A rabbi who was once credited with creating the Jewish social scene in the Hamptons, and was then forced from it after too many marriages and divorces, is back in the news. Rabbi Marc Schneier, the founder of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton in the early 90s, who was booted from leadership of the congregation in 2016 after cheating on his fifth wife with the woman who would become his sixth wife, is reportedly nearly $65,000 in arrears in child support payments for his son Brendan, 19, whose mother was wife number three.
All of this may require a little further explanation. Schneier, who is now 60 years old, is the 18th generation of a rabbinic line and studied to become a rabbi at Yeshiva University. He married for the first time while he was still a student, at 21, to 20-year-old Elissa Shay. The nuptials could not have been more geared for a successful marriage, officiated by the Chief Rabbis of Israel and Romania, along with Schneier’s father, who had led the Park East Synagogue where the service was held since the 1960s. The president of Yeshiva University was in attendance. The bride, from a prominent family herself, was studying at Barnard College.
The marriage flopped in less than a year, but it certainly wasn’t the end of Schneier’s trying for happily wedded bliss. A few years later, he married Esther Melamed, around the same time that he was founding the Hampton Synagogue. Ironically, friends recalled later their perception that the marriage was never a particularly happy one, but it seems that Schneier was able to throw himself into his work, namely building up a house of worship with the older, well-off residents and visitors to the Hamptons in mind.
Unlike most congregations, at the Hampton Synagogue, there was no way for members to participate in voting on board members or other representatives. Schneier maintained that power for himself and appointed the board that oversaw the synagogue.
The marriage to Melamed cracked up while the Hampton Synagogue was getting off the ground, and their divorce was finalized in 1992. Don’t cry for Rabbi Schneier, though. In 1993, he walked down the aisle with Toby Gotesman in an exclusive 90-guest Gracie Mansion ceremony. Gotesman, who is the Brendan’s mother in the wider story we’re exploring here, is also the daughter of a prominent Orthodox Jewish family from Portland, Oregon. This time, friends of both sides felt that the union was a good one and that finally, Schneier had met a woman with whom he really clicked.
As the spiritual leader of a big congregation, the couple’s lifestyle involved lots of entertaining at home and events and parties at both the synagogue and congregants’ homes. Gotesman is said to have thrived in the setting, but after Brendan was born, suddenly rumors were swirling that Schneier was cheating. The 2005 allegation turned out to be true; Schneier was seeing a divorced fashion designer, Tobi Rubinstein, on the side, sparking not only an ugly divorce between Gotesman and Schneier, but also a fictionalized memoir from her titled “Bad Charisma.”
This divorce may be the first time that congregants began to embrace the scope of Schneier’s conduct. It became public knowledge that Schneier’s 5,000-square-foot Westhampton Beach home was worth $3 million, and that the synagogue was paying him some $800,000 a year. Despite the scandal and some lingering questions, Schneier and Rubinstein married in 2006, making her his fourth wife. They wed at the New York Synagogue in front of a small audience of friends and family, and soon made a name for themselves with their utterly over the top approach to life.
For instance, in 2009, for Schneier’s 50th birthday, Rubinstein gifted a 400-pound endangered Asian lion to the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo in her husband’s name. It wasn’t as though the gift would go unseen by her husband, either. Schneier traveled almost constantly, and often to Israel. In fact, it was his activities abroad that ultimately ended his marriage to Rubinstein. In 2010, a photograph emerged showing Schneier in the Holy Land with a woman named Gitty Leiner, a member of the synagogue community. The problem? Schneier had told his wife that the trip was for business – and never mentioned Leiner at all.
You won’t be surprised to learn what happened next: Schneier and Rubinstein divorced. He married Leiner, now wife #5, and in 2013, they had a baby girl, Brooke. But if you’re thinking that by now, Rabbi Schneier has definitely, absolutely learned his lesson, you are wrong. In 2015, a new sex scandal broke out, forcing Leiner to take their daughter and leave him. His long-suffering synagogue had seen enough.
In response, congregant Lloyd Landow, 76, emailed an open letter to the Hampton Synagogue community in which he outlined the long bill of particulars against their longtime rabbi. “He is not fit to be the rabbi of our congregation,” Landow argued. The synagogue community agreed, and began withholding pledges until the pressure got to be too much. On April 14, 2016, Schneier announced his resignation from Hampton Synagogue.
Now we learn that aside from being a cheating husband par excellence, he’s also a deadbeat dad. According to Gotesman, now a resident of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Schneier was obligated to pay $3,200 a month from the time Brendan entered college until he turns 22 or graduates. Instead, he’s cut the payments of his own accord to such a degree that Brendan has occasionally gone without food.
In December, according to the New York Post, the state of Florida asked the state of New York to get involved in collections toward repaying Schneier’s debts, and asked the IRS to withhold any tax refunds he might be eligible for. It also notified the State Department with a request that it not authorize any passport renewal, which would hit Schneier where it hurts since his new job is running an international foundation focusing on Jewish-Muslim relations. His work there requires him to travel the world, which may just prompt him to pay up and act like a father to his son.
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