Posted by: Jeff Rubin, Associate Vice President for Communications on 12/23/2008 12:59:00 AM
The Bernard Madoff financial scandal was the subject of much concern at the recent Hillel International Professional Staff Conference as Hillel leaders feared for the financial and spiritual health of the Jewish community.
As details of this alleged crime unfolded -- estimated to cost some $50 billion -- Hillel professionals were worried about the financial impact on their organization, their supporters and community partners. Hillel did not emerge unscathed from the scam: indirect investment in Madoff’s funds cost the Charles and Lynn Schusterman International Center $20,000 and the demise of the Picower Foundation means that a Hillel professional development program must seek a new source of funding in 2010. Furthermore, the closing of the Chais Foundation eliminated $600,000 for our work in Israel and the former Soviet Union. After years of growth in providing Jewish identity education to young people in these countries, Hillel will be forced to find new funders or cut back its efforts.
Hillel professionals were shocked and saddened at the blows sustained by our close partners at Yeshiva University and Hadassah, among others, whose damages reached the tens of millions of dollars. These losses will undoubtedly eliminate important programs that touch the lives of thousands. Madoff’s scheme violated the trust of the donors who worked so hard to provide this money for the betterment of the Jewish community and the world. As a community we are all diminished by these losses.
Difficult as these financial blows may be, Hillel directors were most upset over the spiritual implications of the Madoff affair. Hillel staffers attending a seminar on media relations were unanimous in asserting that Hillel has a special responsibility at this difficult time to express the moral and ethical lessons of Jewish tradition.
Hillels occupy an important place on their campuses: Hillels offer young people a spiritual dimension to their education that no classroom can provide. On-campus programs, such as Northwestern University Hillel’s “AskBigQuestions” challenge students to explore the ethical and moral implications of life, putting all their coursework and professional preparation into a broader perspective. A one-on-one Jewish learning session with a Hillel educator can unlock the secrets to Jewish tradition for students. A course on globalization cannot convey the implications of economic inequity like a Hillel alternative break to the favelas (slums) of Rio de Janeiro in which students learn about Judaism’s fundamental commitment to tzedek, social justice. Last year, more than 2,000 Jewish students participated in alternative breaks though Hillel and our partners.
Hillels are not seeking to provide abstract instruction in ethical theory but to implant deep moral lessons in the hearts and souls of students. Hillel’s mission is to enrich the lives of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students so that they can enrich the Jewish community and the world. Our goal is to ensure that alternative breaks and on-campus opportunities are not just a one-time affair but spark a lifetime involvement in social justice and the Jewish community. That is why our vision is to “inspire an enduring commitment to the Jewish community.”
Hillel will continue to help Jewish students integrate ethics and social justice in their personal and professional lives. As we work to repair the damage done to our financial health by the Madoff scandal, we will continue to be a voice for morality in the public square and on the college campus.
RE: Undoing the Damage of the Madoff Scandal
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