By Larry Gordon
We already face a legion of unavoidable serious problems and challenges—as a community and as individuals—so we are left hanging our heads in stunned disbelief and disgust when a self-made problem bursts onto the scene.
Yes, I am referring to the alleged but also apparently flagrant indulgence in illegality that was part of the system at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty that our local newspapers and websites, and surely media outlets across the world, were anxious to feature over the last few weeks. For us as a community and as a people, it is not just a matter of a crime being discovered or eventually some type of punishment meted out. For us, the implications, impact, and problems that result are greater than when these things occur anywhere else. And that is the odd and unfortunate part of all this.
The additional problem for many of us is that the individuals involved are our relatives, friends, and neighbors. They are people we know and care about and we are almost overnight forced to, if nothing else, intellectually distance ourselves from them because, whether we like it or not, whatever it was they were experimenting or playing around with has splattered on us all.
It’s the old bogus—but mysteriously reiterated by our own people—myth about Jews and money. And now, as the latest scandal is focused on the Jewish poor and the allegations that the fund in question was used—as some of the press described it—as a piggy bank by a few, there is a public out there not just wondering but articulating the idea that this business of “Jewish poor” is in and of itself part of the scam.
Rest assured that there are extremely poor Jews in New York as well as scattered in pockets around the country. There are even greater numbers among the middle-class members of our community living from paycheck to paycheck, trying to hold on and make ends meet within the parameters of dignified employment. And then a few people placed in sensitive positions of trust go ahead and develop what might even be considered a well-meaning racket that casts aspersions on us all and brings the whole community tumbling down with them. This is not just criminal minds at work, this is more than anything else criminal mindlessness.
The stories making news and breaking over yom tov were disturbing because they appeared in the New York newspapers in the otherwise electronic vacuum of yom tov, when we are disciplined enough to wait for our dose of news the way we used to: from one morning paper to the next. Part of the greatness of our chagim, especially this year, was our challenge and ability to abstain from surfing the Internet every few minutes to quench our curiosity for the latest news updates and changes.
So we are shocked and feel bad about this latest scandal because it really affects us all. Of course, those involved are innocent until proven otherwise. There is no doubt that out here we know only a tiny fraction of what actually took place. That is part of the beauty of the judicial system in this country. The wheels of justice turn slowly and the judicial system will now be undertaking the painstaking matter of examining the details of what took place. I have an attorney friend who related to me a long time ago what his mother always used to tell him before he left his home each morning. “Brenkt nisht aheim ken shanda,” she would say in Yiddish. Loosely translated, that means “Do not bring home any shame or embarrassment.” She was obviously a very smart and astute woman.
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At a private reception in Brooklyn on Sunday evening, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Ze’ev Elkin, briefed members of the Syrian Jewish community on some of the issues Prime Minister Netanyahu would discuss with President Obama on Monday and the issues that the Prime Minister would most likely address at the UN on Tuesday.
We had to assure aides to the deputy minister that we would not disclose the details of Mr. Elkin’s remarks until later this week, so that he did not eclipse or diminish the potency of what Mr. Netanyahu planned to say. Interestingly enough, while we did not speak directly to Mr. Elkin, those traveling with him talked about the dynamic that exists between Mr. Elkin, as deputy foreign minister, and Mr. Netanyahu.
Elkin has said in the past that he does not subscribe to the notion or the potential viability of a two-state solution, while the creation of a Palestinian state is the official policy of the current government in Israel.
Politics is an odd and even funny thing that deals on levels that are often beyond the grasp of everyday pedestrian thinking. That means that the pursuit of a two-state solution can be the policy of an Israeli government, but the conclusion of an agreement and the implementation of such a diplomatic conclusion is not the policy of that very same government. That is probably the simplest way to describe this unusual dynamic for now.
Mr. Elkin, as was reported last week, was disinvited from the Prime Minister’s plane for speaking out last week and highlighting contradictions in Mr. Netanyahu’s polices. Maneuvering the Prime Minister into such an uncomfortable diplomatic position on the eve of his UN speech did not go over well with Bibi, and Elkin and his aides had to fly into New York on a commercial fight that arrived on Sunday morning.
Also at the event was Republican Congressman Michael Grimm. He is extremely popular in the Syrian Jewish community that he represents in Congress. He drove in from Washington on Sunday to attend this meeting and was planning to return directly to D.C., where momentous votes affecting the budget, Obamacare, and a limited shutdown of the U.S. government have now taken place.
Grimm says that support for Israel in Congress has never been greater than it is today. He said that there is no leadership at the White House and that the administration is dominated by dysfunction. He said that the Democratic-controlled Senate functions in very much the same way. On Syria and the near-bombing of Assad by the U.S. a few weeks ago, Congressman Grimm says that he had planned to vote to support a military strike, but that when he learned that the plan was for Mr. Obama to simply launch a “calling card” type of perfunctory and minimal attack, he changed his position.
Deputy Foreign Minister Elkin’s remarks focused mostly on Iran and the need not to be duped by Iranian duplicity and President Hassan Rouhani’s “charm offensive.” Rohani has indeed written in the past that the way to handle the West is to smile and say nice things while internally pursuing Iran’s devious plans. The only news there is that everyone involved seems to have been forewarned about this type of Iranian deviousness. That is, everyone except Barack Obama.
The good news, according to Minister Elkin, is that in Israel’s discussion with Arab leaders, the matter of the Palestinians or the need for a separate state rarely comes into any of the conversations. Once again, for now this is primarily an Obama-Kerry obsession at a time where everything else they touch seems to crumble and turn to dust.
America has come through all kinds of crisis situations in the past, but bungling leadership makes any kind of comeback all the more difficult. v
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