Made up and Madoff: The conning of Jewish America


Writing in the New York Jewish Week, Thane Rosenbaum wonders if there are moral dots connecting Bernard Madoff and Herman Rosenblat, the survivor of Buchenwald whosse memoir was recently pulled following reports that the major details were made up:

There is a crisis of confidence in the Jewish community, largely brought about by confidence men.

Clearly, neither Madoff nor Rosenblat were motivated by tribal loyalties. Yet their respective downfalls have communal consequences. Jews were once enslaved and forced to build pyramids; now they have become slaves to those who engage in pyramid schemes.

Lessons abound in these scandals, but the focus, understandably, has so far been on the fallout from these shabby affairs. Yet the backlash we fear should also be tempered by the embarrassment we feel. Silently, privately, the Jewish community must also be reflecting on the mortifying fact that these men are, after all, Jews. 

Madoff squandered the endowments of Jewish charities, but bizarrely, he also contributed to them. Giving charity is an obligation of every Jew, even those, apparently, who end up stealing from charities.

And no doubt Rosenblat joined a synagogue and belonged to a community of Jews, and he shared a Holocaust legacy with hundreds of thousands.

Each of these men, ultimately, is one of us; they lived among us, they shared in our Jewish history and the arc of our continuity. It is for this reason that apart from the fear of swelling anti-Semitism there is also shame, which penetrates deeply into the Jewish psyche. These crimes and fraudulent acts were perpetrated by two of our own.

Surely that does not mean that all Jews are complicit in these crimes.  Guilt is a legal term; responsibility is a moral one. The fact that individual Jews have done nothing legally wrong does not mean that we bear no moral responsibility. After all, even though we, too, are victims, these misdeeds happened under our watch.

All communities, whether it is acknowledged or not, feel the same burdens and experience the same discomforts — and certainly should. Decent Arabs and Muslims know that terrorism has become their greatest cultural export — indeed, terror is their people’s calling card — and that terrorist-related crimes are often committed in the name of the Koran. African Americans know that young, often unemployed African-American men commit a disproportionate share of inner-city crime. …

Perhaps this is an occasion for Jews, and all Americans, to examine not just our purported values, but what, in fact, we actually value. There was a time when the Jewish community reserved its rapture for rabbis, poets, teachers, philosophers and violinists. But more recently the balance of community respect shifted in the most warped of ways. Suddenly, investment bankers, financial advisers, hedge fund managers, bond traders and real estate moguls were rock stars. We regarded them, mistakenly, as wise sages. But as we now know, many of them were not even Masters of their own Universe.

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