Beating our chests

Beating our chests

As we approach the High Holy Days – blowing the shofar each day in Elul and reciting penitential prayers – it’s time to start thinking about personal wrongdoing, repentance, and self-improvement.

Sometimes, however, individual actions may have a significant communal impact, rendering personal indiscretions more public and calling for more vigorous chest-beating. Unfair as that may be, we can’t afford to ignore it.

With hateful and racist charges of organ harvesting hanging over the State of Israel and the face of financier Bernie Madoff still haunting everyone’s economic nightmares, it is more important than ever that Jews in the news be seen as representatives of a moral and just tradition.

While the charges of organ harvesting need to be actively refuted – no mea culpas here for things we didn’t do – the economic charges pose more of a problem. That is why this week’s indictment of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is so troubling.

Olmert’s situation may represent a “first” that Israel could do without, as JTA has noted. (See page 30.) Having been indicted Sunday on three charges that could land him in jail, he might turn out to be “the first Israeli prime minister to spend years fighting charges of corruption and then spend his golden years behind bars.”

Historically, Jews have gotten a bad rap on the economic front. Pushed into the marginal occupation of money-lending by church rulings prohibiting us from engaging in other pursuits, we fell prey to the natural tensions that develop between creditors and debtors and to the demonization that accompanies that endeavor. Olmert’s alleged crimes – from defrauding the government and overseas Jewish groups by about $90,000 to accepting bribes from a New York businessman – do nothing to help undo that image.

Nor has the taint of Madoff disappeared from public view, thanks to Hadassah’s former chief financial officer Sheryl Weinstein. While having an affair with Madoff may not in itself have been a crime, Weinstein’s bad taste, poor judgment, and shameless self-promotion are certainly to be admonished.

Of course, the age-old worry “Is this good for the Jews?” can be taken to extremes. But at a time when information itself has gone viral, we need to have public perception on our side.

As we approach Rosh HaShanah and its requirement that we settle up accounts with each other, let’s try to keep that in mind.