Even when he was one of Sao Paulo's biggest drug dealers, the skullcap did not descend from Samuel Leibowitz's head. He was careful to walk around with curly wigs, black clothes and a white shirt. When he was at home in glamorous parties packed with drugs and Brazilian girls, he made sure to eat kosher. He did the same when he sat in prisons in Brazil, Britain and Israel. For a moment he did not abandon his faith
By: Nurit Rubin-Wilson
The life of the Orthodox dealer, a native of Stanford Hill, one of London's pious Jewish neighborhoods, and who admired the drug baron Pablo Escobar, did not prevent him from leading a turbulent life involving crime, violence, millions of dollars and a lot of drugs. vice versa. Sometimes it even helped him. "I have the courage to do things and I wanted money, that's the whole explanation," he sums up his life story.
Leibowitz, 45, maintains an impressive composure. In recent weeks we have met several times, always in cafes in the northern suburb of London where he lives. Conversations with him easily roll out, drawing into a fascinating world of crime, drugs and a lot of cash.
He tells his inconceivable story in an interview with an Israeli newspaper in an emotionless, bloodthirsty indifference. When he recalls memories that turn his stomach, it seems as if it happened to someone else. He rarely reveals feelings. During the conversation, we empty cups of coffee with varying qualities and Leibowitz leaves the bar to smoke. Once he surprises and orders a hot, sweet chocolate, which he relishes. This will be one of the times when his conduct will crack his tough image.
Father is dead
Milo's story, as it is called in its immediate vicinity and in the local Haredi community, begins at the end of the 60 at Stanford Hill. He was born into a strict ultra-Orthodox family, one of six children, who grew up and was molded by the uncompromising, closed and separate Orthodoxy.
At an early age, he married against his will. His father went to Israel and ordered him to go on a "business trip." When he arrived in Israel, he was told that "we were going to see the merchandise." "They come to the house, knock on the door, open a Hungarian woman," he recalls. "In the room sits a man with a long white beard, looks like the Angel of Death. I wonder where the goods are. A little girl walks into the room, her hair pulled up and she smiles, quiet. Our parents leave the room. I tried to be friendly, I asked her, 'What's your name, what are you doing, how old are you?' After a quarter of an hour her parents come in and ask, 'What do you say?' She replies, 'Yes, I think so. Nice guy, buddy. ' My parents also join us with cries of 'good luck', breaking a plate. And I, only then realized what was happening. I was in the market".
Have you tried to resist?
"Nothing helped me. After Shabbat Hatan I planned to run away, I even put money aside, but my father apparently guessed my intentions because he had left my passport. "
There was a wedding. Two children and four years are not happy. Then he divorced. "It's very unacceptable in the Haredi community, certainly not before 20 a year," he said. "The rabbinate tried to dissuade me because it was forbidden to divorce, but I told them that I was going, and if they did not release me, she would remain an agunah or die. They had no choice. " His ex-wife married an American and moved to the United States with his two children, now 22 and 23. For many years the children believed that their father had died.
On the axis of Brazil
After the divorce, his life seemed very peaceful. He decided to open a new page, moved to Belgium, joined the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brussels and started working in a vegetable store.
It all changed when one day Hezki, a young man from the community with whom he had become friends, approached him and asked if he would like to go on a trip to Brazil. Hezki offered to finance the trip. "Who does not want to go on holiday in Brazil?" Leibowitz says. "I did not ask questions. Hezki told me that his friend would wait for me there, and it is clear that the meaning of 'friend' is 'a religious Jew.' " Indeed, an ultra-Orthodox young man met Leibowitz at the airport and volunteered to show him Brazil. "He took me out and I was fascinated," recalls Leibowitz. "The people are friendly, Brazil is amazing."
The day before his return to Brussels the young man gave him a wrapped parcel. "It would look like a sugar package," says Leibowitz. "'Make sure my chest gets it,' he told me. I did not ask questions. I thought to myself that maybe it's a diamond package, maybe a gift. "
The way back to Belgium was smooth. "Maybe it's the 'black' visual that played for me or perhaps the cold," laughs Leibowitz. "No one asked questions. When he opened the package, I saw something that seemed to me like white flour. I did not understand. I told him: 'You fucked up, why do you have to buy flour from Brazil, you have a grocery store downstairs.' "
Did not you really understand that it was cocaine?
"No! I came from an ultra-Orthodox home, I never saw it, and in our country before 20 a year no one talked about it either. "
Even after he understood the full significance of his actions, Leibowitz did not hesitate to continue. The money he received from my backup on the flour bag blinded him. "I thought I would become a millionaire," he admits. "In Yiddish they call it a-gruisse macher, a big activist."
The hunger for money defeated fear?
"There was no fear," he replies nonchalantly. "I did not feel that I had anything to lose. The children were with their mother, I did not have a family and I thought to myself - I'll catch up. I wanted to become a millionaire. "
When Yitzhaki wants to use his courier services again, Leibowitz decides to change from the shipper to the importer. He makes several transfers of drugs from Brazil to Belgium without incident. According to him, his ultra-Orthodox Jewish appearance made his work easier. "The Jews are perceived as good children," he explains. "Business flowed nicely and so did the cash, no one suspected."
Could it be that the hard-edged ultra-Orthodox education at home pushed you to unload all the burdens at the first opportunity?
"I do not think so. The fact is that this is not happening to everyone. Even today I am able to break the law as long as it is not drugs. I am neither the greatest sage nor the greatest hero. A bullet will kill me too, but at a time of danger I stop thinking. If you tell me now that there are 10 million pounds in the car and I have a fifty percent chance of taking them - I'm sure I'll try. If there was a hostage in the cafe in a side room that had to be rescued, you would not come in - I did. I have no fear, and I am not afraid of death. "
The godfather and his wife
One day the young Leibowitz watched a documentary about Colombian drug king Pablo Escobar, and his blood burned. "He's worth billions," he says enthusiastically during our meeting at the cafe. "He has everything. That's what I wanted to be! "
In a quick and spontaneous decision, at the age of 24, Leibowitz purchases a one-way ticket to Brazil, where he begins to get involved in the drug dealers to turn, as he says, into Jewish Pablo Escobar. This time, too, in Sao Paulo, he rolls into the local Haredi community in the Morumbi District neighborhood.
Leibowitz understands that if he wants to play in the big league, there is no choice but to meet the godfather, who is also an ultra-Orthodox Jew who controlled huge fields of cocaine and was one of Brazil's biggest drug exporters.
However, in order to connect with the "godfather," Leibowitz had to undergo several tests. He managed to arrange a meeting with him in a dark dance club, and after a security check that he said was done against a gun barrel, he was allowed to sit at the godfather's desk. "We talked a little and then he told me that in order to build trust, he passed his soldiers a test," says Leibowitz. "He wanted me to transfer a large amount of money to a distant destination. I wondered what would happen to me after I gave the money, was he going to kill me? "
And yet you agreed.
"You can not refuse a godfather, it's not an option at all."
A moment before he left, in the vehicle provided by the godfather, Leibowitz learned that the wife of the senior drug dealer would join the trip. "Then she appeared," he recalls with a smile. "Beautiful, designer clothes, expensive jewelry, blonde, Brazilian. She sat in the back seat and we set out. "
During the trip Leibowitz stopped to refuel. "When I got back she was already sitting in the front seat," he says. "She told me, 'No one sees us now.' From that moment I had only one thing in my head, "he admits.
The rest of the journey was accompanied by agony, when Leibowitz needed self-control in order to avoid cooperating with the obvious interest that the Godfather's wife found in him. Torn between fear and desire, between the evil instinct and the instinct of life, he continued on his journey.
"In the evening we stopped to sleep at the hotel in two separate bedrooms," he says. "She continued to build up my expectations. 'You're amazing, you look great.' My blood was boiling, I was sweating. But I was also afraid. You do not mess with the boss's wife. If you try to touch her and she'll tell you again - you're finished. But the way she spoke to me, looked at me, and she was in the next room. If something happens, no one should know, only me, she and God. "
Leibowitz managed to stand in the breach and completed the task of transferring the money. "The godfather greeted us back," he says. "He asks me, 'How did my wife behave? Did something happen between you? 'He pulls out a pistol and points at me. 'Nothing,' I replied. He put the gun to my head and said, 'Do not you think my wife is attractive?' He wondered. I admit, I was afraid. But then he dropped the weapon. She must have informed him that nothing had happened. relief. 'Welcome to the family,' he told me. I passed the test".
Get up and kill you
The godfather (Leibowitz shied away from mentioning his name) suggested that he become one of his soldiers, but the young yeshiva student politely informed him that he was independent. The two began to cooperate and Leibowitz's status in the drug market in Brazil soared. He received merchandise from the godfather and marketed it with coolness and charisma. "Englishmen, Israelis, Americans, anyone who wants to," he says of his circle of clients. "We had a routine, drug trafficking is like any other job. We get up in the morning, come to the office with a team of workers and look for deals that will bring in money: drugs, stolen goods and real estate. Each of the team deals with its sources, and when an opportunity is presented, everyone sits down and examines it at the business level, risks against the odds, what needs to be done on the technical level to make it succeed and how much money should be invested in it. At six o'clock they leave the office. Then they meet in the synagogue or at parties. the good life".
The non-kosher businesses are making millions of profits, the distribution methods are improving, and the luxurious home parties organized by the ultra-Orthodox young man, who came from a rigid world of obligations and prohibitions, are glamorous and lascivious. He bought a seven-room penthouse where he lived alone and drove luxury cars - in a Volvo and Porsche. "I did not believe my luck," Leibowitz says, improving the skullcap on his head.
Tell me, how did the skullcap, the beard, and the wigs get on those shiny parties?
"excellent. When you have money, everything is accepted, it does not matter what you look like. "
The office work may be routine but the life outside is a little less. One day Leibowitz's friend asked to borrow his car for a short time to pick up his wife from the airport. Leibowitz gave him the key, and a few seconds later he was in front of his astonished eyes.
It turned out that Leibowitz's ultra-Orthodox gang had quarreled with a gang of local drug dealers, whose members accused them of selling bad drugs and staining their reputation. An explosive device planted in Leibowitz's car was supposed to kill him and at the same time send a message to his friends.
Leibowitz survived, but the friend who asked his car was not lucky. "We lost a human being, but they lost a lot more," Leibowitz sums up objectively what happened following the explosion. "We did what we had to do, they came and asked for Sulha," Leibowitz says.
When he tells of the deadly gang war in which he was involved, no muscle moved in his face. How does his religious way of life and the fear of Heaven reconcile with the fact that the blood of others staining his hands? "The Torah does not say that it is forbidden to deal with drugs. It also says, 'Get up and kill you early to kill' ", he settles the contradiction.
You're really boring.
"Maybe I went over 'and you saved yourself,' but that's subject to interpretation."
What the hell did I do ?!
Leibowitz's Brazilian celebration ended at 1994. Local police, who followed him and his friends for several months, broke into his house and arrested him. At the end of a lengthy trial, he was convicted only of possession of drugs and arms and not of trafficking, and was sentenced to four years. In the media he was dubbed Hasidic King of Coke.
At the Cardinaro prison in Sao Paulo he was required to demonstrate survival skills. There, behind the bars, he found himself face-to-face with death. "I did not believe that people were being killed in prison," says Leibowitz, but when one of the prisoners decided to deal with the cold-haired Haredi, Leibowitz did just that - he killed.
"I was new, I sat with a Jewish newspaper in my hand," he recalls calmly. "A prisoner arrived, one of whom everyone feared, and demanded a cigarette. I told him I did not. He chuckled. 'Are you kidding me? No one tells me there is not. When I ask for reptiles on all fours. ' I told him I was not crawling to anyone and anyone. In the meantime, there was a gathering and I was new, there was no one on my side. I understood that he had to be removed from the tree. I approached him and said, 'Come on, give me a box, everyone will show you and we'll finish the story.' He replied, 'You're going to die,' and pulled out a knife.
"Luckily for me, I learned Aikido (Japanese Martial Art, NAR). I grabbed his hand and he lost his balance. He shouted, 'You will break my hand.' "Not just the hand," I told him. His friends did not know whether to intervene or not. I advised him: 'Do not move, if you move you'll hurt yourself. All you have to do is open your hand and leave the knife. '"
The prisoner did not accept his recommendation. During a stubborn struggle he fell on the knife and it penetrated his stomach. "I managed to see his eyes roll and he collapsed," continues Leibowitz. "Everyone fled. There was no one around. One guard came out and said to me, 'You can not do anything, he's dead.'
"I asked myself, 'What the hell did I do ?!'" he says. "But prison guards were less excited. They put me in a small, dark room until the prison commander came. He said, 'Thank you very much.' I answered: 'I just killed a human being.' He told me that this man already had three life sentences, that he had killed three people, including one prison guard. They saw everything through the security cameras, and they knew I was defending myself. Of course there was a trial but I went out with nothing. From this moment on, people began to fear, wondering who I was, closing the doors. In Brazil everyone in the prison belongs to a gang. Itai, no one understood where I came from. "
The method of corn
After his arrest was reduced by a third, Leibovitz was released at 1997 from the Brazilian prison and returned home to England. The prison experience did not prevent him from returning to the world of crime. This time it was for a short time. The British authorities followed him, he got into drug trafficking and was arrested. He was indicted and after a year in detention, he was released under restrictive conditions, but was required to sign on a two-day basis at the local police station. At one point he violates the detention conditions and fled to Israel.
In Israel he settled in Jerusalem and decided to open a new page. He had enough money and property for the rest of his life. But several months of inactivity and boredom and one persuasive member were enough to change the decision. The two flew to Argentina via Madrid and from there to Bolivia, and returned to Israel with a kilo of cocaine in Leibowitz's stomach. He said it was the last time he had smuggled drugs.
"We already left the airport and went with the materials to the car," he recalls. "Suddenly my friend was pressured, telling me,` Look at all the policemen around. ' I assured him that it was not for us, but after a few minutes a man with a Russian accent stopped us and said, 'You're coming with us.' "
Leibowitz kept his famous coolness and did not disclose anything about the drugs in his stomach. "I knew that when a person was caught on suspicion of smuggling drugs into the stomach, they let him eat corn and wait. When the corn is out, you know that everything you've swallowed before is out and you're probably clean, "he says. "Before the flight I ate three cans of corn for safety. When I needed the bathroom, the policeman tied me to the wall, put paper on the floor and said 'shit.' And indeed, for the first time, only corn came out. The policemen were ruined. But for the second time, on Saturday afternoon, a portion of the drug was also issued. I tried to hold back, I could not. If there were no policemen around, I would swallow him again. "
Leibowitz was convicted and convicted in the Jerusalem District Court and served a nine-year sentence in Ayalon Prison. His property and money are foreclosed. "Millions of money and assets have been confiscated," he complains. "Not all the money came from drug dealing, but I had no way of proving it. If I had only a few percent of this money today, I would have lived very well. "
One premature departure that cost you nine years in jail and a lot of money.
"Every Shabbat has a Saturday night. I could not help it. Maybe if it was avoided this time I would not be here now to tell the story. I was probably killed or caught on another occasion and sitting in life imprisonment. Only when I was arrested did I begin to see the dangers of this way of life. "
Did you have moments of breakage?
"It's hard for me to think about moments that shocked me," Leibowitz says, and peace is on his face. "In prison, I saw people getting mad. They waited for a visit that did not come, they cursed, they went wild. In my case, everything went by. Even now I live like this. "
You realize that this is not normal.
"thats the way I am. He almost never cries. I think I lost my feelings when I was a child. I can feel towards others but I have no sentiments for myself. I'm not afraid, it's not hard for me. I built myself a steel wall that even a bullet can not penetrate. "
Have you ever been in therapy?
"No. I do not need. Do you know who needs treatment? Anyone who represses feelings and eats himself and thinks what it would be like. I do not repress. I have a mechanism that filters feelings like frustration, fear, missed opportunity. "
Everyone feels missed.
"not me. Sometimes I look in the mirror and think to myself that I am not human. "
The door to redemption
He reached the turning point in his life at Ayalon Prison, where he first met his "end customers": drug addicts, addicts, those who reached the dirtiest, low and miserable places. He watched them thrilled, disgusted and appalled. There, in prison, the ramifications of his income-generating source began to seep.
"It was very strange," he says with surprising innocence. "You have to understand that I never touched drugs or anyone from where I came from. These people were never part of my circle. We underestimated those who consumed drugs. In prison you saw how low a human being goes down for another meal. "
He was one of the prisoners in the prison, a fellow of his age who was imprisoned after being convicted of theft, which opened the door for redemption. "He was addicted to drugs and rejected," says Leibowitz. "No one wanted to mess with him. At first I also recoiled, but slowly we came closer. I tried to understand what was driving him, took him to my room and under my protection, provided he did not approach Sam. The other prisoners laughed at me, warned me that if I took him, I would not even have clothes until tomorrow. But we connected, I helped him to quit or at least I thought so. "
One day Leibowitz returned from work in the prison kitchen, and then realized the full significance of the drug. "The guy was lying in the corner of the room, all trembling," he recalls. "I called for help, they took him to the prison clinic and from there he did not come back. It hurt for him and because I lost a friend. Until now, I was very happy to witness the defeat of the person who gave him the material. And then I realized - there's no chance I'll go back to dealing with it. "
At the end of December 2006, after years of cumbersome years spent in the prisons of Brazil, Israel and England, Leibowitz was released and is already close to his 13 year. Following his decision to abandon the crime world, he returned home to London. Today he lives in a small apartment in his childhood neighborhood and earns his living as a baker.
His appearance is deceptive. He is dressed in black and a white shirt, a black hat on his head and a white beard decorating his face. Even though he no longer boasts curly wigs, he is a yeshiva student in all his senses. He says that the criminal chapter in his life is left behind. Today he focuses on rehabilitating his family and renewing ties with his children.
The changes in his life encouraged him to try to open a new leaf. "Five years ago, my oldest son discovered to his amazement that I was still alive," says Leibowitz. A year ago, a brief approach took place at the airport in London, at the hour of his son's flight from Israel to New York. "I recognized him immediately and called his name," says Leibowitz, one of the few times during our conversations in which he seemed excited. "He looked just like me when I was his age. I immediately felt his father. We hugged hard. I was not in the market completely but it was definitely 'Wow, I do not believe I'm pushing my son's duty-free cart!' He asked about the prison, did not understand how I had survived there all those years. He wondered how I had disappeared to them. "
Due to the restrictions on his entry into the United States, where his two sons live, he refused to visit them. Today he speaks almost every day with his eldest son, but the connection with his young son is still broken. "He finds it hard to digest 'my return to life,'" says Leibowitz. "I have no complaints to their mother, she did a great job and deserves all the credit. She lied about me because she apparently did not know how to handle it differently. "
Not establishing a new family.
"No, but that's a goal. "I want to get up at night and tell my wife,` Stay in bed, I'll kill the baby, 'or go back from work and tell her,' I was at work all day, now it's my time with him. '
The highlight of Leibowitz's "repentance" is his activity among drug addicts, in which he invests vigor in the six years since he was released from prison. He is now a participant in a program of local law enforcement agencies in London that found him an unconventional and efficient partner, in which he plows the kingdom throughout its length, visiting high schools and telling its students the story of his life. The former drug lord with the skullcap reminds them of what they can lose if they unleash the illusion of quick money and attraction to the drug industry and hallucinations.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's worth getting up in the morning," he says of his activities in the project, and tells of his great dream of opening a rehabilitation center. "If I win one day in the lottery, I will open one," he promises. "If not, I'll just have to raise investors. One day you'll come to interview me at my rehab center. I know it will happen. "
Watch the full movie clip On the Haredi drug bar at National Geographic:
Originally published inMySay