A Westchester rabbi who sought to diversify his synagogue was panned by its “racist” board members for turning the congregation “Spanish and Black,” according to a federal discrimination complaint.
Rabbi Rigoberto Emmanuel Viñas, a Sephardic Jew who trained as an Orthodox rabbi, claims the board at Lincoln Park Jewish Center in Yonkers has a “long history” of discriminatory practices against “non-Whites.”
Viñas’ explosive allegations are laid out in a complaint recently filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Racist members employed subterfuge and sabotage against not only Rabbi Viñas but new Latino and African American members,” the complaint said. “They have attacked any bi-racial or non-white member as ‘not really Jewish.’”
Viñas, who joined the synagogue in 2003, claims one board member, Helen Schwartz, commented, “Wouldn’t it be terrible if the darkies took over the synagogue?” without realizing the rabbi’s Cuban background.
In 2011, Schwartz also allegedly complained to a director that Viñas wasn’t actually Jewish because of his “Sephardic/Hispanic background.”
Board members allegedly spread rumors that the rabbi was out to turn the congregation “Spanish” – and even accused him in 2008 of stealing from the rabbi’s discretionary fund to change the congregation to Spanish members.
“An investigation revealed that the funds were properly distributed,” the complaint said. “However, the very same false allegations arose again several months later, again with no finding of wrongdoing.”
Viñas accuses the board of doing nothing when a White congregation member with a Dominican spouse and biracial kids complained of racist treatment in 2010.
“Specifically, board members raised her biracial background, claimed she ‘didn’t look Jewish’ and said the family was ‘creating the wrong impression at the congregation,’” the complaint said.
The board’s retaliation against Viñas has included cutting his salary, docking his pay and manufacturing “criticisms that he chased out more members than he brought in to the congregation.”
He also claims the board forced him to sell his rabbi residence and charged with finding a buyer, promising a three-percent bonus that was never paid out.
Viñas is seeking compensatory damages for the board’s unlawful discrimination and retaliatory practices, which he claims caused him “significant financial ramifications, humiliation, outrage and mental anguish.”