Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Madoff, Trust Shattered, Faith Shaken

I remember very clearly the first thing one of my good friends said when the details of the Bernard Madoff scandal were first starting to emerge, "I hope he isn't Jewish."

This simple sentence, "I hope he isn't Jewish," reveals a great deal about the pride and vulnerability that we as Jews in America often feel at the same time.

A recent article in the New York Times, focused on Yeshiva University, which lost $100 Million in the Ponzi scheme.

Yeshiva not only invested with Madoff, he had sat on their board for over a decade and was even made their treasurer. This relationship is causing many of the professors and students to start reevaluating not only the attention given to ethics, but the place of money and power in our society.

Although the NYT article doesn't say it explicitly, I think that there is an element of betrayal the runs right down the middle of this scandal. It's bad enough that Madoff is Jewish and that his actions tarnish all of us. It's even worse that his actions directly took advantage of and caused hard to the Jewish community.

Many foundations will have to shut down due to the staggering losses of money, a great deal more people who would have been employed by or helped by those foundations are now forced to look for alternatives.

In a community as diverse, opinionated, and outspoken as the Jewish community, I think that the Madoff scandal hits us in a very vulnerable spot, namely, the belief in ahavat Yisrael, the love of Israel, or practically, looking out for other Jews.

While Madoff's actions are contemptible regardless of the victim, due to the particular damage caused to the Jewish community, in reputation as well as in actual financial harm, I think that there is even more anger than would normally be the case.

If our trusted institutions are getting hoodwinked, and by a Jew, no less, it causes our faith in the system itself to be shaken. And in times like these, when the system seems to be falling apart, faith is pretty important.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very thoughtful. Madoff has done irreparable harm to thousands who trusted him and worse, to those who depended on the federations (LA and Seattle) and Jewish organizations like Hadassah. How could he? How can he live with himself? Very comfortably, it appears.