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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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Scheherazade in Cresskill

Former Palmach, Palyam fighter talks about his adventures in Russia, Palestine, Egypt, and Brooklyn

So you walk into the big, airy, neat, well-furnished Cresskill apartment, full of pale winter sun, and it’s almost like walking into Scheherazade’s rooms.

Presiding over this comfortable, profoundly suburban setting, Shlomo Lev spins stories, one after the other, improbable but true, of times and places close enough to us for us to know they were real, but far enough away to be mythic nonetheless.

Mr. Lev is a small-boned, taut, wiry man, muscular still, even at 87. His close-cropped white hair, white mustache and carefully trimmed beard, and light eyes, his blue jeans and windbreaker make him look less like Shloime Levitsky, as he once was, and more like a retired British sailor about to head out to the pub with his mates in a 1950s movie.

So why is he showing you what looks like a very fancy pair of men’s underpants?

 

Past and future in Kosovo

In heart of Muslim province, Jewish remnant stakes its claim

PRISTINA, Kosovo — Boxing Club Prishtina is a squat building on a narrow street around the corner from the parliament in the heart of Kosovo’s capital city.

Around the corner, a popular Italian restaurant draws the young Western Europeans and Americans in button-down shirts and open-toed heels who help keep the country running. Walk the other way and you’ll find a dim hole-in-the-wall bar/gallery crammed with their Kosovar peers.

But Boxing Club Prishtina stands unattended, plaster cracked or stripped away by wind, rain, and time. Its rusted metal awning droops into Mark Isaki Street.

Before World War II, the Jews of Kosovo will tell you, the building housed a yeshiva or Jewish community center or maybe both — or maybe neither. Maybe it will be restored or torn down, become a monument or a memory.

 

Lords of the trains

How a world-class model railroad layout landed in a Paterson silk mill

Start with a three-year-old’s enchantment with a toy that moves by itself, as if by magic.

Add the love of a doting father.

Simmer with time. Throw in more than a dash of unexpected curves.

The result: The world’s largest O-scale model railroad layout.

On Sunday, you’re invited to the third floor of a former silk factory in Paterson to see it.

If you go, brace yourself. Prepare to be amazed. There are tracks and trains and buildings rendered in loving details. There’s a replica of an Esso oil refinery; a Manhattan subway station, replete with microscopic model rats, and there are yet more trains, including engines that puff rings of flavored smoke.

 

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One bullet at a time

French priest finds graves, unearths stories from Europe’s killing fields

Father Patrick Desbois keeps all expression off his face when people tell him the most horrible things.

If he let his feelings show, the people wouldn’t talk. And he wants them to talk: He asks them questions again and again, pinning down details. Where did this happen? What window were you watching from? Who was there?

Listening without reacting is a core competency for a Catholic priest like Father Desbois. But in a confession booth, the priest’s face is shielded. Father Desbois interviews people in their homes, speaking face to face, if often through a translator.

“You have a choice,” he said last week. “You can express yourself or you can know the truth.”

The truth he seeks to uncover is a horrible one: the story of how more than two million people were murdered, one at a time, by Nazis and their Eastern European collaborators.

 

One bullet at a time

Protecting memory
 

Slaughter in Paris

Dirty Charlie

Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French weekly, entered American consciousness last week when terrorists attacked an editorial meeting, killing 12 people, among them five staff cartoonists.

Afterwards, the phrase “Je suis Charlie” was spread by people who wanted to signal their support for freedom of expression — many of whom, outside of France, had never heard of the publication.

But Edward Portnoy was a longtime Charlie fan.

Dr. Portnoy, who teaches Jewish studies courses at Rutgers, discovered the magazine 20 years ago, when he spent a year in France. When he was a child, when his friends collected baseball cards, he had collected Wacky Packs — stickers that parody actual boxes or labels. Later, he earned a doctorate in Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America; his dissertation was on political cartoons in the American Yiddish press.

 
 
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