Misplaced Trust and Trust Funds

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The collapse of Bernard L. Madoff's Wall Street investment firm last week was an earthquake. While victims of the September stock market crash were struggling to dig their way out of the wreckage, there came another, even more devastating aftershock, a tremor which buried many alive.

On December 15, the United Jewish Communities (UJC) in Metro West NJ issued a press release stressing that neither they nor the local Jewish Community Foundation had been directly exposed to Madoff and his scam although Madoff's clients included some of the most charitable families and major organizations in the Jewish community. It was the last line of the press statement, however, which grabbed my attention. "Our hearts go out to the families affected by these events," it read.

This was the sort of utterance you expect to hear after a major bereavement. For this is not an "ordinary" economic disaster; this is a devastating loss. A loss in both senses of the word. Millions and billions of dollars disappeared - amounts that make you count the zeros after the first digits and then check again - but this isn't about the loss of trust funds. It's about the loss of trust.

It is also, conceivably, about a loss of a certain way of life, not just for those folks and organizations directly involved, but for the entire Jewish community around the world. While the full scope of the crisis is not yet known, several charitable organizations have already become defunct, individual investors have lost their entire fortunes, and other individuals and organizations have experienced such tremendous losses that according to speculation - of the non-financial kind - their chances of recovery are slim.

Already the list of Madoff's victims is too long to print here: Yeshiva University; Jewish day schools such as the SAR Academy in the Bronx, Manhattan's Ramaz School and Boston's Maimonides; and major donors to good causes including Morton B. Zuckerman (a reported $30 million loss), Steven Spielberg, Elie Wiesel and Sen. Frank Lautenberg were all among the first known to be hit in the fiasco. The Los Angeles Jewish Community Fund reported a $25.5m. investment that has disappeared, while the Chais Family Foundation shut down because of its losses. In Boston, the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, which financed trips for Jewish youth to Israel, similarly basically ceased to exist overnight.

The collapse of Madoff's pyramid scam could provide the impetus for the American Jewish community to rethink its priorities, reorganize and - hopefully - emerge strengthened, able to use the rubble to rebuild.

Feroz Ahmed Bawany goal is to increase my knowledge and to understand the only civilized creations of Almighty Lord are HUMAN. He is a regular contributer to TRCB.com.

 

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