An American-Israeli family with deep connections to Teaneck had their lives and their home in Modi’in, Israel, turned upside down earlier this month, as police investigated them for using and selling drugs.
The father, Jay Engelmayer, is the son of Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer of Teaneck, a well-known teacher and journalist who also writes and blogs for the Jewish Standard. Mr. Engelmayer detailed his family’s experiences in a blog post on the Times of Israel last week; Rabbi Engelmayer writes more about it in his column on page 20.
The story so far has attracted more than 465 comments, it’s been shared on social media, and other English and Hebrew news sites already have written about it.
Mr. Engelmayer, who is from New York, claimed that the family was dragged into the case because of an exchange his 14-year-old daughter had with a schoolmate about where to buy drugs.
“They have a text message from my daughter from a year and a half ago to this kid,” Mr. Engelmayer told The Times of Israel. “He said, ‘Hey, do you know where I can buy drugs?’ And she said, ‘Sure, my dad’s got a whole forest full in our backyard.’
“It was a joke. It wasn’t something that was serious.”
The Modi’in police, however, did not think this case was a laughing matter. “A police investigation is being conducted at the station as part of an ongoing drug investigation among teenagers,” Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesperson for Israel Police, said.
“There is strong evidence that is being examined as the investigation continues,” he added.
As a result of that evidence, the police “barged into” the Engelmayers’ home early in the morning on January 11, opening every drawer and closet in the house, and strip-searched Mr. Engelmayer.
Mr. Engelmayer said that he has smoked marijuana during visits to the United States, but refrains from doing so in Israel. With a family full of children, who often invite their friends over, he and his wife decided not to allow anything “that could get anyone in trouble” in their home. “We don’t even have a bottle of wine in the house,” he said.
According to police, nothing out of the ordinary occurred during the search of the family home. “During the investigation police searched the suspect’s house based on a court order,” Mr. Rosenfeld said. “The suspect was present at the search and signed at the conclusion that there was no damage to property or harm to the person.”
The police officers took Mr. Engelmayer and his daughter to the police station for questioning. Over the course of the next few hours, Mr. Engelmayer claimed that he was interrogated by police without his attorney present, and that his 14-year-old daughter was similarly questioned without an attorney or legal guardian in the room.
During the interrogation, Engelmayer said, shackles were placed on both his arms and his legs, and he was threatened with having his children taken away.
“They were treating me like no matter what, they’ve got all this evidence that I’m completely guilty. And that was it,” he said.
“What bothered me,” he continued, “is the verbal abuse that was dished out, being told that my older daughter was a whore, that my wife and I are bad parents. Things like that are just nasty.”
The police would not discuss the specifics of Mr. Engelmayer’s assertions, but said, “Everything was done under strict authorization. He was questioned exactly the way that anyone else would be questioned.”
Following Mr. Engelmayer’s interrogation, and based on the evidence that the police had, they said, he was placed under house arrest at a family member’s house for five days. His own home was still under investigation.
While Mr. Engelmayer stayed at his wife’s cousin’s home, his wife and their 15-year-old son also were questioned by police.
The investigation has been traumatizing for his family, Mr. Engelmayer said. “My daughter who’s an outgoing child, ever since last Monday has been going to school, coming back and locking herself in her room.”
Mr. Engelmayer said he wrote his Times of Israel blog post as way to unload some of the tension, to provide an easy way for people to find out what happened without having to explain it over and over again.
“I did it so that our friends and family could actually see what had happened,” he said. “I wrote it without thinking that it would get the kind of traction that it did.”
But, he added, “I am glad that it got the traction that it did.”
But the police spokesperson, Mr. Rosenfeld, did not look kindly on Engelmayer’s post, calling it “unfortunate.”
Beyond that, Mr. Rosenfeld did not elaborate on the ongoing investigation. “It is still underway and therefore we can not add further details at the moment,” he said.
It is clear, however, that the publicity that Mr. Engelmayer has attracted has had some effect. The police reportedly are harassing the family, and the Engelmayers have stopped talking to the media.
Times of Israel