Dealing With Scandal. Again


Some scandals, when we learn of them, seem almost predictable, a disgrace that was just waiting to happen. Others, like the news this week that William “Willy” Rapfogel, the popular and successful executive director and CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, has been fired and is under investigation for financial misconduct, come as a shock. As a Jewish community leader who had helped Met Council, during his more than two decades at the helm, grow into a major social-service organization, Rapfogel was energetic, effective, focused and well connected. Now, it seems in hindsight, to a fault.

In time we are sure to learn more particulars about the temptations of cozy, beneficial relationships between politicians and those who profit from their support. There is every indication that the investigation underway by the state’s attorney general and comptroller, as part of a new anti-corruption task force, will go deeper and wider into the political realm. We are still waiting for more shoes to fall.

But even as the community hunkers down and concentrates on assuring that the important work of Met Council continues as efficiently as possible, helping the growing ranks of Jews in need, one can’t help but notice that a disturbing number of high-profile, embarrassing cases of late have a common denominator: Jewish men.

Just a few weeks ago another longtime top official of a highly respected Jewish organization in town was forced out of office. Sol Adler, executive director of the 92nd Street Y, was terminated after the board learned of his relationship with an employee whose son-in-law allegedly extorted 92Y vendors. In recent days SAC Capital Advisors, the major hedge fund headed by Steven A. Cohen, was charged with insider trading. And of course there are the sexual escapades of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former Rep. Anthony Weiner, revisited — and in Weiner’s case continued — now that they are running for public office again.

(It has also been noted that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, under intense pressure to resign because of his long history of sexually harassing women, is Jewish as well.)

What’s particularly disturbing about the Rapfogel and Adler cases is that they are accused of crimes that took place while they were leading worthy Jewish social service and cultural agencies. For all of the lurid elements of the above-noted politicians, they were not called out for betraying the sacred trust associated with charities.

Each case, of course, is different — the men and the circumstances, and we are not rushing to judgment here. What is worth considering, though, is how we as a community respond to all of this public exposure. No doubt the younger generation, at least, has outgrown the sense of collective guilt or worry Jews felt when one of their own brought shame on himself. But the flipside of that emotional confidence is that we have lost an element of collectivity, one Jew for the other.

Perhaps we should be reflecting, in the month of Elul, the season of introspection leading up to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, not only about our own misdeeds but about a society that seems almost inured from the shock of sin and illegal behavior.

The sound of the shofar that is sounded each morning this month of Elul is to remind us that the Days of Judgment are soon upon us. Time to repent, to seek forgiveness. And none of us are absolved.