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Forward March For The Rubashkins

Yisroel Besser

Over the past few years, images of the Rubashkin family have been freeze-framed in our consciousness: The meat plant. The raid. The living room. The courtroom scenes. The rallies…These scenes have been seared on our collective memory. The Rubashkins, though, have chosen to move forward. They’ve relocated and recalculated, adjusting the rhythm and routine of daily life to meet new challenges.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

In my home, we have a handsome, vinyl-bound blue book of classic children’s tales, pilfered by my wife from her parents’ bookshelf. Hidden in this treasury of life lessons is the Aesop fable The Country Mouse and the City Mouse.

In the story, a haughty city mouse goes to visit a relative in the country, where the host mouse offers him a typical country meal. The proud city mouse scoffs at the simple offering and invites the host back to the big city to sample some of life’s finer things. But the meal isn't meant to be: the mice’s taste of high society is interrupted by a pack of dogs.

“Country Mouse” has become an idiom, and the phrase plays in my mind as head off to my meeting with the Rubashkin brothers, Getzel and Meir Simcha. It’s our second meeting: last time was nearly two years ago, under a cloudless Iowa sky, standing in grass that reached my knees.

This time, we meet on Crown Heights’ Kingston Avenue, heading up creaky stairs to a small office on top of a sushi shop, a conveyor belt of human activity, noise and equipment all around us. If you’re not a native of the neighborhood, you can feel somewhat claustrophobic from the very Brooklyn-ness of it.

I look at these two brothers and I think of the vinyl-bound book. Country mice in the big city. Except that in this case, they were intimidated back in the peaceful country and they made their way here — to the bustling city — to get away. They've come to New York to start anew.

They are as different, to be sure, Getzel’s quiet pensiveness a foil to Meir Simcha’s exuberance and mile-a-minute way of talking. But they are brothers, and their sentences seem to overlap, each picking up where the other stops.

More, they share the same fate: both made the bitter decision that it was time to uproot their families and join their mother and her large brood in their new home in New York. It was time to concede that the Iowa experiment — at times glorious, at times exhilarating, and ultimately very disappointing — was over, decades after it began.

Now they have created new lives for themselves, for their family.


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