Madoff Arrest Sends Shockwaves Through Jewish Philanthropy

By Gabrielle Birkner and Anthony Weiss

Published December 12, 2008, issue of December 19, 2008.
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The arrest of Wall Street trader Bernard L. Madoff, who federal agents say defrauded investors of an estimated $50 billion, has had immediate consequences in the Jewish philanthropic world. One charity already closed and insiders are worried that the ramifications of Madoff’s financial demise may extend to the many organizations he supported and the wealthy Jews he advised.

On Friday, Madoff resigned from Yeshiva University, where he served as the chairman of the Sy Syms School of Business and treasurer of the board of trustees. Madoff and his wife, Ruth, had also endowed a “Presidential Fellowship” at the university.

In a statement, a YU spokeswoman, Hedy Shulman, said that news of Madoff’s arrest had “shocked” university officials, adding: “Our lawyers and accountants are investigating all aspects of his relationship to Yeshiva University. We reserve our comments until we complete our investigation.”

The same day, the Boston-based Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation, which had the bulk of its money invested with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, closed its doors and terminated its seven staff members. A 16-year-old charity, the organization’s stated goal had been “reversing the trend of assimilation and intermarriage.”

It had funded teen trips to Israel, enrichment programs for Jewish educators, and interfaith outreach initiatives. According to a press release issued Friday by the foundation, all of its assets had been frozen by the federal courts. “The money needed to fund the programs of the Lappin Foundation is gone,” the statement read.

“It’s with a heavy heart that I make this announcement,” the organization’s trustee, Robert I. Lappin, said. “The Foundation’s programs have touched thousands of lives over many years in our efforts to help keep our children Jewish.”

Madoff also made charitable donations to other Jewish organizations, including the 92nd Street Y, where he and his wife were listed as “Benefactors” — having given a gift of between $2,500 and $4,999 to the 2006–2007 annual campaign.

He had also chaired a gala fundraiser on behalf of Gift of Life, a Jewish bone marrow registry and cord blood bank.

In addition, the Madoffs were such significant contributors to UJA-Federation of New York that the charity placed a death notice in the New York Times, extending sympathies to the Madoff family following the death of a family member. The notice mentioned Bernard Madoff, and referred to the family as “cherished friends and leaders whose deep commitment to the New York Jewish community profoundly impacts millions of lives.”

The investor was close to a number of prominent Jewish donors, both on Wall Street and elsewhere. The Wall Street Journal reported that members of the Boca Rio Golf Club in Boca Raton and the Palm Beach Country Club in Palm Beach were heavily invested with Madoff’s firm. Both clubs are heavily Jewish.

Madoff, 70, was arrested on Thursday and released on a $10 million bond. A lawyer for Madoff told the Wall Street Journal: “Bernard Madoff is a longstanding leader in the financial-services industry with an unblemished record. He is a person of integrity. He intends to fight to get through this unfortunate event.”






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