I need you to understand why I am writing this and why so many of my colleagues are feeling the same emotions.
“I am dizzy. I feel pained, depressed, reeling and distraught.” And those aren’t even my words—they are what a colleague wrote me soon after the news broke.
Willie Rapfogel was fired from his long time position as CEO of the Metropolitan Council (Met Council) on Jewish Poverty. Willie Rapfogel, noted champion of the poor, communal leader and mentor to so many, was removed by the Board of the Met Council from his position while on vacation and is currently under criminal investigation by New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for allegedly receiving kickbacks from his dealings with insurance companies. Reports indicate Rapfogel, already earning a salary of at least $400,000, may have received personal kickbacks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
This is not just another scandal. This is not just another Ponzi scheme. This is a knife to the heart of anyone in Jewish Communal Service who tries to do right, who hold their heads high for all the right reasons, and who want to slay the naysayer dragons who questions the ethics of Jewish charitable work on a seemingly weekly basis. If Willie can fall, then whom can you trust?
The scandals have come fast and furious. They have been dizzying- there’s that word again:
• The Holocaust Claims Conference and its well documented missing $57 million dollars to fraudulent and doctored claims by in-house staff
• The well-documented Yeshiva University case and its alleged decades-long cover up of sexual abuse, resulting in a $380 million dollar lawsuit filed by 31 alumni
• Sol Adler, long time Executive Director of the East Coast’s most prestigious JCC- otherwise known as the “ 92nd street Y”, was recently fired from his long-time position for having an extra-marital affair with his assistant, whose son, upon release from prison, was hired by Adler and ran his own 92nd Street Y vendor kickback scheme. Details have yet to emerge.
And now Willie Rapfogel at Met Council. With no claim of innocence whatsoever, his apologies flowed immediately after the Attorney General’s announcement. One week later, the Met Council already announced the hiring of New York City Finance Commissioner David Frankel as Rapfogel’s replacement. A case of the fox guarding the hen house? We shall see…
And now, a question. Wasn’t ANYONE paying attention to the repercussions of the Bernie Madoff scandal?
Back in 2008, it was revealed that our most venerable institutions lost hundreds of millions of dollars in a scam that could only be described as playing to the greed and hubris of our communal leaders. The outcry was strong, but brief. Far too brief, it now seems, for lessons have not been learned, and the quick road to the quick fix of financial gain seems to have won the day, yet again.
The supreme message of importance here must be clearly understood by all, repeated over and over again much as we repeat the thirteen attributes of God’s Mercy at this time of year:
If I may step down from my soap box for a moment, allow me to share with you another real difficulty here. The tangible ramifications of the fall-out is sadly simple. The world of Jewish charity is no longer a level playing field. The scandals mentioned above are the only ones known because the others have yet to break down, or be broken down.
Whistleblowers have yet to whistle. There is no way to, God forbid, compare the two current events in terms of their importance in our lives, but for those who need a relevant analogy, there are many other charitable organizations taking steroids. I fear that those of us playing it clean will only suffer. As the Forward wrote: “Rapfogel’s abrupt firing amid the disclosure of a criminal investigation into his financial dealings could now make it harder to get government funds to poor Jews, some officials say.”
“Whenever you lose someone with that kind of expertise, you lose a relationship base that was developed over years and that provided significant dividends to the community,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant.
The average guy loses. The hard working, clean and dedicated professionals lose. The Jewish needy and poor are the biggest losers.
And no one, but I mean no one, wins.
By Robert Katz