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Madoff scandal rocks Jewish philanthropic world

Area foundations take stock — or lose it

 
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A handful of local foundations appear to be unscathed by the fallout from Bernard Madoff’s alleged Ponzi scheme, but the full effects on donors have yet to be realized.

While the country’s economic downturn has taken place over the course of several months, this single instance was sudden and provided no time for those affected to make changes to limit the damage. Mark Charendoff of Englewood, president of the Jewish Funders Network, called the fallout on his organization’s members “absolutely devastating.”

“In a way, this is worse than the general economic downturn,” he said.

Unlike the unrest in the stock markets that has rocked the nonprofit donor base recently, the fallout from this scam is irreversible and, in some cases, complete.

“People understand that as much as the market went down, the market will go up. That’s not the case here,” Charendoff said. “There are some people who’ve just had all their money all in this one ‘safe place.’ That’s something that they just can’t recover from.”

One of the most notably hit organizations in New Jersey is the family foundation of Sen. Frank Lautenberg, reportedly one of the wealthiest members of Congress.

“Sen. Lautenberg was an investor in Bernard Madoff’s investment fund, primarily in the form of his family’s charitable foundation,” said Lautenberg’s spokesman, Scott Mulhauser.

According to a 2006 tax document obtained through the nonprofit tracking Website Guidestar.org, the foundation was a donor to more than two dozen Jewish and Israeli causes. Its contributions for 2006 totaled $765,509 to more than 100 organizations, including American Friends of Magen Dovid Adom, American Friends of Israel, the Anti-Defamation League, Chai Lifeline, Hadassah, UJA MetroWest, and UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

UJA-NNJ issued a statement on Tuesday that it has no connection with Madoff and remains unaffected.

“UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and its Endowment Foundation did not have a relationship with Madoff, and we have confirmed with SEI, our investment manager, that no portion of the Endowment Foundation’s portfolio is invested with Madoff,” according to the statement.

Similarly, the Teaneck-based Russell Berrie Foundation had “zero exposure with Madoff,” said its president, Angelica Berrie. While the rest of the financial world takes a hit, Berrie looked at the situation as an opportunity for those who still have the means to make up for charities’ losses.

“The real emergency in the next few years is going to be the emergency in our community,” she said. “We have the opportunity to exercise our humanistic values.”

This new crisis within the fund-raising world will last years, too, said Charendoff.

“We don’t know how many years and we don’t know how severe it will be,” he said. “There are charities that are going to be affected that won’t even know about it for a year.”

While some organizations have no connection with Madoff and seemingly have been spared, they cannot yet account for all of their donors. For example, he said, a charity that received a six-figure gift from a donor this December may expect and plan for a similar gift next year.

“Next December is going to roll around and they’re going to find out the donor doesn’t have the capacity to make the gift,” he said.

The Jewish nonprofit world will eventually recover, though, he said.

“The only way we’re going to be able to minimize the damage to the charities we all care about is to work together to figure out what the needs really are — to figure out which programs can be salvaged, postponed, which organizations should merge,” he said. “We can’t avoid the damage but it is in our power to minimize it.”

 

More on: Madoff scandal rocks Jewish philanthropic world

 
 
 

‘Golden Boy’ Merkin charged with misleading Jewish investors, groups

Bernard Madoff is not the only trustee of Yeshiva University who resigned in shame last week.

While international attention continues to focus on Madoff, who faces charges for his alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme, some leaders in the Jewish community, particularly within modern Orthodox institutions, are expressing shock and anger at the role played by J. Ezra Merkin, a prominent investment guru and philanthropist who appears to have misled at least some investors.

 
 

Massachusetts community reeling from foundation collapse

The news sifted through the Jewish community north of Boston, sparking shock, sadness, and regret.

The Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, a pillar of the North Shore community and a supporter of popular programming like the Youth to Israel program, joined the mounting list of Jewish casualties of the still-unfolding Bernard Madoff financial scam.

 
 

The securities fraud of Bernard Madoff has rocked the Jewish nonprofit world — and the worst may be yet to come.

 
 
 
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Jersey City Boy

Mayor Steven Fulop tells his story — and his immigrant parents schep naches

The story of the new mayor of Jersey City is a goulash — a rich, highly seasoned, aromatic stew, full of disparate ingredients that somehow blend together.

This variant is kosher.

And for added authenticity, it’s Hungarian.

Steven Fulop’s story is both as deeply American and as fully Jewish as one person’s story could be — it is our own 21st-century version of the great American dream.

Cooking alongside it is the story of Jersey City, the state’s second largest, with a century-long history of corruption and bossism that Mr. Fulop is well positioned to turn around.

Mr. Fulop’s story starts with his grandparents. All four were born in Transylvania, the heavily wooded, mountainous, lushly beautiful region that has changed hands between Hungary and Romania. As this story begins, it still was part of Hungary. World War II came late there; his mother’s parents, the Kohns, were taken from the ghetto toward its end. His grandfather, Alexander, went to a transit camp, and his grandmother, Rosa, was on one of the last transports to Auschwitz in April 1944.

Her story is so painful that when her son-in-law, Arthur Fulop, tells it, his eyes fill, even though it is a story he has been telling for decades.

 

Take my kidney. Please…

Local cantor is living donor for beloved congregant

It’s fairly easy to say “I hope you feel better” to a sick friend.

It’s much harder to put your kidney where your mouth is, but Cantor Eric Wasser of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center did.

On February 19, he donated a kidney to his friend, Harvey Jaffee of Garfield.

Mr. Jaffee was in what his doctors “were starting to call end-stage kidney failure,” he reported. He now has a functioning kidney and will be able to resume his life, and Cantor Wasser will be able to return to his. Both, they say, feel enriched and ennobled (if temporarily weakened) by the experience.

Mr. Jaffee’s kidneys had been failing for some time, and he had trekked from doctor to doctor as he tried to get on the registry for a transplant. The screening process is extraordinarily thorough. “It’s one of the most daunting things in the world,” he said. “They send you to doctor after doctor, to check every orifice you have — and some that you don’t. Sometimes I was seeing four or five doctors a week.

 

The essence is to wake us all up

Ikar founder Rabbi Sharon Brous and local leaders talk about building a living Jewish community

Rabbi Sharon Brous radiates intensely concentrated passionate hummingbird energy in almost tactile waves.

It is hard to imagine how anyone could have done what she did — created and maintained a Jewish community that has grown wildly, attracted devoted members, brought disaffected Jews back to Judaism, juggled the tensions between tradition, innovation, accessibility, and fidelity — but once you meet her, you can see that if anyone could have undertaken that impossible-sounding feat, it would have to be her.

Ikar, the Los Angeles synagogue that Rabbi Brous imagined and shaped 10 years ago, is now a 580-plus family shul, with a 150-child preschool, a multigenerational membership, and a growing future. Rabbi Brous has garnered so much recognition and so many awards almost off-handedly — on the Forward’s 50 most influential Jews for years! On Newsweek’s Top 50 rabbis list for years, once as number one! Giving the benediction at Barack Obama’s second inauguration! — that it is hard to realize that she is only 41.

 

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The Jewish people’s 911

Local archivist collects a century of JDC photographs

Twenty-six serious men sit around the table.

Two of the men have long beards; half wear mustaches. Scattered between them are two women, one of whom, of course, is the stenographer, known only as Mrs. F. Friedman. The other is the comptroller.

The year is 1918, and the men are leaders of the Jewish community. Most, like the host of the meeting, banker Felix Warburg, and his father-in-law, banker Jacob Schiff, are Reform Jews of German origin. A couple, including those with beards, are Orthodox and from Eastern Europe. Some are rabbis; one is novelist Sholem Asch. The comptroller is Harriet B. Lowenstein.

Meet the founders of the Joint Distribution Committee of American Funds for the Relief of Jewish War Sufferers, the organization now known as the American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and variously as JDC or “the Joint” for short.

 

The case of the family tree

Local rabbi solves genealogical mystery

Move over Sherlock Holmes. There’s some pretty good detective work going on right here in Bergen County.

Putting together clues and puzzle-like pieces of information, Rabbi Benjamin Shull has solved what he jokingly refers to as his “semi-obsession” — the search for more branches on his family tree.

In the process, he has discovered previously unknown relatives, uncovered a direct link to a renowned Lithuanian rabbi and Musar activist, and come into possession of a beautiful, illuminated honest-to-goodness family tree.

Rabbi Shull, the religious leader of Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley in Woodcliff Lake, has written a memoir, “Uprooted,” detailing his journey.

His story begins in the early 1990s, at the cemetery in Philadelphia where his father’s family is buried.

 

The little house in the big woods

Artist’s family remembers growing up in Fort Lee

The three children grew up in the middle of the woods.

There were acres of land all around the house; waterfalls tumbled from the rocky hills and splashed down in their rush toward the mighty color-shifting river far below. There were trees to climb, trails to blaze, rocks to scale. For half of the year, glorious canopies of trees shaded their view; when the leaves fell, the children could see the river, and the ships that steamed silently upriver to unload and then headed back south again, out to sea.

It was a perfect pastoral scene, the backdrop for a bucolic 19th-century childhood.

Then pull the camera back a bit. You’ll see that the river is the Hudson, the time the second half of the 20th century, and the town is Fort Lee.

 
 
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