Oy! Madoff Scandal Stirs Anti-Semitic Glee in Palm Beach

The Bernard Madoff scandal, and its connection to the Jewish community, has stirred anti-Semitic feelings, even glee, in some circles, according to Rabbi Michael Resnick of Palm Beach's largest synagogue, Temple Emanu-El.

Because Madoff is Jewish and many of his victims are also Jewish, it "gives red meat to anti-Semites," said Rabbi Resnick in an interview to be broadcast Friday as part of an investigation of Madoff's secretive dealings.

Watch the full report Friday on "20/20" at 10 p.m. ET

"It's an age-old anti-Semitic claim against Jews that we are in control of all the money in the world and when you have someone with such incredible resources misuse it, it only reinforces that," the Rabbi said.

Madoff recruited many of his wealthy victims at the Palm Beach Country Club, a predominantly Jewish club formed in the 1950s by members who were excluded from the island's other prominent social clubs because of their religion.

"If you invested with Bernie, you were the elite within the elite. And that was about half the club members," said Laurence Leamer, the author of the scathing new book about Palm Beach's religious and social stratification, Madness Under the Royal Palms.

"It is a terrible thing to say, but some of the WASPs are delighted, they take great pleasure in this," said Leamer, who said he's heard several times that some think "these Jews finally got what's coming to them."

Others in town say that they have not witnessed any anti-Semitism in the wake of the Madoff scandal.

"I don't see a religious divide on the issue, everyone is uniformly disgusted with Madoff's scheme," said Palm Beach Town Council President David Rosow. "I think it's crossed all ethnicities. It's an incredible tragedy." Rosow said he'd heard of residents who lost their life savings having to call their children to borrow money to buy food. "Everyone in town has heard stories of devastation."

The stratification of Palm Beach drawn on religious lines is manifested in country club membership, according to Leamer. While the Palm Beach Country Club has mostly Jewish members, the Everglades Club and the Bath and Tennis Club of Palm Beach are traditionally non-Jewish. The manager of the Bath and Tennis club, who would not give his name, said the club has some Jewish members but would not comment on its membership policies. Everglades Club president Bill Pannill said that his club is not anti-Semitic and that they do have some Jewish members and guests.

Rabbi Resnick said he has also heard about "individuals saying things that were hostile, privately, about Jews."

Rabbi: Madoff Scandal a 'Body Blow' to Judaism

While the Rabbi says Jews live comfortably in Palm Beach and everyone gets along, "I think in certain circles there was probably some people saying good, they got what they deserved."

"By having Bernie Madoff and Judaism so closely linked, it is what we would call a 'hillul Hashem,' a desecration of God," Rabbi Resnick said. "Beyond just the hundreds of thousand of people who were impacted financially, this was a blow, a body blow to Judaism."

There is such scorn and anger that members of Rabbi Resnick's temple found it difficult to talk about when approached following services this week.

"It's been very painful for all of us. We say Justice, justice you shall pursue,'" said one woman who did not wish to be identified. "Well, I hope there will be justice for him, that he will have to pay for how he's hurt so many people."

Another worshiper, who also would not give his name, said "it's devastating" when asked about Madoff's effect on the Jewish community in Palm Beach.

But it was not only wealthy Jewish investors that were hit hard by Madoff. Prominent Jewish charities lost possibly up to tens or hundreds of millions, forcing some to close their doors for good.

Jewish Charities Rocked by Madoff Scandal

New York real estate developer and media mogul Mort Zuckerman's charitable trust lost $30 million. The foundation of author and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel lost over $15 million. New York's Yeshiva University had invested an estimated $14.5 million with Madoff.

The Massachusetts-based Robert I. Lappin Foundation, a group which offered teens free trips to Israel, shut down after losing all of their money to Madoff.

"It's an atomic bomb in the world of Jewish philanthropy," Mark Charendoff, President of the Jewish Funders Network, said following Madoff's arrest. "There's going to be fallout from this for years."

Prominent members of the Palm Beach Country Club prided themselves on their philanthropic ways, of which Jewish charities were the main beneficiaries.

"All the changes, all the cultural advances in Palm Beach County overwhelmingly has been Jewish money," said Leamer. "You have to give charity to become part of the Palm Beach Country Club." Many members likely donated money to the same organizations now rocked by the Madoff scandal.

"Just at a time when the Jews in Palm Beach reached their ascendancy, where they were now a majority on this island, this disaster happens," said Leamer, "this disaster of unimaginable magnitude."

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