Rokeby is an estate along the Hudson River that was built nearly 200 years ago by relatives of John Jacob Astor, America’s first multimillionaire. About two dozen people currently live in various buildings spread out along the 400-plus acres of rolling hills. But the 43-room stucco mansion at Rokeby) is occupied by a handful of people who are 10th-generation descendants of the original occupants.
Given that these are members of one of America’s elite WASP families, you wouldn’t expect to find a portrait of the Chofetz Chaim hanging on the wall of a bedroom on the third floor. For the uninitiated, the Chofetz Chaim was a 19th-century Polish rabbi known for his teachings on lashon hora, or evil speech. Many Orthodox Jewish homes have stickers or magnets with a picture of the Chofetz Chaim and the warning, “Don’t speak lashon hora on the telephone.” But what, pray tell, is The Chofetz Chaim doing at Rokeby? And who brought him there?
Was it the lady of this manor, Polish-born Ania Aldrich, who grew up Catholic? Nope. Aldrich has participated in pageants celebrating the solstice, dabbled in a Brazilian form of voodoo, gone to Native American sweat lodges and taken a shamanic trance workshop at the nearby Omega Institute, a pricey New Age complex.
Could it have been the lord of the manor, 72-year-old Ricky Aldrich? He is multilingual, a free spirit, a practicing Episcopalian and a priest in the Universal Life Church to boot. Described by one old friend as “the greatest trickster who ever lived,” Aldrich has a “Rand Paul for President” bumper sticker on his truck and recently traveled to Cuba. Asked for his take on the Lubavitch Hasidim, Aldrich replied: “They’re creepy. I don’t like them one bit.”
It turns out it was Alexandra Mizrahi, Ricky Aldrich’s 40-something daughter, who put up the picture of the Chofetz Chaim. She converted to Judaism, and though she knows well the prohibition of speaking ill of others, she has written a blistering memoir about growing up in what is, to put it mildly, an eccentric household. Mizrahi is her married name, but the byline that graces the cover of her recently published memoir, “The Astor Orphan,” is Alexandra Aldrich.