Letter February 3, 2006

Published February 03, 2006, issue of February 03, 2006.
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Trustees of Foundation Clearly Upheld Bylaws

As a close friend of the late Leslie Keller and his wife, Vera, I read the January 20 article on the lawsuit being pursued by Menachem Kahn with surprise and anger (“Lawsuit Increases Scrutiny of World Jewish Congress”). My family and I had a particularly close relationship with the Kellers for more than a decade — a fact that no one who knew them can contest. I often visited them weekly, especially when they were housebound, and the couple spent the Jewish holidays with our family — often at our expense — in the years preceding Leslie Keller’s death.

On a number of occasions in my presence, Leslie Keller requested that my father, Israel Singer, serve as executor of his estate. He did so after the onset of his wife’s dementia and a stroke that left him wheelchair bound. Each time he asked, my father politely but firmly refused — not because my father did not want to help protect the Kellers, but because he was not prepared to police some of the Keller family relatives who were very intent on inheriting his assets at their earliest convenience.

The Singer family was kind to Leslie and Vera Keller and refused to accept anything from Leslie’s estate after his passing, despite his last wishes that we do so. Our only motivation was to provide a sense of family for an elderly couple who had no children of their own.

It is truly appalling that these relatives have filed a nuisance suit asking an Israeli court to dissolve Leslie Keller’s charitable foundation when it is clear that the trustees have upheld the foundation bylaws.

Shmuel Singer

Bronx, N.Y.

Residents of Hebron Are No ‘Squatters’

As a frequent visitor to Hebron, and a lover of its people, I was pained by the January 20 news analysis of the situation there (“Hebron Declared Closed Area as Settlers Clash With Troops”).

Right from the beginning, the article labels the threatened residents of Hebron as illegal squatters. More than one court has declared that the land is Jewish owned. The owners have encouraged the settlers to take up residence on their property. So they are not squatters — illegal, yes, but not squatters.

And why illegal? Because the various governments and officials are ambiguous as to the status of Hebron. Not because the people who live there are at fault, but because the ones who issue permits are confused.

And if it is argued that there should be no taking up residence in Hebron until the ambiguity is cleared, then the same law should apply to the Palestinians in the city.

The Jews without permits are living in storefronts that existed before they moved in. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are building grand edifices throughout the city. Not one of them has a permit, and not one is bothered by authorities.

Hundreds of Arabs are squatters, and they are building illegally. So why the fuss over 11 Jewish families? Obviously, it is not a compulsion with building permits; it is something else.

The people of Hebron are some of the finest Jews in the world. They are scholarly and have fine character traits, and they are uncompromising in their mission to protect one of the holiest Jewish sites, the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Aliza Karp

Administrator

Friends of Families of Hevron

Brooklyn, N.Y.

What Scum Forming on Heated Milk Is Called

The scum that forms on heated milk, to which Ben Katchor refers in his December 30, 2005, “Shoehorn Technique” strip, does indeed have another name. I’ve heard it many times in my childhood. It was called “hote,” and I found it so repulsive, my family could not once get me to drink it.

Libby Byers

San Rafael, Calif.

Protest Killings With More Than Just Words

Kathleen Peratis’s January 20 opinion article on honor killings is compelling in its look at the extent of the crimes and the difficulty in combating them (“‘Honor’ Killings: Our Silence Dishonors Us”). She falters, however, in her ideas for solutions.

Peratis seems to throw up her hands and basically say that it’s up to the American government to speak out, and that in the long run we should support health and literacy programs.

I’d like to see something more dramatic and forceful than this. Why wait for Washington?

I looked at the Web site of the organization Human Rights Watch, of which Peratis is a trustee, and I saw little in the way of effective ideas.

Rather than abdicate, why don’t Peratis and Human Rights Watch organize demonstrations outside the Jordanian and other consulates in New York, denouncing honor killings and demanding action to protect women? Why not use the collective voice and rage of the American street to shame Jordan and others into acting?

Let there be a demonstration, and I’ll definitely show up.

Van Wallach

Stamford, Conn.

Medieval Sage Offered Nuanced View of Torah

A careful look at Nachmanides’s introduction to his commentary on the Torah would reveal that the assumption that medieval biblical commentators believe the Torah to have been a unified document revealed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai is not warranted by the evidence (“New Liberal Torah Commentary Spotlights Work of Medieval Luminaries,” January 27).

In his introduction, Nachmanides refers to the difference of opinion in the Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 60a) as to whether the Torah was given in its entirety or in separate documents. Examining the evidence of the Pentateuch itself, Nachmanides concludes that you could either have a Torah that was substantially written at Sinai — as long as you also posit that the rest of the Torah came later — or you could have a Torah given in its entirety, in which case it could not have been given at Sinai but rather at the end of the 40 years in the desert. You cannot, however, have it both ways.

Ira Robinson

Professor of Judaic Studies

Concordia University

Montreal, Quebec

Surplus Expected Next Year for History Center

Although the January 27 article on the Center for Jewish History acknowledges several of the center’s accomplishments, it does not give a complete picture of the center, which is one of the great public Jewish historical and cultural resources (“Archive Struggles With Money, Mission”).

It and its five constituent organizations — the American Jewish Historical Society, the American Sephardi Federation, the Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research — share a mission: to foster the creation and dissemination of knowledge of Jewish history and culture by preserving and making readily accessible to scholars, students and the broad public the historical and cultural record of the Jewish people, and by exhibiting their creativity. With 100 million archival documents housed at the center, it is the largest repository of the modern Jewish experience in the Diaspora, and it is growing daily.

The center is flourishing. It has been accepted as an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, and it continues to work with The National Archives and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Center for Jewish History’s groundbreaking project with the National Historical Preservation Records Commission is scheduled soon to launch an online public access catalog that will revolutionize access to its constituents’ collections. And more than 100,000 visitors having used the center’s reading room and Genealogical Institute; viewed exhibitions of Judaic art and artifacts and on historic subjects, and attended lectures, conferences, symposia, concerts, theatrical performances, films and other cultural programs.

The archival, bibliographic and art collections of each the center’s five constituent organizations strongly complement the others’. Together, they cover — comprehensively and globally — the entire history and cultural spectrum of Jews of Yiddish-, German- and Ladino-speaking ancestries.

The organizations joined in creating the center to make their collections readily and conveniently available, at one central location, to their users and supporters as well as to each other. They also created the center to have their work enabled, professionally and economically, by sharing its state-of-the art facilities and support services. They have benefited fully from these advantages, and none has ever suggested or is likely to express a desire to leave.

While the article noted a YIVO endowment based in part on its sale of its former Fifth Avenue location for $10 million, it failed to mention that $6.5 million was used toward the purchase and building of the Center for Jewish History. Moreover, though the article suggested that the center is struggling financially, it failed to point out that its operating results were at the break-even level for 2005 and that an operating surplus is expected for 2006.

Bruce Slovin

Chairman

Center for Jewish History

New York, N.Y.






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