Beth Jacob’s Former Rabbi Uri Pilichowski Posts On FB About Shooting

Rabbi Pilichowski posts a picture of himself shooting with the Facebook update: “Sometimes you need to blow off some steam…shooting is a lot like making kiddush…you always have to keep other people in mind…;)”

I wonder who he has in mind? He must primarily think of Beth Jacob’s leaders who demanded his resignation for hacking email accounts.

A source says: “It is his sense of humor. Call his cell phone voice mail one day and listen. Not funny unless you know him. If you know him, you realize the depth of his sarcasm. A bad decision; especially from how it is perceived, obviously he was not advocating and threatening violence. Just his sick sense of humor.”

Rabbi Pilichowski has taken a position at a Jewish day school in Boca Raton, Florida.

So what happened here?

There are differing perspectives. Here’s one view:

The previous leader of Beth Jacob, Rabbi Steven Weil, liked Rabbi Pilichowski and wanted him to take his place. That was never going to happen.

Beth Jacob went on a search for a senior rabbi and chose R. Kalman Topp.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Weil and Rabbi Pilichowski fell out.

Rabbi Pilichowski did not like the new leader of the shul, Kalman Topp. They got along OK for a few months and then tension developed between.

Fearing for his place in the shul, Rabbi Pilichowski last December started hacking into the shul email accounts of Rabbi Topp, outgoing shul president David West, and executive director Allen Ishakis.

Around January, Rabbi Topp put aside his personal misgivings and agreed to support the shul offering Rabbi Pilichowski a two year contract extension. This extension was then formally offered to Rabbi Pilichowski (a few weeks into 2011). A separate contract was offered to his wife Aliza.

Rabbi Pilichowski has a devoted following at Beth Jacob and almost everyone agrees that he and his wife have done a good job with the shul’s programming for children.

On a regular basis over the past eight months, Rabbi Pilichowski read the private email of Topp, West and Ishakis, email that came in from congregants, financial advisors, spouses, friends and the like. You can imagine the painfully personal emails that some people send their rabbi.

At times, Rabbi Pilichowski deleted emails so that Rabbi Topp and company never saw them. For instance, he deleted an email from Yeshiva University that insisted that Rabbi Pilichowski have nothing to do with the shul’s summer kollel program (staffed by YU scholars).

Why? Because this email from Yeshiva University to Rabbi Topp alleged that Rabbi Pilichowski had acted inappropriately in the interviewing process for the program.

What was the nature of this conduct? Apparently, some got the impression that Rabbi Pilichowski wanted only attractive women on the group he was assembling.

Rabbi Pilichowski did not sign his contract extension as 2011 rolled on. He played a waiting game for months. He was not happy with the contract offer from Beth Jacob.

About a month ago, while checking his deleted email box, Rabbi Topp discovered that that there were emails there he had never seen. Somebody had been reading his email and deleting some of them.

An investigation was mounted and Rabbi Topp, Allen Ishakis, and David West discovered that Rabbi Pilichowski had been hacking into their shul email accounts.

When Rabbi Pilichowski realized that they were on to him, he immediately signed his new contract. His wife signed her new contract.

The next Saturday, June 18, Rabbi Pilichowski confessed what he had done. He was told he would be let go quietly if he would cooperate.

Rabbi Pilichowski would not leave without a fight. He and his supporters insisted on fighting his dismissal. The shul was then torn in two between the supporters of Rabbi Pilichowski and his detractors.

On June 20, a Monday, I posted that something big was happening at Beth Jacob.

The new president of the shul, Hugo Rose, was developing a plan to bring back Rabbi Pilichowski.

On July 1, Hugo Rose took over as Beth Jacob’s board president from David West.

On July 4, I reported that email tampering got Rabbi Pilichowski dismissed from Beth Jacob.

On Monday night, July 11, Beth Jacob’s executive board (under the presidency of Hugo Rose) decided it would rehire Rabbi Pilichowski, hoping that the controversy would go away.

It did not.

Who is Hugo Rose? He’s a businessman. Detached. Analytical. He can ice a room with a glance.

One thing I find interesting about the board’s decision last Monday night was that Rabbi Topp, the shul’s senior rabbi, had made it clear that he could no longer work with Rabbi Pilichowski. “It’s him or me,” was his message.

So Beth Jacob’s board July 11 chose Rabbi Pilichowski over Rabbi Topp.

A storm ensued.

On July 13, I received an email from Beth Jacob member Barry making the case for retaining Rabbi Pilichowski: “Fearing for his future and the future of his family he turned to the only avenue he felt available to him to gain some insight as to what plans were brewing against him.”

As news of the hacking made its way around the Beth Jacob community, many members were outraged at this behavior. Then they were outraged that the shul was hiring him back.

Late Wednesday, July 13, many of Rabbi Pilichowski’s supporters believed the shul would hire him back.

The executive board of Beth Jacob was told that it can’t unilaterally rehire Rabbi Pilichowski. If they want him back, they have to go through the same type of process the shul always engages in with hiring a rabbi.

By July 14, the door had shut on Rabbi Pilichowski’s return to Beth Jacob and everybody concerned knew it.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see 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 (
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