Lewis Cohen’s documentary centers on the Ilan Halimi case but delves into Jews’ place in the global economic system.
Special To The Jewish Week
Story Includes Video:
In winter 2006, a young Jewish-French man, Ilan Halimi, was kidnapped, held prisoner for 24 days, tortured and brutalized, then murdered and dumped handcuffed and naked near a railroad station outside Paris. He had been seized for ransom, allegedly because, as a Jew, he would have easy access to money. His captors were led by an emigre from the Ivory Coast, a Muslim warlord wannabe named Youssuf Fofana.
It’s easy to venerate our prophets, harder to relate to them. They were noble, and they were also cranky, dirty and solitary; strange things to be in our scrubbed, relentlessly social world. This seeming eccentricity gives us reason, if we want it, to avoid their message. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want it? Even thinking about them too much, much less emulating them, is uncomfortable.
Recognizing that there are no magic bullets in alleviating the financial, emotional and other burdens on parents seeking to provide a quality day school education for their children at a time of economic recession, the leadership of the Orthodox Union sought this week to address the problem pragmatically.
What is it with money? Dollars, pounds sterling, shekels, gold, wampum, dinars — all are examples of a very old convenience and newly unreliable artifacts. Coins, of course, have the most ancient provenance — Herodotus talks about the kings of Lydia establishing coinage in the eighth century B.C.E. — and coins became before too long the most notable of monetary conveniences. That is, until the dollar, nebuch.
Jews may be well represented in the annals of white-collar fraud, but halacha explicitly requires us to be honest, taxpaying citizens.
David E. Y. Sarna
Greed,” Jewish stock speculator Ivan Boesky declared in 1985, “is healthy,” a thought echoed by the fictional Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” starring Michael Douglas. It was such a great line, that it was used again in the recent sequel: “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
From my teenage years, an emblematic scene: my mother, at midnight, in her king-sized bed, alone. Her face is tear-stained, and she is surrounded by a crazy patchwork quilt of bills she cannot pay. The scene continues to haunt my brother, an executive at Chevron, so much so that he has confided his secret imaginings. When he finds himself in the lobby of a grand hotel, on the way to his corporate suite, he glances at the corner of the stairwell, somewhat insanely, noting that he might sleep there, for free, if the dark times come again.
Emma Lazarus, of Statue of Liberty fame, was an ardent Zionist. The second stanza of her “The Feast of Lights,” written for Chanukah, reads:
Remember how from wintry dawn till night, Such songs were sung in Zion, when again On the high altar flamed the sacred light, And, purified from every Syrian stain, The foam-white walls with golden shields were hung, With crowns and silken spoils…
The subject of Jewish money has been a tricky minefield for hundreds of years.
Did you see that anti-Semitic cover of Time? You know what I mean. The one about peace and Jews and money, which came out just before Rosh HaShanah. Many indignant folks never made it past the cover, with a Star of David made of daisies, and six black boldface words: “Why Israel Doesn’t Care About Peace.” Many who read the text were already scandalized by the second paragraph, where the cover story was pegged to “the fresh round of talks on peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Jews and money are in the news in these days of economic downturn, whether impressive philanthropy – in the tradition of our young friend on the cover handing over his life savings to help fellow Jews – or embarrassing scoundrels. If money makes the world go ‘round, as the “Cabaret” song about 1930s Berlin says, what about the Jewish world? In this Chanukah season when American culture encourages spending, we’ve taken a look at what Jewish tradition has to say about money: making it, coveting it, losing it and giving it away.