The Shande of Sharon
Zemeitus went on, writing that he’d had a friend “pull some information” about Starr “and give me all personal info I could get and that’s when I really was shocked and blown away. You are a Rabbi at the Temple of Israel on pond st in Sharon!!!” He threatened to print out the emails exchanged between Starr and the “little brother” and show them to the police, the press, and the rabbi’s colleagues and congregation, and said he had photos of the rabbi “pro forming oral on my little brother in the bedroom of your home.”
Starr reacted to this exactly the way Zemeitus must have hoped. “Yes, I got your email,” Starr replied. “I have never knowingly corresponded to any young boys under 18 but if that happened it was not my intention. Tell me what I can do?”
It’s fair to say that after this, Zemeitus’s Facebook feed changed drastically. “Happy 2 year anniversary hunny!!!” Zemeitus wrote to his live-in girlfriend less than a week after his email to Starr in December 2011. “Front row seats at the celtics game than dinner in the north end. This has been the happiest 2 years I’ve had since my parents past and I owe it all to you.”
Less than three weeks later, he posted a picture of the two of them standing in the snow with their luggage. “First stop South Station heading to the port of New York to get catch are cruise ship than off to the Bahamas!!!!”
Via email, Zemeitus had initially demanded $13,500 in cash from Starr in exchange for his silence about the “little brother.” “You are gonna make a generous donation for his college tuition,” he emailed Starr.
“This is a great deal of money and it will take me some time to raise it,” Starr wrote back. “And how do I know that this will be the end of it? I know I screwed up but I need to put this behind me. And again I never did anything to underage boys but I suppose you don’t believe that.”
Zemeitus was not sympathetic. “I’m giving you one chance to right your wrongs,” he replied. “This will end when you make the donation and all go away.”
Of course, it didn’t all go away.
“New Bike,” Zemeitus posted in March 2012, along with a photo of a tricked-out Suzuki.
In May, he was traveling again, checking in on Facebook from the Condado Plaza Hilton, a swanky beachside resort in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“Remodeling the house and getting hardwood floors!!” he announced a few months later.
Then, in December 2012, he posted a picture of a new Infiniti luxury sedan.
Zemeitus’s posts suggest that he wasn’t exactly concerned about keeping a low profile. When a SWAT team blocked off his street during a standoff with an armed man, for instance, Zemeitus not only posted pictures of the standoff, he gave an interview to Channel 7. Nor did he appear to fear the cops. In response to neighbors’ complaints, Milton police had assigned Detective Bullard to watch Zemeitus’s home. Bullard remembers Zemeitus as being “arrogant” and “cocky.” Once, Bullard said, Zemeitus spotted him and pulled up alongside his unmarked car. “He just stared in my window,” Bullard told me. “We had a staring contest.”
Nearly a year later, on November 29, 2013—the same day that Zemeitus posted a picture of a black BMW (“The new member of the family”)—Starr visited Morris Kesselman, a congregant and an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor. According to the civil suit Kesselman would later file, Starr told Kesselman that he was in trouble. Starr needed $50,000, he confided, and there was no one else he could ask. In a shaky hand, Kesselman wrote out the check.
The following spring, Starr made the same plea to Arnie Freedman, the temple’s president. “Starr told Freedman that he was in trouble and needed to borrow $50,000,” Lieutenant David McSweeney, of the state police, wrote in his request for a warrant to search Zemeitus’s house. But according to McSweeney, Freedman was less trusting than Kesselman, demanding to know why the rabbi needed $50,000. At that point, Starr allegedly came clean.
“Starr told Freedman that he (Starr) got involved in a romantic relationship with a younger man, who he (Starr) met online, and that the man’s older brother was now extorting money from him (Starr),” McSweeney wrote. “Starr said that he estimates he has given $480,000 to the man over those 2 years.” Freedman refused to give the loan. Instead, he suggested Starr hire an attorney.
Not long after that, in early May 2014, two Temple Israel congregants—Mildred Hoffman and Suzanne Sobel—contacted Sharon Police to report a pair of thefts. They had written checks to Temple Israel and its Rabbi Fund for $18—an amount that in Judaism traditionally symbolizes good luck. But their checks had been altered to $1,800, and the money had been deposited into an unfamiliar TD Bank account. (According to police, Freedman said that Starr told him the checks “went missing.” Zemeitus told police that Starr had given him the checks and instructed him to alter them.)
Things happened quickly. On May 6, 2014, Starr wrote a resignation letter to his congregation announcing that “with a very heavy heart and a sense of shame and remorse,” he had engaged in “marital infidelity and other serious personal conduct.” He pleaded for compassion for his family, writing, “They have done nothing.”
Starr also officially cut himself off from his flock. “I will be moving on as quickly as possible to leave the community that I love so dearly and start again elsewhere,” he wrote. “I will not be leaving Sharon immediately so would ask for one last favor from you, my community and friends. I will be in the house, which we are preparing to sell. Please I beg of you do not call, write or come to visit. At present I cannot face you even though I care about you deeply.”
On May 8, Kesselman filed his civil lawsuit over the unpaid $50,000 loan. Detectives showed up on Zemeitus’s doorstep the very next day.
There were no Facebook updates on Zemeitus’s account for several months afterward. When he resurfaced, in September 2014, it was with a poem to his daughter: “From the first time the doctor placed you in my arms/I knew I’d meet death before I’d let you meet harm.” A few days later, he posted a blurry photo of a two-month sobriety chip.
Zemeitus had lost custody of his daughter in May 2014—the day he made his confession to police—after detectives had found his house in Milton to be without running water. That summer, Zemeitus was also arrested on another set of drug charges. Yet despite his confession to detectives about his involvement with the rabbi, it was not until last month that the DA finally indicted Zemeitus, his girlfriend, and Starr.
Back on October 30, 2014, Zemeitus wrote that he was on his way to court to face some unknown charge. But Zemeitus didn’t go to jail. Instead, he went to Hello House, a residential substance-abuse program. That November, Zemeitus typed his most introspective post to date: “And today, this is my truth,” he wrote. “I am terrified a great deal of the time—afraid of what I’ve done, afraid of what I’m doing, and what I might have to do. It’s not a crippling fear, in fact, it’s just the opposite. I thrive on it, crave it, I need that rush of terror to get me out of bed in the morning. It’s in DNA. I have tremendous remorse for the acts of violence I’ve committed, both planned and spontaneous.… With that awareness comes times i have to avoid looking into a mirror. My self hate is so deep, so palpable, I fear I’ll lunge at my own self image, shatter the glass and cut myself with shards of broken reflections.”
“r u mental or wats up cuzz,” a friend responded.
On Christmas Day, Zemeitus posted a picture of his daughter, holding a toy and smiling. “I’m sorry,” he wrote. “I know I stole it but she looks so happy.”
As I prepared to write this story in April, I tried to contact Zemeitus one more time. Over the seven months we’d been Facebook friends, I’d sent him numerous messages, each one acquiring a little checkmark to show me they’d been read, though none of them prompting replies. This time, he agreed to talk with me—“In person,” he insisted in a text. But when I followed up, he went silent again.
The closest I got to Zemeitus was his father’s friend, Martin Mazzei. “He’s a good-hearted kid,” Mazzei told me on the phone. “If he was walking down the street and seen a bug, he’d walk the other way; he wouldn’t step on it.” Then he suggested I lose his number.
It was no easier contacting Rabbi Starr. Arthur Kesselman said his father, the Holocaust survivor, had been repaid, but Starr’s lawyer, Thomas Hoopes, declined to comment or let me speak with Starr. No one at Temple Israel would comment, either.
Starr’s last known address was in Bradenton, Florida: a single-story beige house in a gated community. In April, the door was padlocked and a real estate agent confirmed that it was being sold. Neighbors claimed the family hadn’t spent much time there after purchasing the house in 2013. The man next door said he’d once run into Starr on the street and remembered the rabbi saying he was getting a divorce. But when the neighbor asked for details, the rabbi didn’t want to talk. Something terrible had happened, he said: “Something bizarre.”
Note: This story has been updated since it originally appeared. An earlier version did not include information about charges against Alexa Anderson or Barry Starr. Additional reporting by Josh Solomon.