Ezra Merkin, the man who enabled Bernard Madoff gets a big aliyah at his Orthodox Manhattan synagogue.
INSULT TO INJURY AT 'BERN'ED SHUL
FUROR AS TOP BOARD SEAT SET FOR MADOFF MAN
ANGELA MONTEFINISE and BRANDON GUARNERI, NY Post
That's what some members of the tony Fifth Avenue Synagogue are saying about embattled financier J. Ezra Merkin, who's about to ascend to chairman of the temple board despite luring fellow worshippers into the clutches of Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff.
The moneyed synagogue, where Revlon CEO Ron Perelman and writer Elie Wiesel worship, was dubbed "The Temple of Doom" last December after insiders estimated members lost $2 billion in the swindle.
"He's tearing the synagogue apart," seethed one member leaving services at the Upper East Side temple yesterday. "People cannot stand to look at him standing at the bimah. When he stands and holds the Torah, people want to throw up."
Members will vote on a board-approved slate of officers Wednesday, and although many object to Merkin leading the prestigious institution, "no one wants to be the one to stand up in public and say do the right thing and step aside," the member said.
"If people were able to vote anonymously, only a handful of people would support him," she added. "Everybody else wants him out."
Merkin, a hedge funder and son of the synagogue founder Hermann Merkin, funneled $2.4 billion of his clients' money to Madoff, authorities have alleged.
In April, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo slapped Merkin with civil fraud charges, alleging he grabbed $470 million in fees and performance bonuses by tricking clients into thinking he was investing their cash responsibly.
Merkin faces a slew of lawsuits from NYU and Yeshiva University, which entrusted huge sums with him, only to see it disappear into Madoff's hands.
All along, Merkin has proclaimed his innocence, saying he and his three hedge funds -- Ascot, Gabriel Capital Corp. and Ariel Fund -- were victims of the scheme themselves.
Although the synagogue coffers weren't drained, several prominent members admitted to personally getting soaked, including current Chairman Ira Rennert, who said he lost $200 million.
That's why some members are outraged that Merkin is being rewarded rather than rebuked.
"I don't like it one bit," said a longtime member. "I think people are definitely raising their eyebrows. As long as the appearance of impropriety is there, and it is, I think plenty of people are very uncomfortable."
Although presidents traditionally become chairs when their terms end, it's puzzling that Merkin is accepting the prestigious role considering he stepped down in shame as chairman of GMAC and as a trustee at Yeshiva University.
"I don't even understand why he wants to be chairman," one member said. "You'd think he'd want to duck out of the spotlight."
Another member said she doesn't think Merkin "knows the difference between right and wrong."
Synagogue Vice President Jacques Blinbaum, who said he is "close friends" with Merkin, called the appointment "synagogue business."
"The only thing I am going to say is that the Merkins and the Blinbaums go back four generations and two continents," he said. "The family is the most incredible, warm family you'll ever want to meet."