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October 25, 2003

UCLA Hillel rabbi could face charges for alleged assault

Woman was reportedly kicked during provocation after Dershowitz event

By Adam Foxman DAILY BRUIN CONTRIBUTOR afoxman@media.ucla.edu

University police detectives have completed an investigation of an alleged assault by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, the director of UCLA Hillel and a prominent leader in the local Jewish community.

The reported incident took place Oct. 21, after a presentation by Alan Dershowitz in Royce Hall. Police reports state that Seidler-Feller allegedly kicked and grabbed the wrist of freelance journalist Rachel Neuwirth.

At a point during the incident, Neuwirth called Seidler-Feller a "capo," eyewitnesses said. "Capo" is a derogatory term for Jews who were forced to work with Nazis inside death camps during the Holocaust.

"Rabbi Seidler-Feller has offered an apology for a regretful incident that did occur partially because of hateful language that described him as a Nazi collaborator," said Donald Etra, Seidler-Feller's attorney. "(Seidler-Feller) has extended a hand of friendship and reconciliation," he said.

Neuwirth's attorney, Robert Esensten, said his client only used the epithet after she was allegedly assaulted. He added, "Even if she made that comment prior to, there could be no words that could justify what he did."

After he left the Dershowitz presentation, Seidler-Feller spoke with a small group of demonstrators protesting at the event, said David Hakimfar, a fourth-year history student.

Neuwirth – a freelance journalist who has been published in the Israel National News and Front Page magazine – said she heard Seidler-Feller discuss an upcoming event with Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University and Palestinian Authority Commissioner for Jerusalem.

She said she then approached Seidler-Feller, alleging that Nusseibeh helped direct missile attacks into Israel during the first Persian Gulf War. Esensten said Seidler-Feller then physically confronted Neuwirth, after which she called him a "capo."

Neuwirth reported to police that her wrist was grabbed, and that she was kicked. Esensten said one of the actions preceded the insult, but he did not specify which one.

Seidler-Feller and Neuwirth were eventually pulled apart by nearby students, Hakimfar said. Hakimfar said he helped separate Seidler-Feller and Neuwirth, and added that Seidler-Feller "landed at least one kick" before he and Neuwirth were separated.

In addition to any potential criminal charges the city could file, Esensten said Neuwirth intends to bring a civil lawsuit against Seidler-Feller.

February 18, 2007

Gaby Friedman writes in the Jewish Journal:

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, UCLA Hillel director, was accused by Rachel Neuwirth of verbally and physically assaulting her outside Royce Hall, on the UCLA campus, during a speech by Alan Dershowitz more than four years ago.

The letter was part of a settlement reached by Seidler-Feller and Neuwirth on Jan. 19, 2007.

In the letter, Seidler-Feller wrote "I am deeply sorry that I hit, kicked, and scratched you and called you a liar. By taking these unprovoked actions, I have contradicted the pluralism, peace and tolerance about which I so often preach."

Rabbi Seidler-Feller (on the left wing of Orthodoxy) has never been popular with the Orthodox. Many Orthodox students at UCLA have blamed him for not arranging enough kosher places to eat around campus and for not building an Orthodox community. UCLA Hillel finally brought in a mainstream Orthodox rabbi a few years ago to look after Orthodox students.

February 20, 2007

David Lazar writes:

&...But Hillel has allowed Seidler-Feller to serve as director of UCLA’s branch, which is an embarrassment to the campus community.

If not for the shocking and inexcusable nature of the attack itself, Seidler-Feller should be let go due to the shameful way he conducted himself following the incident.

The incident took place after a speech by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz at Royce Hall. UCLA alumnus David Hakimfar chronicled what he witnessed at the event:

“I saw my rabbi take swings to Neuwirth’s face and kicks to her legs. The only thing that saved Neuwirth from being pounded in the face was a notebook in Rabbi Seidler-Feller’s hand that didn’t allow his arm to make the full extension to punch her head,” Hakimfar wrote in the online magazine Jewsweek, and confirmed to me.

Seidler-Feller, who is on sabbatical until August, could not be reached for comment.

Rather than accept responsibility for the attack, Seidler-Feller and his lawyer initially tried to shift the blame to the victim: “It was Ms. Neuwirth who accosted the rabbi, it was Ms. Neuwirth who confronted the rabbi in an angry and belligerent manner, and it was Ms. Neuwirth who spewed hateful and venomous words at the rabbi,” Donald Etra, Seidler-Feller’s attorney at the time, told a Daily Bruin reporter.

August 22, 2007

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is profiled in this Jesse Katz article in the September issue of Los Angeles magazine.

I love how Jesse Katz focuses on how the case became a "Jewish American Rorschach test, its interpretation shaped by ideology, by identity, by religious and partisan agendas."

I could never become upset about the case. The rabbi felt verbally assaulted and he lashed out.

I've covered the case but never taken a side.

Now I understand what happened and why.

"Seidler-Feller attacked [right-wing Israeli activist Rachel] Neuwirth, clawing, hitting, and kicking her until students pulled him away."

"Seidler-Feller dug his nails into Neuwirth's hand, leaving a pair of small red scratches. He drove a shoe into her calf, raising a purple welt. He wrenched her upper arm -- the pattern of bruises would match his grip -- then pushed Neuwirth so forcefully that she almost tumbled down the terrace stairs leading to Dickson Plaza. Several young Hillel associates put Seidler-Feller in a bear hug, but he broke free and his face flushed and contorted, tried to go after her again."

"Witnesses described him as an overbearing figure on campus, petulant, confrontational, jealous of his turf."

In addition to an abject apology written for him by Neuwirth, Chaim ended up paying her $200,000 to make the case go away.

"Stop showing up on my campus!" Rabbi Chaim yelled at several Stand With Us (pro-Israel group) when he saw them at an Israel-Palestine forum.

Chaim showed up uninvited to a Beverly Hills fundraiser for Stand With Us and heckled the speaker (Ben Shapiro), sparking a shoving match.

"When he fails to receive the proper deference, he can also bristle. In these moments he has been described as pushy, even boorish, his vaunted dialogues reduced to harangues. A few months after he was thrown out of the Stand With Us meeting, Seidler-Feller disrupted another forum..."

Chaim used to be married to the niece of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. It was over by 1975, when Chaim moved to Westwood. The two kids from it are not acknowledged in Chaim's Hillel biography. They don't carry his last name.

After his assult of Neuwirth, Seidler-Feller did not try to contact Neuwirth.

UCLA students Debra Greene and David Lazar began work on a story for UCLA's Jewish magazine Ha'Am about Chaim's UCLA legacy. When he found out about their investigation, the rabbi became furious. He branded their work as "evil." He got the story killed.