NewsBits: The Jewish Web and Madoff

As many weekly Jewish publications are published the end of the week, it is not surprising the Madoff scam has received prominence in all. After all, in the Jewish world, this has been the over-riding focus of the past week. There are literally hundreds of articles and blog posts we have sifted through – here are just a few you may find interesting.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield writing on the Professional Leaders Project blog:

Likewise, all of the philanthropists who “invested” with Madoff had one desire: to increase their wealth and their ability to use it in meeting human needs from education to cancer care. Could they have done better due diligence? Should they have researched more fully? Of course. But when we are busy doing good things, it’s easy to overlook the details and imagine that it will all workout. After all we tell ourselves, “it’s all for a good cause.”

Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector of American Jewish University:

What would the sages say about Madoff?

“As a religious Jew, how do you see it being OK to daven three times and day and then defraud the Jewish communities of many cities of their funds?“ Dorff asked. “If anything, this shows you can’t be a religious Jew simply by observing the laws. Being a religious Jew must entail being moral as well. Beside the fact that it both illegal and immoral to do this to individual investors—to do it to Jewish federations representing the Jewish community is just unconscionable. What happened to Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh BaZe—all Jews are responsible for each other?“

from Ethics @ Work (The Jerusalem Post):

Madoff’s ‘perfect storm’ of misconduct

An additional shirking of responsibility by Jewish charities involved governance failures: conflicts of interest between personal and institutional interest. The most salient of these is Yeshiva University. Madoff was treasurer of the university’s board of trustees, while Ezra Merkin served on their investment committee. Yet YU invested endowment funds in an investment fund Merkin ran, which “invested” its own money through Madoff. The conflict of interest is obvious and has been a long-term source of controversy at the university.

the following two links are both from The Jerusalem Post:

Eckstein: Christian supporters are ready to fill philanthropic void

In light of the global economic crisis and the far-reaching consequences of the Madoff investment scam, it is time for Jews to accept the support of the Christian community, which is willing to fill the void in the troubled Jewish philanthropic world, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Medical and scientific institutions fear fallout

Israel’s medical and research institutions, which depend heavily on overseas contributions for their infrastructure, growth and development, are likely to suffer massive shortfalls due to the world economic crisis and to businessman Bernard Madoff’s alleged Ponzi scheme, which wiped out some $50 billion.

Some of the organizations and donors had invested in funds that Madoff gambled away, and most of them fear their contributors may have fallen victim to Madoff, the serious drop in the value of their Wall Street investments, and even unemployment.

from The Forward:

Madoff Scandal Rips Apart Close World of Jewish Philanthropy

Now, Madoff’s collapse has gone off like an atomic blast in the midst of that world, leaving behind the wreckage of shattered lives and fortunes, and creating a gaping hole where there were once billions of dollars — and, more importantly, implicit trust.

It is this trust that makes possible the very existence of the relatively intimate world of Jewish philanthropy, where charity and business often mix. The loss of money and trust together has dealt Jewish philanthropy — a pillar of American philanthropy — a blow from which it will not recover anytime soon.

from The New York Jewish Week:

Amid Madoff Wreckage, New Calls For Reform

And even Jewish groups that had nothing to do with Madoff and his financial manipulations are feeling the pinch, or soon will, as the foundations that give them money close or retrench, and their biggest donors add up their Madoff loses.

At the same time, the Madoff wreckage will thwart efforts by Jewish groups to cope with the worst recession in decades.

Many believed they could rely on their most generous donors, whose losses in the world wide meltdown were large but who still had enough left to keep giving at high levels, to get them through a deep and long downturn.  For some, Madoff’s alleged fraud and the cascading losses effectively dashed those hopes, increasing their vulnerability and limiting their options as the economic slide continues.

Several Jewish leaders said the devastation wrought by the Madoff collapse points to the long overdue need for reform in how Jewish organizations get their operating funds.