There were many items being auctioned off recently at the Radisson Martinique Hotel in Koreatown: Lot 114, "A Large and Important Brass Chanukkah Lamp" from 18th century Italy (estimated selling price: $16,000 to $24,000); Lot 148, a silver Megillah case, "probably India," circa 1840 ($12,000 to $18,000); Lot 86, a painted wood ad for Dubek cigarettes from Palestine, circa 1930 ($2,000 to $3,500).
But everyone there — and there were a lot, roughly 80 bidders filled the second-floor room, with more calling in — was eyeing one of three lots: Rhea Schindler, the wife of Rabbi Alexander Schindler, who headed of the Reform movement until 1996, was selling a pair of retirement gifts to her late husband, who died in 2000; Lot 121, an
18th-century silver Torah pointer from Amsterdam; and Lot 122, a metal Torah crown from the 1980s. Schindler lost a lot of money investing with Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff, so the combined estimated selling price of about $25,000 was no small sum.
The other big-ticket item at the June 8 auction was Lot 195. That was Sammy Davis Jr.’s menorah, given to him in 1965 by a Jewish women’s charity when he converted to Judaism after a near-fatal car accident in which he lost an eye. The menorah, a Chanukah lamp with eight stems, has modern squared arms, two red rubies at the base, and an inscription that includes the phrase "whose achievements, won by courage and integrity, say to every man, ‘YES WE CAN." It was made in 1965, and was going for $12,000.
Jonathan Greenstein, whose J. Greenstein & Co. ran the auction, had been promoting the event for several weeks, with The Post, The Times, The Journal, CNN, and many other major outlets covering the event. Greenstein had spoken with The Jewish Week weeks ago, over the phone, and said that at the auction he could be recognized as the "Carlebach hippie-looking Jew." And by his hair: "I look like a girl from behind," he added. His hair is black and hangs to his shoulders, covered in a black knit yarmulke.
During the auction, Greenstein sat at a long table next to the podium. The man standing behind it rattled off the items: "Lot 59, a very large Megillah in a olive wood case, Jerusalem, 20th century..." When he got to Lots 121 and 122 — Schindler’s gifts — he started with the Torah pointer, the more prized lot. He began at $9,000, but within seconds, the offers passed well beyond the highball estimate of $18,000 until eventually selling for "$23,000. Lot 122 sold for $1,000 more than its expected price of $8,000.
Greenstein was happy after the event, saying that in the current economy any kind of activity was good. But behind him, Sammy Davis Jr.’s menorah sat on a gauze blanket. It did not sell, and would be returned to its owner, an electrical contractor in Long Island City. "Sammy," Greenstein said, "would be rolling in his grave."