Menachem Youlus, the rabbi formerly known as the “Jewish Indiana Jones” because of his purported adventures in Europe rescuing Torahs lost in the Holocaust, will be serving 51 months in prison for defrauding more than 50 victims.
U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon of the Southern district of New York sentenced Youlus to serve more than four years in prison at an Oct. 11 sentencing hearing, followed by three years of probation. McMahon also ordered Youlus to pay nearly $1 million in restitution to his victims.
It is not clear whether Youlus has the funds to make the payments.
Robert Kushner of Mt. Lebanon purchased one of Youlus’ Torahs in 2001 for $14,000, and was one of three victims who testified against the rabbi at last week’s hearing.
“The reason I wanted to testify wasn’t about me,” Kushner said. “It was about what he had done to we Jews. Here is a sofer, a rabbi, who defrauded so many Jewish people. I wanted to make sure that justice was done.”
Kushner donated the Torah he purchased from Youlus to Beth El Congregation of the South Hills in memory of his father, who was born in Kamenets-Podolsky, Ukraine. Youlus had told Kushner that he found that Torah wrapped in a Gestapo body bag in a mass grave on a pig farm in Kamenets-Podolsky, a story which turned out to be false.
Youlus, 51, and a father of nine children, was “very contrite” at the sentencing hearing, according to Kushner, and told the court that he would “carry this shame” for the rest of his life.
“I felt the sentence was appropriate,” Kushner said. “I felt very little sympathy for him. He was a thief, a gonif in Yiddish. Something had to be done. My fear was that he would get a suspended sentence. But the judge was upset, and she wanted to throw the book at him. She said she felt [Youlus] had a loose screw.”
Lee Gutkind, a Pittsburgh writer who is working on a book chronicling Youlus’ story, also attended the sentencing.
“The hearing was sad and dramatic, and in many respects, overwhelming,” said Gutkind, who first met Youlus in 2007, before the rabbi was charged with fabricating his stories of Torah rescue.
“He is a brilliant storyteller,” Gutkind said. “He is so good in person. I cared for him a great deal. He is incredibly charismatic. He is so genuine and seemingly honest. And he’s very kind to people.”
In fact, the court had received many letters attesting to Youlus’ good character, and various good deeds he had performed throughout his life, making his foray into fraud even more curious.
“He’s a remarkable man,” Gutkind said. “It’s a shame what’s happened to him.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)