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July 31, 2009

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- .i _, " _ J 1  ii, ; .j . |lBiillmlKlJgBm HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 31, 2009 By Andrew Silow-Carroll New Jersey Jewish News History is good at telling us about the Before andAfter. How we get from one to the other, not so much. Before 70 CE, Jerusalem was the physical and spiritual center of the Jewish com- monwealth. After that year, after the Romans destroyed the Temple, Judaism survived as something different, a religion and people with- out a temple, sacrifices, or even a state. The transition from one era to another is a harder story to telk But the sages gave it their best shot, embodying the drama of sur- vival and revival in the story of one man, R.abbi Yohanan ben Zakkai. The Talmud and other sources tell us Rabbi Yo- hanan lived in Jerusalem during the Romaia siege. In the best-known story about him. Yohanan realizes that resistance to the Romans is futile; he defies the Jewish rebels and leaves the city to By Rob Eshman Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles Does it matter that so many of the men arrested today [July 23] in New Jersey and New York on charges that include money laundering and organ trafficking are Jewish? And not just Jewish but rabbis and community leaders? Of course it matters to Jews. This is big news from New York tO Los Angeles, with all the attendant hand- wringing and oy-gvalting that goes along with the rev- elation of a prominent crook who. as my mother would say, happens to be Jewish (see Madoff, Bernard). But you'll notice a lot of those arrested have Italian surnames. Is the Italianpress full of oy veys (in Italian. of course)? No. But Jews see a Goldstein in handcuffs, and feel viscerally the shame, the guilt, the fear of backlash. Some resent it. Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of CLAL, who made his resentment at the press's emphasis on the "Jew- ish" angle clear in this e-mail: When New Jersey mayors. politicians and rabbis get arrested for money launder- ing, it's news that should be reported. It's especially The day after the Ninth of Av negotiate with the Roman general Vespasian. Vespasian grants Yohanan one request, and it's this: "Give me Yavne and its sages." Yohanan goes on to establish a place of study well to the west of the fallen Jerusalem. In a fitting piece of symbol- ism, Yohanan is said to have escaped Jerusalem in a coffin; it is a resurrection story, after all, withYohananembodying a new form of Judaism that transforms animal sacrifices into acts of loving-kindness and a Temple-centered cult into a portable faith of study and mitzvot. I thought of Yohanan while reading a fairly apocalyptic new report by Steven Wind- mueller for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: "The Unfolding Economic Crisis: Its Devastating Implications for American Jewry." Windmueller paints a dire picture of contemporary philanthropy and Jewish life. Fund-raising is down; synagogues and institutions are losing members and lay- ing off employees. Jews in finance, real estate, and allied fields--the backbones of Jew- ishgiving are unemployed, making less or withholding their usual gifts. Bernie Madoff may have cost Jewish institutions as much as $1 bil- lion and untold psychological damage. "Weakened by scandal and economic dislocation," writes Windmueller. the American- Jewish community that will emerge from the crisis will be "smaller," "less cohesive," with "fewer resources," and ultimately, less powerful. But contained within Windmueller's report are the seeds of a possible re- birth. He contends that Jewish organizations suffer from a "serious leadership deficiency"; however, "a new leadership will also likely emerge that will need to draw on the lessons of this period." For these younger Jews, "the changing economic picture may provide opportunities for further experimentation in creating new forms of Jewish expression and also acceler- ate their disengagement from traditional infrastructures." Paging Yohanan ben Zak- kai. The problem is that people and institutions heavily invested in existing systems have trouble imagining what will replace them or are resistant to losing the system as it is, however broken. Ask people in the newspaper industry--whose challenges uncannily parallel those within organized Jewish life. New media maven Clay Shirky wrote an important essay a few months back called "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable." It's not that newspaper people didn't se.e the Internet com- ing, he writes. The problem was that they Cried to "pre- serve the old forms of orga- nization in a world" that was "visibly going away." Unfortunately for them. the old model is broken as in beyond repair. And what will work in its place? "The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experirqents, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem...minor at launch" but may just reinvent the industry. Windmueller shows how this process worked for Jews during another economic tsunami. The Great Depres- sion wreaked havoc on Jew- ish drganization life. The same period, however, saw a religious revival, and innova- tive Jewish leaders began to experiment. "The American rabbinate saw a unique opportunity to galvanize Jews to engage in volunteer service in both the Jewish and larger American frameworks; to employ for the first time radio broadcasts and newspaper advertise- ments in reaching out and encouraging Jewish learning and synagogue involvement; and to speak out on public policy and social justice is- sues," writes Windmueller. "Similarly, fund-raising by Jewish charities in the 1920s achieved extraordinary re- Why the New Jersey rabbi sting stings groups when their leaders do the same? But the coverage, which initially began in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, suggests that the motivation for the coverage may be less than appropriate. In fact. it may be nothing less than an excuse to vent deep resentment at a particular portion of the Jewish community. When a headline reads. "NJ officials. NY rabbis caught in federal money laundering, corruption sweep," one ex- pects a story which describes that event. In this case how- ever, no mention is made of any rabbis actually getting arrested. Despite plenty of details about various politi- cos being taken into custody, there is nothing about rabbis. This may be a big deal. but the headline and the story don't match--where is the info on the rabbis? This kind of coverage actually borders on Jew-baiting, and it poten- tially says something at least as ugly about the author/ editors as it does about those who committed any crime. Consider the following quote found on the paper's website and carried on CNN: The arrests..."began with an investigation of money transfers by members of the Syrian enclaves in New tight-knit, wealthy commu- nities." the report said. "Enclaves"? "Tight-knit, wealthy communities"? Could it be that the paper harbors deep resentment against Jews who they see as over-privileged, stand-offish people who operate as a law unto themselves? Is this the moment to celebrate how "those people" will now get their comeuppance? If not. why describe the community in classically anti-Semitic ways instead of calling out the specific leaders who broke the law, violated the religious rules of their own community and should be punished to the full extent of the law for any wrongdoing they committed? This story needs to be told, but it needs to be told better than this. It needs to be about justice, not just desserts. By the way, when all this calms down. the Syrian-Jewish community should also take a good look at itself to see what they do which contributes to their being perceived of this way by their neighbors. While victims of bias should never be blamed for the bias against them, in most cases for a stereotype to take hold it must be rooted in some partial truth. Ironi- cally, coverage like that in the Star Ledger will make But J.J. Goldberg, the editorial director of The Forward, had perhaps the most insightful take on the Jewish reaction in a post Madoff interview with New Voices magazine. He said our reaction is shock not because we're afraid of anti-semitism but because we naively hold our religion inviolate: It's because we hold Juda- ism so dear, we don't want to think it's cal6able of creating problems. In 1993. therewas a wave of Pell Grant fraud cases where people were setting up phony schools to apply for Pell Grants and then keep- ing the money. [The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations] had two days of hearings. [Anti-Defamation League National Director] Abe Foxman wrote a letter [to John McCain] complaining that all of the witnesses that had been called up represented yeshivas. He said, the way this has been set up it could create the unfortunate impression that this is some particularly Jewish pattern of crime. And McCain wrote back and said. it is. Yeshivas were this huge network of institutions where people study full time. They had been mainly supported by the billionaire Reichman family from Toronto. [The Reichman family] went bust. about Judaism leading to wrongdoing. It can't be. Juda- ism is only good. The less involved you are in daily Jewish life. the more inviolate it has to be. Think of Superman and [the city of Kandor] in the little bottle in his Fortress of Solitude. It has to be preserved because there's nothing you can do with it. Flowers that you press into a Bible. The less you can do with it the more you need it to be perfect. Goldberg traces the prob- lem of corruption in the Jew- ish community to the rise in wealth (well, one could argue, it is kind of hard to be tempted to money-launder when you have no money). He says: Before the modern age, Jews lived in ghettoes. They. could tax themselves. Tze- dakah was not voluntary. Shabbes wasn't voluntary. The first synagogue in Amer- ica, Shearith Israel in New York, adopted a rule saying that if you violated Shabbes you got fined. It didn't work: People just resigned from PAGE 5A suits in a way not dissirhilar to American-Jewish institu- tions' success over the past quarter-century." This week Jews marked the Ninth of Av, mourning the Temple's destruction. Yet in his biography of Yohanan ben Zakkai, scholar Jacob Neusner writes that he was initially drawn to his subject by the "challenge of the 'next day,' the 10th ofAv inYavneh." Neusnerwas inspired by a fig- ure who had "passed through that awful time [and] would bearwitness that life could go on, in new forms to be sure, and men might confidently look beyond disaster." There is no one solution to the crisis Windmueller and others see within Jewish life. But Yohanan ben Zakkai understood that no solution was possible unless we dare to imagine new forms, new leadership, Andrew Silow-Carroll is the editor of the New Jersey Jewish News from which this article was reprinted by permission. the synagogue. [The com- munity] had lost enforcement power. And once you've lost enforcement power, you've got to ask for it. And once you've got to ask for money, you become dependent on the wealthy._Rabbis now depend on the goodwill of a few rich people. And so the balance of power between the moral- ists and the hedonists shifts. There used to be a check. The moral authority of the Jewish community had enforcement power. Now it's around for entertainment. Instead of scolding Jews, now they scold goyim. They have no author- ity to scold the Jews. None. Rabbis lose their jobs for being moral scolds. So there is no more moral authority. I don't know if the people arrested are guilty, but if they are. Goldberg's harsh last statement--"There is no more moral authority"--will be just a bit harder to disprove. Posted by Rob Eshman, editor of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles; www. jewish Dry Bones WITH 00C-RY ,00EI00EI00E L002AEL HAS IN i.tlS LATE00 REACHED BIBLICAL MESSAC00 TO important for Jews to hear York and New Jersey," the that ever less likely to hap- and all of a sudden there are TI( / 'Jl,E thisnewsandaddressthedis- newspaper said on its Web pen, confirming the kind allofthesecasesoffraudand comfort created by religious site, Those arrested of hostility which is used by money laundering. Anything leaders behaving badly. Isn't Thursday [July 23] "include any community looking for a to support this impossible that what we ask of other key religious leaders in the reason to turn inward, system. But you can't talk Stop attacks on Conference leaders By MenachemZ.Rosensaft welfare needs of the mostvul- real property, looted Judaica ily to the tireless efforts NEWYORK (JTA)--The re- cent international Conference on Holocaust Era Assets in Prague highlighted the plight of needy Holocaust survivors throughout the world. For the first time, 46 states endorsed the conclusion that "It is unacceptable that those who suffered so greatly during the earlier part of their lives should live under impover- ished circumstances at the end." and that"a high priority" must be to address "the social nerable elderly victims of Nazi persecution such as hunger relief, medicine and home care as required, as well as measures that will encourage intergenerational contact and allow them to overcome their social isolation. These steps will enable them to live in dignity-in the years to come." The conference'at the end of June also dealt with other pressing unresolved issues arising out of the Holocaust. including the restitution of communal and private Jewish and Jewish cultural property, Nazi-confiscated and looted art. the preservation of Jewish cemeteries and burial sites, the need to maintain the integrity ofthesitesofmassannihilation. and a categorical, unambigu- ous repudiation of Holocaust denial and trivialization. The declaration issued at the end constitutes a comprehensive road map of the final phase of the com- plex Holocaust reparations and restitution process. Its adoption was due primar- of Stuart Eizenstat, who headed the U.S. delegation: J. Christian Kennedy, the State Department's special envoy for Holocaust issues: and a group of dedicated professionals who ensured that experts and stakeholders alike had genuine input into the conference proceedings. Among the critical catalysts in the latter category are the members of the senior staff of the Conference on Jew- Conference on page 22A I THE SA003 -