By Jacob Berkman

NEW YORK (JTA) -- The securities fraud of Bernard Madoff has rocked the Jewish nonprofit world -- and the worst may be yet to come.

Madoff, the founder of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC, was arrested Dec. 11 after admitting to his board that a hedge fund he ran was essentially a $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

At least two foundations have been forced to close because they had invested their funds with Madoff.

The Robert I. Lappin Foundation in Salem, Mass., announced Dec. 12 that it would shut down after losing $8 million -- all of its money. And the Chais Family Foundation, which gives out some $12.5 million each year to Jewish causes in Israel, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, announced its closing Dec. 14.

At least one nonprofit is calling out for help in the wake of Madoff’s collapse. The Gift of Life Foundation, a Jewish bone marrow registry that relied heavily on Madoff as a benefactor, announced on its Web site Sunday that it would immediately need to raise $1.8 million to make up for recent losses.

Sources close to Yeshiva University, where Madoff served as treasurer of the board of trustees and board chairman of the university's Sy Syms School of Business until he resigned last week, said the school has lost at least $100 million. Y.U. officials declined to offer any specifics.

Just as the reverberations of the subprime mortgage collapse are still seen as contributing to the nation's wider economic meltdown, philanthropic insiders say the fallout from Madoff's scheme could be even greater. The insiders note that Madoff and others heavily invested in his fraudulent fund were major supporters of a plethora of nonprofit organizations, served on their boards or advised those organizations on how to invest their money -- in some cases placing large sums of the groups' capital in Madoff’s hands.

Reflecting this sense that the full extent of the damage is still unclear, the executive vice president and CEO of the UJA-Federation of New York said that even though its endowments were not exposed, the organization still could be hurt if donors lost money in the scheme.

“We do not yet know the full extent of the losses that supporters of UJA-Federation and other Jewish institutions have had,” John Ruskay said. “But we have already heard that many major institutions had substantial funds invested, as did foundations. Already in the context of a very challenging economic environment this will present another significant difficulty. We don’t know yet the extent of the wreckage.”

Reports are trickling out in the national media about prominent businessmen from across the country who lost money in Madoff's scheme.

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon, GMAC Financial Services chairman J. Ezra Merkin and former Philadelphia Eagles owner Norman Braman all were reported to have taken significant hits due to their dealings with Madoff, who reportedly would not accept any investment in his fund below $10 million.

Reports have surfaced also that media magnate Mortimer Zuckerman was significantly hurt by investing with Madoff.

In Los Angeles, the Jewish Community Foundation’s $238 million Common Investment Pool lost $18 million it had invested with Madoff, according to a letter sent out by the foundation.

Among other Jewish institutions and foundations believed to be hit by the Madoff scandal: the American Jewish Congress, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Steven Spielberg’s Wunderkinder Foundation, Elie Wiesel’s Foundation for Humanity and Carl Shapiro’s charitable foundation.

But Merkin, who last week told investors in his hedge fund, Ascot Partners, that all of their money had been defrauded by Madoff, is of particular interest to the Jewish community. He has philanthropic ties to a number of Jewish organizations and institutions, serving as a volunteer investment adviser for many of them, including Yeshiva University. Among other causes with which he is said to be connected are the SAR Academy, a Jewish day school in the Bronx, as well as State of Israel Bonds, The Jewish Campus Life Fund, Elaine Kaufman Cultural Center, the Ramaz School, Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun and the Fifth Avenue Synagogue.

Sources say that several of these entities had money in Ascot, which they now stand to lose because of Merkin's decision to invest so heavily in Madoff's fund. According to Orthodox communal insiders, Ramaz and SAR lost millions between them.

A woman who answered the phone Sunday at one of Merkin's listed numbers suggested that he could be reached in the office Monday.

An official at one major Jewish foundation told JTA that it had been advised to invest with Madoff, but decided against it after concluding that his return-on-investment forecasts seemed too good to be true.

Certainly the extent of the damage to the philanthropic world could become clearer as details emerge in coming days and weeks of just who was invested with Madoff.

With each day since news of the fraud broke, new organizations and funders have emerged as victims: Yad Sarah in Israel, the Maimonides School in Boston, the Charles I. and Mary Kaplan Foundation in Rockville, Md., and the Julian J. Levitt Foundation are among those to announce losses.

One philanthropic official said there is a lesson to be learned here for the philanthropy world, where Jewish businessmen and philanthropists directed their own private funds and the funds of institutions that they help oversee toward Madoff.

“What really emerges out of this,” said Jeffrey Solomon, the president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, is that "people sometimes forget to conduct the due diligence when dealing with others with social prominence -- and especially in the hedge-fund area where people think you have to be really smart to be in hedge funds. In many ways for all investments something like this is tragic, but for nonprofits where boards have the fiduciary responsibility of acting with great prudence, it is even more tragic.”

According to a fund-raiser who has been scouring recent 990 tax filings to see how this might affect his nonprofit, several other major philanthropists have put money in Madoff's hands: As of the end of 2007, Sandy Gottesman had $20 million of his foundation's $144 million invested with Madoff and Robert Beren had two foundations with more than that in endowments invested with Ascot. U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) says his foundation has about $15 million invested with Madoff.

Yeshiva University issued a statement via e-mail to JTA on Sunday.

“We are shocked at this revelation,” the university said. “Bernard Madoff has tendered his resignation from all positions affiliated with the university and involvement with the university. Our lawyers and accountants are investigating all aspects of his relationship to Yeshiva University. We reserve our comments until we complete our investigation.”

Deep South Foundations Safe

Unlike many of their counterparts, the Jewish Foundations in Birmingham and New Orleans are not taking a hit from the Madoff meltdown.

Sandy Levy, executive director of the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana, said “we are in the clear.”

In its daily email on Dec. 17, the Birmingham Jewish Federation stated that neither it nor the Birmingham Jewish Foundation had any investments with Madoff’s firm.

It was also pointed out that United Jewish Communities also did not have any investments with Madoff.

Just in time for Chanukah, a signature taste of New Orleans is now kosher.

Following a year-long effort by a determined rabbi, Café du Monde has been certified as officially kosher by the Louisiana Kashrut Committee. Beignets made in all six establishments throughout the city and the make-it-at-home boxed mix that is sold in stores nationwide are being made in accordance with the laws of Kashrut.

For over 140 years, Café du Monde, one of New Orleans’ oldest and most famous landmarks, has been known the world over for its light, airy and delicious powdered sugar-coated beignets.

“It must have been a funny sight for the owner to watch me savor a delicious beignet for the first time. But how often can one truly appreciate a unique food? It’s been a long time since I’ve had such intense kavannah (spiritual intention) while making a blessing over a snack!” said Rabbi Uri Topolosky, the driving force behind the koshering effort and the relatively new head rabbi of Beth Israel, the city’s only modern Orthodox synagogue.

Topolosky approached Café du Monde soon after he and his family moved to New Orleans in July 2007. Not one to shy away from new challenges, Topolosky came to New Orleans from Riverdale, N.Y., where he served as associate rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, to lead the rebuilding of Beth Israel. The shul was decimated by Hurricane Katrina after it took on 10 feet of water and lost its sacred collection of seven Torahs and thousands of prayer and scholarly books.

The inspiration for Topolosky’s culinary pursuit was a passing request from a friend, who, upon learning that the rabbi accepted the job, jokingly urged Topolosky, “If you do only one thing for New Orleans’ Jewish community, make beignets kosher!”

So in the past year, in addition to his regular duties building and sustaining a congregation and getting settled into a new city, Topolosky added regular calls to Café du Monde to plead his case. He also suggested that visitors stop in or call to inquire if the café was officially kosher supervised.

Coincidentally, this wasn’t the first time Burt Benrud, Jr., a vice president of H N Fernandez, Inc., which owns Café du Monde, got such calls. “Every December, like clockwork, we would get calls asking about the kosher status of our beignets,” said Benrud.

It wasn’t until two years ago, when Benrud happened to see a news story that reported on the traditional fried foods of Chanukah, that the light bulb went off: Jews were calling to see if they could make Café du Monde’s beignets a unique part of their traditional celebration.

The following year, when his neighbor —who also is a member of the Jewish community — asked him to meet with Topolosky, Benrud agreed to learn what was involved in getting a hecksher — certification of kashrut. “I give Rabbi Uri a lot of credit for reaching out and making the effort to do something for the community. It’s great that we can now say with certainty that our beignets are for everyone.”

Topolosky estimates that a relatively small percentage of the 7,000-member Jewish community in New Orleans keeps strictly kosher, but he points out that many Orthodox Jews and their families have been coming to New Orleans, whether to volunteer with the rebuilding, visit family and friends or to take in the historically beautiful city.

“Café du Monde is a classic New Orleans institution and I thought it would be symbolic for the rebuilding of the Jewish community to have its ties further strengthened with a kosher offering that is so closely associated with the city,” said Topolosky. “A kosher Café Du Monde is yet another example of how our Jewish community is thriving again. For our kosherly-conscious visitors, I believe we’ve added another stop on their tour of our great city.”

During Chanukah, it is traditional to eat foods fried in oil, including jelly doughnuts and latkes, and this year in New Orleans… beignets!

On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the inauguration of the first African-American president in U.S. history, a national conference on Black-Catholic-Jewish relations will be held at Xavier University in New Orleans.

“Americans at the Pulpit in the Public Square: A conversation on race, religion and rhetoric in a diverse America” will be held Jan. 17 to 19, sponsored by the The American Jewish Committee and The New York Archdiocese’s Office of the Black Ministry.

The conference aims to educate and train participants enabling them to be change agents. There will be two key questions considered — the different perspectives of the distinct faith and ethnic communities involved, and how they can work together to move forward.

The conference will consist of lectures interspersed with hands-on workshops and trainings. It will also give participants the opportunity to interact with each other meaningfully, breaking unspoken divides and strengthening not only their knowledge of each other, but the practice of being and working together.

The American Jewish Committee, established in 1906 by a small group of American Jews deeply concerned about pogroms aimed at Russian Jews, determined that the best way to protect Jewish populations in danger would be to work towards a world in which all peoples were accorded respect and dignity.

Established in 1976, the Office of Black Ministry was created to address some of the unique spiritual, cultural and social needs of African American, African, and Caribbean American Catholics, as well as the larger Black Community.

Xavier University of Louisiana is the only historically black, Catholic university in the country. Xavier was founded by a white women from Philadelphia (St. Katharine Drexel), to provide higher education for young Blacks; today it welcomes all people and serves a “community” that is broader than Black and Catholic. Since Hurricane Katrina, Xavier has been the site of the coming together of AJC and OBM in a unique and meaningful collaboration.

Among the other co-sponsors are AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and Jewish Funds for Justice.
The conference begins on Jan. 17 with registration at the Hampton Inn Downtown French Quarter. After an opening prayer at 7 p.m. there will be a screening of “Axe in the Attic,” followed by a discussion, “Confronting New Orleans’ Challenges: A Microcosm for the Country,” with the film’s co-producer and co-director, Lucia Small.

Events will shift to Xavier on Jan. 18, with a morning panel on “Martin Luther King, Jr. and his Legacy: Race Relations Then and Now,” featuring Professor Cheryl Greenberg, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of History, Trinity College; and Andre Williams, City Council member, Miami, Fla.

At 11:15 a.m., there will be “Everything you always wanted to know but were afraid to ask! Q&A on the Christian and Jewish Faiths” with Dr. Sister Jamie Phelps, Director of the Institute for Black Catholic Studies, Xavier University; and Rabbi James Rudin, Senior Interreligious advisor, American Jewish Committee.

An open Catholic Mass will be followed by a screening of “Sisters of Selma: Bearing Witness for Change.”

In the afternoon, there will be “The Role of Faith and How We Relate to One Another,” a discussion featuring Professor Laurence Thomas, Syracuse University Philosophy Department.
Dr. Jamie Phelps and Beth Israel Rabbi Uri Topolosky will lead breakout sessions featuring text study focused on the Jewish and Christian teachings on social justice and community building.

Late afternoon workshops and discussions include “Bridging the Divides — New Networks, New Directions in New Orleans” and “Building Ethnic and Religious Group Trust: Models You Can Use.”

The Xavier Jazz Band will entertain during the evening program.

On Jan. 19, there will be a Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Program featuring Fr. Freddy Washington and Temple Sinai Rabbi Edward Cohn.

The commemoration will be followed by a service learning project in the area, after which the conference will conclude.

To learn more about the conference, or to participate, visit http://nolaconference.blogspot.com or contact Neil Schneider at the Federation, (504) 780-5610 or neil@jewishnola.com.

The Henry S. Jacobs Camp announced that a major part of the camp’s 40th anniversary celebration next summer will be a concert by Dan Nichols and E18hteen, featuring favorite camp songs from across the years.

The concert will be on Aug. 8 in conjunction with the 40th Anniversary Reunion, and during the first-ever Alumni Family Camp. Nichols will also be the songleader for the family camp.

Nichols is one of the most popular and influential Jewish musicians in North America, performing over 200 concerts a year. His music has become an import part of the Reform movement, with synagogue and clergy alike incorporating it into their curriculum and services.
His last two albums have garnered critical acclaim and a legion of growing fans. Songs like “L’takein (The Na Na Song),” “B’tzelem Elohim,” “Kehilah Kedosha,” and “My Heart is in the East” are some of the most poplar songs in Reform Judaism today.

All Jacobs alumni and their families are invited to take part in the festivities.

The Alumni Family Camp is an opportunity for out-of-region alumni and their children to join with their local counterparts to experience the camp. Alumni who move out of the region often wonder if their children would fit in at the camp; this is a way to have them experience the camp.

Children will get a full camp experience, complete with counselors, camp activities, evening programs and a Shabbat experience. Their parents will also get to take part in all that Jacobs has to offer, while reliving fond camp memories, and experiencing how Jacobs continues to affect lives.

Children will spend the week in the camp’s newly-remodeled air conditioned cabins and have song sessions, two camp-style evening programs, kids-only sports, arts and crafts, tower/ropes course time, canteen, a campfire and more.

There will also be family “open waters” time for swimming in the pool, as well as swimming, blobbing and boating in the newly-rejuvenated Lake Gary.

Adults will stay in the newly-remodeled air-conditioned adult housing. There will be an adults-only area for relaxing and hanging out with friends, and adult-level activities similar to the children’s activities.

The family camp will be from Aug. 5 to 9, and space is limited.

On Aug. 8, the camp will open at 9 a.m. for the alumni reunion. Guests will register and have the option for breakfast.

At 10:15 a.m., Shabbat services will take place at the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, followed by the highly-anticipated All-Camp Photo.

There will be a cookout in the breezeway, followed by Open Camp and a few scheduled activities.

At 5:15 p.m., the camp’s famous fried chicken will be served, followed by the Dan Nichols and E18hteen concert. Havdalah will end the day.

The cost per person is still to be determined; all event proceeds will go to the “Friends of Jacobs Camp” Fund, which supports camp scholarships, facility improvements, and more.
Applications and further information will be made available on the camp’s website, http://jacobs.urjcamps.org.

The camp has also launched an alumni on-line forum, accessible through the camp website.
In conjunction with the camp’s “Trees to Plant” 40th Anniversary Capital Campaign, an Alumni Plaza is being created as a gathering place for the camp community. Donors who contribute at least $1,000 over the next three years can dedicate a personalized brick in the project. The plaza is scheduled to be ready for the August reunion.

The campaign has a goal of $4 million to strengthen the camp programs and endowment.
The Henry S. Jacobs Camp is the Reform Movement’s summer camp serving the Deep South: Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Western Tennessee and the Florida Panhandle. The camp opened in 1970.

When Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization of America, announced that its 2009 annual convention would be held in New Orleans, it was seen as a boost for a city trying to rebuild its tourism and convention business, and for a Jewish community trying to replenish its numbers and tell the story of its post-Katrina revival.

Now, the event — which draws around 2000 delegates — is being dramatically scaled back, and at press time it was uncertain whether there would be any national Hadassah activities in New Orleans in July. The convention had been scheduled for July 12 to 15.

On Dec. 5, region and Big Chapter presidents held a conference call with Nancy Falchuk, Hadassah national president, to discuss an Executive Committee decision to cut domestic spending by millions of dollars.

In an email circulated to the region by Southern Region President Edria Ragosin, it was stated that instead of the usual four-day event, there would likely be a meeting of the national board and a one-day business meeting for representatives of chapters across the country.

Plans would not be finalized until mid-December as to what sort of meetings would be held, or if they would be held in New Orleans.

Roselle Ungar, a national Hadassah Executive Board member from New Orleans, said “convention as we know it has been cancelled” in a move toward fiscal responsibility.
“Needless to say, we are all very disappointed, and Hadassah is disappointed,” she said.

She noted that if the full national board meets in New Orleans, the board has 250 members and typically meets three times a year.

She also said it is still important to have a business meeting for delegates to weigh in on issues.
Emotionally, she said, canceling convention “is hard, but fiscally it is the right thing to do.”

If there is a business meeting in New Orleans, Ragosin wrote, “We do expect every chapter to be represented,” and that the host region would still do “all we can to boost that spirit and infuse the atmosphere with our positive, friendly style.”

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