Who Is Cincinnati Chabad Rabbi Sholom Kalmanson?

On April 16, I got an email from somebody calling himself the "Satmarer Chosid" poking fun of Rabbi Kalmanson‘s emotional speech about the rebbe (Rabbi Menachem Schneerson).

On April 17, I got more emails criticizing Rabbi Kalmanson.

I surfed the web and found a website where he got a ton of criticism.

On April 17, I emailed Rabbi Kalmanson for a response to these negative things said about him.

I did not hear back.

Today I finally got to speak with Rabbi Kalmanson.

He said he never received my email of April 17.

Luke: "I wanted to get your point of view."

Rabbi Kalmanson: "First you put all this shmutz about me on there and now you’re asking me for my point of view?"

"I would assume that one would try to get a second side or try to check something out unless there’s a motive here for all this?

"Anybody who is in the public eye as much as I am, literally traveling the globe, I have become a lightning rod. One item that you have there can you back up factually? Nothing. I challenge you to do that. Not that I have anything against you. I’m just trying to understand. What are the motives of this story?"

Luke: "I write a blog on Jewish life. The only motive is to try to find out what is true."

Rabbi Kalmanson: "All that you have there is dirt upon dirt upon dirt. You haven’t said one thing that may resemble some truths. If you were going to go looking, I’m sure you’d find some positives as well."

Luke: "I’m willing to go through things point by point."

We talk about my missing email of April 17.

Rabbi Kalmanson: "I’ve been dealing with media for many many years. I’ve been in the public eye for 40 years. It was brought to my attention last night by somebody. That was the first I’ve seen of it."

"Is there anything that you’ve written that you have an ounce of back-up? Even a shred?"

Luke: "I believe that all of it is accurate."

Rabbi Kalmanson: "Where do you have it accurate that the rebbe did or did not send me to serve under Rabbi [Zelig] Sharfstein?

"The rebbe sent me to Cincinnati. Rabbi Sharfstein never came to Cincinnati as a shaliach (emissary of the rebbe). Rabbi Sharfstein got married in 1956. Through Torah Mesorah as a work referral service, he came to the Chofetz Chaim Hebrew Day School in Cincinnati to become a teacher. He did not succeed. He became a principal to finish off the year. He did not succeed. Rabbi Silver, who was the chief rabbi at the time, took him in as a kosher supervisor. There he remained until an issue occurred.

"I was the one who saw to it that he got promoted to the rabbi of Nevalde Yeah (sp?). Nobody else did.

"The people who dealt with myself and the rebbe at the time have passed away. You may have heard the name of Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Reichitz (sp?)? He was an emissary of the rebbe to go to Rabbi Sharfstein’s father-in-law to not stand in the way of this particular shaliach [referring to Rabbi Kalmanson’s Cincinnati appointment for the rebbe]."

"I don’t really care. I just want to know what motive somebody in Los Angeles has to come forward and besmirch somebody.

"Let me ask you: If I am this big of a bumpkin, how come I am traveling around the globe speaking on behalf of issues of Chabad? Why would anyone emulate somebody who defied the rebbe? In Chabad, that would be the worst negative that you could talk about. Somebody defied the rebbe’s instructions? Would somebody in Chabad emulate a person like that?"

Luke: "That’s a good point."

Rabbi Kalmanson: "I travel to Israel, Australia, England, around the globe, all 50 states. If I was as big of a bum as you make me out to be? If I defied the rebbe’s will, I don’t think anybody would bother with me. I would be laid away somewhere like many other people. There are thousands of shalichim (emissaries for Chabad) around the world. Some are quieter than others. Some are just going on with their routine daily lives and nobody remembers that they are there with the exception of something occurs."

"Every person who is high profile has enemies. You become a lightning rod."

"Can you tell me one place where I have wasted money? And have needed someone else to manage my money? That was a statement in the blog."

Luke: "I quote from another blog that you are the only person to open and then close two educational institutions."

Rabbi: "Really? First of all, the yeshiva is open. I don’t know what you’re talking about. On the other hand, I will show you hundreds of institutions around the world. This is no different than any other business. If a person sits and does nothing, you can’t fail.

"The girls’ school didn’t close because of failure. My wife who was running it got breast cancer. She couldn’t run it at that time. That nobody’s telling you.

"That there are 15 or 20 other institutions in the city that are open under my auspices, that nobody talks about. That are very successfully running."

"Don’t you see through the dirt and the garbage?"

Luke: "I’m hearing what you’re saying and I’m taking careful notes."

"So the only schools that have closed?"

Rabbi: "Let me explain to you something… We have a successful Chabad house in the Amberley area. That’s the regional headquarters. We have a successful Chabad house in Mason and on the campus [of Ohio State?], we have a successful institution in Blue Ash, in Dayton, we have a Russian center, we have several synagogues running here… We have a mesivta — a yeshiva high school running. We have a cheder. We have a successful summer camp with 300 or 400 children. We have a separate winter camp. It’s the only American Camping Association accredited camp in this region.

"Just from this alone, tell me where my failures are?"

Luke: "I could not. Let me come back to you. Let me talk to my sources."

Rabbi: "You shouldn’t be taking anonymous garbage. If somebody is bold enough to make an accusation against somebody, let them stand up and say it openly. If I get mad at you, I can call some other blogger and make anonymous accusations against you. Obviously I don’t have to live up to any standards. If I want to besmirch somebody, I’ll do it straight to their face."

"I could call you up and say that so-and-so slept with somebody’s wife. Are you going to then print it? If you want to have some semblance of credibility, things should be checked out, or at least call the other side before you put it on the blog and see what he has to say. You can be like a journalist and provide both sides."

"From what I’ve told you now, you can check me out. Check to see how many institutions are running successfully under me."

Luke: "I’m going to do what you say and then I’ll come back to you."

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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