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THE WORMTOWN CONNECTION
Denise Rich’s Worcester roots

BY SETH GITELL

Blame it on Worcester.

As unlikely as it seems, the unassuming Massachusetts city is at the heart of the Marc Rich scandal. Two Democratic fundraisers who lobbied President Bill Clinton to pardon the fugitive financier — Denise Eisenberg Rich and Beth Goldman Dozoretz — both grew up there. The New York Times reported Tuesday that the Worcester natives logged 89 visits to the Clinton White House between them, and were there the night Clinton granted the pardon. But that’s not all. One of the most vocal critics of the Marc Rich pardon, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, also grew up in Wormtown. All three come out of Worcester’s vibrant, if small, Jewish community that once numbered about 12,000 and famously included ’60s radical Abbie Hoffman.

Rich’s parents are Emil Eisenberg and his late wife, Gerry. Mr. Eisenberg, a shoe manufacturer, still lives in Worcester. Dozoretz is the daughter of Melvin Goldman, a dentist, now deceased, and his wife, Sylvia.

“They’re all constituents of mine. They’re all nice families,” says Senator Harriette Chandler, a Democrat from Worcester. Chandler, who may be the only elected official acquainted with Denise Rich not to be asked to lobby for her fugitive ex-husband, says she hasn’t heard much about the pardon issue: “Not a word. Not a call from anyone. I certainly haven’t heard from Mr. Eisenberg, who is a widower.” Chandler did meet Denise Rich in 1999 at the dedication of the Gerry and Emil Eisenberg Assisted Living Residence.

Rabbi Yoffie, who is now the national head of the Reform Movement, caused a stir last month when he lambasted the organized Jewish community for persuading Clinton to pardon Marc Rich in an op-ed piece titled we should be ashamed of ourselves. (As a boy, Rabbi Yoffie attended Worcester’s Temple Emanuel — also the home pulpit of his predecessor in the Reform Movement, Rabbi Alexander Schindler.)

Yoffie told the Phoenix that personal ties had nothing to do with his statement. “[Rich’s] father is somebody who was active in the community and somebody I had met,” Yoffie recalls. “My parents knew the family. It’s not all that big of a community. The friend who’s from Worcester, I didn’t even realize she was from Worcester.”

At the Kaufman family household — the childhood home of Rich — nobody was talking. It looks like Worcester would like to see its 15 minutes of fame — or notoriety — do what Marc Rich did in the early 1980s: disappear.