Author's Note: A dead man's half-charred body turned up in a dumpster last week Friday afternoon in Nassau County, New York; a Jewish man, a religious Jewish man. As you may know, religious Jewish men are typically rushing home on Friday afternoon to make ready for Erev Shabbos, the eve of the Sabbath, special time with family and friends.
Of this man, I have no doubt he too would have been rushing home had he not been kidnapped and killed allegedly by two assailants who laid in wait for him to leave his office which, as a matter of fact, he did shortly before noon on Thursday.
Featured on the front page of last Sunday’s New York Post, dated January 5th, 2014, a photograph of a handsome thirty-nine year old Hasidic Jew. Across the top of the page the headline: Slumlord found burned in dumpster
Wearing a black silken bekishe, bearded face framed by tightly-curled peyos, each about four inches in length which seemed to drop down from under his striemel, this is the face of a man whom everyone wanted dead?
Alongside the photo, in as big and bold a font that available space would permit, a caption queries: WHO DIDN'T WANT HIM DEAD?
A rhetorical question? One to which the answer is as self-evident as the nose on your face. 'Could this man have been so hated?' Do you mean: 'There was nobody who didn't want to see him dead?' 'Is this the man for whom "everyone" had a death wish?'
Who Didn’t Want Him Dead?
I did not know this man and have no desire or interest in smearing his good name.
It wasn't long after hitting the newsstands and social media, most notably Facebook and Twitter, that the public first learned of what had befallen the victim, Mr. Menachem (Max) Stark, a man who, some say, is known for his nefarious business transactions; others are quick to point out his many generous acts of charity to the many needy members of his community.
After Wednesday of last week, Mr. Stark would never again return home to his wife and eight children.
So, what then was the caption's subliminal suggestion to its many readers? That he had it coming and got what he deserved. Is this what newspapers, even those described as "tabloids" and "rags" are supposed to do? Pass on subliminal judgement of a man's life to its readers?
What then is our difficulty? That he leaves behind a wife and eight children?
Well, yes but ...
Or is it the idea that Jews, religious Jews, men who arise early each day to speak with G-d, the Master of the Universe, the Ribone Shel Olam, that such men are among those who pray to the Creator of All in the morning but prey upon others the rest of the day?*
Was Menachem Stark such a man who failed to bring the kedusha (sanctity) of the shul (synagogue) into the streets and places of business?
I do not know.
But if he was, he wasn't much different from most of us, was he?
Finally, I'll note something that some may find trivial, but it irritates me that the three New York Post writers gratuitously used the Yiddish "tuchas" in describing Mr. Stark as a man "embroiled in several “shady” real-estate transactions and being up to his tuchus in debt." Such words have no place in the reportage of a man's death.
What befell Menachem Stark is still very much a new story. But an old lesson for many, perhaps most of us, his coreligionists.
Maybe, just maybe this time around more of us will learn an old lesson today for a new tomorrow.
*I thank my teacher for this invaluable distinction.