Forward Thinking

Heaven Can Wait for $100K Jewish eBay Guy

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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Ari Mandel

Ari Mandel says heaven can wait, eBay can keep its rules — and one deep-pocketed online bidder can keep his or her $100,000.

The Jewish man who sparked a frenzied day of bidding by auctioning off a prime spot in heaven — a spiral that reached six figures before the online giant shut it down — insists the whole thing was a big joke.

“Disappointed? No. It was a joke that ran away from me, and sure, why not?” said Mandel, 31, of Teaneck, N.J. “When it reached $100,000 I didn’t really expect to get that money.”

“It was nice to fantasize,” he added. “But I didn’t think it was going to happen.”

Mandel said he had no idea his auction would turn into an internet sensation.

“I’m not a master prankster,” he said. “This idea just popped in my head and I jumped on it.”

Some in the ultra-Orthodox world apparently believed he was mocking their faith. But Mandel says his auction, which was peppered with references to Yiddish phrases and referred to common Jewish beliefs, was a good-natured joke.

“To those of you who took this seriously, chill out. It was just a joke,” he said. “Whether or not you’re a believer in this sort of thing, chill out.”

Mandel was raised in an ultra-Orthodox community in upstate New York but left the community about seven years ago. He is now a divorced father of one child and a student who works as a part-time translator.

He posted “My Portion in Olam Habaah (Heaven)” on eBay Tuesday morning asking for an opening bid of a modest 99 cents.

He explained that he was sure to secure a spot in the hereafter because of his good deeds carried out over the years. He even offered to return the successful bidder’s cash if he fell off the wagon.

Within a few hours, people were bidding several dollars. Then hundreds of dollars. Then, things really got crazy. In a frenzied hour late in the afternoon, the top bid skyrocketed to $99,900.

Around the same time, eBay started getting complaints from people offended by the auction. As Mandel understands it, ultra-Orthodox internet users posted the item on online bulletin boards, sparking anger in the community.

“There were countless people offended,” Mandel said. “People sent me screen shots of people having reported it.”

An eBay representative called Mandel to inform him that the auction violated a rule prohibiting putting “non-tangible” items up for bids. The site warned him not to try to repost the item, and pulled down the listing from its web site.

Within seconds, the $100,000 bid was gone and what looked like a six-figure bonanza turned into a internet mirage.

Mandel says he’s not upset about losing out on a big payday.

“I had fun while it lasted, you know? It was just a little gag,” he said. “Kept me busy for a day.”

As for the ultimate question, Mandel says he has no idea who might have bid $100,000 for his little slice of Jewish heaven.

“I have no clue,” he said. “I didn’t have time to go into eBay all day, I was too busy talking to people here and everywhere else on the internet.”


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