Menachem Youlus was arrested in Manhattan on Wednesday on charges of wire and mail fraud. If you've never heard of Youlus, consider yourself lucky, because fans of the man who called himself "the Jewish Indiana Jones" are in for some major disillusionment.
Apparently, the rabbi and bookstore owner made $1.2 million over the years by convincing people to fund expeditions to locate and restore Torahs taken from European Jewish communities during the Holocaust. To hear Youlus tell it, these missions, which he said ran on money donated to his Save a Torah Foundation, were characterized by both swashbuckling adventure and grave personal risk: He claimed he'd been beaten and jailed during his journeys, and that he was $175,000 in debt over his attempts to finance them himself. But, as Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara put it, "His alleged exploits were no more real than those of the movie character he claimed to resemble":
[Investigator Greg Ghiozzi ] said in court papers that he had found nothing to support Rabbi Youlus’s claim that he had rescued a Torah that had been at Auschwitz.
In April 2008, just before the rededication of a Torah in a ceremony at Central Synagogue in Manhattan on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Rabbi Youlus said he had dug it out of the ground after finding it with a metal detector. He also said a sexton in Poland had buried most of the scroll before the Germans got there and that Jewish prisoners in the concentration camp had given the rest — four panels, he said — to a Roman Catholic priest before they were put to death.
When historians questioned that story, Youlus said he could not remember the priest's full name and that it didn't matter anyway, since he'd died right after his visit. The scroll was subsequently sold to billionaire financier David Rubenstein for $32,000. And there's more:
Mr. Ghiozzi also said there was no evidence that Rabbi Youlus had discovered a Torah in 2002 that he claimed had been hidden beneath a barracks at the Bergen-Belsen camp. Mr. Ghiozzi said that a historian at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Museum had told him Rabbi Youlus’s account did not add up because the barracks were destroyed by the British Army weeks after the camp was liberated in 1945.
Benefactors who paid for a contact high will surely be more than a little disappointed to learn that Youlus seems to have mostly funneled the foundation's money to excitement-free venues, such as his kids' private school. He faces up to 40 years in prison, though he's now out on $100,000 bail. Seems like he might want to consider using this time to brush up on The Last Crusade.