Rabbi versus rabbi in baffling blackmail plot

2014-06-08 15:00

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One day at the end of April, a special emissary picked up a bag from Debra Suiza, the wife of a Cape Town rabbi.

The bag contained two or three oblong boxes of Pro Vita biscuits wrapped in black plastic.

The packages were supposed to look as though they were packs of bank notes – R48?000 to be exact – and the emissary was the representative of someone who had been blackmailing Suiza and her husband for about two months.

The person had sent untraceable emails to Suiza about her husband, Ruben Suiza, the head of Cape Town’s Sephardi Jewish community and a rabbi in the city for 34 years.

In the emails, the blackmailer, who said she was a woman, threatened to tell people that Rabbi Suiza (61) had been living it up with prostitutes.

She would keep quiet, the blackmailer said, only if Mrs Suiza paid R48?000, to be delivered in a bag to the blackmailer by a designated “middleperson”.

What the blackmailer didn’t know was that the Suizas had told the police about the threats.

On the day of the drop, cops nabbed the blackmailer – and discovered that “she” was actually another city rabbi.

Rabbi Bryan Opert, the popular leader of the Milnerton Hebrew Congregation, administrative head of conversions at the Union of Orthodox Synagogues and a member of the Western Cape rabbinical association, was jailed for more than 48 hours.

He was only released after the Suizas agreed to have the charges against him suspended, pending further deliberations with the authorities.

Opert, who has seven children, resigned and sent a letter to his Milnerton congregation and the Sephardi synagogue.

He pleaded with everyone reading the letter to “forgive” him, saying he had been in a “very dark place”, struggling with depression and getting over “the death of my mother”.

Opert wrote: “I realise that many people are disappointed and shocked that a rabbi could do this, and I regret the aspersions that might be cast on the rabbinate.

“The rabbis in our country are fine people and great leaders. It is through their leadership that I have been encouraged?…?to write this letter.”

Opert would not say why he chose to blackmail Suiza or why he had demanded exactly R48?000.

He told City Press that his “real motivation” was an “intracommunal matter” and then referred the newspaper to the chief rabbi of South Africa.

Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein refused to comment on Opert’s behaviour, saying only that “there is a moral duty to deal in an uncompromising and principled way with any corruption or wrongdoing by public officials”.

Goldstein said he also wanted to emphasise that the rumours about Rabbi Suiza having consorted with prostitutes “were based on fabrications and are without any foundation whatsoever”.

“And,” said Goldstein, “at no stage did the chief rabbi or the head of the beth din (the rabbinical law court) have any contact or communication with

the National Prosecuting Authority or the SA Police Service. The criminal justice system was left to take its own independent course under the direction of the state prosecutor.”

Rabbi Suiza said his wife was “traumatised” by the incident and it had been a very “sad event for all concerned”.

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