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entries tagged with: Bernie Madoff


Weiner’s downfall a reminder of perils of Jewish pride

NEW YORK – He was supposed to be one of Congress’ rising stars, a Jewish boy from Brooklyn with great ambition and promise.

A truculent Democrat with a penchant for media attention, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) was an unabashed liberal on domestic affairs and a hard-liner on foreign policy, particularly Israel. Like his predecessor in his U.S. House of Representatives seat, Sen. Charles Schumer, Weiner had larger ambitions — in his case, mayor of New York City.

But then came his shamefaced news conference Monday, when the 46-year-old congressman, who was married last year, admitted to lying about sending a lewd photo to a woman he met on the Internet.

It was the culmination of a week of dissembling since the conservative blog had posted the photo. In all, Weiner confessed to carrying on inappropriate online relationships with six women. He said he would not get a divorce from his new wife — Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is Muslim — nor would he resign.

In the Jewish community, which long had regarded him with pride, Weiner’s spectacularly public downfall was a reminder of the perils of associating a particular person’s successes or failures with his Jewishness.

Weiner’s perennial prefixes — “Jewish congressman, from New York, staunch supporter of Israel” — clearly identified him in the public mind, said Susan Weidman Schneider, editor in chief of the feminist Jewish magazine Lilith.

Just as Italian Americans worry about blanket generalizations with “The Sopranos” or “The Godfather,” Jews sigh reflexively when there is a Jew whose bad judgment and bad behavior are in the spotlight, Weidman Schneider said.

“Only this isn’t fiction,” she said. “There’s a foolishness to Weiner’s attempted cover-up, no pun intended, that’s as embarrassing and cringe-inducing as the acts themselves.”

“When the Son of Sam turns out to be David Berkowitz or the greatest Ponzi scheme ever is perpetrated by Bernie Madoff or a humiliated politician is named Eliot Spitzer or Anthony Weiner,” Democratic political consultant Steve Rabinowitz said, “you can almost hear it as a community: Why did he it have to be our guy?”

Weiner’s political identity has long been intertwined with his Jewishness. He has been celebrated by the pro-settlement Zionist Organization of America for his positions on the west bank, and he routinely introduces a bill that would deny assistance to Saudi Arabia, even though that wealthy country does not receive U.S. assistance beyond a small program that trains Saudi army officers in democracy.

ZOA President Morton Klein said the Weiner scandal represents a “terrible loss for the pro-Israel community.

“As long as Anthony Weiner remains in Congress, his position on Israel will be among the best,” Klein said. “The only issue now is whether his influence will have diminished and whether his credibility will have diminished.”

Robert Wexler, a Democrat and former Jewish congressman from Florida, said regaining voters’ trust will have to be a top priority for Weiner.

“Up until last week, Anthony was an excellent congressman and a fine public servant,” said Wexler, who runs the Washington-based S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. “The bottom line is that he’s a good and decent person that made some grave errors.”

With sincere and honest repentance and a reminder of the Jewish value of “seeing the other person in the image of God,” there’s a way for Weiner to put the scandal behind him, said Orthodox feminist activist Blu Greenberg.

Judaism appreciates forgiveness, and Weiner has the chance to atone by making changes to his life and way of thinking, Greenberg told JTA.

“He doesn’t necessarily have to be a condemned man the rest of his life,” she said. “If others are big enough to forgive him, then his life isn’t over.

“He’s not an ax-murderer. He’s a very foolish man in power lacking a sense of appreciation for what he had.”

But whether Weiner can recover to the degree where the American Jewish community will proudly count him again among its ranks is a tougher question.

“He provided a negative example for our children,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism. “We appropriately feel outrage for that.”

JTA Wire Service

JTA Washington Bureau chief Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.


When blind faith proves costly

Playwright Deb Margolin talks about her ‘Imagining Madoff’

Miriam RinnTheater
Published: 26 October 2012

When Circus Amok founder Jennifer Miller asked playwright/actor Deb Margolin of Montvale to write some monologues for a vaudeville-style piece she was creating about Bernie Madoff, Margolin did not bother doing biographical research. The truth she was looking for was not going to be found on Wikipedia. Instead, she began to imagine who Madoff really was. “I advise my students to listen for the voice of the character,” Margolin said in an interview with the Jewish Standard recently.

At the time, Madoff was under house arrest for carrying out the greatest Ponzi scheme ever. A major macher in the organized Jewish community, he was revered as a brilliant money manager until many organizations and individual investors discovered that their gains were illusory. Madoff pleaded guilty to fraud and is serving a 150-year sentence in federal prison.

The success of Circus Amok’s “Cracked Ice” whetted Margolin’s appetite for a deeper investigation of Madoff. “What would my inner architecture need to be” to betray so many friends and colleagues, she asked herself. Margolin’s answer to that question was her play “Imagining Madoff,” now being presented by the Garage Theater Group at the Becton Theatre at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck.

Deb Margolin tries ‘to listen for the voice of character.’

“Imagining Madoff” is different from Margolin’s previous efforts, which include such works as “Three Seconds in the Key” and “Rock, Scissors, Paper.” For one thing, “most of my plays have not been about men,” she said, and much of her work has been solo performance. Although she wrote the play before the many revelations about Madoff’s doings, “Imagining Madoff” presaged many details that were divulged later.

Margolin doubts that Madoff initially intended to defraud his investors. When things went wrong, he could not acknowledge his failure, she believes. The fact that no one caught him for thirty-odd years proves that many Americans are willing not to ask questions about the numbers. “Everyone said the math doesn’t add up,” she pointed out, yet people kept investing. They had faith in Bernie’s brilliance, and faith preempts the need to dig. “With faith, you don’t have to work,” Margolin said. “That’s what this play is investigating.”

“Imagining Madoff” became embroiled in a controversy before it ever appeared on a stage. An accomplished monologist, Margolin wrote the play as a series of monologues between different characters. One of those characters originally was Elie Wiesel, who has acknowledged that he and his foundation lost millions in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. As a courtesy, Margolin sent the script to Wiesel before the play was scheduled to be produced at Theater J in Washington, D.C. To her surprise, Wiesel was furious at her depiction, described the play as obscene and defamatory, and threatened to take legal action. Theater J quickly apologized to the Wiesel Foundation and bowed out of the production after Margolin refused to let the foundation have final approval after a year’s moratorium.

Margolin changed the name of the character to Solomon Galkin, a Holocaust survivor, translator, and poet. “It was a very fast edit. [The character] stood in for the great moral Jew of our time,” she said. “He was fictional to begin with.” “Imagining Madoff” was initially produced at Stageworks/Hudson, and eventually at Theater J. “The play went on with its life,” Margolin said. Although the experience was distressing, Margolin remains a fan of Theater J and its artistic director, Ari Roth. “I’m glad he and I were able to come together. That theater is alive with important debates about the cultural moment.”

Margolin grew up in Westchester County. She went to college at NYU, where her father was a professor, and she is now a professor in Yale’s undergraduate theater studies program. She feels glad to be able to share her play with her own community, she said, and there has been a reading at her Congregation Temple Beth Sholom in Park Ridge.

“We don’t like being reminded of our mistakes,” Margolin said when asked about Wiesel’s motivations. In that, he shared something with Madoff, who in her view also could not deal with his financial errors. “When all is said and done, Bernie Madoff and Elie Wiesel are just men,” Margolin said. “That’s the beauty of theater, that it can investigate these depths.”

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