public apology, Rabbi Seidler-Feller was the featured speaker at the 92nd Street Y in New York as a guest of the prestigious Everett Institute. His official biography for the event states “Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is the director of Hillel and a lecturer at UCLA. He also teaches at the University of Judaism, the Shalom Hartman Institute, the Wilstein Institute for Social Policy, the Wexner Heritage Foundation, the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, EDAH and Americans for Peace Now. Rabbi Seidler-Feller is the founder of the Streisand Center for Jewish Cultural Arts at UCLA’s Hillel House.” Gosh! He sure sounds important, doesn’t he?

And now let’s talk about Hillel, the organization that signs his paycheck. There’s a certain logical continuum here, which I’m sure you can follow, even if they can’t. If he says he accepts responsibility, what about theirs? Hillel is his enabler in every possible way, including financially: I strongly suspect that both his legal fees and the payout to his primary victim were made from Hillel funds. So when are they going to accept responsibility and fire this man from the post he so utterly disgraced? When are they going to publicly apologize for leaving an obviously disturbed man in a position of power over vulnerable young people for four years after he showed his capacity for violence? When are they going to get off their comfortable duffs and start scrambling to make sure this kind of outrage never happens again?

I am devastated by the moral hollowness of Hillel, which this incident has all too clearly revealed. I feel like I’ve been played for a sucker every time I sat at my dining room table and wrote them another check to pay for lovely Shabbat dinners and Purim celebrations…and which instead, may have gone to fund a high-class protection racket for a prominent man who brutalizes middle-aged women.

Well, the next time I receive one of their endless appeals (it’s probably waiting in my mailbox now), they can include me out, to quote Samuel Goldwyn. Until they fire Rabbi Seidler-Feller, publicly apologize for their part in this debacle, and put in place stringent guidelines for all personnel, they’re not getting another shekel from me.

I urge every Hillel contributor who values decency and respectability in their community leaders to join me in this boycott. And you can tell Jeff Rubin all about it at jerubin@hillel.org and lwile@hillel.org

May 13, 2007 | 1 Comment »

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