Jack Abramoff’s Brandeis Roommate Remembers…
I’ve been covering Jack Abramoff pretty regularly here especially focusing on his Jewishness and the role it plays in his world view.
Every so often, I write a post and someone far more directly and personally connected with its subject writes to me with illuminating insight. I always welcome those serendipitous blogging moments.
This happened recently when Jay Rovins, Abramoff’s Brandeis University roommate for two years wrote to me with some heartfelt reminiscences of “life with Jack.” What I find interesting about Jay’s memory of Jack is that he says that at that time the latter “didn’t have a malicious bone in his body.” And Jay isn’t saying this to whitewash Abramoff. I think we’re both dumbfounded as to how a charismatic, driven, but essentially good-hearted college student can turn into the apparent monster that he became.
Jay graciously authorized me to publish here some of his memories of Abramoff. I publish them here because I believe that Abramoff has become a central figure linking many of the Republican scandals currently rocking Washington. As such, I think we should get a more well-rounded portrait of this man. As it is we’re hearing plenty about his sordid actions. But we hear very little about him as an individual. While I may despise both the man and the political animal, anyone this seemingly monstrous deserves to be known as a human being too:
Jack Abramoff was my room-mate for two years at Brandeis University. We were both English majors, class of ’81, we were both originally from southern New Jersey. Jack was not raised an Orthodox Jew. Jack, in my estimation, was one who adhered to his own particular forms of discipline. He was also, in high school, a weightlifter. Orthodoxy and weightlifting, among many more of Jack’s habits of the time, required this strange form of self-imposed discipline. Our tiny campus apartment, really three rooms, was strictly kosher. Jack disliked drugs, and never would drink much beyond wine for Shabbat. His head was always covered.
Jack and I would often discuss politics, arts, history, the poetry of Wallace Stevens, and more. Being friends at the time, we agreed to disagree.
He was driven even then to go beyond the limits that most of us acknowledged. He pushed too far, then, back when no one got hurt.
I attended my first Orthodox Yom Kippur services with Jack at the Jewish chapel on the Brandeis campus. It was the first time I had ever witnessed prayers accompanied by the repetitive beating of one’s breast [ed., the Ashamnu prayer], as if the sins of the previous year required such self-punishment. I saw Jack beat his own breast. I hope that he meant it then. And I hope, somehow, he might find that meaning again.
Jack’s father, a bright, hard-driving, successful businessman, was, if my memory serves, basically uneducated. Jack was originally raised, prior to moving to Beverly Hills, in Margate, NJ, a predominantly Jewish, summertime resort community. I believe that Jack admired and feared his father. It was important, in my estimation, that Jack was able to prove himself to his father. He did this, I believe, through his adoption of Orthodox Judaism and his choice of Brandeis and a liberal arts school. He was going to prove to his father that he would excel within those self-imposed parameters.
In college, Jack had a tendency to “use” people. He used them inasmuch as they became his “servants.” Most were a loyal following. They became, somehow, fulfilled by doing his bidding. He was, and apparently remained, very charismatic in this way. Dale Carnegie could teach Jack nothing. Jack’s girlfriend during almost all of his Brandeis years served him as faithfully as a rabbi’s wife. She was extraordinarily bright, but at that time, too submissive to Jack’s persuasions. Most of us regarded her then as “Jack’s wife.” She gathered the courage to leave him after we graduated. It must have been very difficult for her. She went to med school.
It’s interesting that you mentioned Prof. Allan Grossman [ed., I’d told Rovins that my brother studied with famed Brandeis faculty member, Allan Grossman]. He taught me Humanities in 1978. I possess one of his books of poetry, given to me as a birthday present by Jack. He had Professor Grossman sign it.
Interestingly, I have many stories about Jack Abramoff’s extraordinary friendship. In the late spring of our freshman year, Jack and I, with two other good friends, decided to rent two canoes on the western Charles River near the Brandeis campus. It was strictly forbidden to paddle east toward Boston as there were small dams along the way. We went anyway. Jack and I shared one canoe. At one point in our adventure, our friends, paddling just ahead of us, disappeared over a dam that was considerably taller than any of us anticipated. To use an old expression of my father’s: they went ass over tincups. Jack and I rushed to their rescue. Needless to say, everyone was OK, and hours later we finally made our landing at Harvard’s campus along the Charles. It was day of friendship, some stupid fun, and conversation. No egos were present.
The night of my first date with a beautiful, intelligent Brandeis student (who would later become my wonderful wife), I was without a presentable mode of transportation. Jack loaned me his car, a navy-blue 1976 Mercury Cougar. The date went great. Did Jack’s loaning me his car help? It couldn’t hurt.
I have not spoken with Jack in many years. He is bright and resourceful and not completely without self-reflection. Who can condone any of his recent actions? I’m sure that he now finds himself, reflectively, in a dark place. He must dwell in this place for some time before he can ever get out.
I spoke just the other day with a relative of Jack’s …[ed., I’m purposely concealing this person’s identity]. I asked how their whole family has been faring during this maelstrom of bad news. It has not been good. Jack’s parents are still alive, and they are mortified. The feeling of the family is that this is all a nightmare, that no matter how far Jack may have pushed, he would never have done anything illegal or knowingly hurt anyone. Also, the perception is that Jack is too smart to have left such a trail.
Again, my own perception is that Jack has always been driven to excess. Just as he shlepped me with him one year to the home of the Boston area’s “chief rebbe” in order to acquire those special, blessed, hand-made, Israeli imported matzot. “So what’s wrong with Manischewitz?” I said. No. Jack had to have these and he would not be deterred. He really did not have a malicious bone in his body. But if he sought something, he would not be deterred or impeded in his effort to acquire his goal.
Interestingly, our 25th Brandeis reunion is this Spring.
Guess who won’t be attending??
13 thoughts on “Jack Abramoff’s Brandeis Roommate Remembers… – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم”
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I don’t remember you but I also graduated with you in 1981. Two questions: is Representative Bob Ney the brother of Vic Ney, also class of ’81. I’ve always assumed there was a connections there since I roughly place Vic and Jack in the same social circles at Brandeis. UPDATE: Bruce indicates in a comment below that there is no family connection between Bob Ney and Vic Ney. [ed., Tikun Olam]
Also, Jack might not be attending our reunion, but his absence, whether or not he was ever likely to attend anyway, will surely be noticed. Is there some way we could or should recognize him as part of our reunion? Perhaps a forum on politics and ethics?
I am a relative of Jack’s. I haven’t spoken to him in about 20+ years or so. The last time I saw him was in NYC. I had enjoyed a lovely dinner with him and his new bride at the time, Pam. Jack was always a bright and animated kid. I say “kid” bcause my only vivid memories of Jack track back to when I was 6 and he was 10. He was a polite and likable guy. I saw him only a handful of times after the big move to Calif.
I am submitting this comment because this was the only site that captured the essence of who Jack really is as a human being. Yes, if what has been reported is truth…then I am horrified at the allegations. It’s very difficult to attach these behaviors to Jack…very difficult. I must have repeated 100’s of times in a mantra-type chant “not Jack..no way!”
I can only pray that all wrongs will be resolved and corrected over time. I choose to remain anonymous because only my feelings should be revealed, not my name.
Thank you for sharing your story, your insight and your honesty. I couldn’t have agreed more with your perspective. You have captured the true essence of Jack and I hope that he will re-emerge a better person once again…and if the allegations are unfounded or just plain “wrong” then I would hope that he would be vindicated.
My sister was the college girlfriend referenced by Jay Rovins. The rest of our family did not know Jack very well, although they must have dated for five or six years, well into Wendy’s medical school years. He spent very little time with us. However, I have to take issue with Jay’s comment that Jack “did not have a malicious bone in his body.” During our personal encounters, Jack was routinely loutish and offensive, and totally unwilling to allow anyone breathing the same air an alternate opinion. His attitude was odious, and we were glad to learn that he and my sister had parted ways. Now, I feel only sadness for his family. I may be able to put you in touch with my sister for research purposes. She is a well known physician with two children.
One final note….my heart goes out to all who have been financially and emotionally devastated by my relative’s actions. You can’t begin to understand the creepy feeling one experiences when the name of his/her relative along with his crimes reverberates across the airwaves. I never knew the older version of Jack. I only engaged with him a few times as an adult. It’s so odd to learn about this aspect of his personality from the media and from his peers.
I am in shock and overwhelmed with sadness for his children. I am disappointed in the Jack I thought I once knew. So sad.
You used the phrase, “anyone this seemingly monstrous deserves to be known as a human being too”. Monstrous? Would you use such words to describe Abbey Hoffman (a Brandeis Graduate), or say Ted Kennedy? From what I read in this story, he sounds like an opinionated ass, hardly “monstrous”. He’s a crook, plain and simple.
It’s a question of degree. If Abbie Hoffman or Ted Kennedy had stolen $80-million from Native American tribes, called them morons & ignoramuses, abused the IRS 501c3 statute to launder corporate contributions, & persisted in calling themselves upstanding religious souls–then hell yeh I’d call them monstrous. I’d be willing to call a liberal or progressive monstrous if their crimes rose to that level.
So dealing cocaine, which may have led to counless deaths and inciting riots causing how many injuries (Hoffman) and killing Mary Joe (Teddy) don’t rise to that level?
Utterly ridiculous. Abbie Hoffman’s dealing cocaine “may have led to countless deaths?” Do you have any proof? And which riots did he “incite” which caused injuries? And the Kopechne reference isn’t even worth responding to it’s so puerile. And how does any of this have anything at all to do with Jack Abramoff? Are you trying to say that because progressives commit crimes that they’re just as bad as conservatives? Hey, news flash–you’re right…when progressives commit crimes they deserve as much opprobrium as conservatives. And if you think something’s wrong in the way Americans view Jack Abramoff you’re welcome to use whatever venue you can find except this one. You’ve had your say, now move on.
If you want to continue to post you may but we’re not doing any more mud wrestling about whose crimes are worse, liberals or conservatives. If you want to slash progressives I’m afraid you’re gonna have to find a different venue to do it.
Why have you retained my comment about Vic and Bob Ney, especially since I sent in a comment clarifying that there is in fact no connection? So please delete the earlier comment or at least post the correction as well. Thanks,
My, my, aren’t we a tad defensive? Who said anything about conservative vs. liberal? My only point was that your choice of the word “mostrous” was a gross overstatement.
Maybe this will shed some light on the word, “monstrous.”……cited from Mr. Webster himself!
2 entries found for monstrous.
To select an entry, click on it.
Main Entry: 1mon·strous
1 obsolete : STRANGE, UNNATURAL
2 : having extraordinary often overwhelming size : GIGANTIC
3 a : having the qualities or appearance of a monster b obsolete : teeming with monsters
4 a : extraordinarily ugly or vicious : HORRIBLE b : shockingly wrong or ridiculous
5 : deviating greatly from the natural form or character : ABNORMAL
6 : very great — used as an intensive
– mon·strous·ly adverb
– mon·strous·ness noun
synonyms MONSTROUS, PRODIGIOUS, TREMENDOUS, STUPENDOUS mean extremely impressive. MONSTROUS implies a departure from the normal (as in size, form, or character) and often carries suggestions of deformity, ugliness, or fabulousness . PRODIGIOUS suggests a marvelousness exceeding belief, usually in something felt as going far beyond a previous maximum (as of goodness, greatness, intensity, or size) . TREMENDOUS may imply a power to terrify or inspire awe . STUPENDOUS implies a power to stun or astound, usually because of size, numbers, complexity, or greatness beyond description .
I think that it would be acceptable to select a few of the descriptives above and apply it to the myriad of crimes committed and to the man himself. Jack’s misdeeds are in fact monstrous in proportion and severity. No, I don’t believe he is a monster. I believe that the crimes committed are immoral, vile, horrific and sickening. I feel more comfortable defining Jack as greedy, selfish, dishonest, base, contemptible, and cold.
Let’s give people permission to use words to define their inner most feelings. If “monstrous” is the word of choice for someone….then so be it. I really don’t think that Richard’s disputed adjective was too far off….it’s just not my choice. Let’s focus on the issues not a phonetic member of the Oxford English Dictionary.
Although I might disagree by saying that somebody’s choice of words can be exceptionally important, in this instance, I accept your point. VERY well said.
This message board presented itself by chance or by the lucky click of a mouse button. I am Jack’s first cousin. At the risk of being repetitive…I haven’t seen nor communicated with him in over 20 years….by choice. I am living in this cloud of disbelief. He was always a person who operated with a strong will to succeed and ultimately win. I never engaged with him enough to learn about every facet of his personality or habits. Jack and I were…are worlds apart because of our religious belief system as well as interests and philosophical perspectives on life.
I have a difficult time admitting that he and I share the same last name…although my last name was swapped for my married name….thank goodness. I know that I am only connected to him biologically and I am not responsible for his transgressions, but I can’t help but shiver every time I hear someone adhere a vile word to what used to be a close cousin. He is deserving of the negative terms that fly his way. I guess this site offers me a chance to vent and I enjoy reading agreeable and diverse opinions from individuals rather than the repetitious reports from the other generic websites.
Thanks Richard for allowing me to pop in and visit. For reasons I can’t explain…it feels comfortable here. With the exception of close friends and family members…this is the only place that I have painfully admitted my familial tie to Jack.