I'm going to let the myriads of journalists and bloggers discuss ad nauseum the details, dimensions and implications of Bernard Madoff's criminal venality. I feel the need, though, to put a face on his crimes; a face that hasn't emerged from behind the raw facts and the titllating numbers.
I feel that I owe it to two of the victims, one living and one deceased, whose vision and passion left a deep impression on me, and who dedicated large sums of their hard-earned money to the advancement of Jewish Education, Israel and Jewish National Survival, to put a face on this tragedy.
The first is Robert I. Lappin.
Robert Lappin is my grandmother's first cousin. His father, John, was born in Volkowisk Poland (Lita), and moved with his family to Eretz Yisrael in 1881, out of Religious Zionist conviction. His parents, Israel and Rebecca Lappin, moved first to Petach Tiqva, and then to Jerusalem. John, and his younger brother Yankel Mayshe, studied in the famed Yeshivat Etz Hayyim, which was then located in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem (next to the present day Menachem Zion synagogue, across from the Hurva Synagogue). Family legend has it, that upon hearing of the Kishinev Pogrom in 1903, Uncle John lost his religious faith. He could not believe that God would allow for the murder of 47 Jews, just for the crime of being Jews. He left Israel, and moved to Boston. H settled in Salem, married and raised a family and became a very wealthy man.
Robert, who I only had the pleasure of meeting once, has an consuming passion for Jewish survival through Jewish Education, the fight against assimilation and the support of Israel. It was for that reason that he set up the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation (though his involvement in related endeavors goes far beyond it. They are, I understand, pursued with characteristic modesty). A glance at the foundation's website gives an idea of the priceless contribution that Mr. Lappin has made, in the words of the foundation's masthead, 'Helping to Keep Our Children Jewish.' As a distant cousin, watching from afar, I have always been extremely proud of Mr. Lappin's activities. This is especially so, because of the heavy toll that assimilation and intermarriage have taken on our family. I feel a spiritual kinship with him, as I fight for the survival of Jews and Judaism here, and he carries on the fight in the United States. When I visit their graves on the Mount of Olives, I always feel like Israel and Rebecca Collier Lappin are shepping nahas.
The second person is the late, Maurice Saval.
Mr. Saval was a very successful, and extremely charitable, Boston businessman. Of his many causes, two were especially close to his heart. One was the Charles River Park Synagogue, in Downtown Boston. The other was the Maimonides School. Mr. Saval's involvement in Maimonides was a result of his long-standing and devoted friendship with the Rav זצ"ל. He was the Chairman of the Board and supported every initiative to expand and improve the school. He loved Maimonides with a passion. Since he and his wife were childless, he viewed Maimonides' students as his children (this, too, along the lines of the Rav's teachings in Family Redeemed). In 1992, I served as Rabbi of the Charles River Park Synagogue for the High Holy Days. As a result, I had an opportunity to spend many hours in conversation with Mr. Saval.
I will never forget, though, one comment he made, en passant. After recounting his relationship with the Maimonides School, he leaned back with pride and satisfaction and said: 'After I die, I've made arrangements that Maimonides will never know want.' Words cannot describe how Mr. Saval glowed when he said those words.
It is incredible to me, that both of these fine, wonderful, devoted men were victims of this inexecrable swindler. My heart twinges with pain at the memory of Mr. Saval's satisfied smile, when I know that most (if not all) of his bequest to Maimonides was stolen.
I cannot but imagine the sense of violation and betrayal that Robert Lappin must feel.
At the same time, I have to believe that the mitzvot done by the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation and by Mr. Saval ז"ל will continue bear fruit long after Bernard Madoff has been forgotten, having been left to rot in some richly deserved prison cell.