I was pained to read Jay Michaelson’s article about murdered Hasidic businessman Menachem Stark. With its ‘Us-vs.-Them’ mentality, simplistic black-and-white view of human character, and broad stereotypes, it was an ugly and shameful slur. It was almost down-right Haredi.
I don’t claim to possess any more information about Stark than Michaelson does. Just like him I can only weigh the testimony of his community, the reports of his business practices and the words of his detractors (posted as comments on Yelp, mind you) and supporters (overlooked by Michaelson, but reported elsewhere).
It’s been reported that some of the financial struggles that Stark faced were common for people in the real-estate market. I’ll leave it to investigative reporters and inquisitive minds to bring some clarity to these points.
Most likely, something was afoot with Stark in his business dealings at the time he died. His business decisions and allegations of how he treated his tenants are not to be taken lightly. Such deeds are simply unacceptable. But when such a person that has made such ethicial compromises is murdered, it does not take away from the human tragedy.
All signs of the totality of Stark’s life point to a conflicted man. He was a human being, just like me or Jay Michaelson, prone to the same potential for failings and struggles for personal and communal redemption as the rest of us.
Some people transcend these challenges, others fall prey to them. That doesn’t excuse any wrongdoings he may have done. But it also doesn’t justify his murder, permit his posthumous smearing in the court of public opinion or deny those who knew and loved him the right to mourn him.
This kind of balance seems entirely lost on Michaelson. It feels as if Michaelson’s words about Stark are driven by some animus, that the murder of a man in Hasidic clothing has given him the ideal pulpit to air every single long-held grudge with the Williamsburg Hasidic community.