Sunday, February 21, 2010

The ‘Spinka’ Syndrome

Say it ain’t so, Milton. (He actually did say it ain't so denying any wrong doing.)

Rabbi Yehoshua Balkany (…his old friends still call him Milton) was a childhood friend of mine. We both went to Yeshivath Beth Yehuda in Detroit and were both in the same class. We knew each other well then all the way through 8th grade. After going on to separate high schools we lost touch but I have followed this man’s amazing career.

He is in fact one of Beth Yehuda’s greatest accomplishments having come from a non religious background as many of their students did back then. He went on to become a student at Torah VoDaath and soon after became the principal of Beis Yaakov of Boro Park. He has been their Menahel for decades. Along the way he met his wife to be on an airplane (very cool, Milton!).

Ironically she is a member of the wealthyRubashkin family and sister to Shalom Rubashkin who is awaiting sentencing for his own financial crimes.

Milton is the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet. He is a guy who can charm your socks off. But more than that, he is a dedicated servant of the Jewish people who is tremendously skilled at interpersonal relationships. Using these skills he managed to achieve almost unprecedented access into the highest echelons of political power. Much of that access was via the use of those same skills to raise huge sums of money for political candidates.

I was proud to know this man – whose achievements on behalf of his people were legendary.

I wish I could end it here with a testimonial to his achievement and a “Kein Yirbu”. But I can’t. It pains me terribly to say this but if media reports about his crime is true – and I believe they are - Milton Balkany is victim of what I am now calling the ‘Spinka Syndrome’ . So named because of the Spinka Rebbe who was responsible for one of the biggest Chilulei HaShem in recent memory.

The Spinka Syndrome is a disorder that some Frum People have. These are people who have somehow incorporated into their Hashkafa the idea that if it is for a Yeshiva or another worthy cause - and not for personal gain - one can cheat the government, non Jews, or non religious Jews, if ‘no one gets hurt’ and they don’t get caught.

Here is what Milton did based on video evidence collected by federal agents. From the New York Daily News:

Rabbi Milton Balkany 63, was charged with extortion, blackmail and making false statements as part of an elaborate scheme to shake down the hedge fund, prosecutors charged.

They say Balkany told the hedge fund the
U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI were trying to get a jailbird he knew to give up information about illegal insider trades made by the financial firm.

There were no insider trades.

Balkany made up the story to trick fund managers into giving millions to the
Bais Yaakov School in Borough Park, where he is the dean, and another school, Torah Vodaath, prosecutors said.

How ironic that the intended recipient of Milton’s ill gotten gains is the Yeshiva whose leaders were some of the most honorable men in the history of American Jewish Orthodoxy, Reb Sharga Feivel Mendlowitz, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, and Rav Avraham Pam. These three individuals were exemplars of the kind of values we should all be aspiring to. They would have been abhorred what Milton has done. It should here be stated with clarity that I am 100% convinced that Torah VoDaath had absolutely no knowledge of any wrongdoing. Had they accepted a gift from their former Talmid, Milton, it would have been on the assumption that the gift was honestly attained.

Milton is a good hearted soul who has the same misguided approach to raising fund for worthy institutions that the Spinka Rebbe did. is goal was only to help out his own school and his Alma Mater Yeshiva Torah Vodaath. He saw an opportunity for quick score and he went for it. He probably figured the money was desperately needed. He devised a scam to defraud another Jew via extortion and blackmail. He figured who would get hurt? The 20 million dollar hedge fund would never miss the money and that there was plenty left over.

This attitude can be detected from this excerpt in the New York Times about conversations he had with his ‘mark’:

(A)nd thus began a fevered round of negotiations — much of it caught on tape — in which the rabbi can be heard protesting that he is “not here to threaten” and is certainly not “a holdup man.” Consider, the complaint quotes him as saying, how much money it would cost the fund if it had to defend itself against charges of insider trading: $20 million? $30 million?

As for the $4 million he himself was requesting, he said, “I don’t consider it a lot of money.”

The Spinka Rebbe was obviously not alone in having this attitude. Those money laundering New Jersey Rabbis were of the same mentality. And so is my friend Milton.

This is exactly why I was so upset when Agudah did not address this issue at their Midwest convention last December. Many of Charedi world’s best and brightest were there.

As I said at the time - they did address the issue of cheating on taxes and other illegal ways of scamming the government. They cited many possible reasons for the prevalence of it among some Frum Jews - pointing to the Chilul HaShem of doing so. They exhorted the audience to never God forbid do it!. All valid.

But by ignoring the very important component of religious leaders who believe that it is OK to do it for religious institutions - they in effect greased the path of the those like Milton Balkany to go ahead with their ‘scams’. Milton and all others like him who are basically good people - and I include the Spikna Rebbe here – have a flaw in their character that needs to be eradicated from our midst!

Apparently Agudah doesn’t think so. They did not mention a word about it at any of their major addresses here in Chicago - or anywhere else as far as I know. They felt it more important not to drag anyone’s name through the mud over this. They saw the Spinka Rebbe as having already admitted his guilt and why pile on? Just tell people it is Assur to steal from anyone, discuss greed and jealousy as possible motives, suggest ways to negate those motives and mention that it is a Chilul HaShem ifthey do it - and that will suffice.

Well it doesn’t suffice. As long as the leadership of the right continue to put the welfare of the individual above the welfare of the community the mentality of stealing from the Goyim (or non Frum Jews) for Tzedaka - as long as one doesn’t get caught - will continue to prevail among some of us. Who knows how many more people will be caught in FBI stings down the road. I’ll bet they have a whole list of Frum Jewish targets in what has become a fertile field for them.