Monday, July 11, 2011

TOT-Tuches Oifen Tish (We're Not Kidding), Chassidic Detective Firm, Gathers Evidence on Brooklyn Streets

If we were writing a funny detective novel or screenplay about a Chassidic version of Columbo or Monk, in a moment of inspiration, we might think up a name for the agency like Tuches Oifen Tish. (Exact translation from Yiddish: Buttocks on the table; Loose translations: Let's be honest and get to the facts, let's talk tachlis, let's get to the bottom line.)

But if we did, we'd probably be in violation of a copyright, because a Chassidic professional investigation agency with that exact name does exist in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

In Friday's New York Times, Jed Lipinski reports on the clandestine activities of Joe Levin, a member of the Brooklyn Bobover Chassidic community who specializes in tracking down facts, whether it's criminals, sexual abusers, or rebellious Chassidic girls in miniskirts.
Not your usual private eye, Mr. Levin is a practicing Orthodox Jew, a member of the Bobov Hasidic sect and the founder of T.O.T. Private Investigation and Consulting, a New York-based company that specializes in Orthodox-related cases worldwide. The company, whose focus is uncommon — and perhaps unique in the United States — hires forensic experts, former homicide detectives, photographers and even pilots, mostly on a per-case basis. Its services range from investigations into international banks and Israeli investment companies to local background checks for prospective Shidduchim, or Orthodox marital arrangements.
Since Mr. Levin started the business 12 years ago, his life has often resembled the plot of a TV crime drama. He has trailed unwitting subjects into synagogues and strip clubs, sat beside them on international flights and tracked them down in remote areas of Puerto Rico and Brazil.
While he usually wears the black frock coat and fedora of the Hasidim, when undercover he has donned stocking caps and Yankees jerseys to conceal his brown knit skullcap and tzitzit, the ritual fringes worn by observant Jews.
His organization’s mission is encoded in the name T.O.T., an acronym for the Yiddish expression “Tuchis afn tish.”
“It means ‘Put your tuchis on the table,’ ” said Mr. Levin, a bearded, powerfully built man in his late 30s, who shaved off his side locks years ago out of personal preference. “In other words, ‘Show me the proof.’ And that’s what I do. I bring my proof to the people.”
 Mr. Levin’s wife of 13 years, Ruthie Levin, 33, said he often has trouble sleeping.“Last night he was up every hour,” she said recently, sitting beside him outside their home. She added that the pressure of a new case involving two powerful rabbis was causing him stress.
Asked whether Mr. Levin had ever used his investigative skills in their relationship, she raised her eyebrows.
“Are you kidding?” she said. “Before we met, he knew all the boys I’d ever dated. He knew everything about me.”
How did he come to know these things? “I’d been looking into it,” Mr. Levin said, cracking a smile. “Let’s put it like that.”
Is Levin unhappy about being outed by The New York Times?  Apparently not, because his website home page has a prominently placed link to the Times article (see website photo above.)


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