Books Magazine

Responding to a Rabbi’s Murder

By T.v. Locicero

Not long ago I was asked to give a talk to a Jewish adult education group in London, Ontario. The request had come from a member who had learned of two books I had written almost 50 years ago. Now I had spoken and written about those books often over those decades, but never from quite the angle being suggested. And for that reason, and because I was pleased there were still people around who were interested in the stories those books told and the issues they raised, I accepted the invitation. I began by quoting from the introduction to the book that had come first, Murder in the Synagogue:

On a Saturday morning that was Lincoln’s Birthday, 1966, in front of a gathering of over 700 people, including his parents, sister, and grandmother, Richard Wishnetsky, aged 23, stood on the altar of massive Shaarey Zedek Synagogue in suburban Detroit and read a short statement condemning the congregation as a “travesty and an abomination,” after which he used a sawed-off .32 Colt revolver to send a bullet into the head of Rabbi Morris Adler, one of the nation’s prominent religious leaders. He then placed the barrel of the gun over his own right ear and shot himself through the head.

I continued quoting:

When the shooting occurred, I was at work on a novel in my home only three miles from Shaarey Zedek. But before I read about them in the Sunday newspapers, I knew nothing of Rabbi Adler or Richard Wishnetsky. I am not Jewish and had not encountered the rabbi or known of his extensive reputation in the community. As for Richard, our paths had nearly crossed in Ann Arbor where we had gone to school and had a couple of mutual friends. He was two years younger than I.

On the following Wednesday Richard died. A day earlier both Detroit dailies had published articles containing writing that he had been doing in the last few weeks of his life, including an apologia for his fantasized murder of the Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara. Rabbi Adler died three weeks later, and thousands mourned him in a funeral described as the largest in the city’s history.

And then I added a few details. First, the author of several books, Rabbi Adler was widely considered a wise and learned man, whose sterling reputation not only traversed the U.S. but crossed oceans as well. But he had also been a man of some controversy as the leader of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, whose large membership included many of Detroit’s most prominent Jewish families. A recurrent indictment from some Jewish quarters back then (particularly the ultra-Orthodox and the alienated young) had charged the Conservative congregation with leading the way in Detroit to a materialistic betrayal of true Judaic values.

Next, Richard Wishnetsky, the 23-year-old shooter. He had been a Phi Beta Kappa scholar at the University of Michigan and was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow bound for the Divinity School at the University of Chicago. He was also a troubled intellectual seeker who knew Rabbi Adler both personally as a kind of mentor and as one of the nation’s most venerated religious leaders, yet he settled on this charismatic man as the appropriate target of his deepest rage. With gun in hand on the bimah of Shaarey Zedek’s 5 million dollar temple, this is what Richard read to his audience:

“This congregation is a travesty and an abomination. It has made a mockery by its phoniness and hypocrisy of the beauty and spirit of Judaism. It is composed of people who on the whole make me ashamed to say that I’m a Jew. For the most part it is composed of men, women and children who care for nothing except their vain, egotistical selves. With this act I protest a humanly horrifying and hence unacceptable situation.”

Now because our subject is the congregation’s response to the tragedy that was about to occur, let me move to a passage near the end of the book that describes what happened after Richard spoke those words:

After the slightest pause Richard turned to his right, revolver in hand, to face Rabbi Adler, who, according to some, gestured for him to leave the bimah now that he had spoken his piece. Others thought the rabbi had beckoned for the gun. In either case, Richard moved two or three paces directly toward the seated man, said in a soft, almost tender voice, “Rabbi…” and then, with the gun aimed steadily at arm’s length, shot Morris Adler in the left forearm. The rabbi was in the process of rising, with his hands braced on the arms of the chair. The bullet ricocheted off the bone, then left his arm and entered the left side of his head behind the ear.

Amid loud screams from the congregants, many of whom were ducking behind the pews, the rabbi continued to rise. Richard continued to move toward him. At almost point-blank range Richard fired again as the rabbi was beginning to topple. This time the bullet pierced the rabbi’s round black hat and creased the top of his skull.

As the screaming from the audience reached a wild intensity, Rabbi Adler fell heavily to the floor. Richard now turned toward the congregation (perhaps catching a glimpse of his father who was moving to the front of the bimah) and placed the gun barrel against his own head. Without hesitation he raised up on his toes and fired a bullet through his brain. He reeled and stumbled backward for seven or eight feet, then fell on his back at the rear of the bimah near the Ark.

The sanctuary was in pandemonium and remained so as men, women, and children continued to scream and wail. Several men close to the front, including three doctors who immediately attended Rabbi Adler, were quickly on the bimah….

Lying on the bimah, his blood soaking his prayer shawl and the carpet beneath him, Rabbi Adler remained conscious and called for his wife. Mrs. Adler, making her way as quickly as possible from the back of the sanctuary through the nearly hysterical throng, managed to reach the bimah and knelt at her husband’s side. “It’s only my arm, Goldie,” said the rabbi, “so don’t worry.” Somewhat reassured, Mrs. Adler said, “Relax, darling, and let them fuss over you. I’m standing right by.”

Afraid that she was obstructing the work of the doctors, she moved away a bit. An old man was standing on the bimah, screaming and pulling his hair. The mother in the first row, still terrified by her idea that there were others involved in an execution plot, refused the aid of a friend who wanted to lead her out of the sanctuary and into the lobby. “Don’t go there,” she said. “They’re out there too.” Others had run immediately out of the sanctuary, some going directly to their cars, some to call for police and ambulances. Many remained, shouting their demands to know what had happened and who had shot the rabbi.

Yes, a shocking, heart-breaking scene, but I think it is important to an understanding of the wide variety of responses to Murder in the Synagogue.

Next, here’s a quote from one of the early chapters of Squelched, the book I wrote about what happened to Murder in the Synagogue. While Squelched is a memoir, a carefully detailed true story of corporate deceit and criminality in the publishing business, I wrote it some 47 years ago in the third person, referring to myself as a young writer named “L.” The idea, perhaps a bit sophomoric at the time, was to achieve as much objectivity as possible, both in the writing and in reader’s experience of it. So here’s how Chapter 3 opens:

The book’s history had begun with L.’s treatment of the murder and suicide at Shaarey Zedek in an article that appeared a few months after the shooting in the respected Jewish intellectual magazine Commentary. It was his first published piece, and he had just turned 26.

For days after the shooting he had closely followed the stories about it in the city’s newspapers, musing and speculating on what seemed to him a bizarre yet significant event. With In Cold Blood the sensation of the previous publishing season he was certain that someone had already embarked on a Capote-type treatment. But when almost nothing appeared in national magazines over the next few weeks, he finally sat down and wrote his piece, relying primarily on newspaper accounts and the court record of the young assassin’s committal to a mental institution. The editors at Commentary wisely cut most of his speculation on the young man’s motives, most of which would be borne out by L.’s subsequent research, but all of which was then premature.

Before the article he had written only fiction–except for some journalism in high school and critical papers in college–and he had first tried to see this material too in fictional terms. But the story seemed inextricable from its pervasive ethnic context, and L., raised in Grosse Pointe as a Catholic and with three of his grandparents from Sicily, felt himself incapable of treating milieu and characterization with the intimate detail demanded by fiction.

He did not think seriously about doing extensive research for a book-length study until a few members of the aggrieved congregation encouraged him to try it. One man in particular, an old friend and colleague of his lawyer father, was especially enthusiastic and offered to arrange an interview with Goldie Adler, the slain rabbi’s widow. Reaction to the article was generally flattering, and a few people–one was Dr. Karl Menninger, known as the dean of American psychiatry–wrote to ask for permission to reprint it in different places, including a hard-cover collection of the best magazine articles of the year. By the time letters from five book publishers arrived, L. had decided the project was a genuine possibility.

Soon thereafter and really almost by accident I connected with a New York literary agent named Jules Fields, who auctioned my book idea to the highest bidder, the trade division of Prentice-Hall, Inc. As I saw it, the book would serve as a window on the volatile, riotous 1960s, a time of tragic turmoil and violence, including, of course, several assassinations. Also, one of the hot literary topics back then was the rise of the “non-fiction novel,” and according to my agent, Prentice-Hall saw the book as a kind of Jewish In Cold Blood. So in the same year that Mario Puzo got $5000 for what would become The Godfather, my advance was $8500. One quick note on these numbers. We’re talking here about 50 years ago. In today’s dollars that advance would be about 60,000.

At the time I was married to my first wife, and we had a 3-year-old son. I had been teaching at a college outside Detroit, but when I received the initial portion of the advance—$4500—I left that position to work on the book. Reading again from Squelched:

The task at hand then included a thorough-going history of the 23-year-old slayer, a biographical sketch of his victim, and an integrated description of their milieu. L. embarked with an optimism based largely on a lack of experience and, once involved in a quest for data, soon encountered a variety of hindrances: the traumatized emotions of some of those most deeply involved in the story, which would keep them from speaking of their experience to a stranger; a very live concern with what some saw as a possible invasion of privacy; fear in a few of per¬haps appearing culpable in some fashion; and with a few others a claim to knowledge of the ‘real’ significance of the assassination-suicide, making less than desirable a book that might possibly arrive at a different view.

With the aid of Mrs. Adler, who would prove helpful through¬out, L. had hoped to secure the cooperation of the family of the young assassin, Richard Wishnetsky, the Adlers and Wishnetskys having been well-acquainted. But he was told the family had been advised against involvement with the book by doctors and others. He had tried other channels and wrote the Wishnetskys a long letter carefully explaining his intention–all to no avail. He couldn’t blame them. Under similar circumstances he too would probably have chosen silence.

Continuing with Squelched in Chapter 5:

The family’s silence meant he had lost an important source of information along with access to a number of potentially helpful individuals and documents. But the reputable name of Prentice-Hall helped to open some doors, and L. soon found himself with a burgeoning list of witnesses and sources to track down, reassure about his purpose, and interview at length: a wide assortment of teachers, professors, classmates, roommates, girlfriends, boyhood chums, religious leaders, youth directors, attorneys, judges, doctors, hospital aides, police officials, chance acquaintances, and eye witnesses to the shooting.

To reach some of these people he twice traveled to cities on the East Coast, made numerous overnight visits to cities and towns closer to home and wrote many long, detailed letters to places as far away as Paris, Jerusalem, and Bombay. More often than not he got the information he wanted and eventually would talk to more than 200 people, but for a long time he approached each person on his list feeling that he or she might hold vital information and fearing a rebuff that might scuttle the project. Looking back, he would smile thinly with the realization that though he had spoken with so many, much of his most important data had come from only a handful of people, perhaps as few as a dozen, many of whom, at some point in his dealings with them, had decided not to talk. Only later had they changed their minds.

One who did not was a young man in Boston, interning in psychiatry and described as one of Richard Wishnetsky’s most important friends. The fellow grilled L. on his educational background, literary insight, sociological perception and philosophy of life. He then proceeded to a quick summary of the meaning of the assassination-suicide that turned his young, dead friend into a glorified martyr, explaining that L. couldn’t possibly write an honest account without “destroying” a great number of people who were guilty of one thing or another in his mind, including the entire membership of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, for whom he expressed a sweeping and bitter contempt. When L. asked, as a ploy and last resort, if he wouldn’t care to contribute to their destruction by talking about his dead friend, he said, quite simply, no. And what’s more, he explained, L. would get the same negative response from most of those who had been important to Richard.

L. returned home with more concern about his prospects for doing a valid piece of work, but over the next few weeks two important sources changed their minds and decided to cooperate, putting the project back on wheels.

Generally, those he approached in the congregation itself were cordial and helpful. In fact, though he occasionally heard of members who were displeased about his project, he couldn’t recall a single instance in which his request for information had been rejected out of what appeared to be a concern for the image of the congregation. The tone was seemingly set by the cooperation of both Mrs. Adler and the man who succeeded her husband at Shaarey Zedek, Rabbi Irwin Groner. One member, a wealthy entrepreneur and former president of the congregation, had been hesitant for a while, but after a reassuring phone call to Rabbi Groner, he spent a helpful 90 minutes with L. in his office on the umpteenth floor of the plush building he owned.

My research and the writing of a first draft took two and a half years, and early in 1969 I had a manuscript of 1000 pages. My extensive history of Richard and a biographical sketch of the rabbi had required, as mentioned earlier, more than 200 personal interviews, considerable correspondence and a substantial amount of reading in religious and ethnic studies and in the literatures of psychiatry and the social sciences.

I had quickly burned through the initial portion of my advance, and my wife had taken a teaching job at a local community college. Our son was in daycare. The senior editor who had bought the book for Prentice-Hall had moved on to a new job, and I was now in the hands of a junior editor. Doing most of the editing myself, I cut the manuscript down to about 650 typescript pages (the book as printed would come to 384).

After much back and forth, my edited version had been deemed acceptable, and my new young editor told me the company felt the book deserved a “major sales effort.” At that point, early in the fall of 1969, I asked Goldie Adler, Rabbi Groner and a few others in the Jewish community to read the book in manuscript. All the verdicts were gratifying.

And then came months of delay while Prentice-Hall’s lawyers raised concerns and objections, mostly related to how the Wishnetsky family might respond to the book. Word of final approval came in the middle of March. It had taken 5 months for the deletion of 2 short paragraphs, 5 sentences and a few phrases.

Don’t be concerned about the delay, said my editor, because Prentice-Hall felt the book’s success would not depend on its immediate topicality, but rather on the deeper interest that would bring a steady sale over a number of years. Later, however, this episode would take on a sinister look, because without my knowledge certain vital decisions had been made by the publisher during the delay. One was to inexplicably raise the book’s price from the usual $6.95 to $9.95 Another involved the size of the print run. But more on that later.

Now the remaining $4000 of my advance was due. The check should have been channeled to me through my agent, Jules Fields. But I hadn’t heard from him in several months, and then my editor urged me to formally disconnect myself from Fields so that Prentice-Hall could send the check directly on to me. That would of course deprive Fields of his 10% cut, but the editor claimed that Fields was “more or less out of the business” and that Prentice-Hall had experienced trouble lately in getting checks through him to some of its authors.

As I would learn much later, this piece of slander was completely untrue, the first of many lies, half-truths and misinformation the publisher began feeding me about this time concerning all the fine-sounding plans it had for publicity and advertising, for the distribution of hundreds of review and complementary copies, and for a full assault on radio and TV. But at this point, terribly naïve and basking in the glow of a first book soon to appear, I swallowed it all, hook, line and sinker.

Ultimately no reviews ever appeared in Detroit’s two major newspapers. But when my dad brought a copy to an old friend who was an editor at the Free Press, that paper’s magazine included excerpts from the book. About 15 reviews, nearly all with strong praise for the book, appeared in localities scattered around the country in a pattern that seemed odd and unlikely, in publications like the Pomona Progress-Bulletin, the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle, the Canadian Jewish News, and the Allentown Labor Herald. When the Fort Worth Star Telegram called the book “a look at Jewish life of remarkable scope and depth, of intimacy and charm,” and The Dallas Times Herald said it was “…surprising, sobering and frightening,” I became fond of telling friends, “I’m a hot topic in Texas.”

But in the New York area with its Jewish population larger than Israel’s and where the shooting had drawn front-page headlines, there was no mention of the book at all.

One of my favorite reviews came in the Reconstructionist Journal by Rabbi Jack Riemer, who called it “…a fascinating double-portrait of the Rabbi and his killer that holds the reader spellbound from beginning to end.”

I had personally sent copies to a few of the authors and experts whose work had been most helpful to me. Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist regarded as one of the country’s leading authorities on violence, wrote in the American Journal of Psychotherapy: “The data in this book have been collected with such meticulous care and are presented in such an undogmatic way that the book has enduring value. It is not enough to recommend this book; I should express the hope that it will be widely read, understood and heeded.”

And another psychiatrist, Robert Coles, a Pulitzer Prize winner who had recently been on the cover of Time, wrote to me: “I was absolutely enthralled by it. It’s one of those non-fiction novels that one simply cannot put down.”

Prentice-Hall had all of these quotes and blurbs, but used none of them in the four small ads they placed in publications like the Hadassah Magazine and the National Jewish Monthly. As for TV, I appeared on one local show in Detroit, only because a friend called to tell me I was listed as a guest in the TV guide. The publisher had failed to tell me about it.

Finally, in October, 1970, Murder in the Synagogue was officially published. The first retail copies had begun to trickle into some Detroit stores in September, 2 books each, for example, at Doubleday’s and B. Dalton’s. Later a bookseller whose shop was a few miles from Shaarey Zedek described the approach of Prentice-Hall’s salesman: “He said, ‘You should probably take one of these, because, you know, it’s about something that happened in the neighborhood.’”

For a period of more than 7 weeks that fall the book was not available at all from the busiest bookstores serving the Jewish community. Later I was told by an operator of a Little Professor shop, “Well, I tried to reorder it a couple of times during the fall, and the publisher sent me T.O.S. slips.” Temporarily out of stock. But the book was selling so few copies that it was never out of stock. By the start of the new year, the evidence was overwhelming that Prentice-Hall, for whatever reason, had essentially pulled its support for Murder in the Synagogue.

Then one night in February, 1971, my wife came home with a story from one of her college English students. The woman claimed that she had heard a wealthy and well-known Detroiter and member of Congregation Shaarey Zedek say that he had arranged the book’s premature demise.

My informant turned to be a 30-year-old housewife and mother whose maiden name had been Avren Foreman. Raised in Detroit and educated at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, she had been married by Rabbi Adler in 1965 to a young engineer named Melvin Strager. Over a period of many weeks I spoke with Mrs. Strager almost daily either on the phone or in person; I talked privately with her husband and checked with others outside the family who had known her for many years. I inescapably concluded that she was a dependable person who was telling me the truth.

As for her motivation in doing so, she explained it at one point in a letter she wrote to Fredric Wertham: “There are two reasons why I feel the injustice committed against this book and its author must be reversed,” she wrote. The first involved the fact that as a teenager she had twice contracted an often fatal illness:

“Although many people tried to help, it was Rabbi Adler who gave me the strength, in fact, the very will to keep on living. I don’t think two people can go through an experience such as this without feeling some kind of bond, and in the subsequent years I saw the many facets of Rabbi Adler’s personality….Mr. LoCicero has written a truthful portrait, and in doing so, a great tribute to Morris Adler.

“The second reason is because I love the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. The basic tenets of our religion are based on dealing with others in a just and truthful manner. Since these are the values that make my life worthwhile, I feel that my knowledge leaves me no alternative but to defend these values. The suppression of this book was accomplished by a few Jews who felt they were doing the right thing. I know they are not bad people, but I also know what they have done is wrong.”

At the end of her letter to Dr. Wertham, Avren Strager included the name of Rabbi Max Kapustin, the Hillel director at Detroit’s Wayne State University, who had agreed to serve as a character reference. The Orthodox rabbi had known Mrs. Strager for several years and described her to me as a person of integrity and responsibility. “Of course,” he said, “I have no knowledge myself of what was done, but let me put it this way: I am morally certain that what she says is true.”

Later when I related the details of Mrs. Strager’s story to Goldie Adler–after the obvious initial shock and dismay and after the rabbi’s widow recalled that in years past, she herself had taught the young woman in a Sunday school class–there was no hesitation about Mrs. Adler’s endorsement of Avren Strager’s honesty. Of course Avren was telling the truth, she said; it was impossible to believe that she would ever make up such a story.

Goldie Adler told me she had long known and respected the man named by Mrs. Strager as primarily responsible for the book’s suppression. Nonetheless, shortly after talking to me, Mrs. Adler phoned Avren Strager and praised her for coming forward with the truth.

As told in the letter already quoted, this was Mrs. Strager’s story:

“The knowledge that Mr. LoCicero, a gentile, and therefore an ‘interloper,’ was writing the troubling story of Rabbi Adler’s murder had upset many people because they felt it might have a detrimental effect on the congregation and the community. I had heard the talk, but it wasn’t until the High Holidays, when I sat in on a conversation, that I began to think seriously about the subject. The essence of what I heard was that one of the men, particularly wealthy and powerful, had used his influence with Prentice-Hall to see that this book would be ‘squelched.’

“He went on to say that he had been assured by the publisher that every means they had would be utilized to accomplish this. Someone asked how, and he said, ‘By not advertising the book, setting the price too high, etc.’ I thought that not selling the paperback rights would be another effective way to kill a book. It was also mentioned that the important New York reviewers would not deal with this book.”

The conversation had taken place early in October of 1970, soon after the book had first gone on sale. The scene was a dinner party at the Southfield home of Avren Strager’s father, Sidney Foreman, to which the Stragers had been invited, along with several long-time members of Congregation Shaarey Zedek.

Mr. Foreman operated a suburban-based accounting firm, and the man who claimed responsibility for having “squelched” Murder in the Synagogue on this particular night was an old family friend who had frequently done business with Mrs. Strager’s father over the years. She called him “Uncle Max.”

Detroiters knew him as financier and civic leader Max M. Fisher.

According to Mrs. Strager, the effort against the book had been the work of a handful of congregation members upset at the prospect of a “best-seller” spotlighting the painful events of the murder and suicide at the synagogue and the embarrassing charges of materialism and hypocrisy made by the young assassin. And Max Fisher had been the man with enough power in his pocket to seek a favor from Prentice-Hall.

That power stemmed from both financial clout and political connection. A multi-millionaire, Fisher was one of President Richard Nixon’s leading supporters and fund-raisers. A wide variety of financial interests and real estate holdings contributed to Fisher’s personal worth, reputedly pushing $100 million. He was a board-member of 8 corporations, and among his close personal friends were some of America’s most powerful tycoons, including Henry Ford II.

Widely acknowledged as one of the country’s most influential Jewish leaders, his political leverage alone meant that he could have asked for the squelching as a favor. But it was also true that if only a few of the companies he and some of his friends controlled decided to switch to another house for their business and technical texts, newsletters and bulletins, Prentice-Hall’s profits could suffer.

Ultimately, of course, Max’s pal President Nixon would soon be forced to resign in disgrace, revealed to the world as a liar, a criminal and, with the release of those infamous White House tapes, as a virulent anti-Semite. Transcripts of those thousands of hours of White House tapes are littered with Nixon’s references to “Jew boys” and “kikes.”

For decades rumors had circulated that Nixon was anti-Semitic, no doubt making it more of a chore for Fisher to fund-raise for him in the Jewish community. When the tapes were finally released by court order, many Jews expressed outrage, or at least dismay. Not Fisher. Still loyal even decades later, he was quoted as saying:

“I just felt, well, that’s all part of history. Have you ever said things in private that you didn’t want anybody to hear? That’s the same thing that happened. I’m sure that every president has some nasty words to say or used some profane language.”

It was Avren Strager’s intention to work quietly behind the scenes to induce Max Fisher to “reverse the injustice.” She would appeal to his conscience or, if that failed, threaten to make her story public if he didn’t act to lift his pressure from Prentice-Hall and make amends. But in the end she could not get anyone else who had also heard Fisher’s words to support her, and alone she was much too honest and good-hearted to succeed against those arrayed against her, including her own father and others close to Fisher. All her well-intentioned efforts came to naught, and she finally agreed with my decision to put the whole sad story down on paper in what would turn out to be my book, Squelched.

Now to backtrack just a bit, as soon as I had become convinced that Mrs. Strager’s story was the real deal, I traveled to New Jersey and confronted the president of the trade division at Prentice-Hall. His first response was to admit an acquaintance with Max Fisher and to describe his “one experience” with the man.

A few years back, he explained, Prentice-Hall had published a political biography of George Romney. And while the book was being prepared—this was at a time when Romney was a leading presidential contender—Max Fisher had placed an order with the company for 10,000 copies. Then later, on the book’s publication date, in fact, Romney had withdrawn from the race. “And the following day,” said the president, “Max Fisher called me and cancelled his order.”

When I repeated the details of my story and described the company’s numerous failures to support the book, the fellow finally suggested renewed efforts for the book–perhaps they could still make a deal with a paperback house, etc. I said Avren Strager’s story had undermined my trust in the company, and I simply wanted our contract cancelled and all of the book’s rights reverted to me. In a letter a week and a half later, less than 6 months after publication, the company agreed.

From my visit to Prentice-Hall I also learned that, about the time of my lengthy back-and-forth with its lawyers, the company had made a crucial decision. It would print a total of only 4000 copies, not from plates, in the standard fashion, but from standing type, which was then “pied” or dismantled. That’s the method used for a limited edition, and just to break even they would have needed to sell at least twice that number of books. So the company had made a clear decision to take a bath on the book, at a time when I was being told that Prentice-Hall had high hopes for it.

So how common was what Prentice-Hall did to Murder? I would soon hear directly from two prominent literary agents on the subject. The very successful Julian Bach gestured at his office window overlooking 48th Street and told me, “Look, this 20-square-block area of Manhattan is the publishing establishment in this country, and they’ve all had their experiences like this. They’ll understand Prentice-Hall’s position in this thing, and they’ll close ranks and pull together and you may never get another book published.”

And the famed Scott Meredith, once an agent for Norman Mailer and Henry Miller, advised me that this kind of thing happened with enough regularity that no one of importance would even care if another instance were publicly revealed and documented.

They were both telling me that publishing was a very close-knit business, with gossip being a coin of the realm. Chalk this up as a learning experience and move on, they said. Neither would have anything to do with either of my books. And as it turned out, they knew what they were talking about. I tried offering the rights to Murder to more than 30 publishers. There were no takers.

When Squelched was finished, I thought it was a compelling story of corporate deceit and criminality. But facing a sure-fire, deep-pockets lawsuit from Fisher, a guy who hung out with the likes of Henry Ford II and Richard Nixon, not one of the agents and publishers I approached would even look at my new book.

And then there was my fellow victim of criminal shenanigans at Prentice-Hall. Gerard Colby is the author of another ill-fated book, entitled Du Pont: Behind the Nylon Curtain. Four years after it purposely “botched” Murder, Prentice-Hall did the same thing to the Du Pont book. That story was first told on January 21, 1975, in the New York Times.

It was told again more recently by the author Colby in “The Price of Liberty,” one of several essays about suppression in the media collected in a book called Into the Buzzsaw. Colby’s research found that the occurrence of this kind of soft squashing was sufficiently common that insiders had a term for it: “privishing.” Instead of “publishing.”

By the way, I’m often asked why Prentice-Hall did not simply shut down the project and not publish the book at all. My response: doing that would have risked my taking it to another publisher where Fisher might not have had as much leverage. Better a quiet, seemingly natural demise.

In any case, my once-budding literary career soon withered. And in order to move on, I gave away my last manuscript copy of Squelched and then embarked on a busy life as a TV producer/writer/director. Over the ensuing years, my output included more than 50 long-form documentaries, 75 shorter features, 30 live event programs and 600 editorials. Occasionally I still do that kind of work, but I never stopped writing.

And then about a decade ago the world changed. Digital disruption hit the publishing business, and perhaps it would no longer matter what an agent or a publisher would look at. For 30 years I had lost the manuscript of my book about what was done to Murder, but when it came back to me, I brought it up to date and in 2012 offered it for sale both as an e-book and in paperback on Amazon and other outlets. I also put up for sale an e-book version of Murder along with the 1200 copies of the original hard-cover edition that I’ve kept in basements and garages all this time.

Over the past five years, I’ve been surprised by the amount of interest drawn by these two books, written almost five decades ago. They’ve both generated lots of positive reviews, along with a few from trolls, who’ve said things like, “The first book was so awful I couldn’t finish it, so I didn’t even bother to start this second one.” Of course I always assume that reviews like that come from those folks who’ve always thought Murder in the Synagogue should never have seen the light of day.

Now I have not sold a lot of these books, and the crazy business of book selling today is a subject for another time. But perhaps my most rewarding moment in this whole process came in December of 2012 when, as a promotional event, for a period of five days, I made the e-book version of both books free to all comers. I was stunned when readers grabbed more than 10,000 copies. How did it feel knowing that Murder and Squelched were in the hands of so many readers who wanted them? As the commercial says, “Priceless!”

Finally, let me wrap this up with a couple of passages from the epilogue to Squelched. In it I explained how the original manuscript came back to me when I got back in touch with Leo McNamara, an old professor friend of mine to whom I had given the last copy 30 years earlier. I also covered the passing of Max Fisher in 2005 at the age of 96, and recounted how I’d lost touch with Avren Strager over the years. Quoting from the epilogue:

Then as I re-read the manuscript Leo had saved, the reality of this extraordinary woman came rushing back at me: her pluck and courage, her sharp intelligence, blunt opinion, business savvy and cultural naiveté, her firm conscience and commitment to principle, her devotion to her people and her religion, her prickly, sometimes difficult moods, the narrow insularity of her life and finally her remarkable decision to break the boundaries and come to me.

What would it be like to see and talk to her again and, after such an intense experience shared so long ago, to compare notes on three decades of life lived with no contact or knowledge of each other? Our meeting would certainly be the culmination of the epilogue I was already planning in my head to serve as the closing part of the frame for the manuscript I was finally holding in my hands once again.

So how would I find her? Well, of course, I would start with that remarkable tool not even dreamed of back in those days when Avren and I were chatting often on the phone, but which I now used so often. I would google her.

At that point I described how shocked I was to learn that Avren Strager was no longer with us. Quoting again:

On one of the people-search sites I learned that Avren Strager had been born in 1941 and died in 1994 at the age of 52. My heart felt crushed. She had been taken at a time when most of us have just begun to see our children forging careers and marriages of their own and perhaps giving us the sweet pleasures of grandchildren.

There’d be no reunion now, no comparing of notes about the last three decades. I had waited too long, and Avren had not even survived two decades. Her death at 52 felt like a reprimand now, an indictment of the way I had lived, until only recently devoted to compartmentalizing my life and closing myself off from my past and from the people who had been important to me back then. Finally, I recalled Avren talking about one of the reasons she felt so close to Rabbi Adler: he had helped her through two bouts of an often-fatal illness as a child. Perhaps that illness—she hadn’t offered, and I hadn’t asked, but my guess back then was leukemia—had returned a third time to finish its grim resolve.

I thought of Max Fisher still enjoying the comforts of his home and family at the age of 96. The fates had given him almost twice as many years as they had granted to Avren Strager.

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