Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Murder of Jewish college students leaves their communities stunned

Carol Kestenbaum, left, and Nicole Schiffman

Murder of Jewish college students
leaves their communities stunned

By Jacob Berkman

February 21, 2007

NEW YORK (JTA) – Communities in New York, Arizona and Maryland are reeling after two Jewish college sophomores were gunned down at Arizona State University.

Carol Kestenbaum and Nicole Schiffman, both from Long Island, had been best friends since high school and were out celebrating Kestenbaum’s 20th birthday at ASU, where the Bellmore resident was an education major. Schiffman, of Merrick, had flown to Tempe from Maryland, where she was a journalism student at the University of Maryland.

According to reports, the two women returned to Kestenbaum’s apartment at an off-campus complex just after 4 a.m. on Feb. 18. Joshua Mendel, 22, had been waiting for them in the parking lot for hours with two loaded weapons. He was upset that Kestenbaum had warned his girlfriend, Alexandra Wake, 19, to stop seeing him.

According to police, Mendel fired on the two women without warning, shooting Kestenbaum in the head and Schiffman in the back as she tried to run. Mendel walked away from the bodies, then shot himself.

Police said Mendel was a student at nearby Collins College, a graphic design school. It’s not known if he was Jewish.

The three bodies were found in a line, with Mendel about 15 feet away from the women.

Kestenbaum and Mendel were pronounced dead at the scene. Schiffman died about an hour after the shooting at a nearby hospital.

“I have never seen such pain in anyone’s face as I’m seeing in the mom,” Schiffman’s aunt, Carolyn Cohen, told JTA in a telephone interview Tuesday from the Schiffman home in Merrick. “As much as all of us are in pain, the pain of a mom losing her daughter you just never want to experience.”

Schiffman attended several Chabad events with her sorority, Phi Sigma Sigma. Kestenbaum’s mother is the president of the Reform Sha’arei Shalom Temple in Merrick.

Neither woman was particularly involved in the Chabad houses at their schools, but the Chabad network was instrumental in ensuring that their post-mortem Jewish needs were met, according to Cohen.

The families called Rabbi Shmuel Teichtel, executive director of the Chabad Jewish Student Center at ASU, shortly after they learned of their daughters’ deaths Sunday afternoon.

Teichtel went to the Tempe medical examiner’s office to make sure that in accordance with Jewish law, no autopsy was performed.

“There is a concept called kavod ha’met that the body came into this world whole and that it should return to the earth whole,” he told JTA. “Once you do an autopsy, you can’t do that.”

Teichtel then accompanied the bodies to the Sinai mortuary in Phoenix, where he, his assistant rabbi and an ASU student sat with the bodies and recited Psalms over them in accordance with the Jewish belief that a body should not be left alone until it is buried.

Chabad and the Hillel houses at ASU and the University of Maryland are working with the administrations of both campuses to provide grief counseling for friends of the women.

Teichtel accompanied the bodies to the airport, and they were flown to New York on Monday. The women will be buried side-by-side Wednesday.

Kestenbaum knew the assailant only peripherally. Recently, however, Kestenbaum had told her mother, Rita, that she had warned Wake, her friend and former roommate, about Mendel, according to longtime family friend Lori Fontana.

“It was just one young woman telling a friend, ‘He’s no good. He’s a creep. What are you doing with him? He is too possessive,’ ” Fontana told JTA in a phone interview from the Kestenbaum home.
But that’s the type of person Kestenbaum was, “just a lovely, lovely person inside and out, who adored all of her friends,” said Fontana, who has known Kestenbaum’s parents, Rita and Ronald, and her two brothers for 20 years. “There is a hole in this family now.”

The Kestenbaums will start a charitable foundation in Carol’s honor.

Schiffman was the youngest of three children of Ron and Cheryl, a lawyer and dental hygienist, respectively. She was remembered by her sisters in Phi Sigma Sigma as a good friend with a wonderful sense of humor and a beautiful smile.

“Only Nicole would fly thousands of miles across the country to be there with one of her best friends to celebrate a birthday,” Rebecca Stern said in a release from the sorority.

Cohen said the gap in the close-knit family will be immeasurable.

She recalled Nicole as one of the younger cousins who would stage plays and play tricks on her grandma Esther when the family came together for Jewish holidays, and as one of her favorite campers at Camp Lokanda, a Jewish camp in upstate New York where Cohen is a head counselor.
“At her bat mitzvah she sang beautifully,” Cohen said. “She was magnificent at her prom, and she was a beautiful writer. She was so beautiful.”

At the funeral, Schiffman’s family will read a poem she wrote titled “War.”

“It’s about life and the senseless loss of life,” Cohen said, choking up over the phone. “We are going to miss her. We are just going to miss our kid. She was our baby.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rabbi Kramer also set up a memorial page on his Chabad Center’s Web site ( where friends of the two women can post notes.

“Please dedicate to do a good deed in their memory,” the Web page states. “The good deed you will commit to do in their memory will be forwarded to the families of Carol and Nicole.”

People who wrote in early this week to the Web page indicated they would give charity and study Jewish texts and recite Psalms in the women’s memory. One person said she would donate a summer camp scholarship in their memory.

Fontana said the two families plan to establish a foundation in the women’s name that will raise money for yet-undetermined charities.

Members of Phi Sigma Sigma, Schiffman’s sorority at College Park, are to hold a memorial vigil this week.

This week the two families’ tragedy became a public news item, because of the brutality of the murders. A front-page picture in Tuesday’s Daily News, headlined “Last Smile,” showed the pair of friends beaming shortly before they were killed.

Tempe police said Mendel, a graphic arts student from the Chicago area, stalked Kestenbaum and Schiffman to the gated, off-campus apartment complex where Kestenbaum lived when they returned from a Saturday night performance on the ASU campus of the musical “Rent.”

The families, close friends, decided to bury their daughters side by side, Fontana said, “because they shouldn’t be alone.

“They died together,” she said. “Who wants to think of their 20-year-old alone?”

February 22, 2007 8:53 AM  
Anonymous Elder Abuse Case said...

Police in New Jersey arrested a man suspected of attacking author and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel in San Francisco on Feb. 1.

The man, identified as Eric Hunt, 22, was in a psychiatric clinic in Belle Meade, N.J., at the time, and was arrested based on a claim on a Holocaust denial Web site attributed to him that he accosted the Nobel laureate, the Associated Press reported. The Web post claimed Hunt’s intention was to force Wiesel to say in a taped statement that his acclaimed account of his experience in Nazi death camps, detailed in his memoir “Night,” was false.

Wiesel was attacked in an elevator at San Francisco’s Argent Hotel following a peace rally by a man who asked for an interview. The attacker ran off when the 78-year-old Wiesel screamed for help. Hunt was denied bail Tuesday by Judge Robert Reed in Summerset, and faces charges in California including attempted kidnapping, false imprisonment, elder abuse, stalking, battery and the commission of a hate crime

February 22, 2007 3:06 PM  

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