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So Bernie Madoff is dead.
But let me show you his menorah, and tell you why it is now my menorah.
Almost a decade ago — June 2011 — a few years after federal agents arrested Madoff and he became just about the most notorious Ponzi schemer in history, the U.S. Marshals Service staged auctions of his belongings. The proceeds were earmarked to help his victims — people, charities, foundations — recover some of the $65 billion they lost to him. For many, that included their life savings.
I was dispatched to the Miami Beach Convention Center, for the media preview. We at WPLG Local 10 did news stories about the massive collection of stuff Madoff had amassed with the money he swindled from so many people, all about to be auctioned publicly.
The bonus? The auction that weekend was right in my own neighborhood. That Saturday, I showed up to watch, just for the experience of it.
There I was, in the cavernous hall with a few hundred people, listening to the auctioneer speed-selling the spoils of crime, heartache and betrayal.
Madoff’s furniture, paintings and sculptures, his shoe collection, monogrammed clothing, golf clubs, antiques, household supplies, an insane amount of stuff.
A dozen pairs of Madoff’s boxers sold for $200. I briefly considered finding the buyer and asking him why. But I did not.
Up for auction came Madoff’s menorah. Unlike his other items, the menorah is simple, unadorned, much less “schmaltzy,” as my mother would say. It was being auctioned along with some little white mugs.
I wanted that menorah for a few reasons. First, it’s a piece of news history, and I am that nerd.
In my house you’ll also find a painted concrete chunk of the old Fontainebleau Hotel’s giant south-wall mural, a ship in a tiny Tabasco bottle gift from someone I met at the then-Guantanamo waystation for Cuban refugees and a voting punchcard from 2000 — complete with chads.
So many of the people and organizations who lost so much to Madoff were from the Jewish communities he pretended to belong to. He played on that cultural bond and betrayed the sense of family.
For all of them, I took back the menorah. And the money I spent on it is now a tiny part of their recovery fund.
During Hanukkah, lighting the eight candles of the menorah celebrates an ancient miracle and signifies hope.
Hope, history, irony, news, and a good story to tell — all in a little silver candelabra.
Glenna Milberg is a reporter for WPLG Local 10 News. She related this story on Facebook and on WPLG.