Say Kaddish for Bernie Madoff

I recall chatting with one of my favorite singer-songwriters, composer, musician and poet Alicia Jo Rabins in a Mexican joint in Chicago after a Golem show a few years back, right after the big market crash. I asked what else she was working on, and she started talking about a project revolving around Bernie Madoff. I (and I’m sure many others) suggested she apply to the 6 Points Fellowship, which happily saw the merit in her and her work.  The resulting project has finally reached its debut moment. Rabins’  new full-length song cycle, A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff, at Joe’s Pub in New York City on Thursday, November 8th and again on the 15th. Details after the jump.

Rabins’ songwriting and refined lyrics previously won acclaim for “Girls in Trouble,” which explored female characters and the often forgotten conflicts with remarkable skill.  Those finely sharpened knives cut into a new subject this week: Bernie Madoff.  The song cycle explores the spiritual implications of the Ponzi schemer and our relationship with him, giving it the tragic treatment it deserves to uncover meaning beyond the melancholy story.

In addition to her vocal talents, Rabins plays violin, backed by a trio of acclaimed Brooklyn musicians; cellist/music director Colette Alexander (Jens Lekman, Josh Groban, Angelique Kidjo), percussionist David Freeman and guitarist Lily Maase. The unlikely subject meditates on the intersection of mysticism and money using Talmudic  texts about money, interviews Rabins conducted with an FBI agent on the case, Madoff victims and a Buddhist monk.

Like the scapegoat sent to Azazel by the Khen Gadol for expiation at Yom Kippur, is Madoff just a straw man for our society’s larger problems? We excommunicate him (and therefore say Kaddish), but do the problems of wealth and greed remain?  Rabins’ exploration of the links between Madoff’s individual acts and their impact on our communities and culture reveal deeper truths about Madoff’s deception and the surprising inter-connectedness of humans to one another.

“Everyone likes to think of Madoff as a monster, an aberration—but are we really so different?” Rabins asks. “Markets go up, markets go down. But Madoff’s returns went up, more or less. In a straight line. For forty years. Who wouldn’t want that kind of security—no downturns, just growth? No failure, no loss, no death. It’s beautiful. But it’s impossible.”

God made us wander in circles in the desert for forty years for a reason. Rabins’ might be on to something.

A Kaddish for Bernie Madoff
November 8 & 15 at 7pm
Joe’s Pub, 425 Lafayette Street
(212) 967-7555 -

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik