Be Good While Doing Good

Two high profile cases involving American Jews in high community positions again shine an accusatory light on Jewish communal leadership and raise the question of whether a person’s good deeds are canceled by the bad they have done.

William Rapfogel, the CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, turned himself in to the police on Tuesday. He is charged with stealing more than $5 million from the Jewish anti-poverty group, beginning shortly after he took the helm in 1992.

Last week, Roy Naim, a leading Jewish activist for immigration reform, was arrested on child pornography charges. He pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.

While thankfully infrequent occurrences, these kinds of bad acts by Jewish communal leaders — lay, professional and rabbinic — still happen far too often.

As each of the cases unfolds, we learn of people held in high esteem by the Jewish community who have done something that is seriously wrong or immoral. Rapfogel was well known for his work helping needy Jews. He is accused of stealing money he helped raise. Naim was dubbed “the Jewish face of the immigration reform struggle” by Forward while apparently involved in criminal behavior.

Each of these cases is painful. And each is another wakeup call to our communal leadership to stay focused on the need to be good while doing good, because the ramifications of leadership misconduct does damage to the offender, his family and those associated with him, including the institutions with which he is affiliated.

Our communal leadership works hard to build our community and its institutions. We rely on them, and we trust them. We expect them to be moral, law abiding and honest. The vast majority of our leadership is worthy of that trust and makes us proud. It is the few bad apples that give leadership a bad name.

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