Greg Smith may have won a bronze medal in table tennis at the Maccabiah Games but when it comes to menschlicheit he deserves the gold.
Like the rest of the world I read Mr. Smith’s Op Ed piece in Wednesday’s New York Times with great interest. It’s not every day that those of us outside of the financial industry get to read the resignation letters of managers at major Wall Street firms, let alone a manager who resigned in protest over the ethics practiced at his company. And like the rest of the world I found what Mr. Smith said about Goldman Sachs distressing. But, when I read the part where he mentions winning a medal at the Maccabiah games I had to smile. Maybe it’s the fact that so many Jews have been caught in Wall Street scandals; maybe it’s just the rabbi in me. But, it’s great to see a Jew do the right thing. It’s great to see a Jew do the menschlich thing and live by Jewish values.
The word “mensch,” means “man” in German. In Yiddish, though, it means much more. It means a person who embodies the Jewish ideals of compassion and generosity, righteousness and integrity. It means a person of character. One Temple member commented to me that if Greg Smith was such an ethical person and the culture at Goldman Sachs was so bad why didn’t he leave sooner? I can’t answer that question, obviously. None of us can. Smith says that the culture changed while he was there. Is this true? Again, I have no idea. I am not writing to pass judgment on Goldman Sachs. What I do know is that Greg Smith came to the conclusion after working at the firm for 12 years that the culture of the firm had become thoroughly unethical and he had the guts to blow the whistle. In so doing he has sacrificed a very lucrative position, left the only company he has every worked for and did something that could make it hard to find an employer willing to hire him. Whether or not Goldman Sachs is really that bad and whether Smith’s depiction is accurate I leave to others to judge. It’s the fact that he believed it to be the case and was willing to act that wins him menschlicheit gold in my mind.
Every week I teach a group of 9th graders we call the “confirmation class” where we discuss Jewish values. As it happens this year’s confirmation class has many students who are heavily involved in athletics. I can imagine one or another of them participating in the Maccabiah Games one day, maybe even winning a medal. Who knows? If so, I will be incredibly proud. But, what would really make me proud is if they grow up to be menschen, people who, whether they reach for the gold or not – in athletics, on Wall Street, or in whatever endeavor they choose – will live by the gold standard of Jewish values. To his credit Greg Smith did. May all of us teach our children and grandchildren to reach for this gold.
p.s. For those interested in traveling to Israel with our congregation there is a meeting with Rabbi Bill Berk, our trip organizer with Keshet Tours, on March 27th at 7:30. Please let us know if you can attend or if you cannot attend but are interested in the trip by RSVPing to firstname.lastname@example.org” target=”_blank” style=”color:rgb(0, 0, 204)”>email@example.com. It is helpful to us to hear from you now even if you have attended earlier meetings about the trip or mentioned your interest to us in the past. I hope you can make it on March 27th