'No one can convince me that this man is evil. No way'

Accused spy Ben Ami Kadish's neighbors speak out.

ben ami kadish home 2248 (photo credit: Michal Lando)
ben ami kadish home 2248
(photo credit: Michal Lando)
In a quiet retirement community in a New Jersey suburb where all the houses are built to look the same, what distinguishes the house of Ben-Ami Kadish, a former military engineer arrested this week on charges of spying against the United States for Israel, is the large American flag that hangs on the porch. Beside it were two plastic outdoor chairs stacked together, an eerie indicator that the house was empty. Ben-Ami and his wife, Doris, were nowhere to be found in their Monroe Township home on Wednesday. But a day after Kadish was arrested, in the retirement community where the couple were "popular" and much appreciated, residents were grappling with the news of their neighbor's secret. One upset neighbor reading a book on her porch said she was Jewish, but "wouldn't commit treason." A fellow World War II veteran smoking a cigarette outside his home sympathized with his neighbor: "Anyone who can do something for Israel should." Kadish is suspected of leaking classified documents to Israel from the Picatinny Arsenal in Dover, New Jersey, where he worked from 1963 to 1990, a far cry from his reputation in this community of white-haired retirees. "I was totally shocked," said Marvin, a neighbor of the Kadishes and fellow World War II veteran who heard about the arrest Wednesday morning at the community gym. When Marvin's wife died in January, it was Ben-Ami who organized a minyan and led the kaddish, as he has been known to do for many in the community. "He is a heimish person, and they are marvelous, great neighbors," said Marvin. No one knew this better than George Applebaum, who followed Kadish as commander of the local Jewish War Veterans post. Applebaum has had trouble sleeping since hearing of his friend's arrest earlier this week. "I am disturbed," he said over and again Thursday morning. "I'm sure that Ben committed this crime, but it is all circumstantial as far as I'm concerned," said Applebaum. "What he showed was a love for America, and a visceral love for Israel. I have the same instincts." After hearing of Kadish's arrest Tuesday, Applebaum called his friend and left a message at his home saying: "It seems that this is a time of need for you. You can count on me." Later that day Ben-Ami called Applebaum to thank him. "There is an injustice here," said Applebaum. "Here is a guy who wanted to help our friend [Israel], and look what's happening to him, the threat of death. Nobody can convince me that the man who stood side by side with me and brought happiness to others is evil. No way is he evil." Thursday morning, Applebaum was on his way to a meeting at the Concordia Clubhouse to discuss the arrest of Kadish, who was known by many for being active in his community. He distributed food for the needy, advised others on buying Israel Bonds, organized prayer services when community members died, held yearly gatherings in his succa and was very active with the Jewish War Veterans. This past November, Kadish accompanied the Veterans post to Washington to distribute thousands of dollars' worth of phone cards and special clothes for soldiers returning from Iraq. And writing in the retirement home newsletter, Kadish recalls a recent trip to the Veterans Memorial Home in Menlo Park, where together with Applebaum and other fellow vets, he held a Bingo game. But on March 20, a part of Kadish's past unknown to his community reemerged after more than two decades of silence, when federal law enforcement agents questioned him about documents he allegedly swiped between 1979 and 1985 while working at the arsenal. According to a court complaint, Kadish told an FBI agent he had given an Israeli official, widely believed to be Yosef Yagur, 50 to 100 classified documents related to nuclear weapons, Patriot missile systems and an F-15 fighter jet. The 84-year-old engineer, who was born in Connecticut but served in the Hagana, was arrested Tuesday on four counts of espionage-related charges and released on a $300,000 bond after a brief appearance in court. "I'm 84, we are same age, and all my life we've been dedicated to making the world better," said Applebaum. "Ben I think has the same mantra, the same intention. I can't abandon him now at this time." Cantor Eli Perlman, religious leader of the Jewish Congregation of Concordia where Kadish sometimes prayed, did not know him personally, but sympathized nonetheless. Most of his congregants are senior citizens and veterans of World War II. Many of them lived through the Holocaust and grew up as avid supporters of Israel. "Dual loyalty is not something that most of them have a problem with," said Perlman. But people may be afraid to say what they think, Perlman added. "We live in an area where, unlike Israel, Jews are still the minority and have to be careful with what they say." Like many others, Perlman questioned why the government was bringing charges against Kadish decades after the alleged incidents. "I cannot for the life of me understand why they are going after an 84-year-old man," said Perlman. "I think it's a red herring for something else, and think it's a shame if that's true."