AJCongress optimistic despite Madoff losses


Despite taking a major “hit” from the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme scandal, the American Jewish Congress will continue its mission nationally and through its local chapters and regions, according to Richard S. Gordon, its national president.

Gordon, a partner in the New York office of the national law firm McKenna, Long and Aldridge, LLP, has been president of the AJCongress since his election in May 2007. Gordon was in St. Louis last week, where he met with local community leaders and the board of directors of the St. Louis Region of the AJCongress last Wednesday at its monthly meeting in Clayton.


Attorney Jay Umansky, president of the St. Louis Region of the AJCongress, said that Gordon “has led AJCongress through a period of great change and growth, and he is here to tell us of future plans for the national organization and how the local regions and chapters will be part of that process.”

Gordon, who has had an extensive background in law and politics, including serving as director of policy and planning for Governor Evan Bayh of Indiana and former executive director of the Friends of Mario Cuomo, was frank and forthright in his remarks to the local AJCongress board regarding the fiscal impact on the agency. It had major assets tied up with Madoff, who has admitted that he had bilked investors of more than $50 billion in assets. A major bequest from a generous family to the AJCongress was wiped out as a result of the Madoff scheme, Gordon said.

“Financially, things are very difficult for the American Jewish Congress and for a lot of other Jewish organizations,” Gordon said. “The Madoff situation has put us in a very difficult place. Over the years, a generous donor family had left us substantial funds, and we also had sold our building in New York City; most of those funds are now gone. As a result, a number of wonderful projects and initiatives we sponsored here and in Israel had to be ended.”

The AJCongress had borrowed money invested with Madoff for operating expenses. “As of today, we have ended the year with virtually no dollars left for operating funds,” Gordon said. “As a result, we have had to make painful and significant cuts in our professional staff, and we are looking for a less spacious office area to replace our 10,000 square foot space we currently use.

“The bottom line is that we are facing a very difficult financial situation. But it is not impossible, and can be overcome,” Gordon continued. “We are focusing on three immediate goals: trying to raise cash for 2010; trying to build a financial base for the future and trying to bring more people into the organization. We need new blood, to find people who are attracted to us and to our mission, who believe what we are doing is phenomenal and want to be a part of it.”

Gordon said that it is often suggested that the AJCongress might merge with another organization with a similar mission, such as the American Jewish Committee. “On one level it makes sense, since we both use the same initials, we would not have to change our towels,” Gordon joked. “While I do not absolutely rule out the possibility of a merger, I would worry that much of what we do would be dropped by the merged organization, and I would not want to see such programs as our focus on separation of church and state go by the wayside.”

Going forward, Gordon says that AJCongress is focusing on five key issues. They are:

* Eliminating the scourge of human shields by terrorist groups

* Enhancing Israel’s role in NATO

* Fostering alternative energy solutions

* Empowering women and women’s equality

* Protecting the First Amend-ment, especially separation of church and state and libel terrorism, under which “libel laws against defaming religions could be used by other nations to prosecute legitimate comments and criticism of extremism in print or speech.”

Gordon said that the AJCongress “has failed to brag about ourselves and the wonderful things that we do. We are proud of what we do nationally, what you do at the regional and chapter levels, and look forward to working with you as we rebuild, recover and move forward with continuing the mission that stands on the shoulders of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise and Supreme Court Justices Louis D. Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter.”