Five rabbis, three mayors, and two state Assemblymen walk into a bar…wait, you’ve heard that one? Okay, how about: a councilman and a businessman meet in a diner? That too? What about the one about the developer, the adulterous brother-in-law and the hit-man or the governor and the boyfriend he put in charge of Homeland Security, or the Senator and the Korean entrepreneur or the union official and the…never mind. You’ve obviously heard them all. If you haven’t, read “The Soprano State, New Jersey’s Culture of Corruption” by Bob Ingel and Sandy McClure. The book never goes out of date; they just keep releasing new versions.
As anyone who is paying attention knows (and if you aren’t, New Jersey will grab you by the lapels and get all up in your face until you are), 44 people were indicted on bank fraud and corruption that involved land, body parts, and wads of cash stuffed in pockets, envelopes, and even a box of Apple Jacks. As New Jersey’s acting US attorney Ralph J. Marra, Jr. noted, “They existed in an ethics-free zone” which New Jersey apparently provides without the onerous taxes imposed on the rest of its citizens. No matter, btw, that some of the leading figures were from Brooklyn; Jersey will take the hit.
I live in New Jersey and I’m not alone in wishing my home state would stop supplying fodder for late-night comedians (although I’m secretly hoping Andy Borowitz takes it up). But seriously, the culture of corruption is so entrenched in the Garden State, that, as Mr. Marra pointed out, the good citizens “don’t have a chance…”
I have a good friend who, though not by nature a paranoid person, pointed out something else perhaps no one is going to address, at least not publicly: the perpetrators of this scheme appear to be Jewish. They were devout, but their devotion seems to be to the Almighty dollar. On top of Madoff, this is, to my friend’s way of thinking, a disaster for anyone identified as a Jew, which would include me, notwithstanding I am thoroughly lapsed.
It hadn’t occurred to me that this could at all be tied to me. Who stereotypes like that? People stereotype in other ways (“Oh, that explains your sense of humor”) but that can’t be all bad. And yet, looking at the picture in the Times, I felt a familiar tightening of the stomach. (I also thought for some reason of a busload of elderly New York Jews heading to Atlantic City but never mind). Here we go again: Jews and money. Money and Jews. Fraud and deceit and manipulation and money laundering and Jews. Evil Empire, economic manipulation, Zionist plot, world domination. Shylock.
I know, paranoid, right? This kind of scandal hurts lots of people. Italians who are sick of being caricatured as characters out of an HBO series. Women who don’t have big hair and lots of jewelry. Long-time residents who love the state. Politicians who are just trying to do their jobs honestly. It’s about assumptions and greed and entitlement and perhaps an environment that makes it far too easy to take the money and run. I can always move to North Carolina or wherever fed-up New Jersey residents are flocking these days.
My friend is blunt: “These guys are perpetrating an image that infuriates people. And let’s not forget what happens when people become infuriated with Jews and blame them for their problems.” Paranoid? It is. Still, one hates to feed the beast.