The scene unfolds in a darkened Kennedy Center and as the lights come up, we see every seat filled with the investors of Bernie Madoff. The film crew has been setting up for hours and as a handcuffed Bernie is escorted into the auditorium, the cameras roll. As the crowd acknowledges his entrance, a spotlight beams on center stage and our emcee Kevin Bacon steps forward. Glaring at Madoff, his angry voice booms out, "Bernie Madoff, come on down!" The crowd irrupts in a venomous chorus of boos as Madoff is escorted up to the stage and is strapped into a chair. Bathed in light, he looks nervous and fidgety. Our emcee takes center stage, surveys the audience and exclaims, "Edna Weinstein, please come on down!"
Edna gets up shaking but is quickly buoyed by the applause and cheers from the crowd. Slowly she makes her way to the stage. The usher helps her up and Kevin comes over to give her a hug. She sits in a chair purposely higher than Madoff's, so that even the diminutive Edna is looking down at him. With cameras rolling, our emcee introduces Mrs. Weinstein. "Edna Weinstein has lived in Palm Beach, Florida for over 20 year's with her late husband Irving. Irving died three years ago, but not before making arrangements to place his net worth with his friend, Bernie Madoff. Like many of you, she now has nothing. Everything she knew as her life is gone. Everything!" Allowing those words to soak in he turns to Edna and gives her the microphone, "tell Mr. Madoff what he has done to you Edna, and tell him how you feel."
Bernie begins to twitch at the thought of facing this angry Jewish grandmother. Better to just get beaten than to face what he is about to face. He has been told he is not permitted to speak without permission or he will be uncomfortably gagged. He has decided not to test them on this. A thought flashes into his mind what his own mother and grandmother might do in same circumstances. It sets a wave of panic that sickens him in the pit of his stomach and he feels that he might throw up.
"Mr. Madoff, God forgive me for what I am about to say to you", Edna begins with her voice shaking. "Our whole life, my husband and I prayed and kept the Mitzvots. Never before have had I held hatred in my heart for anyone, but I hate you, and this hatred sickens me." You and Irving were friends. You golfed, shared stories, and smoked your big cigars. Our families shared meals and still you stole from us. How dare you! How could you? What were you thinking when you pretended to like us? Did Irving mean nothing? Did I mean nothing? Please tell me," she pleaded, but there was no response. "We loved you Bernie," and then over come, Edna breaks down sobbing and our emcee comes over to hold her hand. Bernie stares forward stoically. Suddenly, Edna snaps to attention and screams, "Your own mother would wish you were never born. I hate you Bernie Madoff". She then stood up walked up to his chair and slapped him hard across the face, abruptly turned and walked away.
Bernie's nightmare has only begun for Edna Weinstein is our first guest. Each and every investor will have their turn. One by one they march up armed with their anger. Bernie slumps further into his chair with each new guest. His eyes are glazed, his mouth is dry, but there are no tears. His remorse remains from himself and not his victims. Finally, the last tongue lashing and he sighs, "Its over, I'm done with it. To hell with them all!" But it is not over. There is one final shock. The film will be turned over to his prison and he will watch it daily for the rest of his life. With a look of disgust and disbelief, he is escorted away.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we cannot learn from this example then there is no solution to our financial crisis. Why has egoism and self-love grown to such proportions that we see so little altruism in our world? Show me any evidence that money, fame or power creates happiness. Look at the lives of the people, who have attained such stature, they are miserable! Studies have shown there is a greater level of happiness in the slums of Mumbai than there is in the USA. What does this show us? Perhaps true joy can only come through acts of altruism. Giving joy to others instead trying to capture all joy for "me". Most of us would agree with the statement," It is better to give than receive". Now let's do it!
Pete Latona enjoyed a lengthy sales management career with AT&T and retired in 2006 to form his own consulting business. He currently resides in Edmond, Oklahoma with his wife Nancy.