Madoff Scandal Terrorizes Jewish Philanthropy

Photo by ArteMuestra

By now there is no way that you haven’t heard of the Bernard Madoff securities scandal, which ripped through the Jewish world, leaving contrails of devastation in its wake. Madoff is the perpetrator of what has become the largest Ponzi Scheme in the history of finance, knowingly sabotaging tens of Jewish foundations, many of them comprising the vertebrae of the Jewish giving world.

Since I haven’t been able to write about this myself (remember those baby feet?), I am outsourcing this post by listing relevant sources where you can learn more about the disaster.

Start by knowing your terms.

Read the story as it broke.

Ask: “How could this have happened?”

— Keep reading to learn about how the Madoff scandal affects the Jewish giving world. —

Learn the details of the scandal so that you understand its context and effects.

Get a better understanding of how this will effect Jewish philanthropy beyond the simple and heartbreaking closing of major foundations.

And finally, read the hands-down best coverage anywhere in the media by my colleagues in the Jewish philanthropy blogosphere: eJewish Philanthropy and The Fundermentalist. Start at the first posts when the story broke (listed below) and keep reading forward chronologically to get a full understanding of this tragedy.



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26 Responses to Madoff Scandal Terrorizes Jewish Philanthropy

  1. Ian says:

    We, as Jews, think of ourselves as the canary in the coalmine, that we are first to detect a failure in a system of thought or organization. Without a moral compass, we become what we condemn, in fact, we become the stereotype of everything wrong with the system, as evidenced in this case.

    We find fault with failed systems and while tunneling through we get caught up in the system itself. This is why Israel is so important, a place where we have our own system of thought and organization, where our warning system activates a self-correcting mechanism. Of course, this depends on our believing in ourselves so that we take ourselves seriously enough to think of ourselves as an authentic system.

    I feel total disgust with this person, though his appearance reminds me of a Peter Sellers character from Dr. Strangelove, even his name is cryptic. If it was a comedy, it would be hilarious but unfortunately it isn’t and it is beyond tragic. This is why Jews are hated, because instead of choosing good some choose bad and it becomes so flagrant and offensive that it denigrates mankind. SInce Jews represent the last chance of mankind to escape the primitive nature we inherited, it has cosmic repercussions.

    This should set to rest the conundrum about why anti-semitism exists. Bernard Madoff is a creator of anti-semitism because in his insane mind, he believes the exception makes the rule, that he has the right to exploit the weak because it is possible. People with no impulse control are the cause of all that demeans life.

    There is no punishment that could equal what Madoff did because he has brought shame onto an entire people, those of the Jewish faith. He has single-handedly extinguished the candles burning to commemorate the Hanukkah holiday. The light he shines reveals the ugly and sordid nature of life, not the beauty and purity that lies at the center of our profound and inspiring religion.

  2. Ian says:

    Is that why its called a “hedge fund,” a place where people come to get “trimmed?” Fat cats on a diet?

  3. mbilinsky says:

    The Madoff scandal has wreaked havoc on American Jewish morale. In the below blog post, I suggest a way to restore it:

  4. repainter says:

    what surprises me is the lack of outrage and protest by jewish leaders and politicians.
    Madoff should be put in jail with hardened criminals and sse what evil and suffering are.

  5. Ian says:

    Repainter, I agree. It’s evidence of cowardice and probably a desire to ride out the storm and let it blow over. It won’t though because its magnitude is of historic dimensions and it shouldn’t blow over, any more than any crime against mankind can be.
    What is wrong with Jews is a failure of character, a tragic flaw that requires them to only appreciate themselves if others appreciate them as well, which will never happen, it is illogical. But this is the main character deficiency of Jews, the desire to want to be liked. Its as if the eleventh commandment is: Thou shall be liked.
    Our failure is that by being the first and foremost monotheistic religion that changed the world from paganism and human sacrifice to the modern point of view, we have made ourselves expendable, in this we agree with Islamic radicals, our time is past. Until we realize and support that our religion is unique and important in itself, we will continue to be an outcast from the historical process.

  6. Debra M says:

    Ian, Repainter, your comments are frightening. The Jewish community is mortified by this behavior. It is everything the Jewish Community is against. It is against our learning, the Talmud, the Ten Commandments, which I seem to have to remind you are from the Old Testament. The Jews are furious and vocal. Open your eyes. And Jews don’t just think this man should go to Rikers, we feel he should die, though that would be too easy for him. So really, Jews have character, education, desire and work ethic. There are many, many Gentile criminals as well. But, when a Jew does something, it’s all the Jews in the anti-semite’s mind. Christians get a pass on that one because there are so many.

  7. Ian says:

    Debra, repainter’s point is that there is no official condemnation of the crime of Madoff, as an apology in the name of Judaism. This is similar to the lack of condemnation of the crimes committed in the name of Islam, nobody speaking out. It is our responsibility to condemn Madoff publicly and vociferously because he has hurt many people, many vulnerable people and his behavior is an affront to our religion. If our religion means anything, if it stands for anything, then this behavior is unacceptable and must be treated as anathema to our faith. He needs to be publicly condemned so it is clear we make a distinction between his behavior and our own, in other words, he has violated his right to claim any connection to Judaism, that he betrayed.
    Its not that we need to be subservient to others viewpoints, it is that we must be faithful to our own standards of behavior. Its not enough to punish Madoff, he is being punished for the crime he committed. But his crime goes much deeper than that, he has injured human dignity and nobility and that cannot be allowed to stand. This is the concept behind facing your victimizer in court, in cases of murder or others. The injury is to the psyche, not just a material violation and this assault to dignity must be confronted directly. Madoff should know he is an outcast to his own people, a people he somehow felt were worthy of being victimized. He appears to be an authentic psychopath who enjoyed the game of victimization, but if not a mental illness, it reflects a harsh judgment he has pronounced against his own people. Unless he is correct, this judgment must be placed back on him, that he is the problem, not the system or those he exploited. He and he alone is the problem. People put trust in him and trust is the basic bond between people, mutual respect and finding each other the cause we believe in, furthering each other in pursuit of creating a better world. Money is not evil in itself, it is a means of exchange, it is the meaning given to it that matters, it expresses value judgments and to exploit organizations and individuals who used money in the pure service of good is a crime that beggars belief.

  8. Debra M says:

    I agree that the Jews should publicly condemn Madoff. He is a criminal in every sense of the word. Jews feel horrible and revile this man. He certainly is an outcast and his crime is double in that it is a crime of property, but also, a crime of the soul by having broken so many other people’s trust. If you look online at many articles, I think you will see that the Jews are appalled and very publicly condemn him. I am confused by your belief that this is not happening. From a personal standpoint, I am horrified that a fellow Jew can bring so much shame to an entire people. If I had the personal power to excommunicate this man from my religion, I would. You must read up on this. We take this very personally and condemn him vociferously. What I don’t agree on was from your first statement that Jews have a failure of character. With or without others appreciation of our work and lives, we will continue to live our lives honorably. I certainly don’t look for others to be watching for me to be honorable, or charitable. I am personally hurt and offended by that kind of broad characterization. I know you don’t care. But it is no different than when my stock broker, a Southern Baptist ran off with my money. Do I then condemn every Southern Baptist? Jews are the first to condemn the actions of other Jews. Even in Israel, you see Jews protesting for the Palestinian rights. Condemning other Israelis and Jews with whom they disagree is the reason for such diverse parties. You don’t see Palestinians marching for Israelis or anybody else. I’m not condemning them, it just isn’t who they are. But it is what Jews are and your characterization is incorrect. I don’t hope to change your view, though it would be nice, but I just wanted you to know. His wife was forced to hire body guards, not because we were pelting him with flowers.

  9. Debra M says:

    Ian, you also say that Jews don’t do things unless others appreciate what we do. You also said it didn’t make sense because Jews would never be appreciated. That may be, but that won’t stop us from doing what we do. I don’t understand what that comment means. Jews have contributed significantly to this world. I am some do appreciate many of the things discovered, invented or created by Jews. I believe most people do things for personal reasons, because it’s their work or their passion. It isn’t like wearing a brand label so people will notice.

    That so many Jewish contributions benefit society is something that I’m sure some people do appreciate. If you don’t, that’s okay. But again, a lack of character, the need for appreciation. It isn’t who we are.

    Finally, regardless of religion, race, nationality, culture, etc., the basic personality profiles break down the same. People are the same inside, good and bad in every group. The same – straight down the line.

  10. Ian says:

    Debra. you want to be seen as like everyone else, but there will always be anti-semitism if we avoid accepting the role of Chosen People. We can’t have it both ways, accepting the mantle of being the chosen people and not holding ourselves to a higher standard for ourselves than for others. We are empowered to be a light unto the nations. To the gentile world, trying to fit in and be like everyone else is understood as our abandoning responsibility for the world we have been entrusted with by God.
    Debra, when you generalize about human nature, you are trying to sanitize the crime committed by Madoff, to blame it on the sinfulness of mankind. Gentiles would see this as us shirking our responsibility and placing it on non-Jews. We can’t have our cake and eat it too.
    There is a movement in America among people on the left to create a universal religion called secularism, which is seeing democracy as a religion. It is involved in the demonization of Israel, which is seen as a colonial enterprise that goes against this universalist movement. This movement condemns all religions in a moral relativistic manner, religion itself is the problem, when it is the only solution possible. These leftists also give Islam a free pass because to condemn one religion is seen by the secularists as a form of hypocrisy.
    The only hope for mankind is the Jewish people living and acting up to our reputation and nature as a Chosen people with a special mission to fulfill that will bring justice and peace to the world. Until we realize we are not the cause of the world’s problems, we are condemned to fuel the fires of anti-semitism and self-hate.

  11. Debra M says:

    Then what do we do, what can you or I do, ourselves to fix this? I am not trying to pass the buck. I feel this man set us back hundreds of years and I believe he should be killed. How do you or I, specifically, change the world view in light of what he has done? What would make the world believe that we are holding ourselves to a higher standard? Jews contribute to the world in many many ways and nobody wants to think of that. How can we say to the world that we as individuals reject this man when we are not able to make the law, which would no doubt include stoning him to death? I cannot sleep because of this man. I cannot get what he’s done out of my mind. It is consuming me. How do I help the world know that this is not who we are?

  12. Debra M says:

    Truly, I don’t know what to do. Regarding the way I live my life, I try to be the best person possible. I do not hurt anyone, ever, that I am aware of. I try to leave everything better than when I found it. I donate, volunteer, attend shuul, make latkas, provide shelter to people who need it. I am honorable in all my dealings and try to give much more than I get. What can I do. I will do it. I cannot stand how we are viewed. It is truly harming me at this point. My nieces yelled at me tonight at dinner about how obsessed I am with this. I am not being rhetorical. I really wonder what you think a good action plan would be for us. I mean an actual plan, a list of things we can do. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  13. Ian says:

    This moral disaster eats at me as well, we share that concern. In a way, Madoff is the coal mine canary, but after the fact, the final nail in the coffin of unregulated free market capitalism. But there are so many other Jews involved in the formulation of economics that led to this financial meltdown and Madoff’s moral collapse. Greenspan let it happen with his belief in the philosophy of Ayn Rand. Robert Reich, sec. of commerce under Clinton fought regulating the derivatives market. It wasn’t economics without any foundation, Greenspan did what he could to save the economy by keeping interest rates low, which encouraged the Bush ownership society, which turned into a form of slavery. Reich thought derivatives worked to spread risk and this is true, as we see the global nature of the recession. We see that the enemy of the west is Islam and Jihad, and recently the attempt to adopt Islamic sharia law in banking and insurance in the west.
    Debra, my contention is that our philosophy and religion is the correct one. We cannot be inauthentic to ourselves in adopting the philosophy and work in the service of others. Be cannot continue to be the ghetto Jew, the court Jew, the middle-man serving others anymore. We have our own country. We have to stop apologizing for being different. We have to stop explaining away that we are different. We have to embrace our difference and continue the work God entrusted us with.
    We have to respect other religions as representing other peoples but realizing they are derivative from our original and genuine religion. We have to lead. I know that gentiles have chosen to believe what they do because they have universalized Judaism and made it possible to leave their own pagan beliefs and follow monotheism. We have to stop patronizing gentiles pretending they don’t know that their beliefs are derived, just as economics has derivatives to spread responsibility and risk. In Judaism there is no risk, Islam excludes risk from economics. We have to stop materializing our religion, in how it effects the world, our accomplishments are great bu t they are minute in dealing with the human tragedies all around us. Just as our religion is based on the character of individuals in the Old Testament, people who are so real as to walk off the page into real life, our religion is about the character of each Jew living. Not the composite of what we do, what we achieve, but who we are and the character we hold. The world has conspired against us to keep us out of the historical process, the Romans, babylonians, Greeks, egyptians, communism, fascism, and now secularism. We have contributed to the movements against us but our core has always been preserved. Our extreme embrace of Judaism, as exemplified by Madoff’s New Orthodox Judaism, is as false as the secularists who reject any trace of Judaism. I know from America that Judaism is something you hide, women with rhinoplasty and changing one’s name. It is seen as a disadvantage. We don’t trust gentiles to accept us but maybe its because we don’t accept ourselves. Israel relieves this need to hide our Judaism, but it isn’t enough because we exist in the world of different people. Anti-zionist Jews are complicit in wanting us to be engaged in the world, the religious wanting the Messiah to come before Israel is reborn, the Avraham Berg’s because he doesn’t know how Judaism can engage the world and change it so he condemns Israel for not living up to his exaggerated standards for us while working with our enemies. He thinks if we complain about ourselves others will accept us, but he is wrong.
    I am working on a book that I am desperate to complete about how we can change the world and it is simple. When Maya begins posting our Brandeis fellowship entries, including my own you will have the answer to your question. When this will be is unclear.

  14. Ian says:

    Madoff is the canary in the coalmine of the problem that Jews have become too well integrated into American life, that we are seen as being experts in our fields, that we have been conditioned into working for the betterment of America. Madoff has broken this bond of trust for whatever reasons, a cynical view of the counterfeit nature of this acceptance, something I would agree with as well. If you read the post in this thread about bringing back Seinfeld as the anti-toxin of Madoff’s moral poison, you see how American Jews have embraced this acceptance. But one must realize clearly by now that the philosophy of America, the materialism as economic policy has failed, that capitalism has failed as badly as communism, when it had a clear road ahead. Obviously the two oppositional economic theories were siamese twins that needed each other to survive. It is our role as Jews, who are blamed by both sides for being responsible for the other systems and their failures to untangle this knot. Obviously we are in the middle of both systems and blamed by both sides. I believe I have the answer of why this is, why the Holocaust happened and how we can save the world. I just wish I had the means to bring this theory to the world, to the marketplace of ideas to be judged on its merits. I believe it is true and I hope someday it will become widely known.
    Debra, you are really the first person with the genuine desire to know what can be done that I have come across. I have corresponded with professors, think tanks, Brandeis, intellectuals, who all rate my theory highly but for some reason don’t feel impelled to pursue it. I was recently in contact with a professor from URI whose book touches on the ideas I have and my theory actually corrected hers. She agreed with my theory but was beginning a new course at the school that she had just began working at and didn’t desire to continue our conversation.
    I guess I have to thank Madoff for creating the conditions that might just, barely and grudgingly bring notice to my theory, though blindness hasn’t been cured as of yet. I thank you with all my heart for your good heart and integrity in taking this scandal and crime to heart. You have been moved by it and that is a good thing.

  15. Ian says:

    The counterfeit nature of the mutualistic nature of the Jewish place in America is based on something good. What is special about America and in need of defending is the role of God in American life. As opposed to Europe where religion in political life is accepted, America has a special place for God, outside of politics. The American support for Israel and acceptance of Jews in American life is due to this faith in God. I believe the fact that Eisenhower led the war against the nation of his forebearers, and his Mennonite faith, made WWII a war over the place of Jews in history. America has fought for others all over the world, not to promote capitalism or democracy but keeping the spirit of God alive in the world, in Kosovo and in current wars. Jihad is a war against God, as in all authoritarian and totalitarian systems God is dead, man becomes God. Islam has killed their god by making man bigger than God, though they think they are only defending God, but their God is one I don’t know and most sane people don’t either. You can’t kill the innocent in the service of God. It is clear.
    But America patronizes Jews at the same time by acknowledging that we are not the same people we were. Support for Israel has never been complete or unfettered by politics. But Israel is the seat of God, where God lives and America is committed to safeguard Israel. Unfortunately, the new Obama administration seems to want to preserve Israel after the fact, after Israel is destroyed by a nuclear bomb. Iran is trying to hijack history and is acting in the service of evil and this can’t be allowed to stand.
    Israel is never more loved and appreciated than acting in the service of good, and good is something all people can agree on. Israel has been appreciated when it has been strong. We have to accept what all other people know, our role in the world is special and we have to be true to it, without hesitation or failure of nerve. Gesher tsar meod.

  16. Ian says:

    The palestinians coaxing us to attack them is their attempt to invalidate our principle of holding life as the highest virtue. But this eyeball contest, this contest of wills is based on the false premise that Islam is upholding its side of the bargain, representing life as its highest virtue. They are doing the opposite by endangering innocent of their own. It goes back to their version of the Abraham and Isaac story, where they have replaced Isaac with Ishmael and changed the meaning of the story. In their version, faith in God includes sacrificing their own children, when our version is the beginning of human rights, that no one has the right to judge another as less than ourselves, that all life is precious.
    The Palestinians are taunting us by making themselves victims. Our moral dilemma is what to do, how to safeguard our principle of holding life as inviolable and defending life. Their attempt to lob rockets at us, and this interpretation by the british press and others, is as if they don’t intend to hurt individuals when what else would they be lobbing rockets for, its not a form of non-violence. Implicit is the threat of violence and it shows their belief in their religion depends on having an enemy that can prove their faith in the act of sacrifice, be it suicide bombers or others. Their version of God is inauthentic and this nullifies the attempt to intimidate us. We must act to defend our innocent at whatever cost because unfortunately it is a war over God, whose faith in God is true, and they are pushing us to prove it. I believe that in every person is a seed of good, that people want to live good lives, some are living with character deficiencies and in need of correction, something they secretly want themselves but are unable to implement themselves. Unfortunately, in the cause of liberation to a higher purpose, we have to do what is right and even the Old Testament shows there are wars conducted in the cause of good and our religion has sacrifice also, in the service of doing God’s work. We can’t live untouched by the world, by the pain of others and the need to do what is right, even if it has a price. We can’t stop now thinking we have paid a high enough price, not if we are God’s chosen people. Until the world is perfect, there is a price to be paid but our faith in God and in life makes this price acceptable and necessary.

  17. Debra M says:

    I look forward to your book. What will it be called. I will look for it.

  18. Debra M says:

    By the way, I had a Madoff-free five minutes today. Maybe I am making progress from this. I cannot get over it.

  19. Ian says:

    Debra, thanks. My book is intended for people like you, people who care and deserve to find peace and joy in the world, in the short time we have to share life on this planet in our slice of time.
    I need a year to write it so it is far from finished, life is an obstacle to its completion. It is shocking to me that there is no support for ideas that can only benefit the world. Its as if our faith in ourselves requires a test of running a gauntlet before anything positive can happen. We think about how many people who died in the holocaust could have contributed to fight cancer and all the other problems mankind faces. Being a Jew in the world is the most existentially challenging experience possible, our very life is challenged daily and throughout history. That may be why we believe in the Messiah, the real impossibility of ever accomplishing our mission to the world. In a way, Jesus gift to the world was throwing up his hands into the air and asking why, God is it so hard. We as Jews have not and will never give up, no matter the hardships that face us. It is the easy life that is a greater threat than the opposite. We have to always remember how precarious our position in the world is, unite as a people, and this requires we fight for justice, within, until the final stone in the pyramid of justice can be placed and a chain reaction of peace and justice spontaneously react that can transform the world. Madoff will be a footnote in history when history is finally written and to him that is the greatest punishment possible. So rest, Debra, help is on the way As MLK said, we may not all reach the promised land but it will be reached as long as we can imagine it.

  20. Debra M says:

    I think you are far far deeper and smarter than I am. I see what you are saying and I agree; I just don’t see how yet. If the law was in our hands, that would be one thing. If we could manage ourselves and set our own standards that we could enforce for Tzadakah, behavior, etc. I will look forward to what you have to say. I have a feeling when your book comes out, I will find it. I hope I’m smart enough to understand it.

  21. Debra M says:

    Ian, what do you think of today’s news with Israel attacking Gaza?

  22. […] States for the first time in several years and as expected, the hot topic of conversation is Bernie Madoff. Theories abound but few answers seem apparent. Here are some of the questions that I’ve […]

  23. Maya Norton says:

    Dear Debra and Ian,

    I’m so glad you’re having a great discussion, but I’d like to keep this blog focused on Jewish philanthropy as much as possible. Please move your conversation about Israel and Palestine to e-mail.

    Debra, Ian is a committed communicator, so I’m sure you’ll be able to continue in a new arena without issue.

    Thanks and Shavua Tov,

    ~ Maya

  24. Ian says:

    Maya, what is a committed communicator? I’ve never heard this expression before. Please inform me. I’ve never been characterized like that before. It sounds so bureaucratic.

  25. Maya Norton says:

    Hi Ian,

    I mean to say that if you and Debra are interested in carrying on a conversation, I know you will make it happen.

    ~ Maya

  26. Pollynkorect says:

    Yes, Jews ARE hated for the very reasons Ian notes above: “…because instead of choosing good some choose bad and it becomes so flagrant and offensive that it denigrates mankind.” But Jews are hated, not because a minority of Jews engage in isolated acts of flagrantly offensive behavior, but because the majority of Jews have chosen to collectively unite in their efforts to overthrow and dominate gentile culture wherever they go.

    Ian himself exhibits this characteristically Jewish narcissistic disorder, as evidenced by his childishly ethnocentric statement that “Jews represent the last chance of mankind to escape the primitive nature we inherited…” THAT attitude epitomizes the ugliness at the heart and soul of Judaism, which is nothing more than primitive racial supremacism masquerading as “God’s Chosen People” — NOT “beauty and purity” as Ian imagines. Just ask any Palestinian. Ask the 60+ million Russian Christians slaughtered by Jewish communists & their gentile lackeys. Ask the millions of sex slaves in the Jewish dominated porn industry. Ask the descendants of the white American Christian soldiers who saved Jews from Hitler — only to see those ingrates turn around and bite the hand that saved them!

    Jews have spent the twentieth century waging an all-out culture war against uppity Christian nations everywhere that resisted Jewish domination and control. First Russia fell, after Jews slaughtered the Russian Royal Family. Hilter understood the Jewish threat and attempted to defend the German people against Jewish tyranny. Unfortunately, he failed, and Germany was trampled under Jewish feet, followed eventually by much of Europe and England. America, the once proud Christian Savior of Jews, was destined to be Jewry’s next conquest. Nowaday Jews boast among themselves that they have largely succeeded in outlawing traditional American morality, flooding America with third world immigrants and imposing their values upon a majority gentile nation.

    Historically, Jews have done this wherever they go, worming their way into unsuspecting gentile nations, with the eventual goal of taking over — surrepticiously at first, then tiny bit by little bit, then more and more openly, until it’s IN-YOUR-FACE FLAGRANT. THIS is why people hate Jews. THIS is why Jews get kicked out of one nation after another.

    Ian goes on to say: “This is why Israel is so important, a place where we have our own system of thought and organization, where our warning system activates a self-correcting mechanism. Of course, this depends on our believing in ourselves so that we take ourselves seriously enough to think of ourselves as an authentic system.”

    In this matter, I must confess, I am just like Ian. I want a nation of my own people, too: “a place where we have our own system of thought and organization, where our warning system activates a self-correcting mechanism.” I want to live in a land of free, brave, self-confident, North European-Anglo-Saxon Gentiles — free of the poisonous, destructive influence of self-important Jews like Ian who think they are mankind’s Last Hope.

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