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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.
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.
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
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
“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 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.
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
Her mother said her daughter’s feelings were still
“very raw,” but that she may return to Israel one day.
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
Haft, also a New Jersey resident, is from Wayne, about 75 km.
north of Piscataway.