Nochum Kurinsky: The Day I Watched a Man Die

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Today I watched a man die.
The call came in  at about 2:00 pm. “Can you be with Mr. Martin Grossman during his execution?” How can you say no? How can you say yes? What can you say? After speaking to my wife, I decided to go. I made a few phone calls and found a companion for the road and off we went. Along the way, another friend offered to join and the three of us departed down the I95 to the I10 to be with Mr. Grossman.

A little background.
A few months ago Rabbi Mendy Katz from Aleph sent out an email to the local Chabad. Rabbis.  In it was a very simple request. Due to the financial downturn Aleph could no longer afford to send Yeshiva students to all the prisons in Florida. Would any community be willing to go visit a few prisons in their area? We volunteered. Rather, I volunteered and subsequently invited members of our community to come along.

On our first visit, during Chanukah, our group was divided into pairs of two for maximum efficiency. David Sall, a local psychiatrist and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Lieberman, my lifetime friend and a local law student teamed up and I partnered with Dovid Moyer, a local financial repair specialist and businessman. Our group went to a number of prisons that day including Union Correctional. Mendy and David went to death row. As you know by now, death row housed the now world famous Martin Grossman A”H.

Several days after our visit to death row, the Governor signed Martin’s death warrant and set the date of execution for February 16th at 6:00 PM. Saddened by the news, but not really sure what to do, I kept about my daily business and even went back to visit the  prison one more time with a group.

Sometime during January, Rabbi Katz called me, “Martin is going to die,” he said. “What we can do to help him?” At first, I have to admit, I was hesitant. What could I do? I’m a local Chabad Rabbi.  This is for the national organizations.  After reading the proclamation by Rabbi Shochat of Los Angeles that one could even violate Shabbos to save Mr. Grossman, I was convinced.

First, I called Rabbi Mendy Katz back and told him I was on board but only to assist him, not to take charge of this. Then, I called Rabbi Oirechman the Chabad Rabbi in Tallahassee and asked if he was on board. After giving it some thought, he said that he was fully on board. Now was time to get the plan in motion.( Let also add that tremendous work was being done by many organizations at the time. This is just my account and the events that led me to watch Martin Die.) Rabbi Katz put together a letter that most of the 150 Chabad Rabbis in Florida signed. Another letter was written by Rabbi Zvi Biarsky which many Rabbis from every Jewish group signed as well, and they were both later hand delivered to the Governor by Rabbi Oirechman.

In addition, I started an online petition. On the first day we had 23 signatures, day two we had 200 on day three 1,000. At about that time, many in the broader Jewish community got involved in the cause to encourage the Governor to grant a clemency hearing to Mr. Grossman. Leaders from Agudath Israel, the OU, the RCC, many in the Yeshiva world in Monsey and Lakewood, and Satmar Chassidim were getting involved. It was simply amazing! The cause was taking a life of its own. Every day emails were being sent out to thousands upon thousands of people from all walks of life encouraging them to sign the petition. At its close, the petition had in excess of 33,000 signatures many people wrote personal and some heart rending notes. The Achdus/togetherness of Klal Yisroel/the Jewish people was heart-warming.

Just to give further insight into this we put together a website called www.savemartingrossman.com. While  putting the site together, I realized in amazement, that  the man with the idea for the site was a Litvisher/yeshivish Jew, the man who paid for the site was a Satmar Chosid and here I was, a card carrying Lubavitcher shliach working on the site through Chabad.org’s unbelievable server system. Incidentally, nearly 20,000 people logged onto the site during the last week alone.

That’s the background for today’s events. I’m now on the way to the prison with my two friends Dr. David Sall and Rabbi Mendy Lieberman who by divine providence are the same two people who visited Martin during Chanukah. I did not specifically call them. I asked some others first. As they say a Jew plans and G-d laughs. I planned on spending my afternoon and evening with some teenagers at the local high school doing a Jewish teen group and helping my wife who just had a baby give the kids dinner and do bedtime. David was busy with some needed recreation and Mendy was at school. None of us ever expected our day to turn out the way it did.

We got to the prison and were told, as expected, that only I could go in. Mendy and David were to wait with the media across the street. I was escorted in and given the rundown. There was to be only respectful behavior. There would be no contact with Martin. No books or metal were allowed in. I  had the opportunity to meet with and thank a few of the chaplains and department heads who had been very helpful in our past prison visits. I also met Martin’s attorney. It was touching to be able to meet the man who put up such a fight for Martin over the years. .

At about 5:30 we were escorted together with all the other people who were to witness the execution H”LS. Amongst the group were about 7 or 8 members of Ms. Parks family. There were a number of state witnesses, and about 6 or 7 members of the press. We were taken through the metal detectors and searched. We then passed through a number of security doors which I was all too familiar with from previous visits. The mood was a mix. People were chatting nervously and were very cordial with each other. I was so thoroughly impressed with the Parks family and the other people present. They handled themselves so courteously despite the obviously intense tension..

We were taken into a van and driven to another section of the prison. We were then escorted into a room at about 5:45. The room was about 30 feet by 15 feet it was lined with 3 rows of chairs each about 10 chairs deep. On the last row, furthest from the front, sat the members of the media. In front of them, the state witnesses, and in the first row was the Parks family and myself. For fifteen minutes you could hear a pin drop in that room. Nobody looked at each other. People sat in silence, just reflecting. I put on my ‘gartel’ [special belt for prayer] and started to daven/pray. First I said a number of prayers by heart and then I started to say Psalms. I became oblivious to my surroundings, just simply lost in thought and prayer. Suddenly, I began thinking, what am I doing here? Why would Hashem want me to be here? What purpose does this serve? After all, there is so much pain and hurt in this room, the Parks family suffered terribly. They are obviously still dealing  with much of it. Tens of thousands of Jewish people throughout the world are sitting in prayer, hoping praying that Hashem will have mercy and grant Mr. Grossman reprieve. And much of that burden falls on my shoulders as the one Jew, the one rabbi, the one ‘shliach’ of the Lubavitcher Rebbe sitting in this room.

Suddenly, a thought crossed my mind about all of those people, those individuals that the Rebbe had reached out to through the years – one Jew at a time, mostly through his shluchim. The Rebbe loved EVERY Jew. Here again there is one Jew sitting in a faraway place in middle of nowhere, no family with him, no love from the audience. He would have died alone. The only person that cared about him was the Rebbe, who sent Rabbi Katz to spend 4 hours with him on his dying day and me to be here while he breathes his last breath.

I started to daven that whatever I think, whatever I feel should be what the Rebbe would want me to think and/or feel.  What does Hashem want me to do now? I started to sing a niggun to myself based on the words “Kiayil taarog al afikei mayim kein nafshi taarog eilecho elokim.” My soul wants to be with you Hashem …..
Almost immediately the curtain opened and there was Martin in the next room. He was only four or five feet from us, but he was strapped down and covered up until his neck. The only visible part of him was his arm, in which was an IV that would deliver the sam hamoves, the poison, and his face. In the room with him were a police officer and someone who stood with a paper and notebook presumably recording every detail of what transpired. The room also had a large clock behind Martin as well as video cameras and microphones hanging from the ceiling. Otherwise there were freshly painted walls, a sparkling clean floor, and a one way glass leading to a third room behind Martin.

Martin did not look at the crowd nor at the police officer next to him,  he just stared up at the ceiling. There was silence in the room, the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I for one was almost convulsing. The clock read 6:02.
The officer asked “Mr. Grossman do you have any final words?” to which Martin replied “Yes”.
Martin began “ I completely regret everything that I did on that night, both that which I remember and that which I do not”. He then said, “ I would like to say a prayer,” the officer said okay.
At that point Martin says “Shema Yisroel adon- elokenu adon- echod” in a loud voice and then said something that I will never forget so long as I live.
“Ahavat Yisroel”.

At that point I began to weep so loud that the guy behind me asked me if I would like to leave. There are no words to describe the way Martin died. Martin committed a terrible crime, one that will haunt a family as long as they live. But with those two words he showed that, “ein dovor bo bifnei harotzon,” nothing stands in the way of a man’s will. Martin died proclaiming his affection for Yisroel his brothers and sisters throughout the world, more for G-d and his Torah as well. Martin died a repentant man, but more than that. Martin died a man that accomplished something that we as Jews have been trying to do for nearly 2,000 years He brought us together with true Jewish unity -Ahavas Yisroel.

Who knew a child born to an abusive father and sick mother, a boy who could not make it through school, a young man who shopped for drugs in his mother’s closet, a man who killed someone-  and not just a person, but a beautiful Park Ranger, who was just doing her job, while he was high on a cocktail of drugs,  could have such an incredible impact.

Martin died as a true bal Teshuvah Al Kidush Hashem, sanctifying G-ds name in public, the highest level a Jew can reach on this earth.

(Nochum Kurinsky /Reprinted with permission from savemartingrossman.com)


34 COMMENTS

  1. I am crying. As a Lubavitcher, I am crying even harder.

    May Hashem give Mr. Grossman, this man who did such Teshuva with such dignity, the Menucha his soul deserves.

  2. Thank you YWN for sharing this heartbreaking post. Amazing that his last words were ‘Ahavas Yisroel’. Those last words were a message to all Yidden to unite to bring Moshaich. May it happen now.

  3. Some times there are just “Kaparos” for the rest of us. In this case Martin was a Kaparah to bring so many of us together in ahavas Yisroel, for a man that we did not know, but whose story touched our souls and left our pettiness and our cynicism behind to act selflessly and in unison to save a fellow jew no matter how frum or not frum, no matter how flawed and no matter how guilty.

    May he enjoy a true nechama at the side of our true father, melech malchei hamelachim, that is the only true Judge and jury. May he be a melitz yosher for all those youngsters who are unfortunately in a position that he was in and for all those who did their utmost to help him.

  4. This is an amazingly detailed piece of writing.

    After the last few weeks’ desperate undertaking of action, prayers and tears to save Martin Grossman I cannot tell you how I am left with a wonderful envy of you people who worked tirelessly and with full speed and motivation and determination to save a fellow Yid.

    I really envy your olam haba. You have bought your chaylik. May you be blessed with everything, nachas from your kinderlach, good health and a long life of mitzvos and torah.

    You are a light and inspiration to Klal Israel.

    You know ,I was thinking maybe we could repeat the past few weeks’ sincere efforts of davening and achdus to bring moshiach? It takke could, too!

  5. CHUSUVEYID… i think you should change your user name… your comment is so cold and uncaring(not a Jewish trait).. and to everyone that had a negative comment on the Parks or made Martin Grossman a saint… WHAT IF HE HAD KILLED YOUR DAUGHTER? anyone signing the petitions, making phone calls or comments should think of that first if you still come up with the same conclusion please feel free to share it but I have a feeling if you put yourself in the Park’s shoes for one minute…. to go to sleep every night of your life knowing that your precious child was brutally murdered……..

  6. I so agree with #7. Last night I was at a Shevea Brachos and I asked a grope of people there, do you think I’m a bad person? We where reading all the comments and all the sympathy for Martin. I told them something must be wrong with me I’m just not feeling the way everyone else is. Although I would never of wanted him to be killed I couldn’t bring myself to call or send a email to the governor to grant life to this brutal murderer. Now I would like to say that even if he did Teshuva (which I think he must have after thinking about what he did for the last 26 years) in a Bis Din if someone is chayiv missah and then dose a full teshuva before Bis Din kills him it makes no difference we still kill him. So much for the argument that he did teshuva because that only helps him in shamayim but over here we still kill him.

  7. Those who got involved, and will certainly never be the same, are truly great people. The effect their deeds had and will continue to have on the world is beyond description. However, I don’t understand why they and the article continuously refer to them as Chabad Rabbis. Do we ever read about a Satamar Rabbi, a Torah Vo’daas Rabbi, a Chaim Berlin Rabbi, Telz, Ner Yisroel, or Chofetz Chaim Rabbi? Why then a Chabad Rabbi?

  8. #7 Rochie…if chas veshalom someone would have killed a close relative or friend of mine…I would not petition on his behalf…HOWEVER, i would never demand that he be executed! Thats G-d’s job to determine who shall live and who shall die AND I would NEVER go watch that criminal be executed like the Parker family did! it would be chas veshalom hard enough to deal with the loss of a dear one…i wouldn’t need to watch a death of another!! I would let G-d deal with the “symantics” and determine how much longer the person should live. I would have no problem having that person in jail for life…but death is something else! I guess being a memeber of Am Yisroel…I have the midda of rachmanus and ya that extends even to Goyim…I would not demand a goy to be put to death even if he killed a Jew but i would demand he should be put in jail for rest of his life! and thats all we were asking for Martin Grossman…Life in jail!

  9. aries2756 – All this hand wringing, excuse making and tear shedding for this murderer has made me nauseous. You and many like minded members of our community have made this vile human being into some kind of saint.
    Just remember, if a member of another ethnic or religious group g-d forbid harms one our own, I expect to see all these organizations standup for the rights of the perpetrator. Somehow I don’t think that will happen, so it’s pretty obvious that justice, fairness and rachmonos for all hashem’s creations is dispensable.

  10. 7, isn’t it ironic that you asked a question about someone when in reality it is YOUR yichus that needs to be checked. The same way if he was from any other religion especially a ‘baal tshuva ‘ of sorts in that religion, they would do whatever they could to have the death sentence removed, we are NO different.

    We thought about the murder of Ms Park however we also thought about the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the murderer as well as his personal change in the last 25 years. That is obviously something you never even let cross your mind.

    I support the death penalty & what this case has done to me personally is make me think about it more in terms of what has the criminal done to change themselves since incarceration? I wouldn’t say let them out but I may say let them sit forever.

    One other thing you didn’t think of: Grossman’s death yesterday doesn’t mean Ms Park becomes alive again. She is STILL dead & so is Grossman.

  11. Just a thought, if the penalty had been carried out earlier he never would have become a BT. The fact that it took 25 years was maybe so that he could die having repented. Just a thought.

  12. A beautiful piece.
    To Ruchie #7 and my thoughts #10,
    Don’t be so angry.
    Note the article discusses the tragic loss of “and not just a person, but a beautiful Park Ranger, who was just doing her job,”.
    This article is not about her death, nor is it about the position of capital punishment. That is all history. (nor is it condemning the governor or the system, who presumably did what must be done.).
    It is taking note how a child born to disadvantaged circumstance can pull himself up, and how a people of different strands can all come to pull in the same direction.
    May Park’s family find solace, notwithstanding the fact this is a poignant story of a beautiful people.

  13. Rochie, let me understand what you are saying? You must be a saint cuz and on Yom Kippur if you weren’t a saint you would feel stupid asking for a kapparah!

    I’m a proponent of the death penalty but I do feel that if one shows true remorse (which doesn’t happen so much and hard to prove) and in this case most would agree that he did, it may be a differnt story. I will be attending the levayah becouse I feel that he is someone that created a big kiddish Hashem.

    ​‎​The Levaya of Michoel Yechiel ben Avraham (Martin Grossman) will b tonite 8pm @ Niklesburg bais medrash in Monsey 6 Milton Pl.
    9:00 it will Leave to Chesed Shel Emes cemetery in Liberty, NY 74 Hysana Rd.
    10:15 the burial will take place in liberty. BD”E

  14. One thing is for sure and was eloquently pointed out by this letter the grassroots achdus brought about by this sad story is truly overwhelming.
    To those who speak of “Chayav Misa”
    Please would you remember we’re in Galus?
    Would you remember that there were no eidim?
    Whould you remember that there was no Hasroh “warning”?
    Would you remember what the Gemorah says about a beis din that carries out a death penalty? Look at the end of Makos.

  15. this is a beautiful piece but I have to be Moicheh fo r the Kovod of the Rebbe Z”L!!!! how can YW mention a Niftar w/o Z”L?? Please correct this for the future. Unless when he davened that he should only have Kavana that the Rebbe ( Z”L) would want -after all he’s the only one who cares about every Jew!!!!- he means exactly what he writes-PRESENT TENSE. sorry to ruin the Achdus Fest but n this Zchus Michoel Yechiel Z”L should now be w/the Rebbe Z”L!

  16. #8, When was the last time you heard a beis din put someone to death????? Just my point, not in this century or the one before or before that. So take a deep breath and remember it is up to Hashem to judge not us. In addition, please remember the circumstances of the child Martin and not the adult Martin. How would you expect a fatherless child and a child with a sick mother, basically a child growing up without parents to act and behave. How do you expect a child without role models to behave or feel? What do you expect of a child with an IQ of 77 to behave with role models like the one that took him out that night?

    I would hate to have someone in a jury if I was on trial because YOU are not capable of looking at the entire picture. HE understood that he was wrong and he understood that he had to be punished which he was being incarcerated all of his life. He was imprisoned and living a structured life something that he hadn’t had for the first part of his life.

    Sad that you are not more appalled that Yankel Rosenberg’s murderer or Robert Kennedy’s murderer is still alive and breathing.

  17. i completely agree with rochie and anyone taking “the other side” of this issue.
    who, on death row, wouldn’t do some form of teshuva? just because someone puts on tefillin and keeps some semblance of kosher, does not make one a good person who should be excused for a brutal murder.
    if the same exact crime was committed by a non-jew against an orthodox woman, would everyone still scream that the criminal should be excused from the death penalty? what if the criminal “found god”? would he then be exonerated?
    kol hakavod to those who are thinking with rationality and logic on this issue. continue to stand up for what is right and just. be strong.

  18. #11, he wasn’t a vile murderer, he was a nebech of a child with a low IQ who made a huge mistake that ended in murder. He didn’t plan on it or go out looking to kill somebody. He was wrong and he was paying his dues to society by sitting in jail. He didn’t ask us to help him, others did and he was shocked that people thought he was worth helping. It is unfortunate that there are blood thirsty human beings such as yourself who would want him killed just because he is a Jew and don’t want to make an example of him. People do makes mistakes even judges, juries and Governors. No one asked for his release just for his life which is still not fun or free living it behind bars.

  19. All you people here who are arguing -you are arguing about something that is irrelevant. The issue is NOT whether a repentant (baal teshuva) deserves a death sentence.

    The issue is the legal side of the case here, in which no one ever gets the death penalty for committing murder on drugs, alcohol. Especially when the murder was NOT premeditated and when a court of Justice has NOT been willing to give the accused a fair trial denying him to introduce the necessary evidence for his defence.

    That is what the basis for this whole campaign was about. Its not because someone is Jewish or repentant. Its about the tragedy of a miscarriage of Justice for a righteous person who perhaps given a fair chance could have lived a righteous life now that he had chosen to return to the Path of Hashem. This is about Florida’s justice system that is now forever tainted. That is what is wrong. That thousands of people stood up to protest this execution based on a lack of appreciation of the facts and circumstances at the time of the murder, yet Florida’s Justice System went ahead and executed Martin Grossman anyhow.
    People who argue “what if he had murdered a fellow Jew or your daughter” are speaking/acting only based on emotions. And they have no argument because that is not what took place here. Be careful how you judge others and what you suppose they deserve, because it might come back around.Anyways revenge is never going to bring peace to one’s heart, e.g seeing the once guilty convict suffer a premature death. Only forgiveness will.

  20. Those of you that are proponents for the death penalty should understand this. People make mistakes, juries can and are prejudicial, and just because an attorney is a good talker it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are representing the truth. There are many, many stories of people being released after 20 or 30 years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit. How would you feel if these people were put to death and years later DNA proved they were innocent.

    NO I am not in favor of the death penalty. And I am always in awe and respect for those many, many victims who years later approach their perpetrators with forgiveness and understanding after they have shown remorse and asked to be forgiven for no other reason than they grew up and reached a level of maturity and respect for others.

    True there are criminals who never reform or rehabilitate, but there are many, many criminals who commit crimes as youngsters who grow up in prison and regret the lives and years they threw away as well as the harm they caused others. There is teshuva among sinners and that doesn’t apply only to Yidden.

  21. One more thing for those who keep saying that a Beis Din would have put him to death. If it was Hashem’s will that he die, Hashem could have inflicted that on him in many ways over the past 25 years. He could have choked to death, he could have developed a chronic illness, he could have had a heart attack or had a fatal fall. Hashem works in mysterious ways. So had that been Hashem’s decree it would have been carried out in any number of ways. Obviously Hashem showed rachmanos on this poor soul so much so that he showed him that although he did not have much of a family, kol yisroel areivim zeh la zeh and that there is true ahavas ysiroel even though he was not on the madreigah of a tzadik or a great ben Torah. Thousands of yiddin prayed for him and fought for him “am echad k’ish echad”. He died knowing he wasn’t alone and he was a small part of a very large whole or grand picture. It gave him a sense of calm and peace. It allowed him the calmness he needed to meet his maker with trust and emunah. At the point of no return he was not afraid to die but ready to stand before Melech Malchei Hamelachim.

  22. So no one should be punished for any crime whatsoever because if H-sh-m wanted them to be punished he’d do it himself.

    What if instead of committing murder he had abused animals?

    I know that on blig after blog anyone even accused of animal abuse is attacked viciously and the calls for them to be tortured slowly to death
    and their parenats and friends be so tortured along with them and no “teshuvah” is ever accepted in those cases so perhaps murder just is not bad enough a crime.

    We are doomed, this world is backwards with those like me getting no ahavas yisroal and cold blooded murderers do.

    If it weren’t for the gehinnom (or worse) the comes from suicide alomng with the of messing it up and winding up still alive I would have given my enemies a big thrill a long time ago.

    I can’t wait to be out of this sick world.

  23. 24,
    i am not in favor of the death penalty.
    after reading the emails and letters sent by members of the orthodox community urging people to petition for him for the sole reason BECAUSE he is a jew, i was pretty sickened. correct me if i’m wrong, but i don’t recall any email stating that people should fight this issue because the death penalty is wrong, but rather because a fellow jew was going to be executed.
    i hope that these fifty-thousand voices fighting against grossman’s execution will now turn their collective voice over to fight for all people on death row. after all, that’s really what the rabbeim were trying to tell the jewish community, right?

  24. Once again, there was no evidence that Grossman was under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he murdered Officer Park. Nor was it argued at trial. And Grossman, in giving a detailed account of what he did that day, never said he ingested let alone was under the influence of drugs/alcohol. All the documents were posted on the State of Florida website for people who were actually interested in facts instead of lies.

  25. Reb Nocuum,
    What you witnessed was nothing less than Kiddush HaShem
    You are Blessed to have been an instrument in the process.
    In the merit of Mr Grossman, lets put aside the whole guilty/not guilty and life w/out parole and all of the other arguments that I have read on this site and remember a dying man’s words…
    AHAVAT YISROEL!!!
    What’s done is done – lets move forward and learn…

  26. The Gemora tells us: Kol Haroei Sota Bekilkulah Yazir Atzmo Min HaYayin. Anyone who witnesses a death sentence should guard himself from the source of the behavior that brought upon the sentence.
    There are unfortunately many lessons to be learned from the tragic story: child abuse, failed education, addiction…
    Let’s all take at least one lesson from it.

  27. #28.I did not see one letter by Rabbis or any orthodox organization saying that we were to petition the Governor soley based on the fact Grossman was Jewish. However I am not sure if you are jewish or not but you are right in that we as a Nation and religious at types tend to stand up for one another- especially in cases where there is a hint or suspicion of a miscarriage of justice being done.
    Other nationalities would only love to boast of doing the same. But they don’t. Are you upset we stood up for the life of a fellow Jewish Brother?
    Isn’t that what is important? That when someone needs help others care and take action?
    If you are upset because no black people are doing this for their own on death row, or perhaps no Italians are demonstrating for the release of the head of their Mafia, or no arabs are organizing nation wide attention to have their fellow accused terrorists released, well, that is not our problem!
    The fact is most nations are aghast with wonder or jealousy when they see how we will fight and stand up for a fellow jew. When they dont like the cause we are fighting for they turn the facts around and say we are just biased cause he is jewish.

    In this case it was explicitly said in all letters that went out that the argument basis for Grossman is that he should be allowed a 60 day stay of execution for clemency. In other words this time period would have allowed him a fair trial possibly-should one judge “OK” his motion to insert the evidence for his defence regarding the insanity bit, due to the drugs. Please get yor facts right. No one was arguing that the death penatly is wrong in General. Just in this case in particular we were left with an unfair trial where there was a lack of appreciation for all of the facts in this murder.

    You have to admit there was an argument. Even Dershowitz a legal professor took interest in the case. If that is not enough for you -Even the POPE took interest!

    No dear commentor #28. the Rabbonim did not say at anytime that the point here was to take up in arms the entire Death row system and have all murderers released. Not at all.