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Letters to the editor: Jordan Belfort, Azerbaijan and defending Israel

January 8, 2014 | 2:39 pm

Treating the Moral, Ethical Sickness Spread by MoneyÏ

As a state and federal criminal prosecutor, I can tell you that for every Bernard Madoff or Jordan Belfort, there are dozens of Jewish white-collar criminals you will never read about (“ ‘The Wolf’ and the Jewish Problem,” Jan. 3). Rob Eshman is right on the money when he declares that our rabbis and leaders are not doing enough to address this issue. I leave the criminal courthouse on Friday afternoon, but often I do not — I cannot — leave the hustling, the quest for material glory and the egos that landed the defendants in jail in the first place. No, those conversations about business and material desires continue in the synagogues. Non-Jews do not point to Jews as the models of business ethics. Until that happens, our leaders should spare no effort tackling this cancer.  

David Peyman via e-mail

I always read your columns with great interest, but the “Wolf” one really got me thinking. You are so right!

Strangely enough, it is interesting that doctors love lecturing about diseases that almost never occur (so they can be the world’s authority on something obscure) but avoid talking about common problems (where they have to know their facts cold). Moreover, just like your examples about the American Studies Association and Swarthmore College’s Hillel, the earlier conversation is easy to have because it involves no conflict or change in practice patterns. The latter, if it actually suggests changes to care, is an exceedingly difficult topic and will inevitably antagonize many.

Distinguishing greed from ambition and security is very subjective. But one thing that is clear is that I see a bright line of moral behavior that I could never cross. It is not Belfort’s, Boesky’s or Madoff’s desire for wealth that disgusts me; it is that they either were too damaged to see the line or willingly crossed it. Can seeing that line be taught? 

There is an entire field of literature devoted to “the genetics of morality.” It is plausible that those who acted immorally were more likely to be beaten by their co-humans and didn’t live to reproduce. 

Steven Teitelbaum, Santa Monica

The question of what motivates people is a thorny and at times comedic one. We are balls of contradiction, tightly wound. There is nothing for the Jordan Belforts of the world to measure up against: “Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope/with what I most enjoy contented least.” I’ve been there! And it’s not a pretty place to be.  

I would only add that the costs of this institutionalized greed are more than the nest eggs, to which you alluded, that will be lost. The cost must also somehow tally the pain of not measuring up, of not knowing ourselves, of chasing a buck at any cost — what David Foster Wallace put as life “under the ceaseless neon bottle.” In other words, the cost is our humanity at large.   

Crawford Coates via e-mail


Azerbaijanis Set Valuable Example for Mideast

I would like to express my gratitude to Rob Eshman for his article “The Mysteries of Azerbaijan” (Dec. 20, 2013), about the Jewish community in Azerbaijan. Amid the violent ethnic conflicts that have been rattling the Caucasus over the past two decades, the co-existence of Jewish and Muslim Azerbaijanis in peace, harmony and mutual respect may serve as an exemplary model for the Middle East. 

I also especially thank Mr. Eshman for his courage in highlighting the common grief over the 1918 massacre of Muslims and Jews carried out by the Bolshevik and the Armenian Dashnak forces under Gen. Hamazasp Srvandztyan. Without delving into the unfortunate debate surrounding the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, the acknowledgment of this horrific 1918 atrocity constitutes a proper recognition of its victims and survivors. And regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation, such recognition is an important step toward peace and reconciliation.

Javid Huseynov, General Director of the Azerbaijani-American Council


Time to Put Differences Aside

Kudos to David Suissa, who once again hit the nail on the head (“Why Won’t Liberals Defend Israel?” Dec. 20, 2013).

Unfortunately, Israel is surrounded by anti-Semites who do a good job of pummeling us at every opportunity. If only we could scale back our own divisiveness to support and defend each other (even when we disagree, as all families do), how much stronger we would be as a nation.

Miriam Fisher, Los Angeles


correction

The correct contact information for Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills’ Jan. 10 Shabbat Shira,  the Shabbat of Song event (Calendar, Jan. 3),  is (310) 409-4634, tebh.org. 

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