NJ man gets community service for Birthright beating

By MELANIE LIDMAN
January 25, 2011 04:24

Jonathan Haft, 25, convicted of aggravated assault for viciously beating fellow Birthright Israel participant, Sherry Kestenbaum, 23.

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NJ man gets community service for Birthright beating

birthright logo 88. (photo credit: )

A New Jersey man was convicted on Monday of aggravated assault against a fellow Birthright Israel participant.

Jonathan Haft, 25, attacked her during their 10-day Israel trip in June.

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Haft, a martial arts expert – who was found with alcohol and traces of illegal drugs in his urine – viciously beat 23-yearold Sherry Kestenbaum while the group was staying at Kibbutz Almog, near the Dead Sea.

Haft knocked out a number of her teeth, broke her jaw in three places (among other facial bones) and left her with contusions on her lung that led to pneumonia.

On Monday, Haft was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 2.5 months imprisonment – which he has already served – and six months of community service.

He was also ordered to pay the victim NIS 200,000 in compensation.

Haft will be working in a senior citizen’s program, according to Kestenbaum’s attorney, Zev Korman.

“The victim is very upset with the fact that he’s not doing any more jail time,” Korman told the Post. “She had expected and had argued for jail time.”

Haft has been under house arrest at a hotel in Rishon Lezion since he was released from prison after the attack.

Part of the reason the sentence was relatively light is that Haft’s lawyer, Yair Golan, argued that due to alcohol and drugs, Haft was temporarily insane during the incident; and the parameters of temporary insanity have not been properly defined by law, according to Golan.

Golan called the decision “balanced and correct.”

“We’re upset, we feel like he should [be in prison] for at least as long her recovery,” Kestenbaum’s mother, Wendy Kestenbaum, said by phone from their Piscataway, New Jersey home.

Sherry Kestenbaum spent most of the summer recuperating and undergoing reconstructive and plastic surgery. She still has numbness in her lips and will need several root canals as well as extensive oral surgery.

“We’re really blessed that she’s doing as well as she is,” her mother said. “The permanent damages will be nothing compared to what could have happened.”

The judge called it a “miracle” that Kestenbaum was not killed by Haft.

An Israeli guest staying at the kibbutz heard the altercation and pulled Haft off Kestenbaum in the middle of the attack.

The family said it was shocked and upset that they did not receive more support from Birthright after Sherry left the country a few weeks after the attack, once she was well enough to travel home.

Wendy Kestenbaum said they only received one communication from Birthright since Sherry returned home – a request for donations.

Sherry Kestenbaum is now working part-time as a graphic designer, a job that allows time for her many doctors’ appointments.

Her mother said her daughter’s feelings were still “very raw,” but that she may return to Israel one day.

“Sherry likes Israel very much – she liked the people, the places – she liked many things, but she does not like the justice system,” her mother said.

The family is preparing for Haft’s return to the States in six months, by alerting police and sharing his photo with neighbors in the areas near where Kestenbaum lives and works.

Haft, also a New Jersey resident, is from Wayne, about 75 km. north of Piscataway.


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