On April 25th, 1996, Rabbi Avidor HaCohen, testified in front of the Cohen Committee in charge of investigating the disappearance of the Jewish children. Rabbi Avidor had an interesting story to tell the committee.
His story begins with a meeting between Rabbi Avidor and a couple from New York in 1963. The father was American, and the mother Israeli, with a girl, around the age of ten. It did not seem to Rabbi Avidor that this child was theirs.
Avidor later on spoke with the parents. They told him she was a Yemenite child, from Israel. Avidor recalls the girl having beautiful, large, dark eyes while both parents’ eyes were of almost opposite coloration. He further recalls the girl being a darkskinned, beautiful Yemenite girl. The couple then told Avidor that there were other families in New York who had adopted children from Israel.
It was then that Rabbi Avidor found out about a man who organized these adoptions. It bothered Avidor that children who had immigrated to Israel were brought to the United States and sold for adoption.
When Avidor reached this point in his testimony, he was asked by the Judge Yehuda Cohen about the number of children adopted in this fashion. Avidor answered that back then he did not know, that they only told him they were bringing children, and that there were many of them. When Avidor returned to Israel, he began looking into this, in more detail.
Avidor further reported that he then spoke to Deborah Eliner of the immigration section of the Jewish Agency, and with others there and this is where Avidor discovered that the Israeli institutes that deal with adoption did not know anything of this whole incident. This made him even more curious as to what was being done, because he even had the names of the children.
Avidor then sent a memo to Minister Haim Shapira, because he was part of the “Mizrachi”, a Jewish organization devoted to Religious Zionism, and Rabbi Dr. Yissachar Dov Bernard Bergman, the man behind the adoption of the children in the United States. Rabbi Bergman was one of the main people running the “Mizrachi” organization. Avidor found it unconscionable that an organization devoted to Religious Zionism was working to take Jewish children away from their homeland for profit. Avidor never received an answer from Minister Shapira. He then decided to call him on the phone. Shapira answered that there was much gossip about Bergman, but he is, all in all, a good Jew. Avidor still felt something was terribly wrong, since the adoption institutes here in Israel didn’t know a thing about Israeli children being adopted in the United States.
He then tried getting various journalists interested in this story and a large amount of source material was given by him to almost every important journalist working for every newspaper in the Israeli mainstream press and this material was in their posession for many months. Avidor only got responses saying that there was no public interest in these cases.
He did not give up. He continued trying to get information to the public but nothing was published until he spoke to one journalist, Shalom Cohen, and told him of the information he held and how important it was to bring it to the attention of the public. The final agreement was that the information would be published with the names of the families indicated by initials only.
Avidor said that, at that point, he found out that the cases were not uniquely connected to the Yemenite community, that there were other Jewish children from many other countries being abducted and sold for adoption in this fashion. The entire matter was then published and received almost no reaction in the Israeli media. The treatment this issue was getting really bothered Rabbi Avidor.
It was then that he discovered that many social circles, mainly Askenazi religious zionistic ones, had a tendency to believe that instead of growing up in a poor family with many children, it is better for a child to grow up with a family that has more financial stability. Rabbi Avidor also says that there are still various religious social groups that believe this and thus justify the crimes that were committed against the children and their families. This is one of the “moral explanations” referred to in a previous article in this series. Rabbi Avidor was shocked to see religious Jews using these explanations.
The individuals who dealt with adoption here in Israel said they do not know of such things happening and so had no written records of these adoptions. In such a case, Rabbi Avidor claims, there can arise a terrible problem of marriges within the family including incest.
Rabbi Avidor learned then that it cost five thousand American dollars to adopt a child from Israel at that time.
It is also crucial to mention that Rabbi Dr. Bergman died a few years ago while in jail for a different crime – his fraud and abuse in New York nursing homes that he ran. This was an issue covered thoroughly in the United States and Israel. The New York Times, of the 23rd of February, 1975 reports:
“Bernard Bergman, the central figure in investigations into possible fraud and abuse in New York nursing homes, has decided to abandom his public defense of his business dealings.
In refusing to testify at televised Senate hearings last week, he invoked his constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment. His lawyer has argued that to testify would be prejudicial if inquiries by Federal and state prosecutors result in criminal proceedings against Mr. Bergman. A Federal grand jury is known to be looking into his affairs. And a state grand jury, assisted by Special State Prosecutor Charles J. Hynes, has also been impaneled to study alleged improprieties in the state’s nursing homes.
This is not the first time Mr. Bergman has been prominent in such inquiries. At a state hearing on nursing homes last week, Civil Court Judge Louis I. Kaplan, who in 1960 issued a report on city nursinghome abuses, tesitifed that Mr. Bergman was then, too, the major figure in the industry under investigation. He said he presented evidence of criminal fraud in the industry to former Mayor Wagner. No prosecutions followed and Mr. Wagner says he doesn’t recall what happened to the socalled Kaplan report.
The first indictments in the investigations of the industry have been handed up. The owner of a Smithtown, L.I., nursing home and an accountant were accused of swindling Medicaid out of more than $500,000 by charging personal and improper business expenses to the program. In Connecticut, which is also investigating its nursing homes, a state official said at General Assembly hearings that top state officials had financial interests in nursing homes and used their influence to get favorable treatment for them”.
It appears that the entire issue of Rabbi Dr. Issachar Dov Bernard Bergman, and the nursing homes in New York were a big issue in the United States back then, and the New York times spent much work on getting articles about it written. Bergman was a main figure in the Orthodox religious community in the States,as well as President of the United States branch of the “Mizrachi” movement. He was closely connected to the Israeli religious nationalist party (known as the “Mafdal”), which was directly linked to the “Mizrachi” movement.
In the early 1970s the New York Times began their investigation into the issue of Bergman’s nursing homes. They reported that the Federal Government would grant a specified amount of money for every elderly person in a nursing home, that Bergman, his relatives and friends were taking huge amounts of money from these funds while the elderly people suffered. For those of you who may remember, shortly afterwards, many other newspapers and other media then joined the investigation. There were those that called it “The Jewish Watergate” and others who claimed it was simply antisemitic journalism. It is a pity that there were those in the Israeli government who agreed with the latter statement. As reported by the New York Times on the 30th of December, 1974, “TEL AVIV, Dec. 29 – Interior Minister Yosef Burg dismissed today as irrelevant a request by Representative Edward I. Koch, Democrat of New York, that Israel refuse citizenship to Bernard Bergman pending the outcome of a United States Senate hearing next month on nursing homes. Mr. Bergman is among 35 persons affiliated with nursing homes in New York State for whom subpoenas have been issued by Senator Frank E. Moss, Democrat of Utah and chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Special Comitee on Aging.
The Senate group, which issued the writes Dec. 20, announced at that time that it was joining the investigation of alleged largescale fraud among New York nursing homes that is being conducted by the State Temporary Commission on Living Costs.
The Israeli Minister, who represents the National Religious party in the Cabinet here, has affiliation with Mr. Bergman through the party’s parent organization, the Orthodox world Mizrachi movement. Mr. Bergman is the dominant figure in the Mizrachi Religious Zionists of America. But this affiliation, Dr. Burg emphasized, is very loose, “The Israeli movement is absolutely independant”, he said.
Mr. Bergman and his wife arrived in Jerusalem at the end of last month, apparently after learning that he was about to be subpoenaed to testify about fraud involving Medicaid funds. The Bergmans, who entered Israel as tourists, have no resident status here, though they own a luxury apartment in Jerusalem.
They left Jerusalem in the middle of this month and are reported to be living with relatives in Vienna. A Bergman relative there has said that the couple would be back in New York, before January 7. The press here has reported that the couple left after having been cautioned that they would not be protected from extradition, should the United States request it.
Dr. Burg, reached in Jerusalem by phone, said of the request by Representative Koch that he would make a statement in Parliament in response to a similar request, submitted in the form of a parliamentary question, by Shulamit Aloni. Mrs. Aloni is a member of the opposition Civil Rights Movement.
But the question of Mr. Bergman’s citizenship, Dr. Burg said, does not arise at this time. “No request whatsoever about this case has come to me,” he said. Mr. Koch had cabled Dr. Burg from Washington on Friday to urge that Mr. Bergman “not be permitted to exercise the right of return” pending the outcome of the Senate committee inquiry. Under Israel’s Law of Return, a Jew can claim citizenship and a right to live here. Mr Bergman, an ordained but nonpracticing rabbi, holds the prestigious title of member of the presidium of the World Mizrahi Movement. He was elected in January, 1973, together with Tibor Rosenbaum, who is involved in a multimillion dollar banking scandal in Europe, and Rabbi Avigdor Zipperstein of Jerusalem. Rabbi Zipperstein resigned a few months ago. Mr. Bergman and Dr. Rosenbaum had been sponsored in the election by the Minister of Religious Affairs, Yitzhak Raphael, a controversial figure in Israel.
Mrs. Aloni said in an interview today that she had submitted her parliamentary question about Mr. Bergman to draw attention to her charges of corruption in the National Religious party. Support for Representative Koch’s plea came today from the newspaper Maariv in an editorial. ‘If Rabbi Bergman is innocent, if his actions as director of a chain of oldage homes in New York were without blemish, if he can disprove the charges against him, let him do so before the competent authorities,’ the paper said.
‘If he wishes, he can then come to settle in Israel and will be welcomed like any Jew who decides to come to Israel.'”
At one point, there was a public hearing in New York. In the hearing, workers from Bergman’s nursing homes testified about elderly people dying of hunger, of ill ones dying of thirst, of tired elderly people lying in their own vomit without receiving any sort of medical care, and many others who suffered cuts and injuries that were neglected and uncared for.
“I looked at my father, and saw he was about to die”, one witness told the committee formed to investigate the matter. She quickly took her father to the hospital, where he died of dehydration and infection. His entire body was covered with bruises. A qualified nurse told the investigators how the authorities twisted and changed her findings, after she reported to the city health authorities about the horrifying conditions in the home, as reported in “Haaretz”, on the 5th of September, 1997.
Haaretz also reports that the testimonies of the workers and relatives in the committee often sounded like “terrible scenes from a sadistic horror film”. It was then discovered that Bergman’s nursing homes received 1.2 million dollars from “Medicaid” for treatment of people who never existed. It was even said, back then, that elderly people with no family who passed away in the homes were secretly kept for long periods of time in refrigeration, unburied, while Bergman continued to receive money for their care. Some of the newspapers even alleged that Bergman’s homes served as a cover for the Mafia’s financial activities and when they continued to investigate, they discovered the crimes Bergman’s father committed when he smuggled heroin inside Jewish Holy Books. One day, in a mail office in France, a few Talmud books were accidentally dropped from one of the mail bags, and a stream of heroin poured out. Bergman used this incident to beg that he not be accused for his father’s crimes, cried, and made comparisons between himself and the holy men of Judaism, but at the end was found guilty by a jury, Haaretz reported.
The best way to sum up most of Bergman’s life is to quote part of a news article from the New York Times, titled “Many Roads Lead to Bergman”, by Lee Dembart: “… In his public posture, Mr. Bergman combined a talent for fundraising, a friendship with politicians and a zest for selfpromotion to make himself a respected leader in Orthodox Jewish circles. In his business posture, Mr. Bergman used many of those same contacts to help him turn a $25,000 inheritance into a net worth he has certified at $24 million, though he insists he owns but two nursing homes….”
To back up the claims, the article also mentions that “In 1960, the City Investigation Commissioner, Louis I. Kaplan, linked him to a total of 18 homes, and he was estimated to be worth $10 million”, and later on in the article “When Medicaid started in the mid-1960s, the bonanza began. By 1973, Mr. Bergman’s accountant, Samuel Dachowitz, certified to a bank that Mr. Bergman was worth $24 million”.
The irony in the entire case is that Rabbi Bergman used his “friendship with politicians” to ensure for himself wonderful living conditions when he was imprisioned. One man that was not imprisoned was the man that Rabbi Avidor HaCohen met, with the adopted Yemenite child, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Tuch, who was also found to be involved in bringing Jewish children from Israel to the United States. It was a well known fact within the Jewish community in the United States that if a family wanted a child they could go to either Bergman or Tuch and simply pay the necessary fee.