Friend of Violi's in Massena urges Attorney General to not prosecute
Tuesday, September 2, 2014 - 6:22 am

Editor’s note: This is a letter sent to the New York State Attorney General.

Dear Attorney General Schneiderman:

I am writing this letter in support of Dominick and Ross Violi from Massena, N.Y.

Although I have not lived in N.Y. since 1967 I feel that I have the right to try to influence your decision to prosecute two outstanding men - please take the time to read my reasons.

I was born in the Bronx in 1945, moved to Syosset in 1953, graduated from the Syosset H.S. in 1963, graduated from SUNY-Potsdam in 1967, attended the Pace University MBA program and then served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1972, serving in Vietnam the last year. From my freshman year at SUNY-Potsdam, until just a few years ago, my wife and I, as volunteers, led Jewish High Holyday services at Potsdam’s Congregation Beth El. We are active SUNY-Potsdam alumni and our financial support of that important institution is not insignificant. Our strong attachment to NYS remains to this day.

Much more important than all the above is the fact that I have had the privilege of calling Dominick and Ross Violi good friends since November, 1963.

I need to explain to you how and why a Jewish kid from the Bronx became a lifelong friend of two Catholic brothers from Massena.

The answer is – the Holocaust. Obviously, this needs an explanation.

Rolf Hochhuth’s book and play, THE DEPUTY, blamed the Catholic Church for the death of millions during the Holocaust. Even today this is a controversial discussion – can you imagine the impact it had in Potsdam in 1963? In November, 1963, SUNY-Potsdam & Clarkson University Jewish Student club (Hillel), of which I was program chair, organized a panel discussion on this most controversial book. We invited a Catholic Priest (Father Mark Leibler, head of the Newman Club in Potsdam), Rev. Frank Halse (Presbyterian Student group) and the Rabbi from Ogdensburg to serve as the panel.

The program was held at Congregation Beth El in Potsdam and the building was packed with standing room only. The three panelists selected straws to decide speaking order. The Rabbi spoke first, tiptoeing around the subject, Rev. Halse did the same. Then it was Father Liebler’s turn – you could hear a pin drop. Father Liebler made a statement that I – and all those there – will never forget – he said “The Pope and the Catholic Church could have saved millions of lives and chose not to!” This statement, of course, was widely reported and Father Liebler was fired (the public term was ‘transferred’) from his position within a few days.

Of course I felt horrible and very guilty. A week later I called him at his new Parish to express my sorrow at what happened. As always, Father Liebler was upbeat and invited me to Massena to meet two wonderful young men who had quickly become his major supporters.

As you probably have guessed by now, those two wonderful young men were Dominick & Ross Violi who were both working in their parent’s restaurant. From the day we met, over 50 years ago, we have been close friends. They taught me how to drink Black Russians, I taught them how to drink Slivovitz (Jewish Fire-water). They taught me how to appreciate the Catholic Mass and I taught them much about Judaism. We celebrated each other’s families and holidays.

In communities where family traditions have become weak, Dominick and Ross took over and grew the family business greatly benefiting their community. In a society where there are far too few leaders, Dominick and Ross became effective and successful leaders in their community. At a time when we needed greater philanthropy, Dominick and Ross stepped up to the plate and became model philanthropists. While family structure has been weakened, Dominick and Ross married, became parents, believed in tradition and religion, and looked after their flock with much love and care.

Dominick and Ross are two VERY special people. Yes, what happened to Brett Bouchard was tragic – but it was a tragic accident, not something punishable by prosecution. I, like you, see a lot of ‘bad’ in this world. I urge you to try to fix that ‘bad’, but this is not one of those cases. I urge you to rethink the decision to prosecute these two good men.

Paul Jeser

Los Angeles

Longtime friend of the Violis