Dealing With Scandal. Again
Tue, 08/13/2013

Some scandals, when we learn of them, seem almost predictable, a disgrace that was just waiting to happen. Others, like the news this week that William “Willy” Rapfogel, the popular and successful executive director and CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, has been fired and is under investigation for financial misconduct, come as a shock. As a Jewish community leader who had helped Met Council, during his more than two decades at the helm, grow into a major social-service organization, Rapfogel was energetic, effective, focused and well connected. Now, it seems in hindsight, to a fault.

In time we are sure to learn more particulars about the temptations of cozy, beneficial relationships between politicians and those who profit from their support. There is every indication that the investigation underway by the state’s attorney general and comptroller, as part of a new anti-corruption task force, will go deeper and wider into the political realm. We are still waiting for more shoes to fall.

But even as the community hunkers down and concentrates on assuring that the important work of Met Council continues as efficiently as possible, helping the growing ranks of Jews in need, one can’t help but notice that a disturbing number of high-profile, embarrassing cases of late have a common denominator: Jewish men.

Just a few weeks ago another longtime top official of a highly respected Jewish organization in town was forced out of office. Sol Adler, executive director of the 92nd Street Y, was terminated after the board learned of his relationship with an employee whose son-in-law allegedly extorted 92Y vendors. In recent days SAC Capital Advisors, the major hedge fund headed by Steven A. Cohen, was charged with insider trading. And of course there are the sexual escapades of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and former Rep. Anthony Weiner, revisited — and in Weiner’s case continued — now that they are running for public office again.

(It has also been noted that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, under intense pressure to resign because of his long history of sexually harassing women, is Jewish as well.)

What’s particularly disturbing about the Rapfogel and Adler cases is that they are accused of crimes that took place while they were leading worthy Jewish social service and cultural agencies. For all of the lurid elements of the above-noted politicians, they were not called out for betraying the sacred trust associated with charities.

Each case, of course, is different — the men and the circumstances, and we are not rushing to judgment here. What is worth considering, though, is how we as a community respond to all of this public exposure. No doubt the younger generation, at least, has outgrown the sense of collective guilt or worry Jews felt when one of their own brought shame on himself. But the flipside of that emotional confidence is that we have lost an element of collectivity, one Jew for the other.

Perhaps we should be reflecting, in the month of Elul, the season of introspection leading up to Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, not only about our own misdeeds but about a society that seems almost inured from the shock of sin and illegal behavior.

The sound of the shofar that is sounded each morning this month of Elul is to remind us that the Days of Judgment are soon upon us. Time to repent, to seek forgiveness. And none of us are absolved.

editor@jewishweek.org

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Neither Spitzer or Weiner are Jewish.They have jewish fathers but not Jewish mothers.
The solution to this problem is to let Jewish women,who are inherentlly more honest than these blowhards,run these organizations.

Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner are both Jews. They both have two Jewish parents. They are not adult children of intermarriage. Both men have repeatedly spoken about being Jews and being intermarried.

As the Coordinator of the Half-Jewish Network, an organization for adult children and grandchildren of intermarriage, I find it interesting that the minute a Jewish celebrity gets into trouble, it is considered OK by some Jews to claim that such a person -- someone like Spitzer or Weiner -- "isn't Jewish," had a non-Jewish mother, etc., even if they are Jewish-identified.

Presumably this is done to: (1) distance the Jewish community from the troubled Jewish and half-Jewish celebrities, so the Jewish community can avoid bad publicity -- "see, this person is not really Jewish, so we have no communal connection to him/her!"; (2) disavow any Jewish communal connection to Jews in crisis, so fellow Jews and half-Jewish people can be easily abandoned without communal guilt or the need to assist them -- "see, this person isn't really Jewish or is half-Jewish, so we don't have to exhibit any embarrassment about our connection with him/her or offer forgiveness or assistance!" ; (3) allows some Jews to kick troubled Jews when they are down -- "see, this person isn't really Jewish!" or "this person is only half-Jewish!" -- an additional 'crime' to the crimes/sins they are already accused of; and (4) allows some Jews to claim that half-Jewish people are more likely to commit sins and crimes than Jews with two fully-Jewish ethnic parents -- "see, this person is half-Jewish! What did you expect from the child of an intermarriage?".

This type of comment speaks volumes speaks volumes about the discriminatory and negative attitudes towards half-Jewish people in the Jewish community. It also speaks volumes about unforgiving and shunning Jewish communal attitudes towards any personal failures by Jews and half-Jewish people. Surely, crimes and sins can be condemned without denying peoples' true ancestry and family ties.

I have had contacts with Jewish prisoner advocacy organizations, who have told me, with profound distress, that Jewish prisoners in the U.S. prison system receive the least communal support of any ethnic group in the U.S. prison system because of unforgiving and shunning behaviors by the Jewish community. They attributed numerous Jewish prisoners' conversions to Christianity to their abandonment -- and the abandonment of their usually completely innocent families -- by their rabbis, friends, shul communities, etc. Isn't it time for a change in these attitudes?

Secondly, the preceding commenter claims that Jewish women are inherently more honest than some Jewish men and therefore should be put in charge of Jewish organizations. I am a strong supporter of women's rights -- and I would be delighted to see more Jewish women receive senior leadership positions in Jewish institutions -- but the idea that one gender is inherently more honest than the other is probably an error. In my personal experience, men and women of all ethnic backgrounds sometimes engage in dishonesty. It is part of the human condition.

Have we created a monster by giving our CEO's salaries in the range of $300,000 to $800,000 per annum? The Talmud said it well: "He who has $100 wants $200."
Perhaps we should get back to the idea that Jewish public servants make an attractive salary but not enough to live the "penthouse life". Public service has become a means for crass self-indulgence. And we wonder how the sense of entitlement by our leaders has come about!

I think that part of the problem has to do with Jewish male entitlement that begins at birth. Maybe it's time for more women to be at the helm of Jewish organizations and to get into politics and be rabbis.

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