We’re Rich; We’re Jewish; We Have Big Houses

Last year, in keeping with his writing on Jews and money, John Graham wrote a blog called “We’re Rich; We’re Jewish: We Rule.” His point was that Jews have lots of money and use it to advance their interests, in this case promoting gay marriage in New York from a Republican base.  He noted that “the NYT avoids the most significant aspect to this story, but the Capital J blog at the JTA.org website is made of sterner stuff:

The New York Times runs a piece today on how the big money behind the push for sanctioning gay marriage in New York State is coming from Republicans.

The figures named are also Jewish….But I mean every name. Here’s what a quick Google search came up with:

–Paul Singer: on the boards of Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and Commentary

–Daniel Loeb: Appeared at events for YIVO and the Jewish Enrichment Center.

–Clifford Asness: Likened Obama’s proposed tax policies to pogroms. (Yes, philanthropy would be nicer than name calling, but this is still a form of identification.)

–Steven A. Cohen: this excellent Tablet piece by Allison Hoffman exposes a rabbi who tried to use Cohen’s Jewishness in a scheme to extort money from him, but otherwise notes that Cohen’s philanthropy does not have much of a Jewish slant…

And then there’s former Republican National Committee chairman, Ken Mehlman, who’s organizing the whole GOP push, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who also backs the initiative (but is no longer a Republican.) Jewish, Republican, pro-gay rights by Ron Kampeas – May 14, 2011

“But I mean every name.” That’s exactly the sentiment I am feeling now as I read just the beginning of a YAHOO! FINANCE article titled “Living Very Large.” It is about Americans who are building massive houses despite the pronounced trend among average Americans to scale back on size.

Just in order of what I’ve read so far we find:

— Hyatt hotel heir Anthony Pritzker has a new 49,300-square-foot mansion. Wiki says that “The Pritzker family is one of America’s wealthiest families, and has been near the top of Forbes magazine’s “America’s Richest Families” list since the magazine began in 1982.”

— Hedge-fund manager Cliff Asness [mentioned above] is building a 25,900-square-foot, Colonial-style home with an indoor swimming pool and tennis court in Greenwich, Conn.

— Nearby, a 31,500-square-foot mansion is being built for Lee Weinstein, founder of data-center concern Xand, with 15 bathrooms (plus additional powder rooms), a 2,500-square-foot master suite and a basement with a theater, wine cellar, juice bar, dance studio and sauna.

— Twenty miles away, in Westport, Conn., Melissa and Doug Bernstein are creating a compound of more than 30,000 square feet with a stand-alone ice-cream parlor, plans show. The main house alone is 29,500 square feet and includes a gym partially covered by glass; there’s also a guest cottage, pool cabana and rec-room-and-garage building. The property also has a pool, tennis court and playground.

Only with number five on the list, Jim Ellis, “who co-founded a cellphone insurance provider,” do we find someone who might not be Jewish.  Sixth, however, is back to Jewish, as software mogul Larry Ellison (listed as America’s third richest man) is working on a 18,000-square-foot-plus compound.

Following Ellis is someone I can’t find much information about, Gene Pretti, who heads an investment-management firm.

The few remaining homeowners named include two non-Jews: New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady lives in a Los Angeles home that is an 18,300-square-foot limestone structure reached via bridge over a pond that separates it from the driveway. Another, whose “home” comes in at a whopping 70,000 square feet, is Prince Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz Al Saud, son of the king of Saudi Arabia.

So why did WSJ reporter Juliet Chung choose these particular individuals? Is this somehow representative of the American super rich? Or does it speak to conspicuous consumption, especially among Jews?

I’ve written about Jews who are famous for lavish displays of personal wealth: for throwing extravagant bar mitzvahsbirthday parties, weddings, and just regular parties. A prominent example is the story about the owner of a Long Island firm that specializes in making bulletproof vests for the U.S. military, vests which many critics claim are defective. CEO David Brooks has been in deep trouble, as ABC reports:

A class action lawsuit, which was recently settled for some $35 million, charged Brooks and his top executives with issuing misleading financial statements and then selling over 10 million of their own shares in the company and receiving over $200 million in illegal profits. . . . Following that stock sale, Brooks again raised eyebrows when he threw his daughter a lavish bat mitzvah, which reportedly cost $10 million. The party featured performances by Aerosmith and rapper 50 Cent and took place at the New York’s famed Rainbow Room.

To be sure, this situation is nowhere near as unjust as that recounted in Deuteronomy 6:10-11, where God brings ancient Jews “into the land that He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you — with great and good cities that you did not build, and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant . . .”

I guess what I take away from this Yahoo article is the fact that Jews are simply hugely prominent in our culture, yet so many non-Jews still fail to make note of it, let alone what it might mean.

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