Yesterday's New York Post cover, about the horrific kidnapping and murder of real estate developer Menachem "Max" Stark, included the headline: "Who didn't want him dead?" The article in the Post quoted police sources that said that Stark, who the paper called a 'slumlord,' had a list of enemies and was in debt. They included a quote from a law-enforcement source that "any number of people wanted to kill this guy."
Senator Felder demanded that the Post apologize. "I condemn in the strongest possible terms the incredibly insensitive and crass cover of today's New York Post which mocks the kidnapping and brutal murder of Menachem Stark. The Post must issue an immediate apology to the Stark Family and to all New Yorkers for its egregious behavior and failure to exercise any judgment whatsoever in this matter."
City Councilman Stephen Levin also criticized the cover: "The New York Post's unbelievably offensive headline this morning comes the day after Mr. Stark's family and children, as well as an entire community, laid him to rest and are still mourning his death. For the New York Post to suggest that a person deserved to be murdered is sickening and reaches a new low. The entire community is outraged by such a vulgar headline that is so offensive and horrific. The New York Post should pull their story and issue an apology to the family and community that are still in mourning."
The Post refused to apologize, insisting that the headline didn't directly state that Stark deserved to die. Meanwhile, Rabbi David Neiderman, executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg, called Stark a "charitable man" who gave charity constantly to countless organizations and needy individuals. Rabbi Neiderman said, "We are saddened and dumbfounded how people can commit such heinous crimes against anyone, but especially against such a generous person who wouldn't hurt a fly. Every resource must be expended to apprehend the criminals responsible and we call on anyone with information about this crime to come forward."
Menachem Stark, a 39-year old father of seven, will be deeply missed by his wife, children and his entire community. He left his home on Thursday and never returned. Can anyone even begin to imagine the anguish of his family as they prayed and hoped for his safety? His brother-in-law wrote a letter to the New York Post describing the kind of brother and friend that Menachem really was, but I doubt that they will read it. He was an involved father who spent hours each week with each of his kids. He gave generously to anyone who approached him, and he always had a smile for everyone who crossed his path. The haunting, nightmarish murder felt like it was repeated again when the New York Post published its headline "Who didn't want him dead?" on the day of his funeral. His brother-in-law wrote: “We miss him and love him and our hearts ache.”
Despite all of the media allegations and hints, Menachem Stark has never been arrested or charged with any crime. While he had business challenges in the last few years, the implication that it is acceptable for disgruntled tenants to murder a landlord is horrifying. Menachem Stark's brother-in-law concluded by stating: "This story encouraged anti-Semitism and violence and hurt us tremendously. At times like these, we continue to put our full faith in the Almighty and trust that Menachem's soul is at peace."
This New York Post headline and the subsequent callous rationalizing of its intent shows a frightening lack of value for human life. A cover story that not only sensationalizes but justifies a kidnapping and a murder because some tenants were not happy with their landlord? What kind of society are we living in where life is worth so little?
This week there are seven orphans who will never see their father come home again. There is a grieving widow who waited and prayed for two nights straight for her husband to walk once more through their front door. Where are the hearts of the editors of the New York Post? Where is their basic sense of human compassion and decency?
Those of us who cherish life and feel for his traumatized family must not be silent. Because once life itself is portrayed as valueless and murder is cruelly justified, we are all heading down a frightening, slippery slope. We can't afford to look the other way.