Who Was Menachem Stark — and Why Was He Murdered?

Contradictions Swirl Around Slain Hasidic Real Estate Man

vos iz neias

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published January 09, 2014, issue of January 17, 2014.
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Stark appears to have personified a contradiction familiar both inside and outside ultra-Orthodox circles: a pious philanthropist whose business dealings didn’t always live up to avowed communal standards.

“I knew him as a big businessman,” said one member of the Satmar community in Williamsburg, who asked not to be identified. The Satmar community member said that he had not been aware of the conditions in some of Stark’s buildings, but that others had explained them to him in recent days as a normal part of the real estate business.

“What I found out was that it’s not that he neglected his buildings,” he said. “A lot of his investment that he did was buying rundown stuff. This was the nature of his business.”

Stark was raised in Williamsburg, and his father was a teacher in the Satmar schools. One brother, Yaakov Stark, is a prominent cantor.

Stark managed to avoid becoming embroiled in the bitter factional quarrel that has divided the Satmar community in Williamsburg since 2006, when both Zalman Teitelbaum and Aron Teitelbaum claimed leadership of the sect following the death of their father, Satmar leader Moses Teitelbaum. Stark was not closely aligned with either side, according to people in the Satmar community. He prayed regularly at the Lodine Shul, a small, unaffiliated congregation in Williamsburg. He also prayed at the synagogue of the Krule rebbe, leader of another small group.

That lack of partisanship means that representatives for both Satmar sects have stepped forward to defend Stark. Niederman, affiliated with followers of Zalman Teitelbaum, has been vocal, as has Moshe Indig, a spokesman for the followers of Aron Teitelbaum. (Indig appeared on the Village Voice’s annual 10 Worst Landlords list in 2010.)

Niederman said that he grew up in the same building as Stark’s father. At the shiva, Stark’s father told Niederman they had been surprised by stories of Stark’s generosity. Stark was to be the honoree at a January gala dinner for an Orthodox infertility charity called Bonei Olam.

Though Stark’s relatives spoke widely to the press in the first days after the murder, by January 7 they were fed up. Zalman Kaufman, Stark’s brother-in-law, declined to speak when contacted by the Forward, saying that the media was out to harm the family. Abraham Buxbaum, another brother-in-law, wrote an opinion piece for the Forward on January 5, condemning the New York Post’s coverage of the murder; he did not answer his phone January 7.

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