Friday, May 8, 2009

Sermon on Remembering the Difficult Journeys

Sermon on Remembering the Difficult Journeys
May 8, 2009
Rabbi David Kaufman

This week’s Torah portion, Emor, continues the explanation of what it means to be Holy. Specifically, it concentrates on the priests maintaining a status of purity. Emor also contains the liturgical calendar including all of the festivals. Missing on that calendar are two events marked in the Jewish world recently, Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Heroes and Martyrs Remembrance Day, and Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. I thought of talking about those modern Jewish holidays tonight.

I also considered talking about the hate-filled protest against the Jews and Gay and Lesbian community of Des Moines this week by a handful of crazy people from Westboro Baptist Church and about the fact that their pitiful protest paled in comparison to the opposition against it. Had we wished to allow them a modicum of attention, we could have arrayed hundreds of people standing on our side of the street, shouting in our support.

I thought about talking about the AIPAC Policy Conference and about the relationship between Israel and the United States today and the threats and challenges that Israel faces. I’ll leave that for some other time as well.

I actually began the day with the idea that I would discuss the dramatic changes that the financial crisis has brought to the Union for Reform Judaism and the threats that it poses to my beloved Hebrew Union College. I have spent no little time in the past couple of weeks working with other rabbis, lay leaders, and faculty members in the defense of the Cincinnati campus which was threatened with closure, but another thought came to mind.

I even thought of doing a sermon on the now widely circulating joke:

“They said that a black man would become President of the United States only when pigs fly and now, 100 days into his administration: Swine Flu!”

I thought to myself about all of the major changes that are going on in the world, all of the major issues, all of the sands that seem to be shifting beneath our feet. Then I decided to tell another story.

Dafer’s family’s story is like many in places where Jews were tolerated in the best of times and threatened during the worst. His mother’s family lived in Baghdad until the great Exodus of Jews from the Arab world to Israel from 1948 to 1952.

Once the nation of Israel was created, Jews living in Arab lands suffered tremendous persecution. The Iraqi government forced most of the Jewish population to leave the country. The majority fled to Israel but others went to any nation that would accept them.

Dafer was an exception. His mother had married an Iraqi Muslim and the government did not force them to leave. When the rest of the family was forced to flee with no notice, his mother and father were not, and did not find out that the family had gone to Israel until it was too late to keep in contact.

Why did they lose touch? Because anyone trying to reach out to someone in Israel from Iraq after that time would have been seen as a spy or traitor and been executed. They could possibly have contacted their relatives in other nations such as in Britain, but Dafer’s family didn’t have relatives or friends who could serve as bridge contacts with them to Israel.

Ammar, Dafer’s niece, relates in a letter that Dafer carries with him, that after the death of Dafer’s father in 1967, Farha, his mother, tried to reconnect the family with Judaism. The Baath party started to monitor them, no doubt wondering whether or not they were Israeli agents, and in order to protect her family, Farha had them once again stay away from the Jewish community.

After a long hiatus from Judaism, Ammar and Dafer’s family was emboldened after the 2003, US invasion to once again pursue rejoining the Jewish community. The guard at the Temple there told them that once there is a new government, they would reopen the Temple. Then new problems faced Dafer and Ammar’s family. The Mahdi Militia and Bader Militia, both Iranian backed organizations, found out that their family was Jewish and persecuted them, forcing them from their homes.

They ended up in Syria, where they sought out the Jewish community in El Hara El Yahodia, but the government of Syria had ordered the synagogue closed. Finding out that they were Jewish, the Syrian Intelligence Services then hounded them. Some Jewish people in Syria who heard of their plight then suggested that they escape to Jordan. The Jordanians refused to accept them because of Jordan’s own security problems with the Iraqis, so the family was sent back to Baghdad.

Back in Baghdad, the family was attacked by the militias that threatened them before. Two members of the family were killed and two others kidnapped and held for ransom.

At that point the family decided to appeal to go to Israel. They were eventually able to get to Turkey and Dafer made it to Des Moines, how and why I still do not know, where a Bus Trainer, someone who trains refugees in how to use the local buses to get around, brought him to Temple B’nai Jeshurun on a Friday afternoon.

When I arrived at Temple this afternoon, we had three guests. Two were from Lutheran Refugee Services and a third was an Iraqi Jewish immigrant who spoke almost no English, but knew enough to have his helper bring him here.

“We need someone who speaks Arabic!” Kathy, a volunteer at the Temple, told me as she spoke with the volunteers. “Arabic?” I thought. “Arabic?”

I thought of two people to call: my Sudanese friend, Francis, who works with Arabic speaking refugees, and Nashi K., who is a member of Tifereth. I called them both. No answer. Mark Finkelstein of JCRC helped me tracked down Nashi while I spoke with the aid worker.

While we were talking, Dafer, handed me the letter written by his niece Ammar, that told the story of their plight.

Then Nashi arrived.

I cannot begin to tell you just how strange a place Des Moines is. Nashi, as far as I know the only Arabic speaking Jew in Iowa, happens to also be a Baghdadi Jew and has relatives who may know Dafer’s relatives in Israel. He promised to speak to them about Dafer’s family. Nashi was able to talk to Dafer and to relate to him in ways that no refugee aid worker could. Dafer now had a Jewish friend and an Iraqi Jewish friend at that! Talk about Mazel!

Three weeks ago, we were visited by Shlomo Molla, a Member of the Knesset of Israel who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia. He talked of literally walking hundreds of miles to be able to be flown to Israel, to freedom. Two weeks ago, we heard from Marion Blumenthal Lazan about her journey during the Holocaust, eventually coming to this country. Hopefully, all of us have heard the story of our own Peter Pintus.

I was struck as I thought about all of these stories, just HOW easy, HOW good, HOW blessed my life has been and continues to be.

I live in a place where when hateful people come to protest against me because I am a Jew, more people come to my defense and virtually everyone considers the hateful people to be ignorant idiots. I live in a place that is not threatened by war or sectarian violence. I live in a place where a wandering Jew from a foreign land is brought to synagogue by helpful Christians wanting to aid him in his practice of Judaism! I live in a place and in a time when I truly need to seek out stories of those Jews who were not and are not so fortunate.

I truly need to remember. We need to remember.

It was not long ago that Jews faced tremendous discrimination in this country.

It was not more that two generations ago that Jews marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and sat with members of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee at lunch counters where they were refused service and forcibly removed.

It was not long ago that virtually every country club not founded by Jews denied their admittance as members.

It was not long ago when indeed people would have thought that pigs would fly before America would elect a President from a racial minority.

It was not terribly long ago that in every Jewish gathering could be heard the accents of Eastern Europe. It was not long ago. But today, my friends, it is too easy to forget.

The stories of the journeys from oppression to freedom become almost mythical, something that happened THEN to THEM, not NOW and not to US.

This afternoon, I was reminded of just how special it is to live in this nation of freedom and security.

At the AIPAC Conference, I had the opportunity to hear from Clarence Jones, who was Martin Luther King’s attorney and a close friend. Clarence Jones related Dr. King’s story of his visit to a Conference with Conservative Rabbis in honor of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s birthday. Dr. King said that as he and Rabbi Heschel entered the room, the convention, 1,000 rabbis began chanting, “We shall overcome” in Hebrew.

The words are:

Anu nitgabeir, anu nitgabeir, anu nitgabeir bevo hayom.
Ani ma'amin be'emunah shleimah, nitgabeir bevo hayom.

The last verse combining the principles of Maimonides with the anthem of the Civil Rights movement.

“I believe with perfect faith that we shall overcome someday.”

I thought that it would be appropriate to conclude with those words.


Anu nitgabeir, anu nitgabeir, anu nitgabeir bevo hayom!
Ani ma'amin be'emunah shleimah, nitgabeir bevo hayom!

We shall overcome, but we still have a lot of work to do.

Shabbat Shalom


Friday, April 3, 2009

On Marriage Equality in Iowa

[As of November 2011 just shy of two years after this article originally appeared in April 2009, I have now performed multiple same sex unions here in Iowa for male and female couples from around the nation. May I continue to have the ability to do so for a long time to come!]

Shalom All,

I would like to comment on the arguments made in opposition to same-sex marriages in Iowa and in so doing will explain my views. As you likely know, I am an advocate for marriage equality and more specifically for the government to get out of the marriage business altogether. The only role for the government should be in creating civil unions or civil partnerships in which people who live together and/or share expenses and property in a significant way are allowed to pay taxes together, share benefits, and dispose of jointly owned property. The government has no business enforcing religious views.

“The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” is NOT a legal argument. Some of us, who know the first part, disagree with the latter two parts of that statement.

The arguments presented by Polk County lawyers as the rationales for banning same-sex marriages follow.

They argued that a ban was needed:

1. To maintain traditional marriage,
2. To promote the optimal environment for raising children,
3. To promote procreation,
4. To promote stability in opposite-sex relationships and
5. To conserve state resources such as tax breaks.

Let me go through them one by one.

"To maintain traditional marriage" is a religiously based argument. Maintaining religious traditions is not at all the role of the government. Maintaining the religious traditions of some, even if the large majority, of religious traditions is even less so its role.

"To promote the optimal environment for raising children" is questionable. With exceedingly high divorce rates and more than a few children living in "traditional" homes being abused, one can hardly make a blanket statement that children are always better off in the home created through a heterosexual marriage. One can argue whether or not the statement that a random heterosexual marriage is the "optimal environment" at all. The optimal environment in which to raise children is one in which there is a stable loving relationship between parents and their children.

"To promote procreation" is no longer true. It certainly was at one point in time. Lesbian couples often have children through artificial insemination and same sex couples of both sexes can adopt children. Additionally, many bisexuals bring children from heterosexual relationships into same sex households after a divorce. What our society sorely lacks is not the production of children, but good homes with loving and capable parents in which they might be raised.

"To promote stability in opposite-sex relationships." I do not even understand what this means. Is the argument that the existence of same sex marriages somehow threatens heterosexual relationships? Why? Because one partner is really a homosexual and might prefer to be in a same sex relationship? This is an exceedingly weak argument.

"To conserve state resources such as tax breaks" makes a lot of sense to me. This is exactly the argument that the state should make. The problem is that it should not be offering tax breaks for reasons based in religion. The legitimate reason that there is a marriage tax break is that couples share expenses and property. This is equally true of same sex couples. The real fear is that same sex couples who are platonic will be able to file for these tax breaks. Regardless of the extent of this occurrence, however, this is something easily dealt with by the legislature as it sets taxation rates.

With our society changing and especially with people living much longer lives, one can easily envision friends of the same sex living together and looking after one another long after their spouses have died, perhaps longer than a decade or even two decades. Why should they not be able to receive a tax break? We should have civil unions based upon arrangements of shared expenses and property as opposed to having the government only recognize familial based relationships to begin with.

Nothing at all says that religious institutions that oppose same sex marriage will now be forced to practice it. Nothing says that religious institutions in Iowa must stop preaching what they believe about the necessity of heterosexual marriage. Today’s court ruling did not change any of those rights. Religious education is not the obligation of the government, much less enforcement of it. Those responsibilities rest with parents and religious institutions. Let us not pretend that we can pass off our responsibilities as parents to the government.

As a Reform Jew, I believe that God created all of us the way that we are and that homosexuality is not a choice, but a biological reality. It is gratifying to me to know that our state will allow those who, in loving relationships, have chosen to devote themselves to one another exclusively in a manner binding them not only emotionally and spiritually, but legally as well.

In a society in which the fabric of family life is eroding, with ever increasing divorce rates, Iowa has now taken a step toward strengthening the family unit.

For those interested, I both support Civil Marriage and have performed a same sex commitment ceremony. My requirements for so doing are EXACTLY the same as for a non-homosexual couple. Someone has to be Jewish and the couple must either be prepared to raise the children that they may have as Jews or have discussed it and not decided.

I do not act as "Justice of the Peace" in a secular capacity. When I do weddings of any kind, I represent the Reform Jewish tradition in general and my beliefs as a Reform Jewish Rabbi in particular. I am there as a Rabbi, not as Justice of the Peace.


Friday, March 20, 2009

A Dvar Torah on the Amidah

From a Traditional perspective, when we recite the Amidah prayer, we remind God of the merits of our ancestors and the blessings that they earned for us. This is the essence of Avot v’Imohot prayer. We do not pretend that we have earned God’s blessings ourselves, but that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel earned them for us. We present ourselves humbly before God and hope that by mentioning them God will apply the blessings that our ancestors earned to us.

Then having reminded God of those blessings that they earned, we remind God of the form that those blessings may take. God grants life, including prominently in the Traditional blessing, eternal life in the form of resurrection at the time of the coming of the messiah. God lifts the fallen, heals the sick, and feeds the hungry. In essence, we hope that our prayers will remind God to do those things.

My professor at Hebrew Union College, Rabbi Moshe Ziberstein called this audacious covenant theology. It is as if we said, “God, remember our ancestors whose descendants you promised to bless and agreed to do so through covenants? Here we are! Bless us!”

As I have taught many times in the past, as modern Jews we believe that when we talk about God lifting the fallen or feeding the hungry, when we talk about these things, it is we who do them. God acts through us.

Looking at the Amidah from this perspective, when we recite Avot v’Imahot, while we may be remembering our distant ancestors, the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of our people, we also remember the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of our families. We should remind ourselves about all that we owe to those who came before us, those who suffered through times of trial and tribulation, those who ventured forth from places known to unknown, who came upon these shores often with little more than what they could carry, so that their descendants, us, could live in freedom and prosperity.

While Traditionally, we remind God of the blessings that they earned for us. In essence, we remind ourselves of the responsibility we have to their memory and the responsibility that we have to others. Because of them, because of those who came before us, the fallen have been lifted, the captives freed. Our people, suffering persecution and subjugation were often impoverished. They lifted themselves up, fought against grave odds, and granted us the blessing of living in this country, in freedom.

While Traditionally, we pray that God owes US for the merits of our ancestors, in essence we pray that we may have the strength do what we owe THEM, to work for the betterment of others, to improve the lives of those who come after us.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Sermon for Jewish Disabilities Month 2009

Sermon for Jewish Disability Awareness Month
Rabbi David Kaufman
February 20, 2009

Tamara Green entered the world of chronic illness and disability, unexpectedly, one morning over 40 years ago. "I woke up feeling like I'd been pushed down a flight of stairs," she says. "Every part of me was charley-horsed. I was nauseous."

Years of misdiagnoses of her severe disease of the connective tissue were followed by decades of treatment (drugs, crutches, feeding tubes, physical therapy). Now a professor of classics at Hunter College, she is a founder of the Jewish Healing Institute.

Tamara Green wrote a little over a decade ago that:

For nearly thirty years I have lived with a debilitating chronic illness, sometimes with detachment, sometimes with an amorphous sense of unease, and sometimes with a great deal of rage. It is not immediately life-threatening, although there have been moments when it has been, but it is life-encompassing; and one of the most painful lessons I have learned from this illness is that what is most difficult to come to terms with is not the possibility of dying from it, but living with it.

According to the National Organization on Disability, 54,000,000 Americans have a significant disability. The logo for accessibility that you see on signs around the country depicts an individual in a wheelchair, yet only 1.4 million of that 54 million­ use wheelchairs or scooters. Nearly 26 million have hearing impairments ­ and others have needs that may not be easy to spot or even to describe. The 54 million Americans with disabilities constitute one in six Americans.
They are not “the other.” They are US. Most of us here tonight will fall into the category of “people with disabilities” at some point in our lives. We will wake up in the morning one day and realize that we too have to come to terms with “living with it.”

This year, for the first time, many in the American Jewish community recognize February as Jewish Disability Awareness Month. While many Washington D.C. area synagogues have observed this event for the past eight years, this year is the first time the event is being recognized on a national level.

Jews around the United States are looking for new ways of inclusion and welcoming for those with special needs already inside of—or perhaps excluded from—our communities.

A friend of mine from rabbinical school, Rabbi Heidi Cohen of Temple Beth Sholom in Santa Ana, California wrote in a sermon about welcoming in her congregation that:

Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 teaches that "A human being mints many coins from the same mold, and they are all identical. But the Holy One, Blessed be God, strikes us all from the mold of the first human, and each one of us is unique." Each of us is a bearer of the Divine image although we come in an infinite variety of sizes, shapes, abilities, and disabilities. Therefore, each of us must be treated with kavod, with respect.

The Jewish Tradition offers some thoughts and advice about how to go about doing that. Let me begin with the most well known, yet perhaps most difficult of all to accomplish.

In Leviticus 19:14, we find “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” It seems easy enough to do. We tend to look at this verse, particularly the second part as if all we have to do is not go out of our way to make things difficult. Yet what is the verse really telling us?

This is a directive that is literally applicable on a playground. Children often treat those who are different in not-so-nice ways. They may well tease someone who is deaf by talking behind their back, by ridiculing and then acting as if nothing happened. They could well find it amusing when someone blind would be made to trip. One can envision these things. We may even remember seeing similar behavior on the playgrounds of our youth.

Adults certainly could do these things as well, but generally learn over time that we ourselves come to be treated in the way that we treat others. In fact, one of the best measures of what kind of person we are is the way in which we treat those with less power than we have. We learn not to commit overt acts that result in ridicule of others, at least those who are innocent and do not deserve it.

Those who are more worldly come to realize that, as it is said in the Talmud, K’dushim 70a, “When a person insults someone else it is his own defect that he is revealing.” And those who a bit more life experience come to agree with the words of Ben Azzai in Pirkei Avot 4:3:

Do not disdain any person; Do not underrate the importance of anything—For there is no person who does not have his hour, and there is nothing without its place in the sun.

Our Tradition teaches us that people who are disabled can do wonderful things, not only for themselves, but for our people. Someone who is impaired of speech can even speak as God’s own mouthpiece.

And Moses said unto Adonai: “Adonai, I am not a man of words, either in the past, nor now, since you have spoken unto Your servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.’ (Exodus 4:10)

Our Tradition teaches us that Moses was not the swiftest of learners either.

In commentary to the Talmud Yerushalmi, Masechta Horayot, the following Gemara appears (Horayot 3:5):

Rav Yochanan said: ‘During the entire forty days and nights that Moshe Rabbeinu spent on Har Sinai, he kept learning the Torah and forgetting it. Finally, it was given to him as a gift. Why did this happen? To provide an answer, a motivation, for the slow learners. The P’nai Moshe explains: “Why,” the Gemara asks, “was the Torah not given to Moshe as a gift at the outset?” To provide an answer for the slow learners who forget whatever they learn. When they ask, “Why should we labor for no purpose?” the answer will be from Moshe himself, who learned and reviewed even though it was all forgotten, until finally it was given to him as a complete gift.

Our Tradition speaks of the deaf, the blind, those with speech impediments, those with learning disabilities and in every instance we are encouraged to help the person with the disability to overcome it.

We read in Deuteronomy, “If there be among you a needy person, you shall not harden thy heart, but shall surely open your hand.” It is a statement about giving to the poor, but just as certainly it is a statement about reaching out to lend a hand. It is a statement about our need not just to avoid placing stumbling blocks, but to look ahead and make sure that stumbling blocks are not already there. We need to actively help, not merely to avoid causing problems.

Yet, too often we do place stumbling blocks and put forth insults because we are not conscious of the needs of those around us. We simply are unaware that we offend, cause discomfort, or even harm. Our access doors and aisles are not wide enough, our thresholds too high. Our ramps too steep or too narrow. Our texts too small. Our amplification too low. Our patience too short.

As a congregation, we have tried in recent years to be more accommodating, but our building is hardly completely accessible. Staff offices and meeting rooms are on different levels without an elevator and the most easily accessible doors are not opened by our buzzer, but require someone to physically unlock them.

That said, we have also removed pews in our sanctuary to make it easier for those in wheel chairs to be seated comfortably and we have a ramp that allows those in wheel chairs to access the bimah that we bring out whenever it is needed. We have also worked on improving our sound system so that everyone can hear clearly.

We have tried and we continue to try to make the Temple a welcoming place for everyone who wishes to be in our midst.

When her Jeep wrapped around a tree off an icy road a decade ago, Rabbi Lynne Landsberg's world was shattered. The 30th woman ordained by Hebrew Union College, Rabbi Lansberg was the Mid-Atlantic Regional Director for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations at the time of her accident. The accident left her in an almost six-week coma that turned into a prolonged, but dramatic recovery.

Now Senior Advisor and Activist for People with Disabilities at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Lansberg came to the L’taken Seminar that we attended three weeks ago and spoke with us about her life and the lives of Americans with disabilities. She told us about her brain-injury and her now decade long struggle for independence. The students and their chaperones were spellbound by her strength, her spirit, and her zeal for life as she uttered words that she has spoken to many an audience over the past few years:

"Before my injury, I belonged to one minority that was cohesive, strong and articulate—the American Jewish community. Now I belong to a second minority that is often unseen and unheard—persons with disabilities."

We read in this week’s Torah portion, “You shall not oppress the stranger, the one who is different, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”

This month and going forward, let us SEE and let us HEAR the needs of those with disabilities. Let us pay attention. Let us reach out our hands. Let us speak up and let us speak out.

After Moses questioned God about his difficulties with speech, God responded.

“And God said to Moses: Who gives man speech? Who makes him mute or deaf, seeing or blind?” (Exodus 4:11)

The answer in the Book of Exodus is God. Yet my friends, WE are God’s instruments. Let us do our best to help improve the lives of all of those affected by disabilities.

Kein yehi ratson! May it be God’s will!

Shabbat Shalom

Friday, December 26, 2008

Sermon and Comprehensive Report on the Madoff Scandal

Sermon and Comprehensive Report on the Madoff Scandal
December 26, 2008
Rabbi David Jay Kaufman

Who is he anyhow, an actor?" "No." "A dentist?"
"...No, he's a gambler." Gatsby hesitated, then added cooly:
"He's the man who fixed the World Series back in 1919."
"Fixed the World Series?" I repeated. The idea staggered me.
I remembered, of course, that the World Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as something that merely happened, the end of an inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people--with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.
"How did he happen to do that?" I asked after a minute.
"He just saw the opportunity."
[F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby]

The man in question in the Great Gatsby was Arnold Rothstein, the reputed funder of the Black-Sox Scandal. The words used by Fitzgerald could hardly be more apt in reference to Bernard Madoff.

In the wake of the $50 billion Madoff scandal charitable foundations are bankrupt, many others struggling to survive, and a multitude facing significant losses either to their assets through losses involving investments with Bernard Madoff or to their income because their benefactors suffered losses. This all comes at horrible time for the economy, when both assets and income were already depressed.

The scheme itself was simple, pay off older investors with deposits made by newer investors. I was recently sent a cartoon in which a policeman asks Madoff where he got this idea. His answer? "Social Security."

To an extent, investing in Madoff's fund was like buying an annuity. He paid 8-12% on your money every year. Those individuals and organizations who had been long invested with Madoff made off, I just couldn't resist, with more money than they otherwise would have gotten. Had they known that they were receiving money that they should keep to rebuild their corpus, some would have easily done so. Many reinvested the dividend which meant that not only did Madoff take their principal and hand it over to others, but their reinvestments were treated the same way. Some investors were worried about Madoff and took their money out over the past few years. Of these, a few saw their investments increase substantially, now known to have come largely, if not solely, through robbing one investor to pay another. Of these, several have said that they were worried that they had made the wrong decision as Madoff’s returns just kept coming.

It seems that of the investors who did flock to Madoff, virtually all of them saw Bernie Madoff's fund as a way to receive a steady income and maintain wealth. They saw it as a hedge fund, a safe investment.

Philanthropies and philanthropists entrusted their money with Madoff and spread their 10% dividends around the world. A grossly disproportional amount of those funds went to Jewish institutions and causes. Of those, a high percentage involved Orthodox institutions and Zionist causes.

But Madoff also wiped out pension funds for firefighters and teachers. He eliminated or dramatically reduced foundations that helped to fund bone marrow research, constructed hospitals, funded educational institutions, created libraries in poor communities, fought domestic violence, fed the hungry, clothed the naked and lifted the fallen. To put it bluntly, he grasped the hands that were doing God's work in making our world a better place, took the money that they gave him, and then chopped those hands off.

What are the implications for Jews? It is almost laughable to ask.

I delivered sermons and wrote articles about Shalom Rubashkin and the concept of Shandeh fur de Goyim, an embarrassment for the Jews. How can I even begin to address Madoff? Rubashkin was like leaving the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe whereas Madoff was like leaving home forgetting to put on clothes.

That story by Hans Christian Andersen may be perfectly apt here. Madoff sold investors on a vision that was entirely fictitious. He left the Jewish philanthropic world parading proudly without any clothes.

The damage to Jewish philanthropies has been catastrophic. The damage to Jewish philanthropists equally as bad at a minimum. We may never know the true extent of the personal wealth lost. The damage done to the concept of the philanthropic Jew and to Jewish communal trust is tremendous, after all he was a Member of the Tribe who moved through elite Tribal circles like a financial messiah. The damage done to the concept of Or L'goyim, being a light unto the nations, is yet to be determined. In Rubashkin and Madoff, the Jewish world has two prominent Jews whose Jewishness is worn on their sleeves, who publicly served the Jewish community and the Orthodox Jewish community in particular and who have done such egregious wrongs that they tarnished everyone connected to the Jewish community.

Bradley Burston may have said it best in his Haaretz Article published less than a week after the scandal broke:

For the true anti-Semite, Christmas came early this year. The anti-Semite's new Santa is Bernard Madoff. The answer to every Jew-hater's wish list.

The Aryan Nation at its most delusional couldn't have come up with anything to rival this: The former chairman of Nasdaq turns out, also, to be treasurer of the board of trustees at Yeshiva University and chairman of the university's business school. Rich beyond human comprehension, he handles fortunes for others, buying and selling in a trading empire that skirts investment banks and other possible sources of regulation. He redefines avarice, knowingly and personally bilking charities and retirees in the most classic of con games.

Even better, for those obsessed with the idea that Jews control finance, entertainment and the media, is the idea that Madoff's greed was uncontrollable enough that he targeted fellow Jews, even Holocaust survivors, some of them his own friends, as well as Israeli companies who insured Jews, including Holocaust survivors.

The beauty part, for the anti-Semite: Madoff's machinations, which could have been put to use for the sake of humanity, have directly harmed Jewish welfare and charity institutions. He has managed to harm contemporary Jewry in ways anti-Semites could only dream about...In the words of prominent educator Avraham Infeld, he "obliterated" long-standing charitable foundations for Jewish causes in Israel, Eastern Europe and North America.

The New York Post was more direct. "Working the so-called "Jewish circuit" of well-heeled Jews he met at country clubs on Long Island and in Palm Beach, and through his position on the boards of directors of several prominent Jewish institutions, he was entrusted with entire family fortunes. "The guy was totally respected. He was a heymishe Jewish guy. He had sweet old ladies and he let their children in," said a Manhattan lawyer who invested with Madoff.

Rabbi David Wolpe, commenting on the scandal, noted that Madoff violated the Ten Commandments, thou shall not steal.

In my mind, he made a mockery of the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not steal--$50 billion. But not only that. Thou shalt not murder—it might be stretching it slightly, but there already was a suicide directly connected to the Madoff scandal and the loss of charitable contributions and programs for hospitals and other human services will certainly cost lives. Honor thy mother and father—Madoff destroyed family foundations, programs caring for the elderly, foundations giving to museums, religious institutions, schools, etc... Thou shalt not covet—country clubs, mansions, parties, social status. He made himself an idol, bowed down to wealth, and forgot all about God, truth, righteousness and kindness. He bore false witness with almost every utterance, swindling the haughty and the humble alike.

I have complied numerous articles on the Madoff scandal and as comprehensive an accounting of the damages as I could. I cannot share it all with you tonight, because I cannot ask you to stay here that long.

Schools, universities, hospitals, museums, synagogues, social services and other institutions in the Jewish world and beyond will pay an enormous price for this scandal. Gabrielle Berkner wrote on last week in the Forward that:

The president of the Jewish Funders Network, Mark Charendoff, has called Madoff’s collapse “the atomic bomb in the world of Jewish philanthropy.” The president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, Gary Tobin, spoke in equally dire terms: “For the philanthropic elite who invested with him, the means they would be giving away for many more years is gone. The long-term effects of dollars that would have been contributed is severe.”

I will speak about several organizations and if you would like a copy of the entire compilation taken from various articles, I would be happy to share it with you.


In The Jewish Daily Foward, Anthony Weiss quoted a victim of the scandal as saying, "It's like finding out that your father is a felon."

Madoff’s collapse has gone off like an atomic blast in the midst of that world, leaving behind the wreckage of shattered lives and fortunes, and creating a gaping hole where there were once billions of dollars — and, more importantly, implicit trust.

It is this trust that makes possible the very existence of the relatively intimate world of Jewish philanthropy, where charity and business often mix. The loss of money and trust together has dealt Jewish philanthropy — a pillar of American philanthropy — a blow from which it will not recover anytime soon.

“He has savaged Jewish civil society for a decade,” said one philanthropic recipient, who spoke of receiving “30, 40 calls from longtime donor friends who told me about the money they lost.” The recipient spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his donors and his institution.

The fraud has also wiped out or severely damaged the finances of wealthy Jews who, though less famous, are among the most reliable donors to Jewish causes. At the exclusive Palm Beach Country Club, where Madoff recruited many of his clients, philanthropic giving was a requirement for membership.

“This scandal has wiped out a generation of Jewish wealth,” said Brad Friedman, a lawyer representing a number of the victims of the alleged Madoff scam. “Let’s not kid ourselves, this is the most philanthropic community in America.”

Jewish philanthropic experts estimate that the total losses in Jewish giving — to both Jewish and non-Jewish causes — could run into billions of dollars.

“You’ll see organizations going out of business,” said Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, which advises wealthy Jewish donors. “Staff will get fired, programs will get slashed. In some cases, you could see organizations merge. We just don’t know yet.”

The idea still staggers me. "It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of the Jewish people—with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe." Then again this week we mark the holiday celebrating the defeat of such a man, Antiochus IV, who looted the Temple in Jerusalem. Now, like then, we have to band together, rebuild, and dedicate ourselves anew. That is the very meaning of Chanukah.

"Who can retell the things that befell us, who can count them?"

Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom,


A compilation of articles and resources on the Madoff scandal follows

Initially this was a word document and there were indented paragraphs and regular ones. One cannot tell the difference in this format. Articles are taken from the NYTimes, Jewish Week, Haaretz Daily, NYPost, Forward, Wall Street Journal, Jerusalem Post, Telegraph and many other newspapers and sites. Very little below is original to me.

As I have worked to compile information on the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, estimated by Madoff himself to involve approximately $50 billion in wealth lost, it has been difficult to find a comprehensive article. The scope of the scandal reaches into so many different corners and goes so deeply in the exclusive worlds of high society and private banking that it is only the public face of the scandal that seems accessible, few beyond those who must be held accountable to reveal their losses seem to be doing so. Individual investors have lost hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars and very little of those losses have been reported publically.

Initially, he tapped local money pulled in from country clubs and charity dinners, where investors sought him out to casually plead with him to manage their savings so they could start reaping the steady, solid returns their envied friends were getting.
Whatever else Mr. Madoff’s game was, it was certainly this: The first worldwide Ponzi scheme — a fraud that lasted longer, reached wider and cut deeper than any similar scheme in history, entirely eclipsing the puny regional ambitions of Charles Ponzi, the Boston swindler who gave his name to the scheme nearly a century ago.
“Absolutely — there has been nothing like this, nothing that we could call truly global,” said Mitchell Zuckoff, the author of “Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend” and a professor at Boston University. These classic schemes typically prey on local trust, he added. “So this says what we increasingly know to be true about the world: The barriers have come down; money knows no borders, no limits.”
While many of the known victims of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities are prominent Jewish executives and organizations — Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Spitzers, Yeshiva University, the Elie Wiesel Foundation and charities set up by the publisher Mortimer B. Zuckerman and the Hollywood director Steven Spielberg — it now appears that anyone with money was a potential target. Indeed, at one point, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, a large sovereign wealth fund in the Middle East, had entrusted some $400 million to Mr. Madoff’s firm.
Regulators say Mr. Madoff himself estimated that $50 billion in personal and institutional wealth from around the world was gone. It vanished from the estates of the North Shore of Long Island, from the beachfront suites of Palm Beach, from the exclusive enclaves of Europe. Before it evaporated, it helped finance Mr. Madoff’s coddled lifestyle, with a Manhattan apartment, a beachfront mansion in the Hamptons, a small villa overlooking Cap d’Antibes on the French Riviera, a Mayfair office in London and yachts in New York, Florida and the Mediterranean.
At Oak Ridge Country Club, in suburban Hopkins, Minn., known for a prosperous Jewish membership, many who belonged were introduced to the Madoff firm by one of his friends, Mike Engler.
The quiet message became familiar in similar pockets of Jewish wealth and trust: “I know Bernie. I can get you in.” Mr. Engler died in 1994, but many Oak Ridge members remained clients of Mr. Madoff. One elderly member, who said he was too embarrassed to be named, said he had lost tens of millions of dollars, and had friends who had been “completely wiped out.”
"It's easy to remember how to pronounce his name now, he made off with our money." That was a statement that I heard in the days shortly after the scandal broke.

"There is no innocent explanation." That was Bernard Madoff's response when asked about the money missing from his investment accounts. "One big lie" was another.

"One big lie" led to an estimated $50 billion lost by banks, hedge funds, insurance companies, schools, pension funds, universities, hospitals, charitable organizations, philanthropists and more than a few individuals who had felt blessed to have their money handled by Bernard Madoff and to have those assets make relatively high 10% returns year after year whether the economy was good or bad. A grossly disproportionate percentage of the investors with Madoff were Jews and of them a large percentage were Orthodox Jews. Of the institutions and organizations affected, Jewish organizations were in the overwhelming majority.

Schools, universities, hospitals, museums, synagogues, social services and other institutions in the Jewish world and beyond will pay an enormous price for this scandal. Gabrielle Berkner wrote on last week in the Forward that:
The president of the Jewish Funders Network, Mark Charendoff, has called Madoff’s collapse “the atomic bomb in the world of Jewish philanthropy.” The president of the Institute for Jewish & Community Research, Gary Tobin, spoke in equally dire terms: “For the philanthropic elite who invested with him, the means they would be giving away for many more years is gone. The long-term effects of dollars that would have been contributed is severe.”

The Information below concerning organizations affected by the Madoff scandal primarily comes from the Forward:

The Chais Family Foundation which supported numerous educational programs to the tune of $12.5 million per year was "completely obliterated," losing approximately $178 million, and has now closed its doors. Haaretz Daily, one of the major Israeli newspapers, showed a picture of the Chais Family Foundation library in Mevasseret, Israel as it detailed the mounting philanthropic losses caused by the scandal.
The Yeshaya Horowitz Foundation disbursed about $140 million over the past 15 years in Israel. Started by an anonymous donor, it funded basic medical research - advancing theoretical knowledge in science and medicine with no immediate commercial value. Such work, however, often sets the stage for private industry to take over. Horowitz money paid for doctoral and post-doctoral fellowships, and was just now covering the completion of a lab to be jointly operated by Hadassah Hospital and the Hebrew University. Now it appears that the Yeshaya Horowitz Foundation has been wiped out.
Yeshiva University, upon whose board Bernard Madoff served for years as treasurer, lost at least $110 million. Madoff also chaired the school's business school.
Technion, Israel's Institute of Technology, approximately $7 million, but its American fundraising arm, American Technion Society lost an additional $72 million.

Members of "Fifth Avenue Synagogue" in New York City, with 300 members, estimate combined personal and foundational losses approaching $2 billion. Ira Rennert, chairman of the synagogue's board estimates losses of $200 million personally.

Elie Wiesel's Foundation for Humanity which ran enrichment centers for Ethiopian-Jewish youth in Israel, funded programs that promote cross-cultural dialogue and awarded an annual ethics prize lost “Substantially all” of the foundation’s assets according to its Web site, an estimated $37 million.
Hadassah, the Women's organization, estimates losses of $90 million dollars or one-third of the organization's endowment. Hadassah funds the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem and numerous health care initiatives, education, and at risk youth enrichment programs in Israel and the United States.

The Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation of Boston lost some $145 million. In 2006, this $324 million foundation gave away $12.9 million; of that much went to Jewish causes— including Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies, the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Home for the Aged in Palm Beach. Brandeis University received some $3 million in support.
Bloomberg News reports that all but $1 million of the funds in New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg’s charitable foundation were invested with Madoff. In 2006, Lautenberg gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Jewish causes — including a total of $357,000 to United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, tax returns show. The foundation is estimated to have lost approximately $13 million.
Robert I. Lappin says that both his foundation's $8 million in assets and no small amount of his own wealth were invested with Madoff and are now gone. The 16-year-old charity funded teen trips to Israel, enrichment programs for Jewish educators, and interfaith outreach initiatives. The foundation closed on December 12.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Steven Spielberg's Charity, "the Wunderkinder Foundation, in the past appears to have invested a significant portion of its assets with Mr. Madoff, based on regulatory filings." It said that in 2006, profits from Madoff's firm accounted for some 70 percent of the interest and dividend income of the foundation. Wunderkinder Foundation is estimated to have lost tens of millions of dollars. Tax returns from 2007 show that director Steven Spielberg’s charitable organization gave a total of $8.6 million to hospitals, universities, synagogues, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and other institutions and organizations.

Mortimer Zuckerman, a real estate mogul in New York, and past Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, says that his charitable foundation lost an estimated $30 million of its $300 million endowment with Madoff.

Charles I. and Mary Kaplan Foundation of Rockville, Maryland lost $29 million. It was a major donor to the JCC of Greater Washington and to the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.

United Jewish Endowment Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is said to have lost $10 million. The fund supports Jewish institutions and services, and general social services, in and around the nation’s capital. The losses represent less than 10% of the fund’s investment portfolio, according to a press release from the organization.
The Madoff Family Foundation of New York set up by Bernard for his family had $19 million in theoretical assets evaporate, but in the real world, Jewish charities as the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation and the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan were counting on receiving donations from it.
The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles lost $18 million. The foundation manages the endowments of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, among other local Jewish social services providers. Madoff-related losses represent about 5% of the foundation’s assets; the federation is said to have lost $6.4 million, or 11% of its endowment funds.
Jerome Fisher, founder of Nine West fashion house and a major donor to Jewish and Israeli causes estimates at least a $150 million loss.
J. Ezra Merkin personally and Ascot Partners, a hedge fund, lost an estimated $1.8 billion. Merkin, the scion of a philanthropic family known for its support of Modern Orthodox causes, resigned as a YU trustee and as chairman of its investment committee on Friday following Madoff's arrest a day earlier.
The Ramaz School in New York is said to have lost $6 million. At the Modern Orthodox day school affiliated with Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, Madoff-related losses have impacted the endowment, but they will not affect its faculty and staff pension program, school officials said.
North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System says that it lost $5.7 million in assets.
Mitzi & Warren Eisenberg Family Foundation of Union, N.J. lost $5.1 million of a $100 million-plus endowment. The foundation gives to educational and health care institutions, and to scores of Jewish and Israel charities. In 2006, it donated $950,000 to the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.
L Bravmann Foundation of Riverdale, N.Y. lost $5 million with Madoff. In 2006, the $20 million charitable foundation gave more than $1 million to the donor-advised Jewish Communal Fund, and smaller sums to other Jewish organizations.
Jewish Funds for Justice of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore lost $3.9 million. The social justice organization funds congregation-based community organizing initiatives and other programs.
Maimonides School of Boston estimates its loss to be $3–5 million. The Modern Orthodox day school, founded in 1937 by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, lost an estimated 60% of a bequest that helps pay for operating costs.
Arthur and Sydelle F. Meyer Charitable Foundation of West Palm Beach,Florida lost $3.7 million. The charity gives to a wide range of cultural and educational causes and Jewish and Israeli institutions. The Meyer family reportedly lost additional funds that were in a charitable trust. The foundation will close, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun an Upper East Side Modern Orthodox synagogue affiliated with the Ramaz School lost $3.5 of its endowment.
Yad Sarah in Jerusalem lost $1.5 million. The organization provides health care and welfare services for disabled and elderly individuals.
SAR a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school Riverdale, N.Y. had $1.3 million invested or about one-third of its $3.7 million endowment.
American Jewish Congress which supports upgrading Israel’s role in NATO and advocates on behalf of religious freedom stateside sustained significant but unspecified losses. A trust fund left to the organization by Lillian and Martin Steinberg was managed by Madoff, as was a second part of the American Jewish Congress’s endowment fund.
Philip and Murial Berman Foundation of Allentown, Pa. lost a substantial amount of its estimated $42 million in assets. Last year, the foundation gave a total of $318,000 to a wide range of Jewish and arts organizations; donations included $50,000 to Hadassah, and smaller five-figure gifts to American Friends of Hebrew University, United Jewish Communities and the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
The Betty and Norman F. Levy Foundation of New York also lost substantially. A portion of its $244 million in assets was invested with Madoff. Among the Foundation’s contributions last year were a $100,00 to the vehicle Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation, $100,000 to the UJA-Federation New York, and nearly $30 million to the JEHT Foundation — a criminal justice reform organization that is expected to close in the wake of Madoff’s collapse.
The Picower Foundation of Palm Beach, Florida which had nearly $1 billion in assets, will shutter amid Madoff woes. According to its 2007 tax return, the Foundation last year gave away $23 million — including $225,000 to the Limmud NY conference of Jewish learning; $185,000 to the Jewish Outreach Institute; $109,278 to the Foundation for Jewish Camping, and $100,000 to a program that aids children and families living in Sderot, Israel. Medical research centers, after-school programs, and human rights organizations were also beneficiaries. The foundation has given $268 million to groups like the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Human Rights First, the New York Public Library and the Children’s Health Fund since it was established in 1989 by Barbara Picower and her husband, the investor Jeffry M. Picower, in Palm Beach, Fla.
Listed previously at $1 billion, the foundation’s assets were managed by Bernard L. Madoff, Mrs. Picower said in a statement, and his “act of fraud has had a devastating impact on tens of thousands of lives as well as numerous philanthropic foundations and nonprofit organizations.”
Jeff Wilpon, owner of the New York Mets, lost in the tens of millions of dollars invested with Madoff.
This list of woes does not even include pension funds. Pensions and Investments Online stated that:
The $6.5 billion New Mexico Educational Retirement Board, Santa Fe, stands to lose $8 million to $10 million through its $170 million investment in Austin Capital Partners’ Safe Harbor Fund. CIO Bob Jacksha said fund officials and trustees still are evaluating the impact.
The $270 million New Orleans City Employees’ Retirement System could lose about $350,000 from Madoff investments made in its combined $5 million allocation to hedge funds of funds managed by Meridian Capital Partners and UBP Asset Management, said Jerry Davis, chairman of the board of trustees.
The biggest institutional investor loss uncovered so far is $41 million by the Fairfield (Conn.) Town Retirement Fund. The $233 million plan had 17.6%, or $41 million, invested as of Nov. 30 in the MAXAM Absolute Return Fund, managed by Madoff Investment Securities.
Shell company's pension fund lost $45 million. Dr. Robert Dawe of Fairfield-based Orthopaedic Specialty Group said Tuesday the doctors have been in contact with lawyers trying to sort out this mess that blindsided them. The group's entire retirement fund, which covers more than 130 people, was invested with Bernard Madoff Investment Securities LLC.
Geneva-based Union Bancaire Privée is the best-known private bank to get hit, with $700 million of its clients’ money invested with Mr. Madoff. Large banks like HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland lent more than $1.5 billion to money management firms, which leveraged larger returns on their investments with Madoff. In return, these big banks received collateral in the form of assets in Madoff's firm, which are most likely worthless now.
The latest European victim to reveal losses is Bank Medici of Austria. Two funds at the bank, based in Vienna and 75 percent owned by its chairwoman, Sonja Kohn, invested $2.1 billion entirely in Madoff's firm, the bank said on Tuesday. So far, financial institutions on the Continent and in the United Kingdom have announced $10 billion worth of exposure.
BNP Paribas has nearly $500 million in exposure to Madoff, a major contributor to the $1.4 billion loss the Paris giant's corporate and investment banking unit announced on Tuesday for the first 11 months of 2008.
One of the hardest-hit European victims, Optimal Investment Services of Geneva, was unusually concentrated in Madoff's firm. A unit of Santander of Spain, Optimal had $3.1 billion invested with Madoff through its Optimal Strategic U.S. Equity Fund, out of a total of $10.5 billion under management.
Harel, Clal, and Phoenix, Israeli Insurance firms, lost millions of dollars with Madoff.
Investment firms handling retirement funds for hundreds of clients invested heavily and lost heavily. Brighton Co. of Beverly Hills, was sued this week in federal court in Los Angeles. In the suit, Michael Chaleff of Arlington, Va., said he and other investors had lost about $250 million on investment partnerships that Brighton placed with Madoff. The head of Brighton, according to the suit, is Stanley Chais of Beverly Hills, which bring us back to the Chais Family Foundation.
In The Jewish Daily Foward, Anthony Weiss quoted a victim of the scandal as saying, "It's like finding out that your father is a felon."
Madoff’s collapse has gone off like an atomic blast in the midst of that world, leaving behind the wreckage of shattered lives and fortunes, and creating a gaping hole where there were once billions of dollars — and, more importantly, implicit trust.
It is this trust that makes possible the very existence of the relatively intimate world of Jewish philanthropy, where charity and business often mix. The loss of money and trust together has dealt Jewish philanthropy — a pillar of American philanthropy — a blow from which it will not recover anytime soon.
“He has savaged Jewish civil society for a decade,” said one philanthropic recipient, who spoke of receiving “30, 40 calls from longtime donor friends who told me about the money they lost.” The recipient spoke on condition of anonymity to protect his donors and his institution.
The fraud has also wiped out or severely damaged the finances of wealthy Jews who, though less famous, are among the most reliable donors to Jewish causes. At the exclusive Palm Beach Country Club, where Madoff recruited many of his clients, philanthropic giving was a requirement for membership.
“This scandal has wiped out a generation of Jewish wealth,” said Brad Friedman, a lawyer representing a number of the victims of the alleged Madoff scam. “Let’s not kid ourselves, this is the most philanthropic community in America.”
Jewish philanthropic experts estimate that the total losses in Jewish giving — to both Jewish and non-Jewish causes — could run into billions of dollars.
“You’ll see organizations going out of business,” said Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, which advises wealthy Jewish donors. “Staff will get fired, programs will get slashed. In some cases, you could see organizations merge. We just don’t know yet.”
Remember that many organizations were invested in organizations that invested their money with Madoff. For example, Tufts University which invested $20 million with Ascot Partners which was then invested with Madoff.
How did this all happen?
Mark Seal, a longtime veteran of Jewish organizations, in an interview by the Forward, recalls watching Madoff make his pitch twice to Jewish organizations — once in the early 1990s, and once 10 years later. Each time, Seal said, he was struck by Madoff’s combination of confidence and low-key charm, and by the sense of familiarity he conveyed.
“His pitch was one part technology and one part record and one part that he was a lovely guy and you felt that — it’s funny, in retrospect — you felt a certain amount of integrity,” Seal told the Forward. “That was his presentation, in essence — his reputation and his personality.”
Unlike some prominent Wall Street figures who built their fortunes during the heady 1980s and ’90s, Mr. Madoff never became a household name among American investors. But in the clubby world of Jewish philanthropy in the New York area, his increasing wealth and growing reputation among market insiders added polish to his personal prestige.
He became a generous donor, then a courted board member and, finally, the money manager of choice for many prominent regional charities.
Madoff’s sterling reputation, his affable personality and his apparent financial acumen allowed him to move easily through the clubby Jewish philanthropic circles of New York and Palm Beach, Fla. Madoff served on prominent boards, such as that of Yeshiva University; fellow board members, and even other money managers, sought after him to invest their money.
Dozens of now-outraged Madoff investors recall that special lure — the sense that they were being allowed into an inner circle, one that was not available to just anyone. A lawyer would call a client, saying: “I’m setting up a fund for Bernie Madoff. Do you want in?” Or an accountant at a golf club might tell his partner for the day: “I can make an introduction. Let me know.” Deals were struck in steakhouses and at charity events, sometimes by Mr. Madoff himself, but with increasing frequency by friends acting on his behalf.
He could not have had a more effective recruiter than Jacob Ezra Merkin, a lion of Wall Street who would be president of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue. Mr. Merkin’s father, Hermann, was the founding president of the synagogue and Herman Wouk, the author, wrote its constitution.
As a direct descendant of the founder of modern Orthodox Judaism and a graduate of Columbia’s English department and Harvard’s law school, Mr. Merkin easily held his own in a congregation that included such luminaries as the author Elie Wiesel, the deal maker Ronald O. Perelman and Ira Rennert, a wealthy financier perhaps best known for building one of the biggest houses and compounds in the Hamptons.
One source who sat on boards with Merkin told The New York Jewish Week, "You have to know Ezra to really understand how this could have happened. He is brilliant and incredibly well connected in the Jewish and financial community, with a long and incredible success rate in investments. Plus, he can be at times charming and considerate - as well as intimidating."
According to The Jewish Week, several people noted that when questioned or challenged about the wisdom of investing heavily in one fund rather than diversifying, "Ezra would ask, 'Why would you reduce your concentration in your best performing fund?'"
Philanthropies embraced him. He headed the investment committee for the UJA-Federation of New York for 10 years and was on the boards of Yeshiva University, Carnegie Hall and other nonprofit organizations. He became the chairman of GMAC.
Installed in these lofty positions of trust, Ezra Merkin seemed to be a Wall Street wise man who could be trusted completely to manage other people’s money. One vehicle through which he did that was a fund called Ascot Partners.
Ascot itself attracted $1.8 billion in investments, almost all of which was entrusted to Mr. Madoff. New York Law School put $3 million into Ascot two years ago, and has now initiated a lawsuit in federal court that accuses Mr. Merkin of abdicating his duties to the partnership.
If the wealthy Jewish world he occupied was his launch pad, the wealthy promoters he cultivated at Fairfield Greenwich were his booster rocket.
The Fairfield Sentry fund was one of several so-called feeder funds that became portals through which money from wealthy foreign investors would could capitalize on Mr. Madoff’s investment prowess — collecting those exclusive, steady returns that had made him the toast of Palm Beach and the North Shore so many years ago.
The Sentry fund quickly became Fairfield’s signature product, and it boasted of stellar returns. In marketing materials, Fairfield trumpeted Sentry’s 11 percent annual return over the last 15 years, with only 13 losing months. It was a track record that grew increasingly attractive as markets grew more volatile in recent years.
Though Fairfield Greenwich has its headquarters in New York City and its founder, Mr. Noel, operated from his hometown, Greenwich, Conn., a recent report showed that foreign investors provided 95 percent of its managed assets — with 68 percent in Europe, 6 percent in Asia, and 4 percent in the Middle East.
One of his most visible representatives was Andrés Piedrahita, a Colombian who had married Mr. Noel’s eldest daughter, Corina, and was eventually named a Fairfield founding partner. Based in Madrid and London, Mr. Piedrahita became one of the firm’s most visible representatives in the world of European banking and investment. But his brothers-in-law also had international roots. Yanko Della Schiava, who married Lisina Noel, was the son of the editor of Cosmopolitan in Italy and of the editor of Harper’s Bazaar in Italy and France. Philip J. Toub, who married Alix Noel, is the son of a director of the Saronic Shipping Company, in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Piedrahita, Mr. Della Schiava and others, Fairfield reaped many millions of dollars in investor capital from Europe. The firm set up feeder programs with institutions like Banco Santander, Swedish Bank Nordea and Banque Benedict Hentsch. All became conduits that carried fresh money to Mr. Madoff.
There was also the small Austrian merchant bank, Bank Medici, which had $2.1 billion invested in funds that ultimately wound up under Mr. Madoff’s control. It collected those investments through two main funds, the Herald USA Fund and the smaller Herald Luxemburg Fund, sold to banks, insurance companies and pension funds since 2004.
Bank Medici sold the funds to investors around the world from its offices in New York, Vienna, Gibraltar, Zurich and Milan. About 93 percent of the funds’ investors are outside Austria. Just last month, the Herald USA fund won Germany’s annual Hedge Fund Awards for “proving consistency in turbulent times.“
Indeed, often with the assistance of feeder funds, Mr. Madoff was now in a position to seek and procure money from Arab investors, too. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest of the world’s sovereign wealth funds, with assets estimated earlier this year to be approaching $700 billion, wound up in the same boat as Jewish charities in New York: caught in the collapse of Bernie Madoff.
In early 2005, the investment authority had invested approximately $400 million with Mr. Madoff, by way of the Fairfield Sentry Fund, according to a profile of the firm that it prepared for a prospective buyer in 2007. Fairfield Sentry had more than $7 billion invested with Mr. Madoff and was his largest investor; now, it says, it is his largest victim.
Early on Dec. 10, he shocked his sons by suggesting that the firm pay out several million dollars in bonuses two months ahead of schedule. When pressed by his sons for a reason, he grew agitated and insisted that they all leave the office and continue the conversation at his apartment on East 64th Street.
It was there, at midmorning, that he told his sons that his business was “a big lie” and, “basically, a giant Ponzi scheme.” There was nothing left, he told them — and he fully expected to go to jail.

Sources used:,7340,L-3641412,00.html

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Project Eliah Packing in Minnetonka, MN

Shalom All,
We just had a fantastic Kosher Manna packing at Bet Shalom Congregation in Minnetonka, Minnesota. We packaged over 19,000 meals in about two hours and numerous volunteers helped out from pre-school age on up.
Project Elijah continues to thrive and over the next year will be conducting packings around the nation and shipping tens of thousands of meals around the nation and the world. Our new product is designed to meet the dietary needs not only of Jews, but also of Muslims and Vegans. It is the only product designed specifically to meet such dietary restrictions in addition to nutritional requirements and it is the only such product designed for a domestic American audience, not only of starving people, but of food insecure people.
For those who do not know, food insecure people are those who can afford food, but need to choose food over other primary necessities in their lives such as rent or medical expenses. Many food insecure people will opt to use their money to buy food rather than to accept food commonly distributed because the latter is not of good enough quality or because it does not meet their religious or ethically based dietary needs. Our new product with its chicken soup flavoring tastes very good and looks like it tastes. Hopefully, it will enable food insecure people to choose to meet their medical needs and provide them a higher quality of life.
Thanks to all those who continue to make Project Eliah and Elijah's Kosher Manna grow in its ability to help those in need. My wife Julie and I look forward to helping other congregations and organizations help more people around our nation and our world. For more information on Project Elijah or the Kosher Manna packing project, please contact my wife Julie, Executive Director of Project Elijah, at or visit their website .

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Shandeh fur de Goyim

Shandeh fur de Goyim

It has been an embarrassing few months in Iowa. The ridiculously unethical and outrageously illegal behavior and practices of which Agriprocessors in Postville has been accused and now charged have frankly shamed the Jews. If we have to discuss whether or not meat is kosher which is slaughtered in a plant that knew its workers could not legally work, aided them in violating the law, and potentially also knew that some at the plant were abusive to them, what does kosher mean? For that matter, what does being Jewish mean? Tikkun Olam, the repair of the world, is not about reinforcing the lining of pockets at the expense of principles. We, Jews, feel guilty for the sins of the few among us. There is such a thing as a "Shandeh fur de Goyim," "Embarrassment for us in the eyes of the Gentiles." The actions of Shalom Rubashkin and others in Agriprocessors' employ are such a shandeh.

This led me to wonder, "Why is it that only Jews feel embarrassed when those who claim to be pious co-religionists astound in their hypocrisy? Why is there no such thing as an embarrassment for Christians or Muslims?" It seems to be understood by Christians and Muslims that their radical nut cases are NOT REPRESENTATIVE of them, why do we feel that ours are? Perhaps, it is an ingrained fear that we are held accountable collectively and have been historically, particularly by Christians and Muslims?

In my mind, the reality is that Christians and Muslims should be embarrassed by their brethren who sin while supposedly acting in a "religious" manner, just as we are embarrassed by those in Postville. That embarrassment, that guilt that we feel over actions of others in which we played no part, helps drive us to make the world better. That guilt makes us care about more than just ourselves. Perhaps, it is that which is the light we must shine unto the nations. It is the very concept of the shandeh. It drives us to do better.

Just a thought,