Madoff, Christmas, Chanukah and Hebron

A Very Jewish Christmas

I fully enjoyed Elon Gold’s story, “Don’t Feel Bad! I Love Christmas, Too!” (Dec. 19). He left out that Christmas is the one time a year when millions of people worldwide celebrate the birth of a Jew.

Jason Levi

Chanukah Cover

The Chanukah cover (Dec. 19) is outrageous. Is that the best you can do a few days before our glorious Jewish holiday, Chanukah? Granted, Christmas is very important for Christians, celebrated by the gentile world only one day. This year, it falls in the middle of Chanukah, which is celebrated by Jews for eight days.

Would it not have been appropriate to have Jewish symbols on the same cover, such as a menorah, dreidles, Chanukah candles, candies, latkes, sufganyot, etc., marking our holiday? After all, it says it is “The Jewish Journal” — it is not a Christian paper, or is it? Are we not proud of our traditions of Chanukah celebrations?

Bernard Nichols
Los Angeles

Complete Madoff CoverageMadoff

The victims of the Bernard Madoff scam are guilty of one of the oldest sins in investing (“Madoff Scandal Rocks Jewish Philanthropic World,” Dec. 19). They wanted what everyone looks for and doesn’t exist: equitylike returns without equity risk.

Shame on the board members of the charities that were duped by Madoff, and double shame on the consultants and advisers the boards hired to guide them — they definitely should have known better. Once again, we learn the hard way that if someone promises you stock market returns without stock market risk, run don’t walk away — they’re either lying or incompetent. Shangri-La does not exist.

Robert Raede
Santa Barbara

The Jewish Community has a golden opportunity to use this misguided glaring spotlight on Bernard Madoff and his Jewishness to show that the Jewish community will do the counterintuitive thing, the right thing: Instead of throwing Madoff under the bus, the Jewish community must visibly ensure that Madoff receives a fair, unbiased trial; the Jewish community must visibly provide any religious and spiritual support and guidance Madoff needs, including spiritual and religious rehabilitation.

This should be done in spite of the fact that many Jewish institutions are his alleged victims. Our collective Jewish history is filled with cases of Jews that have been unfairly punished by the state because they were Jewish. Now that the Jewish community is in a spotlight it did not ask for, it must unequivocally show the world that as a group, it will never stray from its mandated justice and compassion, however painful.

Anything less would be playing into the hands of the Jew-haters and the self-hating Jews.

Martini H. Leaf
via e-mail

I am so proud of Rob Eshman (“Madoff,” Dec. 19). His condemnation of Bernard Madoff flies in the faces of those many Jews who believe in the lunacy that Jews can do no wrong. I believe we will become better if Rob, and others like him, continue to have the courage to expose the reality of our Jewish people, warts and all.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village

Several things bother me about Rob Eshman’s column about Bernard Madoff. As a retired criminal defense attorney, I find journalists who write or speak about Madoff without interjecting the caveat, “if he is guilty,” doing a disfavor to our judicial system that gives the presumption of innocence to all those accused of a crime.

However, the most disturbing thing Eshman wrote is, “What kind of world is it where Jews can’t trust fellow Jews?” To which I reply as a member of the human race, “What kind of a world is it where human beings can’t trust fellow human beings?”

I guess the answer to both our questions is, “It’s hell.”

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

A Pardon for Michael Milken

How ironic the same issue of The Jewish Journal that details the securities fraud of Bernard Madoff should have a column calling for a pardon for Michael Milken (“Bush Should Grant Michael Milken a Pardon,” Dec. 19). Milken went to jail for a reason and came out with enough money to buy his way back into the good graces of the Jewish community.

The organizations that honor him and put his name on buildings and projects that do good deeds forget the pain of those of us who lost money trusting him. The Madoff scandal reminds us that a crook doesn’t always carry a gun when he robs you.

Damage inflicted by white collar criminals endures. Milken should do good deeds for the rest of his life. He hurt a lot of people. He does not deserve a pardon.

Karen Heller Mason
Los Angeles

Dean Rotbart’s opinion in The Jewish Journal is that Bush should grant Michael Milken a pardon because he is a “tzadik.” The talmudic question is, “Is dirty money really tzedakah?” President Bush, a righteous man, what should he do?

Phil Bauman
Morro Bay

You want to write about President Bush righting a wrong (by way of a presidential pardon) before he leaves office for the final time, how about writing on behalf of a fellow Yid who is actually rotting away in jail and really does need our help (yes — we’re all sinners when it comes to our neglect in helping free Jonathan Pollard).

In case Messrs. Rotbart and Eshman aren’t aware, the median sentence for the offense Pollard committed — one count of passing classified information to an ally — is two to four years. Pollard has been rotting in jail now for 24 years under a life sentence without parole.

Pollard deserves a write-up for a presidential pardon more than Michael Milken ever will.

Shame on The Journal and Rotbart for wasting precious opinion space on such silly nonsense.

Daniel E. Goodman
Valley Village

Singles Column

For many weeks I have enjoyed Amy Klein’s “True Confessions.” It is hysterical reading the woman’s perspective and constantly reminds me of past dates I’ve been on — unfortunately.

Thanks for finding a place in The Journal for my weekly laughs. I hear the piece is coming to an end, and I thought I would put in a plug and let you know how much I have enjoyed it. If there were any possibility, I would love if you could continue printing my favorite comic strip.

Kenny Melcombe
via e-mail

Museum of Tolerance

The Wiesenthal Center plans to build a Center for Human Dignity by committing egregious acts of indignity and intolerance (“Protests Over Jerusalem Museum of Tolerance Spread,” Dec. 12). The point that the land is no longer designated as a cemetery by Israel is irrelevant and is not what is at issue here. There are still hundreds of Muslims buried on that land, and they do not deserve to have their final resting place be desecrated.

More than 150 skeletons were unearthed under the Wiesenthal Center’s supervision. It is our responsibility, as Jewish and Muslim people who understand extending respect toward sacred places and religious symbols, to ensure that the Simon Wiesenthal Center does not move forward with these plans.

Asmaa Ahmed

Building a structure of any kind, especially a Museum of Tolerance, over a Muslim cemetery, is like waving red flags in front of bulls. What, they don’t have enough reasons to hate us?

Sandy Savett
Santa Monica

This is to urge the Simon Wiesenthal Center to halt the building of a Museum of Tolerance over the Mamilla Cemetery in Jerusalem. Building a Museum of Tolerance atop the cemetery, unlike the admirable goal of furthering tolerance and understanding (as the Museum of Tolerance has done in the past), will only add to the existing pain and suffering of Palestinians and Israelis, irreversibly damage relations between Muslims and Jews worldwide and sow new feelings of animosity and division for generations to come. Is it worth the extra pain?

Dr. Murtadha A. Khakoo,
Chair, Department of Physics,
Cal State Fullerton

Please halt building over the Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem.

Greg Abdullah Ali

Violence in Hebron

In your coverage of the eviction of Jews from Hebron’s Beit Hashalom, a house whose purchase by an American Jew is currently being disputed in court, you asserted that the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the eviction and that the eviction was thus carried out pursuant to such an order (“Unchecked Settler Violence Sparks Fears of New Intifada,” Dec. 12). That is incorrect and misleading.

The Supreme Court did not order the eviction of the inhabitants of Beit Hashalom and, as such, the eviction did not take place pursuant to an effort to enforce such a ruling. Rather, as former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Yaakov Turkel said, “The ruling does not obligate the state to act to evacuate the Jews, but rather gives them the freedom to decide whether to do so or not.”

It was precisely that discretion — not an order — authorized by the court that led some 50 Knesset members to ask the government not to evict the Hebron Jews. The signatories included the chairpersons of seven Knesset parties, including Kadima and Likud, and several former ministers.

The Knesset members wrote, “The Supreme Court … did not obligate the government to evict them.” They also said, “It seems the settlers have serious evidence to prove their claims [of legal purchase] … in light of the new evidence presented … to the prosecutor’s office…. [A] heavy feeling of bias and injustice has followed the entire case. As public representatives, we warn that continued proceedings along these lines, leading to this result, is liable to significantly damage public faith in the judicial system.”

Morton A. Klein
National President
Zionist Organization of America

Dirty Money?

Exactly two weeks before a controversial last-minute presidential pardon made him a household name in the United States, Marc Rich was sitting in the VIP section at a mega-event for Birthright Israel in Jerusalem.

Surrounded by thousands of young, primarily North American Jews on free trips to Israel, Rich, one of 14 people who have pledged $5 million to the program, apparently was moved to tears.
“He loves Israel; you could see that he was so turned on being there,” said one Birthright official who sat near him at the event.

Rich, a commodities trader who fled the United States during an investigation that led to a 1983 indictment on 51 counts of tax evasion, racketeering and violating sanctions against trade with Iran, was one of 140 people pardoned by President Clinton on Jan. 20.

Rich, who is accused of evading $48 million in taxes, will now be able to return to the United States without fear of criminal charges.

His lawyers have argued that he was the victim of overly zealous prosecutors, but many critics believe his pardon is directly linked to the fact that his ex-wife is a major Democratic fundraiser.

In addition to raising questions about Clinton’s judgment, the case puts an uncomfortable spotlight on the many Jewish and Israeli causes, like Birthright Israel, that Rich supported.

Indeed, a recent New York Times article noted that the list of people who wrote letters supporting Rich’s pardon is “a virtual Who’s Who of Israeli society and Jewish philanthropy.”

Rich has given to a variety of major institutions in Israel, including Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Ben-Gurion University, the Israel Museum and the Jerusalem Foundation.

Rich also helped to bring dozens of Jews from Ethiopia and Yemen to Israel, Avner Azoulay, a former Mossad agent who runs Rich’s foundation in Israel, told Israeli media.

Efforts to reach Rich and Azoulay were unsuccessful.

The case also revives questions about the dilemma Jewish institutions find themselves in when faced with donors of questionable reputation.

Despite some related texts in the Talmud and Bible, ethics in fundraising is an issue around which there is little consensus in the Jewish world.

In the Rich case, no beneficiaries appear to be reconsidering his support.

Rich’s best-known beneficiary among American Jews is Birthright Israel, an international organization that has sent approximately 17,000 young Jews on free trips to Israel since its trips began last year.

The program has been widely praised for sparking Jewish interest among a largely unaffiliated group.
Michael Steinhardt, a hedge funds manager-turned-philanthropist who is one of Birthright’s founders, said the charges against Rich were “no source of concern.”

“Marc Rich is a well-established Jewish philanthropist and has given to many Jewish causes, and I’m pleased he’s chosen to give to Birthright as well,” Steinhardt said.

Asked whether Birthright would ever decline money from a person deemed unethical or criminal, Shimshon Shoshani, Birthright’s chief executive, said, “Of course there are some cases, but in this case it was no case.”

“If municipalities in Israel accept money from Marc Rich and other organizations accept money from his foundation, I don’t see any reason why Birthright Israel International will not accept money from his foundation,” Shoshani said.

Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, director of a project that aims to get “Jewish institutions to examine Jewish values in accepting money,” does see a reason.

Liebling, who works for the Philadelphia-based Shefa Fund, describes Rich’s prominence in Jewish philanthropy as a “serious problem” and says the Jewish community “needs to stand for values and ethical business practices.”

“We are not helping” if Jews take money from someone accused of violating the law or exploiting people and “restore that person’s good name without that person doing teshuvah,” he said, using the Hebrew term for repentance.

In Liebling’s view, “it is a rare Jewish organization that thinks carefully about the source of a donor’s money.”

Rabbi Tzvi Blanchard, director of organizational development at CLAL: The Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, is disturbed that none of Rich’s beneficiaries appeared to talk about whether he was a problematic donor until “it blew up as a public issue.”

“The dangerous thing is not that people make moral mistakes but that we don’t talk about it,” Blanchard said.

While Liebling and Blanchard decry the lack of attention given to the ethics of taking certain gifts, others say Jewish organizations frequently struggle with the issue.

They say they weigh reservations about honoring certain donors against a desire to fund what they believe are good and needy works.

“You want to give a person a chance to contribute to society. In Judaism there is a tradition of teshuvah — you don’t want to say because you did something wrong therefore you can’t return to our community and do good things,” Blanchard said.

However, said Blanchard, accepting money is different from publicly honoring a donor.
Reuven Kimelman, a Judaic studies professor at Brandeis University, said Jewish organizations face a difficult dilemma.

They “promote their cause by saying we’re doing something ethical” but also have to weigh the good a large gift can do, even if its donor raised funds in a potentially unethical manner.

Others argue that, other than a few high-profile cases involving people accused of illegal activities, most situations where a donor’s ethics or propriety are questioned are not clear-cut.

“Analyzing the nature of business involvements can be a slippery slope,” said one large-city federation executive who did not want to be named.

“Most nonprofits have come to the view that it’s desirable to avoid scrutinizing both the business practices and investment patterns of those that seek to serve the community,” the federation executive added.
But, he added, “obviously, illegality is a clear line.”