In December of 2008, the world learned of the largest financial fraud ever committed. Thousands of investors, a huge percentage of whom were Jewish, lost billions of dollars. Bernie Madoff’s deception, having lasted for decades, was deliberate and intentioned. His own sons turned him into the authorities.
Many were upset by the notion that this Ponzi scheme was an “affinity fraud.” Madoff’s targets were fellow Jews; the wealthy in Jewish communities of which he was a part. Jewish foundations, federations, and other organizations lost millions upon millions of dollars. The impact on individuals (and not just the personal loss of life-savings) was staggering. And, many foundations and non-profit organizations simply had to close their doors as a result of funds that vanished over night.
In discussing the situation with a Jewish friend, I clearly remember her summation. “Thank God,” she said, “Madoff mostly stole from fellow Jews. While it’s embarrassing and despicable that a Jew robbed other Jews, imagine what could’ve happened if he did it to Christians.” Having grown up experiencing Antisemitism firsthand, I understood her point and could imagine the snickering over “those dirty, money-hungry Jews.” Stereotypes (especially about Jews and money) are tough to overcome as is. We certainly didn’t need Madoff fueling the fire.
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For the past few years, Antisemitism has been on the rise. Over the last couple of months however, there had been a dramatic increase in the number of Jewish institutions and community centers across the United States, Australia and New Zealand receiving bomb threats.
Employees, members and visitors (not all Jewish people) of Jewish organizations around the world lost their sense of safety once again – even with gated properties and ample security personnel. The intimidating synthesized voice by phone and terrorizing emails caused numerous evacuations, emergency drills and fundraising campaigns to invest in increased security protocols. No particular group claimed responsibility for the threats.
And then today it hit the news. A nineteen-year-old American-Israeli was arrested and believed to be the culprit. His attorney was already defending him by saying “the teenager has a nonmalignant brain tumor that leads to behavioral issues.”
Brain tumor or not, the teen’s cybercrimes were planned and calculated. He assaulted hundreds of groups. As Haaretz reported, “five computers were confiscated as well as other equipment, including antennas he used to access other people’s networks and to commit the alleged crimes undetected.”
The shockwaves permeated the Jewish world. How could one of our own, a kid, do such things? And to what end? Just to create fear, uncertainty and doubt? To – heaven forbid – get us to unjustly blame some other potentially Antisemitic group for the crimes? It’s too early to know why he did it, but we certainly will find out.
An Israeli friend offered a confession – and a plea – on Facebook. He wrote, “Shocked, ashamed, embarrassed…just a few words that don’t really describe how I feel after reading that an Israeli is probably responsible for the threats on Jewish institutions in America. American friends, please don’t let one sick individual harm our mutual effort to cultivate and strengthen relations between the different parts of the Jewish family.”
I agree with him. I feel the same way.
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I was raised to believe that, as Jews, we are held to a higher standard of behavior. We are supposed to look out for and take care of each other – especially given the way we’ve been treated by others through the centuries. We, as a people, are commanded to be a “light unto the nations” and our religious laws clearly dictate how we are to treat our fellow “neighbor.”
It therefore makes crimes like these virtually impossible to comprehend. The hurt is real. And it’s deep. But there’s also fear of some type of retaliation or repercussion.
We all must do our best to not generalize. Terrible acts – regardless of who commits them or on whom they are perpetuated – cannot be attributed to an entire group of people. Sometimes it’s just an act of a misguided soul.