Monday, May 25, 2009

Bernie Madoff vs. Leonard Abess and Sidney Frank

They all had no problem telling us Bernie Madoff (ושם רשעים ירקב) was Jewish – but when it comes to the good guys, Jewish identity is suddenly unmentionable.

We saw this back in January with Leonard Abess Jr, who was honored by President Obama for his selfless magnanimity:

One person on the first lady's guest list was Leonard Abess Jr., a Miami banker who received a $60 million bonus from the proceeds from the sale of shares of City National Bank in Florida and gave it out to his 399 workers and 72 former workers.
During his speech, President Obama said Abess didn't tell anyone about his generosity, but when the local newspaper found out, Abess simply said, "I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself."

No mention of his religion, whatsoever.

And today we hear of Sidney Frank, with Ivy League dreams come true with liquor magnate's gift:

(CNN) -- Sidney Frank made millions marketing Jagermeister and other alcohol brands. Three years after his death, he's a big hit with students at the Ivy League college he briefly attended.
He's a big hit not because of what he sold, but because he's given dozens of them what he couldn't afford as a young man: an education at Rhode Island's Brown University.
On Sunday, 49 students from low-income families became the first Sidney E. Frank Scholars to graduate from Brown, owing virtually nothing except gratitude to the late liquor magnate.
"The world of difference that he made for each and every one of us is unbelievable, incredible," one of the Frank Scholars, 22-year-old Shane Reil, said Sunday.
Frank - who left Brown after one year in the late 1930s because he couldn't afford to stay -- gave the school a $100 million endowment in 2004. He stipulated that the fund's income go exclusively to covering all tuition and expenses for the neediest of Brown's admitted applicants.
For this year's graduates, tuition and expenses came to a four-year total of about $180,000 each. The median annual income of the recipients' families was $18,984. ...
The gift was the largest single one ever given to Brown and one of the largest ever given for undergraduate scholarships in the United States, according to the school.

And guess who’s Jewish?

Granted I’m not proud of a Jew making money off of marketing alcohol, but if people can make a point of that thief Madoff's heritage, they ought to do the same for a man of Sidney Frank's benevolence.


  1. "I’m not proud of a Jew making money off of marketing alcohol"

    Why not? It's time honored. From Rav Papa to the Bronfmans.

  2. I thought someone might ask me about Rav Pappa. But my answer is that there is a difference between producing alcohol and marketing it the way it is marketed today. See the article for some of his pioneering methods. I'm not into it.

  3. You can't have it both ways Rabbi. You can't ask why they didn't mention that Mr. Frank was Jewish at the same time that you you are not proud of the way he made his money. That kind of ambivalence could give rise to some real anti-semitic comments. You know, along the lines of "that#%(*&*%(&* Jew gets our kids addicted and then tries to buy his way out by giving out scholarships!!!! Even their rabbis don't think how he made his money is right." Enough said.

  4. ProfK-
    I hear, but I am not sure I agree. It's legitimate to be ambivalent about this; there are positive/mitigating arguments as well. And I don't hear anyone complaining about Augie Busch, you know.

  5. I'm all for bashing double-standards when they come up, but I don't think that this particular collection of anecdotes is convincing.

    On the Madoff side, if you look at what I think is the first CNN article on Madoff, you'll find nothing about the fact that he's Jewish. Of course, it became part of the story as more and more was written about him, but that's at least partly because a lot of the financial relationships he had were with Jewish organizations and with his network of Jewish friends.

    On the other hand, Aaron Feuerstein, the "Mensch who Saved Christmas," was well known in the press as a Jew. The only contemporaneous (Dec. 1995) mention from CNN that I could find on the web was a little news capsule, so this isn't comparable, but here are two MSM news stories that mention his Judaism. But anyway, if your standard is what's prominently part of the general story told in the press, as it apparently is, I think it's clear to anyone who remembers the story from back then that Mr. Feuerstein made a big Kiddush Hashem.

    Of course, Madoff got more total coverage than Feuerstein, Abess, and Frank put together, but the disproportionate notoriety of evildoing in the press is not hard to explain without resorting to ethnic bias.

  6. nmf#7-

    I'm not one to see a Jew-hater under every rock, but the Madoff coverage I have seen has emphasized the Jewish element far beyond its direct relevance. You might also look here for a brief note by someone (who is not Jewish) on the topic.

    Feuerstein is a worthy note, but he emphasized his Judaism as part of his decision-making process. I heard him speak at Kutztown University several years ago, and almost the entire talk was from Pirkei Avot, with direct citation.