WERE THE CHILDREN SOLD?
On April 25th, 1996, Rabbi Avidor Ha`Cohen, testified in front of
the Cohen Committee that investigated the disappearance of the
His story began with a meeting that he had in 1963 with a
New-York couple, American father and Israeli mother. They raised a
young girl, who was about ten years old then. It did not seem to
Rabbi Avidor that this child was theirs. She had beautiful, large,
dark eyes, also dark skin, quite unlike her "parents". This couple
later told Rabbi Ha`Cohen they had adopted her and that she was
likely Yemenite. Moreover, other families in New York had adopted
children from Israel.
Consequently Rabbi Ha`Cohen found out the identity of the person
who organized these adoptions. It bothered him that these children
had immigrated to Israel, but were later brought to the United
States and likely sold for adoption.
When Rabbi Ha`Cohen reached this point in his testimony, he was
asked by Hon. Judge Yehuda Cohen about the number of children
adopted in this manner. Ha`Cohen answered that he had not known
it back then. Merely he had been told, they were bringing children.
Only when he returned to Israel, he began looking into this matter,
in more detail.
Avidor further reported that he had spoken to Deborah Eliner and
others of the immigration section of the Jewish Agency. He
discovered that the Israeli institutes that dealt with adoption
did not know anything of this matter. This made him even more
curious as to what was being done. He was holding names of some
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
possession 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
Avidor testified 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
Ashkenazi religious zionists, 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 marriages within the family
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 abandon 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 nursing-home abuses, testified 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 so-called 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
In the early seventies 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 anti-semitic
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 Committee on Aging.
The Senate group, which issued the writes Dec. 20,
announced at that time that it was joining the
investigation of alleged large-scale 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 independent," 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 non practicing 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 Ma`ariv in an editorial.
'If Rabbi Bergman is innocent, if his actions as
director of a chain of old-age 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.'".
(End of quote from The NY Times.)
At one point, there was a public hearing in New York. In this
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 Ha`aretz, on the 5th of September, 1997.
Ha`aretz also reported that the testimonies of the workers and
the relatives often sounded in the committee 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, Ha`aretz 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 fund-raising, a friendship with
politicians and a zest for self-promotion 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 is that Rabbi Bergman used his "friendship with
politicians" to ensure for himself wonderful living conditions
when he was imprisoned. The one who was not imprisoned was the
person that Rabbi Avidor Ha`Cohen 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.
© Yechiel Mann,