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Glenna Milberg: Why Bernie Madoff’s menorah is in my house

Glenna Milberg is the proud owner of a menorah that formerly belonged to the late Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff.
Glenna Milberg is the proud owner of a menorah that formerly belonged to the late Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff. (Glenna Milberg, WPLG)

Bernie Madoff is dead. And with that news hook, let me show you his menorah and share the story of why it’s now my menorah.

Almost a decade ago, in 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 staged auctions of his belongings. Proceeds were earmarked to help his victims — people, charities, foundations — recover some of the collective $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. In other words, we at Local 10 News did stories about the massive collection of stuff Madoff had amassed with the money he swindled from a lot of people, all about to be auctioned publicly.

As a bonus, the auction that weekend was right in my own neighborhood. So, 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, 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.

So up for auction came his menorah.

Unlike other Madoff 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 way-station for Cuban refugees, and a 2000 voting punchcard complete with chads.

Back to the menorah: 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 Chanukah, 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.

About the Author:

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."