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April 29, 1988 - Image 28

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-04-29

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An Embarrassment
Of Riches

Judaism encourages human initiative and the enjoyment
of wealth — tempered by responsibility and charity. What
better time than Bar/Bat Mitzvah to teach our children the
uses and misuses of money?


Special to The Jewish News

n the fall, Forbes magazine
publishes a listing of the 400
richest Americans. But who is
rich? George Bernard Shaw
said, "A man with a toothache
thinks everyone rich whose
teeth are sound." A poor man
thinks- a rich man is one who
makes a million dollars. But to
be included in the Forbes listing
requires a minimum of $150
million — a fact which leaves me
out this year. While I'm not on
the list, I enjoy reading the names. I'm
looking for family. And incredibly, out of
400 at least 100 are Jews. Since we are
mishpochah, I derive no small naches from
their success.
I am like the poor Jew who identifies
himself with Rothschild and dreams "If I
were Rothschild, I'd be richer than
Rothschild, because I would do a little
teaching on the side.") But it remains tru-
ly amazing. A group less than 3 percent of
the population comprises 25 percent of the
richest Americans. Beyond the millionaires
are the billionaires. Of 14 American
billionaires, at least 4 are Jewish. While the
wealth of Canada is not included in Forbes,
the three most prominent families there are
Jewish — Bronfman, Belzberg and
Some Jews are embarrassed by such
revelations and are jittery because of what
"they" (the anti-Semites), will say. So
Jewish defense agencies point with pride
at the number of Jews who are poor, and
apologetically point out that Jews are not
at the real power bases of society: steel, oil,

Ill II

I • •

banks, insurance companies, major in-
dustrial corporations.
I'm not so worried because we know that
anti-Semites don't need excuses to hate
Jews. If Jews are regarded as rich they are
accused of manipulating the world; if Jews
are seen as poor they are condemned as
parasites of society. As we have learned
from history, a real anti-Semite is someone
who hates Jews more than is absolutely
necessary. A real anti-Semite can believe
that Jesus never existed and still believe
that the Jews killed him.
I refuse to find excuses for Jewish suc-
cess. I am no more embarrassed by Jewish
upward mobility that I am by the
disproportionate number of Jewish Nobel
Prize winners, writers, scientists, chess-
players and violinists.
Professor Edward Shapiro, an historian
at Seton Hall University, has pointed out
that while most of the gentiles in the
Forbes list made their money by inheriting
it, the Jewish names earned theirs the old-
fashioned way. Indeed, they earned it the
American way, from rags to riches in ac-
cord with the American legend of Horatio
Alger and Lee Iacocca. In aristocratic
societies, status was a matter of birth; in
democratic societies, status is determined
by hard work and ingenuity.
Poverty is an embarrassment for socie-
ty but why be embarrassed by wealth? The
Jewish Bible is not the New Thstament.
Judaism never proclaimed with the Gospel
of Matthew that, "It is easier for a camel
to go through the eye of a needle than for
a rich man to enter the Kingdom of G-d."
Judaism never regarded poverty as a de-
sirable condition, and never proposed a
vow of poverty similar to that assumed by

Continued on Page 30

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