5/11/11

Forward: Madoff and his Jewish Friends Merkin, Chais, Levy, Shapiro and Picower

Yes, as we have said from day one of the scandal, Bernie Madoff is a Jew. Using the opportunity afforded her by the release of a new book by a New York Times reporter (Diana Henriques, “The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust”), Jane Eisner of The Forward now reminds us that Madoff's biggest investors and funnels were also Jews ("The Jewish Roots of Madoff's Crime: A Quartet of Investors Bestowed His Credibility").

She invokes the names of the best known members of the mob, Merkin, Chais, Levy, Shapiro and Picower (somehow she forgets to mention the European funnel, Sonja Kohn). Yes they are all Jews.

We do subscribe to the "better we should condemn them" theory, and have been vocal about their misdeeds in this blog.

But we do not seek meaning or moral lessons in this grand mess. Eisner does start to do that and comes up short in our estimation. Perhaps by asking more questions we could have avoided the mess, she mulls. No, we say. The disaster could have been averted by at the least refusing to give money to the man and at the best by turning in the crook to the authorities. Questions are entertainment, nothing more than a diversion.

Most puzzling to us is what in universe Eisner means when she concludes based on the new book that we need to realize, "the point that the Madoff debacle was also a communal failure." Okay, realize away, knock yourself out with realizations. Raise you consciousness too, perhaps get yourself indignant. Have a blast why don't you!

After all the realizing that we can muster, here is the outcome. Madoff was Jewish. He had lots of Jewish friends. He gathered up lots of money. He was active in his fabulous Fifth Avenue Synagogue. He was treasurer of the holy Yeshiva University. He gathered up more money from Jews and gentiles.

Madoff was a crook. Some of the people who invested with him knew he was crooked. They did not stop him. They gave him or got for him, more money, and more money. And when the economy tanked, his schemes all failed, lots of money went missing, and he is in jail now.

Why is this a communal failure and why does Eisner conclude that, "the only prayer we have of escaping another scandal is to recognize that uncomfortable truth"? Uncomfortable truth? Prayer? There is no truth to recognize amidst all the lies, uncomfortable or otherwise. Prayer or no prayer, there will be other scandals, other lies, other human-made disasters, whether we tell about, recognize or realize what happened long ago in all of the mythic misdeeds of the book of Genesis or just recently in the crimes of the book of Madoff. Stories of misdeeds may entertain, they do not change a thing.

FWIW here is Eisner's concluding riff.
...Perhaps, if Chais, Levy, Shapiro and Picower had been more skeptical, they might have been able to curtail Madoff’s egotistical ride. Perhaps if the boards at Hadassah and Yeshiva University and the American Jewish Congress and other worthy causes had rules in place to safeguard their investments, they might not have raised as much money as they did in the fat years, but they might have staved off the lean ones —or, in the case of Congress, stayed alive. Perhaps if more people questioned Bernie Madoff rather than assuming that his luxurious lifestyle anointed him with integrity, this catastrophe might have been avoided.

None of this is to absolve the government of its woefully incompetent role in policing Wall Street, nor does it excuse lawmakers from allowing a feeding frenzy to build off of unregulated commerce. But “The Wizard of Lies” drives home the point that the Madoff debacle was also a communal failure and that the only prayer we have of escaping another scandal is to recognize that uncomfortable truth.

“At the beginning,” Henriques writes, “Madoff exploited the trust and respect he had earned in a close-knit Jewish community. His reputation in those circles was his original passport to financial credibility in the wider world…. By the end, he was pulling in cash from every corner of the globe, but it was a harvest that had grown from his own Jewish roots.”

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