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New York - Ezra Merkin Quits Shul Position

Published on: May 21, 2009 10:21 PM
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New York - J. Ezra Merkin, the financier who entrusted sizable portions of his friends’ and investors’ money to what turned out to be Bernard L. Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, stepped down Wednesday night as an officer of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, a wealthy congregation founded 50 years ago by his father, and whose members included some of Mr. Merkin’s largest individual investment-losers.

Mr. Merkin disclosed his unexpected decision in a speech at the synagogue’s annual membership meeting, in which he declined the nomination to become chairman of the synagogue’s board of trustees. Ordinarily he would have assumed the chairmanship by custom, as the outgoing synagogue president.

“He said he had decided that he needed to focus on a number of events in his life, and that to best serve the community and his family, he would decline the nomination,” said Rabbi Yaakov Kermaier, the congregation’s chief rabbi. The approximately 100 members present, from a total membership of about 300 families, “warmly applauded” Mr. Merkin’s speech, the rabbi said.

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Leaving the meeting Wednesday night, one member who declined to give his name said “there was a lot of relief” about Mr. Merkin’s decision. He said that in the weeks preceding the annual meeting, the general expectation that Mr. Merkin would take the largely honorific post of chairman had made for “a stressful period” for many members of the synagogue. By some accounts, the congregation as a group lost more than $1 billion in the collapse of Mr. Madoff’s scheme.

Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of Jewish history at Brandeis University who is acquainted with several members of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, described the synagogue as “probably the wealthiest Orthodox congregation in the world.”

Among its well-known billionaire members, not all of whom invested with Mr. Madoff through Mr. Merkin, are Ronald O. Perelman, the financier and corporate raider; Ira Rennert, who made a fortune in junk bonds and the Hummer; and Mort Zuckerman, the real estate magnate who owns The New York Daily News.

Mr. Merkin acted as the intermediary to Mr. Madoff for another temple member, Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who lost much of his personal wealth and the endowment of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity as a result.

Mr. Merkin also lost large sums in Mr. Madoff’s scheme, and Mr. Sarna said there was a deep ambivalence toward him, “a feeling that he had done a lot of good for the temple over the years,” mixed with resentment over the Madoff disaster.

New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo has charged Mr. Merkin in a civil suit with misleading investors by taking $470 million in management fees while turning their money over to Mr. Madoff.

Rabbi Kermaier would not say if there were investors among the members who attended Wednesday night’s meeting. But he said that most “have not been interested in castigating or criticizing.”

He acknowledged that there were some who were angry.

As for his own remarks to the group, Rabbi Kermaier said, “I tried to convey the view that hopefully we will all be able to take a few steps back and see this through the lens of a long history of communal service” by Mr. Merkin and his family.


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1

 May 21, 2009 at 10:32 PM kermiaer Says:

who is a rabbi of fifth ave also may lose his job as his biggest protector was merkin and merkin was the one thta shoved him onto the shul after the esteemed sol roth retired

many members have been resentful since that time about this and kermier is probably looking for a new post

2

 May 22, 2009 at 05:47 AM CBS Says:


What took him so long to read the hand writing on the wall? The fact that he will be indicted?

3

 May 22, 2009 at 03:27 AM Anonymous Says:

Anyone here from Chaim Berlin circa (1967-1972)??.
I recall there was a student named Merkin. I am wondering if that's him, or a relative. Please share your info!

4

 May 22, 2009 at 12:57 AM Anonymous Says:

Mida kineged Mida. What goes around comes around.

5

 May 22, 2009 at 12:54 AM Fuzzkup Says:

It is a disgusting outrage that the 'rabbi(s) of this disgusting place did not throw merkin out on his a** when the story came to light. It is this stupid cover up and denial behavior of 'rabbis' and 'jews' like merkin, madoff, rubashkin, ou scandal, concert ban rabbis... the continued Anti - Semitism i n the world. It is no wonder that jews in riverdale and elsewhere are victims. You have brought this upon yourself - for the world to see! RIP OUT THE CANCER. Do what you can. Demand that 'rabbis' are thrown out of schools (instead of 'teens at risk').. can you say 'tendler' etc? It is not the Lipa concerts or the 'unkosher cell phones' which are the problem. It is these disgusting fools who masquerade as 'rabbis', prominent community members, and 'jews' who are the real problem.

6

 May 22, 2009 at 12:29 AM Anonymous Says:

Hatgonev min haganav patur

7

 May 22, 2009 at 07:38 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #5  
Fuzzkup Says:

It is a disgusting outrage that the 'rabbi(s) of this disgusting place did not throw merkin out on his a** when the story came to light. It is this stupid cover up and denial behavior of 'rabbis' and 'jews' like merkin, madoff, rubashkin, ou scandal, concert ban rabbis... the continued Anti - Semitism i n the world. It is no wonder that jews in riverdale and elsewhere are victims. You have brought this upon yourself - for the world to see! RIP OUT THE CANCER. Do what you can. Demand that 'rabbis' are thrown out of schools (instead of 'teens at risk').. can you say 'tendler' etc? It is not the Lipa concerts or the 'unkosher cell phones' which are the problem. It is these disgusting fools who masquerade as 'rabbis', prominent community members, and 'jews' who are the real problem.

why do you lump rubashkin with madoff, did he hurt anybody, all people working for rubashkin were paid well and were happy to be employed.

8

 May 22, 2009 at 07:38 AM Anonymous Says:

Aval tzarich leshalem

9

 May 22, 2009 at 08:27 AM avi Says:

Reply to #3  
Anonymous Says:

Anyone here from Chaim Berlin circa (1967-1972)??.
I recall there was a student named Merkin. I am wondering if that's him, or a relative. Please share your info!

he lives in Silver spring, MD

10

 May 22, 2009 at 08:04 AM MARK Says:

HOPEFULLY ALL PROTECTORS OF CRIMINALS MUST BE PUNISHED AS WELL

THAT IS WHY RABBI ZWEIBEL AND DAVID MANDEL MUST RESIGN AS WELL WE NEED MORE PROACTIVE LEADERSHIP AND FRESH NEW FACES AS OUR LEADERS

11

 May 22, 2009 at 08:29 AM the Money Says:

its peanuts.........he made almost 1/2 billion in fees off of people...he doesnt need anyone...

12

 May 22, 2009 at 08:28 AM rabbi kermier owed merkin his job Says:

thats why kermier would never speak up and will always defend merkin but he will go down with him as the shul since rabbi roth left has lost over 150 of the 250 mispalleloim due to kermier and his inability as rabbi

13

 May 22, 2009 at 09:15 AM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #12  
rabbi kermier owed merkin his job Says:

thats why kermier would never speak up and will always defend merkin but he will go down with him as the shul since rabbi roth left has lost over 150 of the 250 mispalleloim due to kermier and his inability as rabbi

Does the Fifth Avenue Synagogue owe its success to any individual more than location? There is new competition in the neighborhood. Baiting rabbis is an old game. Roth played everything safe. Is that the secret of success? Who brought Roth to Fifth Avenue from Atlantic Beach where many of the hoi polloi have/had homes?

Hong Kong looks pretty good right now.

14

 May 22, 2009 at 12:32 PM UESfrummy Says:

Reply to #1  
kermiaer Says:

who is a rabbi of fifth ave also may lose his job as his biggest protector was merkin and merkin was the one thta shoved him onto the shul after the esteemed sol roth retired

many members have been resentful since that time about this and kermier is probably looking for a new post

Enough already. A few Chronic complainer congregants are doing a great disservice to the community. Why not head over to another UES schul if they are so miserable. It is pathetic that a few non-stop kvetchers keep showing up week after week like clock-work in order to mumble nasty comments and cast sour-glances while others are davening.

15

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