Jewish community now grappling with money-laundering headlines

Days after the news broke of the Syrian Jewish community’s alleged involvement in the New Jersey Corruption Sweep to end New Jersey Corruption Sweeps (for now), Jewish voices are addressing the ugliness of it all.

On Aish.com, an Orthodox site, Rabbi Yitz Greenman writes about the power of greed. He writes, in part:

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We live in America and the law of the land states that one is innocent until proven guilty. Let us not assume guilt. But, if in the unfortunate event that the news turns out to be true and some of these people are proven guilty, many will ask: How can this be?

Not to sound callous, jaded, crude or insensitive, but the answer to me is that such a situation is not so difficult to imagine. It’s all a function of greed and jealousy. In fact, maybe we should ask the question differently: How come it’s such a rarity? Why doesn’t this happen more often?

We live in a very materialistic society, comprised of have and have-nots. No matter what a person has in our day and age, it is literally impossible for someone to “have it all.” Coupled with the most dazzling ads that Madison Avenue inundates us with daily, everyone is trained from early childhood to see themselves as “have-nots.” I don’t have this, that and the other thing. This creates an environment of lack and dependency on things.

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The Rabbinical  Council of America, which represents Orthodox rabbis, released this statement today:

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The Rabbinical Council of America expresses its deep dismay over the recent charges brought by the United States Attorney General against numerous individuals, including several prominent rabbis. We are appalled at the allegations which, if true, violate the letter and the spirit of Jewish law, decency, good citizenship, and the norms of our great society.

Jewish Law has always emphasized the importance of observing and respecting the laws of the land. They are essential for our shared wellbeing. No individual stands above the law. If a citizen violates the law then he must be subject to the penalties imposed by the legal system of our great country. Nonetheless, we must all keep in mind that those accused are entitled to a presumption of innocence and due process.

Members of the Syrian Orthodox Community have been particularly affected by these allegations, and the stereotypes that have arisen as a result in recent days.The RCA wishes to extend its support to the Syrian Jewish community and its rabbis. They are an honorable, pious, and charitable community, led by many distinguished rabbis. The alleged misdeeds of the few should not be used against the innocent many. We join with our brethren in the Syrian community and with our fellow Jews in praying that the community find the strength to weather this storm, and that they restore themselves to function as the great community they have always been.

We are committed as rabbinic leaders for ourselves and our communities to serve as positive role models for all of our fellow Americans. We pledge to do our best in the days ahead so that the entire Jewish community can continue to be a model for all of our fellow Americans as law-abiding and ethically responsible citizens, striving to live in accordance with the highest religious and civic standards of justice and morality.

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And the Jewish Week has extensive coverage of the whole affair, including anger in the Orthodox community at the Jewish informant whose cooperation was key to authorities bringing down the alleged money-laundering scheme.

Mark Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network and an Orthodox Jew, writes a column in which he offers harsh criticisms of some within his own community: “Is it possible that there is something in the Orthodox community in general and the haredi community in particular that creates fertile ground for this type of fraud? I’ve too often witnessed, here and in Israel, a perverse notion that we few who feel bound by the laws of God are free to flout the laws of man. That the seriousness with which we hold halacha (Jewish law) forces us to view state law as trite, flawed — unimportant at best, a nuisance at worst.”

Harsh.

And Jewish Week boss Gary Rosenblatt writes about what the news means for relations within the Jewish world. He says, in part:

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Many Orthodox Jews refuse to acknowledge that their less observant brethren can be serious about their religious and spiritual lives, and see them more as a threat to continuity than as sharing the path to a Jewish future. Better not to associate with them, some rabbis say, for fear of appearing to legitimize their beliefs. And there is a distinct element of schadenfreude among Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox Jews on reading of financial and sexual abuses within the haredi community, a sense of satisfaction in seeing those alleged holier-than-thou Jews brought low, shown to be as flawed as the rest of us.

But there is plenty of guilt to go around, and the front-page photos of bearded rabbis being led away in handcuffs represents a chillul HaShem, a desecration of God’s name, for us all.

Tonight’s subject in New Rochelle: The cost of Jewish day schools

Young Israel of New Rochelle will host a program tonight (Monday, June 8) on one of the most pressing issues in Orthodox and Conservative Judaism today: how families can afford the costs of day schools.

The program — “Day School Education in Challenging Times: Family, Institutional, and Communal Responsibility” — is being presented by the UJA-Federation of NY’s Westchester Region.

Start time: 8:30 p.m.

From a release, here’s the line-up:

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Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The Jewish Week (that’s him), will moderate the panel discussion, which will feature experts in the field of Jewish education: Amy Katz, associate director for the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education; Scott Shay, past chair of UJA-Federation’s Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal and chair of the Task Force on Communal Jewish Education; and Dr. Jon Woocher, chief ideas officer at the Jewish Education Service of North America.

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Also co-sponsoring are most of the region’s modern Orthodox congregations: Congregation Anshe Sholom in New Rochelle, Hebrew Institute of White Plains, Young Israel of Harrison, Young Israel of New Rochelle, Young Israel of Scarsdale, and Young Israel of White Plains.

Gaza: So far away, but not really

It’s hard to know what to say about the situation in Gaza.

First off, I’m here. I’m not there. But there is tremendous interest locally in what’s happening in the Middle East. The news in Gaza is of immediate concern to many New Yorkers, for all sorts of reasons.

We all know this.

Over the years, I’ve written many “local reaction” stories about the Middle East — you know, calling Jews, Muslims/Arabs, maybe some others, to get their feelings about the latest bad news. It’s a trying exercise because everyone always says exactly what you expect them to say.

Nothing every changes. It often feels pointless.

In a way, it’s like writing about abortion. The two sides have entrenched positions. They demonize each other. Nothing really changes.

But the abortion debate is important. People care. And the war of words continues.

As far as Gaza goes, I’ve come across a few revealing points of view. Among them:

Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt captures well the internal debate that many American Jews are probably having about Gaza — and worries about a growing divide between Israel and the diaspora. He writes:

I suspect that the majority of American Jews are somewhere in the middle, supportive of Israel’s effort to protect its citizens, but uncomfortable with the IDF campaign, and the painful images they see of the results of the bombings. “Can’t you find another way?” they might be asking of Israel, as if the government and people had not endured years of attacks and provocation before striking back?

“We’d love to, but this is the Mideast, not the Midwest,” would come the reply.

Muslim scholar Hussein Rashid, a native New Yorker, writes about how difficult it can be for a peace-seeking, mainstream Muslim American to criticize Israel without being accused of anti-Semitism. He asks:

What home now for the Muslim who believes that religion does not divide, but is a force for peace?

And Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori makes the case that Israel’s attacks are “disproportionate” to Hamas’ shelling of southern Israel (certainly a popular position in the mainline world):

We are deeply saddened by the first-hand reports we are receiving from Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza about the casualties they are treating under the most horrific circumstances. Not only do they lack basic medical supplies, but with windows blown out they are even struggling to keep patients warm. The high number of civilian deaths and injuries, which continue to include noncombatants, women, and children, will only prolong the violence years into the future. Israel’s disproportionate response to the rockets being fired into its cities may well encourage violence beyond Gaza and Israel. The first steps toward peace will only come if all parties unite behind an immediate ceasefire. Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded the world that “an eye for an eye soon leaves the whole world blind.” May we seek to end this blinding violence.