November 25, 2005

Published November 25, 2005, issue of November 25, 2005.
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Recognize Chabad Way

I have no doubt that Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov, my colleague in Munster, Ind., is most deserving of the rabbinic award he garnered from his local federation (“Chabad Makes Inroads at Parley,” November 18). I am less sure, however, of the Forward’s attempt to portray his wife’s position in her local Conservative Hebrew school as something novel. I am absolutely mystified at the Forward’s suggestion that this is a result of the “relatively loose oversight provided by Chabad’s New York headquarters, especially since Schneerson’s 1994 death.”

In fact, Lubavitcher shluchim and shluchos, or emissaries, have a long history of interfacing with all segments of the Jewish community. In their posts across the United States and around the world, this has been especially true in the realm of children’s Jewish education. To the extent that the individual synagogues, JCCs and federations welcomed and appreciated Chabad’s cutting-edge and passion-filled resources, it was always offered and available.

Thousands of kids from across the Jewish community have visited Chabad’s model matzo bakeries and shofar factories. Hundreds of Hebrew and day schools of all stripes have welcome Chabad’s living legacy workshops. Scores of shluchos teach in Hebrew schools or day schools in their respective communities — and have done so for more than four decades.

Even in allegedly secluded Crown Heights, Brooklyn, during the 1970s and ‘80s, it was quite common for Beth Rivkah Seminary students to hold jobs in Hebrew schools affiliated with liberal streams of Judaism. I specifically recall that the rebbe’s office was involved, agreeing to these arrangements as long as the school’s administration respected the parameters of the young womens’ scrupulous adherence to Halacha, or rabbinic law.

The phenomenon of shlichus, as defined in Lubavitch, has not changed. Shluchim and shluchos make decisions by examining whether the result will conform to Halacha, and whether it is the best way to fulfill the mandate of an emissary of the rebbe.

The only thing that has changed is the organized Jewish establishment’s recognition of the value in, and success of, Chabad’s approach.

The Jewish community has much to gain from a partnering between Chabad and the federation system, as both are organizations that share a dedication toward strengthening Jewish life worldwide. Ultimately, it is the rebbe’s twinning of unadulterated Jewish observance with unstinting love of and respect for every Jew that has proved effective.

Rivkah Slonim

Shlucha to Binghamton

Chabad

Vestal, N.Y.

Rabbi Mistakenly Cited

A November 18 article on Ben Bernanke, President Bush’s nominee to chair the Federal Reserve, mistakenly attributes a description of Bernanke’s childhood in Dillon, S.C., to the wrong rabbinical student (“Fed Nominee Bernanke Was Molded by Upbringing in Small-town South”).

It was Rabbi Shalom Bronstein who wrote his recollections of a 1966 visit to Dillon in an e-mail message that he sent to colleagues recently. One of the colleagues who passed the message along to others was Rabbi Arnold Stiebel, who is unfortunately described in the article as the author of the reminiscence. The error has created confusion among those who received the original e-mail and has caused us some consternation.

Rabbi Arnold Stiebel

Woodland Hills, Calif.

Rabbi Shalom Bronstein

Jerusalem, Israel

Kazakhs’ Image No Joke

After reading that Kazakh government officials may sue comedian Sacha Baron Cohen for his jokes at their expense, it is easy to conclude that the Kazakhs should lighten up and get a life (“Baron Cohen, Enemy Agent?” November 18).

But it is not all that freakish for a nation not widely known in this country, or known for some less than admirable traits, to take offense at being reduced to a cartoonish caricature. Given the backdrop of Islamic antisemitism, that goes double in this case, in which Cohen, aka Ali G, promotes a view of the largely Muslim Kazakhs as anti-Jewish, buffoonish and prone to violence.

By way of contrast, when contacted about the article I did tell the Forward that the president of Madagascar mentioned to me earlier this year his delight at last summer’s Disney animated film named for his country. Madagascar figured that any notice was a step in the right direction for tourism and investment.

Kazakhs, on the other hand, have a very different set of issues with regard to how they perceive their country to be viewed by Americans.

David Twersky

Director

American Jewish Congress-Council for World Jewry

New York, N.Y.

Wronging the Right

As one long involved in leadership roles in American Jewish organizations, I question the wisdom of Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham Foxman’s offensive against conservative Christians (“ADL Urges Joint Effort Against Right,” November 11).

The public-policy agenda of our community, including church-state issues, will succeed only to the extent that we, as a tiny minority in this country, form effective coalitions. Thus, it is foolish to condemn the 40% of our fellow citizens who are church-attending Christians. Moreover, the values of these Christians are substantially consonant with those of observant Jews who — in view of rates of intermarriage and assimilation — probably represent the future of our community.

We are urged to maintain coalitions with liberal Protestant churches so that we can stand together on such issues as same-sex marriage, notwithstanding that these churches are indifferent, if not outright hostile, to the survival of Israel. Yet we are warned away from evangelical Christians, who have proved themselves to be fervent supporters of Israel.

Rather than simply condemning the Christian right, wouldn’t it make more sense for Foxman to announce that we are in concord with them on foreign policy issues while at the same time reserving our right to differ on other issues?

Joel Sprayregen

Chicago, Ill.

The Price of Worship

Many congregations do not charge those who pay membership dues for High Holy Day tickets, as opinion writer Diana Furchtgott-Roth suggests (“High Holy Days Ticket Prices Are Costing Community,” November 4).

In the four congregations with which my husband and I have been associated in the last 25 years, members have received free High Holy Day tickets if their dues are current. In our present congregation, unaffiliated individuals are charged $125 for a ticket that admits them to all services from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur.

What Furchtgott-Roth is proposing would have a disastrous effect on synagogues. Committed, dues-paying members who give financially and physically — by assisting with many of the programs and auxiliaries in their respective congregations, for instance — do not take kindly to supporting those who are looking for a free ride. Bills need to be paid to run the building, as do the rabbi and staff. Simply put, synagogues will fall apart over time if the financial support is not there.

Because it is the most active time for Jews to attend services, the High Holy Days is the appropriate time, as Furchtgott-Roth writes, to “maximize annual revenues” by requiring unaffiliated attendees to make a once-a-year contribution to an institution that they may not visit again during the year.

The services that congregants attend fill a spiritual, emotional and social need within them. Why should the house of worship go uncompensated?

Phyllis Bluming

Grayson, Ga.

Too Kinky for Texas

The Forward’s coverage and tacit approval of Kinky Friedman’s campaign for governor of Texas is quite disturbing (“Texans Get Kinky,” November 4). Someone who capitalizes on a prejudicial expression such as “Jewboys,” even in jest or satire — as is presumably the case with his longtime band, “Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys” — should not be encouraged by a Jewish newspaper.

If Friedman were black, Hispanic, Asian, Italian or Irish and referred to his musicians with a derogatory term on a level with “Jewboys,” how do you think those segments of the American population would react if one of their publications chose to gloss over the use of such an expression?

The problem with satire is that many people do not appreciate it, or even realize that they are being exposed to it. Unfortunately, they will agree with the lampooned subject and not understand the real point. Recognizing satire requires a certain degree of sophistication that may not be present in the general public, thus resulting in a backlash effect.

Friedman is talented, clever, entertaining and may even be well intentioned. But he appeals primarily to a country-western music fandom that is probably not often exposed to Jewish culture and feelings. I’m afraid that having “Jewboys” bandied about in such an open, reckless and routine manner only justifies the belief in many of his followers that there is nothing wrong with referring to Jews as “Jewboys.”

Joel Alderman

Milford, Conn.






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