It has been an eventful year, 5769 (which is reviewed in this edition, beginning on Page 1B). For many in the Jewish community, and in the greater society, the past months stand out because of the precipitous economic decline — in journalistic boilerplate, this country’s worst recession since the Great Depression. Many who put their faith in the idea of diligent work and saving have seen their retirement nest eggs drastically diminished, as Wall Street investment banks and their allied hedge funds gambled and lost, and took the global economy down the drain with them.
Locally, we experienced an additional calamity in the aftermath of the arrest of Bernard Madoff. Compounding the general misery of the economic crisis, convicted Wall Street gonif Madoff snared unwary local investors in his Ponzi scheme, which was revealed last December.
The Twin Cities was one of the geographic centers of the Madoff scam, and dozens of prominent philanthropic families, along with their charitable foundations, were wiped out. The fraud effects rippled through the local Jewish federations and their beneficiary agencies, as this newspaper reported.
Local Jews vicitimized by Madoff have been reticent to speak publicly about their misfortune. Understandably, many individuals are struggling with feelings of guilt and shame, as they come to terms with their new economic reality. In the coming year, perhaps members of these families will decide to talk with the American Jewish World, and we can put a human face on the stories that have dealt generally with numerical losses.
One member of our community, John Ostfield, has spoken out about another aspect of the economic mess. In recent weeks the AJW has published his opinion articles about trying to fend off foreclosure and his advocacy of a bailout for others facing the loss of their family home. In the coming year, stories about the precarious economy — along with articles about attempts to reform the health insurance system and reweave the domestic social safety net — likely will be featured in these pages.
Stories about Israel also will be published in 5770 — as they have been for the past 62 years in the American Jewish World. A new feature of the debate revolves around the Obama administration, which has entered into a public disagreement with the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In what appears to be a continuation of vitriolic 2008 presidential campaign tactics, pundits are branding President Barack Obama as a threat to Israel’s security. Among those leading this charge is Norman Podhoretz, former editor of Commentary magazine and author of the new book Why Are Jews Liberals? (Perhaps having a new book on the shelves is another reason to ramp up the debate about Obama, American Jews and Israel.)
Writing last week in the Wall Street Journal, Podhoretz characterized Obama, in 2008, as “a candidate who ran to an unprecedented degree on the premise that the American system was seriously flawed and in desperate need of radical change — not to mention a record powerfully indicating that he would pursue policies dangerous to the security of Israel. Because of all this, I hoped that my fellow Jews would finally break free of the liberalism to which they have remained in thrall long past the point where it has served either their interests or their ideals.”
Also writing last week, reviewing Podhoretz’s “dreary book” in the New York Times, Leon Wieseltier, acclaimed author and columnist for The New Republic, finds that the author of Why Are Jews Liberals? has “a completely axiomatic mind that is quite content to maintain itself in a permanent condition of apocalyptic excitation.”
It is not unreasonable to look at Judaism’s prophetic tradition and find inspiration for acts of solidarity with our compatriots who are destitute and marginalized. But Podhoretz cannot comprehend how Jews — from the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal coalition to the present — stubbornly continue to champion the cause of the have-nots. In his Wall Street Journal article, Podhoretz quotes “eminent sociologist Nathan Glazer,” who has written that affluent Jews in America have consistently supported “increased government spending, expanded benefits to the poor and lower classes, greater regulations on business, and the power of organized labor.”
In his New York Times review, Wieseltier gently counters: “It is not a delusion, not a treason, to vote against your own economic interest. It is a recognition of the multiplicity of interests, the many purposes, that make up a citizen’s life. When, in the Torah of Judaism, Moses commands the Jews to perform acts of social welfare, he sometimes adds the admonition that they were themselves strangers and slaves. The purpose of this refreshment of their memory is plain. The fact that we are no longer strangers and slaves is not all we need to know. We may not regard the world solely from the standpoint of our own prosperity, our own safety, our own contentment. We are proven by the other, not by the same.”
The months and years ahead will present challenges to the Jewish community, our country, Israel and global equilibrium. Beyond the social challenges, everyone on Spaceship Earth will be affected by global climate change that, according to the consensus of leading scientists, will wreak profound damage to societies and the natural world, unless all nations take decisive steps to contain the release of greenhouse gases into the environment. Last week two Israeli scientists from the Arava Institute, which is located near Eilat, came by the AJW offices and discussed their research on renewable energy options; their views will be published in an upcoming edition of the Jewish World.
Finally, we encourage our local readers to engage with this journalism project — the AJW is open to diverse viewpoints. We can continue to be an informative, provocative independent publication for the Jewish community in Minnesota with your help and involvement. Specifically, we remind our readers that advertising space is still available in the upcoming edition of the AJW Community Guide, a complete directory of Jewish resources in Minnesota.
The editors and staff of the American Jewish World wish all of our readers, L’Shana Tova Tikatevu, may you be written into the Book of Life for a year of health, joy and blessings.
— Mordecai Specktor /Â firstname.lastname@example.org
(American Jewish World, 9.18.09)