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The Meaning of Madoff

I have a little boy who, whenever he does something he knows is wrong, immediately looks around him to see how other people, especially big people, will react. It is almost as though the act of looking around betrays the misdeed itself. It is very cute.

What is not cute is when Jews do this in light of the Madoff affair. The internet seems to be full of talk about whether and how the affair will affect anti-Semitism in America and elsewhere. Abe Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, has described the scandal as “a perfect storm for the anti-Semites.” Bradley Burston, writing at Haaretz.com, has referred to Madoff as “the anti-Semites’ new Santa” and “the answer to every Jew-hater’s wish list.”

With all due respect, this is the wrong direction to be looking. True, there is a difference in perspective between how America should view Madoff and how American Jews should see him. For America, we’re talking about one of the biggest swindles in human history, and there need to be many, many hard questions about oversight, reporting, regulation, and law enforcement. For American Jews, the question is different: Madoff and the money he managed were a central part of the Jewish financial ecosystem. Tragedy has struck in the form of countless charitable organizations suddenly left out on a limb, whole foundations wiped out, and literally billions of dollars that will not reach Jews in need. The hard questions have to do with how the disaster was allowed to happen, what could have prevented it, and how to cope with the devastation. The last question American Jews should be asking themselves right now is “what will the goyim think?”


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