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After Madoff: Where Do We Go From Here?

In this continuing drama of ambition, social class, and greed we are confronted daily with the sad victims, loathsome characters and resented symbols of excess marking the rise and fall of our Wall Street-led culture. Bernie Madoff’s victims are only … Read More

By / January 14, 2009

In this continuing drama of ambition, social class, and greed we are confronted daily with the sad victims, loathsome characters and resented symbols of excess marking the rise and fall of our Wall Street-led culture.

Bernie Madoff’s victims are only now overcoming their shame to step forward and tell their story or plead for help. This excerpt comes from an email that is making the rounds:

Dear Friends,

Now that it has been a few weeks and time has past, many more of you have heard about Bernie Madoff. The man who created the largest Ponzi scheme ever…$50 billion.??

My family was severely affected and now we have to rebuild. Rebuilding requires selling the house in NY, getting rid of cars and personal things, and re-launching my Dad’s company for promotional and logo merchandise.

I have been helping other victims as well, via my blog, and I started a Facebook group for families and friends of families. It’s our way to keep up to date with the latest news.??

We will fight, we will survive and we will rebuild.???

The investor euphoria that led to economic bubbles inevitably led to an uptick in fraudulence. In “Manias, Panics, and Crashes,” the economist Charles Kindleberger wrote that during bubbles “the supply of corruption increases . . . much like the supply of credit.”

Contrary to the hopes and dreams of antisemites, a historical overview of economic bubbles and the subsequent conmen that arose reveals a scarcity of Jews, especially with any large scale con like Madoff’s. Until now. A con on the scale of Madoff’s can only be done from atop the American power structure, which Jews have only recently occupied.

For far left writers like Philip Weiss, the takeaway here is that Madoff’s Jewishness is secondary to the fact that he’s entrenched in the Establishment elite. Weiss writes:

Like Franken-Coleman in Minnesota, Madoff shows the degree to which Jews are just another component of the Establishment, and Jewishness does not define their presence…Jews are members in good standing in the Establishment, they come and go socially in upper class places. And no one really notices the Jewishness. They’re just Jewish…. But as time passes, and the blonde waves of philosemitism crash at the walls, Jewishness in the Establishment will signify less and less difference.

For Weiss, who is chomping at the bit for the American assimilationist machine to bulldoze Jewish ethnocentrism, this is but another sign that we’re just like everyone else. And here we are, one more step towards the breakdown of the American Jewish community as currently constituted.

I agree with Weiss that the community is crumbling, but I’m not happy about it, and I think it’s not because we’re assimilating but because of what and how we’ve chosen to assimilate.

Like any community, were not immune to the best and worst of any moment’s cultural and economic gestalt. But given the small size of our community, and the elevated position within the Establishment our success has granted us (just how entrenched we are in this whole mess), the assimilation of the particular configuration of values and norms that will come to characterize this period will be particularly detrimental to any sense of Peoplehood for American Jews.

We thought it was hard attracting the unaffiliated before all this went down. Think how difficult it will be to attract Jews hungry for meaning and connection when the perception is that established Jewish community is nothing more than a glorified investment club promising networking opportunities.

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