One of my Jewish brothers was murdered over the weekend. This makes me very sad. One of my Jewish sisters is now a widow. Seven of my Jewish nieces and nephews lost their father. Few things tug more at the heartstrings than children who will grow up without a father because his life was knowingly taken by human murderers. From a personal angle, the murder of Menachem Stark is a tragedy. It hurts so much.
By all accounts, Stark was a member in good standing in his Chasidic community. He gave charity generously. He helped those in need. He was well regarded in his social circles. This is the side of the man that was known in the insular Chasidic community.
There may have been another side to this man. Stark was a high roller. He was involved in huge business deals and multi-million dollar investments. The world of the wheeling and dealing real estate mogul is a far cry from the quiet streets of Williamsburg. Many Chasidic men live with one foot in each of these two very different worlds.
It seems that over the weekend he succumbed to the outside world. Someone wanted him dead. Someone from the part of his life that was a mired in litigation, massive loans, a less than sterling reputation as a landlord, and a world with associates who would not feel at home in Stark’s shteible or Shabbos table chose to kill him. Stark met his Maker in the wake of unspeakable violence. To snuff out the life of a human being is the most heinous of crimes. There is no restitution. There is no forgiveness. It’s a crime that is deserving of the stiffest punishments available. In my view, murder is never justified. No matter the circumstances.
Almost all the discussion about this man and his death are about a headline in a tabloid newspaper. The Sunday New York Post ran an article that enumerated many of the allegations and rumors regarding Stark’s business dealings. The article was sordid and hardly journalism but the point of the article was that because Stark had so many potential enemies there were a lot of potential suspects in the murder investigation. It’s an immature angle to the story, but that was their angle. The front page was a photo of Stark in his Chasidic garb with the following headline: “Who Didn’t Want Him Dead?”
It’s hard to imagine a more provocative, attention grabbing, sensationalist headline. Especially because the true king of sensationalist headlines is the New York Post. They do it all the time. It’s also ironic because so many frum Jews in the more insular communities of New York have always thought of the Post as a friend of Israel and the Jews. They share the paper’s conservative bent and thus always thought the Post was something of value. Most serious people have known that the Post is trash for a long time. To them, the headline was gross, but it wasn’t a betrayal. The headline was obscene, but it was completely in character. (Just a few weeks ago, the Post editorial team ran a despicable article saying that New York City was too generous in its meager assistance of the homeless family of Dasani whose story was heartbreakingly portrayed in a superb in-depth article in the New York Times. That’s typical. Disgusting, but typical.)
In response to the terrible headline in the Post, many politicians have called for boycotts of the Post. Other spokespeople have condemned the Post. I join in those condemning the headline and I think the Post doesn’t belong in the home of a God Fearing Jew. It’s trash. We take the trash out. We don’t bring it in. Page Six is enough of a reason for the Post to be assur. Many people have politely called the Post to express their outrage. I admire them for their advocacy.
It seems to me that the headline is terrible because it makes a murder victim into an object of character assassination. It does not wonder who would commit such a heinous crime. It wonders what kind of person becomes an enemy to so many others. That’s an awful angle to take on a murder story. Although, I don’t doubt the Post has taken this approach to other murders. I just wouldn’t know because I don’t read the Post.
Some Chasidic bloggers have penned responses to the Post headline. I think they have a right to be outraged. But I do think some of the outrage is misguided and counter productive. I know that we are in pain, but we still must be responsible and accurate.
First, the headline says “Who Didn’t Want Him Dead?”. The headline was written by an editor. It was not written by any of the journalists assigned the story. Threats have been made to a journalist. I heard this from someone who knows the journalist personally. Photoshopped images of the journalist captioned “Who Wouldn’t Want Him Dead” have been produced. If you are mad about the headline, please direct your anger to the appropriate party. Do not threaten
Second, please learn English. The headline does not imply that his death was justified in any way. Nor does it give license to kill all slumlords. Please. The headline means that there are a lot of potential suspects because of his many colorful business associates and dealings. No sense in generating anger because of a misreading of the headline.
Third, he wasn’t just a philanthropist. It’s appropriate to eulogize our loved ones and community members by remembering them fondly. Even (and I am not making a moral equivalency here) mob bosses are remembered fondly at their funerals. But we cannot confuse the glowing positive memories with the harsh realities of the real world. We’ve all done things that we wouldn’t want announced at our funeral. But just because they are not cried over at our funeral does not meant that they are not true.
Fourth, let’s try to be consistent. If we hate sensationalist journalism, let’s not do it ourselves. Let’s not support the Post. Let’s try to be balanced and measured in our writing. Combating hyperbole and shoddy journalism with histrionics and wild accusations helps no one.
Fifth, let’s shelve the anti-Semitism card on this one. There is nothing different or unique about this disgraceful Post headline than any others. It has nothing to do with him being a Jew. It has nothing to do with him being a Chasid. It has everything to do with the fact that this is a really interesting story. Crying anti-Semitism when there is none is the easiest way to helping create real anti-Semitism.
Sixth, enough with the Hashem Yinkom Damav please. If the first reaction to death and murder is to take revenge, I think we have to consider whether we have a serious character issue.
So let’s join together and tell the Post how disgusted we are with this story and headline. Let’s also tell them that we don’t like their other nasty headlines either. Let’s be honest and truthful about what we do and do not know. Let’s not cry anti-Semitism.
Most of all, let’s try to compensate for any chillul Hashem that is occurring by increasing our efforts to be mekadesh Hashem. Let’s remember that the first question we will be asked when we reach the Heavenly Court is whether we dealt honestly in business. Let’s make sure that we pass that test. Let’s see if we can generate the same kind of outrage that we have about this headline for things that actually affect our communities. Headlines are harmless. Abuse and corruption are crimes with real victims.
Finally, I can only assume that the Stark family is going to be enduring a very difficult emotional and financial period. I am sure that their community will take good care of them as they always do. Perhaps some solidarity from us outsiders to their community would be a fine gesture in this difficult time. If only as a token of unity, I think it would be an appropriate thing to do. Families of murder victims deserve our help and camaraderie. Let’s give it to them.