After our discussion last week on the Jewish community of Lawndale, housing discrimination, and integration, someone sent me the following piece by Jill Jacobs entitled "When the Slumlord Is Us." It's a fascinating read. What you see is a community grappling with the tension between its commitment to kinship and its commitment to social justice.
Using even more formal means, in 1968 a Boston rabbinic court, or beit din, forced three brothers -- Israel, Joseph and Raphael Mindick -- to make repairs to their buildings. When the Mindicks failed to comply with the initial ruling, the beit din took action again. In their book "The Death of an American Jewish Community," Hillel Levine and Lawrence Harmon recount: "Tenants in twenty of the brothers' buildings went on a rent strike that winter, charging that the landlords had failed to live up to the terms of the rabbinic court's agreement. The rabbis concurred and slapped the Mindicks with a $48,000 fine to be distributed among the affected tenants."Just three years later, another Boston rabbi, the newly ordained Daniel Polish, publicly confronted Jewish slumlord Maurice Gordon, a prominent member of the Boston Jewish community. Speaking at a protest against an Israel Bonds event honoring Gordon, Polish said:Our gut instinct is to come to the defense of any of our own who are criticized or attacked for whatever reason....It is no accident that the office of Bonds of Israel and Capital for Israel Incorporated and the Development Corporation for Israel are all located in the building at 141 Milk Street, a building owned by Maurice Gordon. And it is no accident that these organizations, along with others in the Jewish community, have repeatedly showered this 'philanthropist' and his family with honor and distinction. ... It is time the Jewish agencies severed their dependence on, and desisted from honoring and elevating men whose values are in explicit conflict with the Jewish people and whose conduct can only be described as contemptible.It has now been four decades since the rabbis of Boston took action, and almost two years since the Madoff scandal rocked the Jewish world. Have we learned anything? Will Jewish organizations continue to accept donations from landlords whose wealth comes at the expense of guaranteeing safe living conditions for their tenants? Will these landlords continue to be accorded positions of honor in their Jewish communitiess? Or are we finally ready for teshuvah?