A South Brunswick rabbi says he has no idea why two former confidants of Gov. Chris Christie joked last August about causing traffic problems in front of his home two weeks before the events leading to the political scandal being called “Bridgegate.”
“I am absolutely clueless,” said Rabbi Mendy Carlebach, about why he was singled out. “I am a rabbi, and I go about my work as a rabbi.”
In an exclusive March 3 interview with NJJN on March 3 with Carlebach and his father, Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, the younger rabbi told the New Jersey Jewish News that he remained astonished at being entangled in the growing scandal and drawn into global media attention.
The threat against Rabbi Carlebach, apparently a joke, was contained in documents supplied to investigators by David Wildstein, a Christie appointee to a key position at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. They contained messages from last August in which he and Bridget Anne Kelly, then a deputy chief of staff for Mr. Christie, mulled over or at least joked about causing “traffic problems” for Mendy Carlebach.
|Rabbi Mendy Carlebach said he is “absolutely clueless” about why he was singled out as the butt of a joke in texts between a senior aide to Gov. Chris Christie and an official of the Port Authority , both of whom have been implicated and resigned in the Bridgegate scandal. Debra Rubin|
Mr. Wildstein indicated that Rabbi Carlebach “pissed me off,” but gave no indication why the rabbi might deserve the same kind of political retaliation – a manufactured traffic jam – allegedly aimed against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee.
Mendy Carlebach is a Port Authority chaplain and director of the Chabad of North and South Brunswick. His father heads Rutgers Chabad and its affiliated outreach centers, mostly in Middlesex County and parts of Monmouth County.
The Carlebachs always have had close relations with governing officials, and both have been appointed to the New Jersey-Israel Commission. Both Mr. Christie and his Democratic predecessor, Jon Corzine, have been honored at Rutgers Chabad dinners.
Although Mendy Carlebach calls Mr. Christie a “close friend,” he said he had not spoken to the governor since he got dragged into the scandal. Mr. Christie, he emphasized, had never requested any favors from him.
Sitting in his father’s office, surrounded by framed photos of the late Lubavitcher rebbe and by other photos showing one or both rabbis with many Democratic and Republican leaders, Rabbi Carlebach said he couldn’t recall any interactions with Mr. Wildstein. He said he always got along with Ms. Kelly.
“I’ve always been treated with such dignity at the Port Authority, I look forward to continuing with them,” said Rabbi Carlebach, who serves three airports and has been called on to help distressed passengers of all religions. “I’m honored and very proud to be a Port Authority chaplain.”
He also is a chaplain at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, and proudly showed off a plaque presented to him by the federal Department of Justice last month for his seven years of service.
The Carlebachs were among four New Jersey rabbis Mr. Christie invited two years ago to watch the 10-year 9/11 commemoration ceremonies at Ground Zero from the still unfinished One World Trade skyscraper.
“The governor spent a couple of hours mingling with us, along with his wife and children,” Rabbi Carlebach said at the time.
This year’s Rutgers Chabad dinner on December 3 honored Bill Baroni, the Port Authority’s former deputy executive director, who since then also has been caught up in the Bridgegate scandal. It was Mr. Baroni who explained that the closure of three traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in September had been intended as a “traffic study,” when subsequent emails between Ms. Kelly and Mr. Wildstein suggested they were intended as political retaliation against Fort Lee’s Mayor Mark Sokolich.
In a series of unredacted texts released February 27, Ms. Kelly and Mr. Wildstein discussed causing a similar traffic mess in front of Mendy Carlebach’s South Brunswick home.
The messages showed a photo of Rabbi Carlebach with House Speaker John Boehner, prompting Ms. Kelly to write: “I think this qualifies as some sort of stalking.”
Mr. Wildstein: “He is Jewish Cid Wilson.”
Ms. Kelly: “You are really so funny. He is. No Doubt.”
Cid Wilson is a Bergen County Democrat with a reported penchant for posting pictures of himself with celebrities.
Mr. Wildstein continues that Rabbi Carlebach “has officially pissed me off,” without saying why.
Ms. Kelly responds: “We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?”
Mr. Wildstein writes: “Flights to Tel Aviv mysteriously delayed.”
Ms. Kelly answers: “Perfect.”
The threat apparently never was carried out.
After the texts were released, Rabbi Carlebach said that press from throughout the country and Israel got in touch with him.
South Brunswick’s police chief, Raymond J. Hayducka, went to Rabbi Carlebach’s house to tell the throng of press to get off “my rabbi’s” property.
“They even got my cell phone number and my wife’s cell phone,” Rabbi Carlebach said. “I don’t know how.”
His father said that another of his sons, Rabbi Meir Carlebach, got a call from a reporter while on layover at an airport in Iceland on his way back from Israel. So did his nephew in San Diego, whose two-year-old son also is named Mendy Carlebach.
The clamor had died down by the weekend, Yosef Carlebach said.
Both rabbis agreed that there was an upside to the upheaval: Both saw large increases in attendance at Shabbat services at their shuls.
Yosef Carlebach, rabbi at Congregation Sons of Israel in Wayside, said that so many people said that they were coming to shul in a show of support he had to order extra food for kiddush.
“We saw people we usually only see on holidays and they stayed much longer than usual,” Mendy Carlebach said.
This story reprinted by permission from the New Jersey Jewish News.