July 25, 2003

Published July 25, 2003, issue of July 25, 2003.
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Call Presidential Bigotry By Name: Antisemitism

The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, has yet to grasp the central fact that should be guiding discussion about the antisemitism of American presidents: We are Jews in America (“Harry Truman, My Flawed Hero,” July 18.) Responding to the defamation of American Jews should be his first priority. When a president of our country makes clear that he hates Jews, his making nice about Israel should not comfort us in the least.

Harry Truman didn’t save Foxman, as the ADL head writes. My fellow soldiers and I did, by killing the Germans who had perpetrated that horror. It was Truman who sent John J. McCloy to Nuremberg to put an end to the trials of those perpetrators and to overturn the tribunal’s sentencing of the Krupp family. It was Truman who kept the less than 1,000 Jewish refugees allowed into this country imprisoned behind barbed wire in Oswego, N.Y. — so that they could more easily be returned to Europe. Meanwhile, Truman’s State Department recommended, and Congress passed, a series of restrictive immigration laws aimed directly at families like the Foxmans.

True, Truman was the first to recognize Israel. How would it have looked to the world if the United States, after sitting by and watching the death of 6 million Jews, had failed to do so? But at the same time, while Britain was training and equipping the Arab Legion to attack, Truman ordered an arms embargo. We combat veterans, Jews and non-Jews, collected and smuggled our “souvenir” weapons and money to buy a few left-over Messerschmitts. And more than a few of us went there to fight.

Foxman refers to Harry Truman as a hero of Israel. Wrong again. The heroes of Israel are in Israel.

Irv Zuckerman

Larchmont, N.Y.

Harry Truman’s surprise antisemitism is hardly a surprise. I was a child when Truman became president. I lived and grew up in Kansas City, Mo., just a few miles from Truman’s home in Independence, Mo.

Back then, an atmosphere of prejudice against Jews was commonplace — separate country clubs, “restricted” upper-middle-class neighborhoods and, in some cases, hotels. That was the Bible Belt.

I suspect Truman’s recognition of Israel may have been influenced by his close Jewish friend, Eddie Jacobson, but it is just as likely that he believed in the Christian fundamentalist teaching that Jews were given Israel as the land to which they should always be able to return. He might have felt he was fulfilling the Bible’s teaching. The only other answer readily available to me is that God intervened.

Louise Wilker

San Carlos, Calif.

Book Review Colors Bronx Mill Story

That old saw about history being the story written by the victors gained a new twist in Michael Tomasky’s July 18 book review of Lis Harris’s “Tilting at Mills: Green Dreams, Dirty Dealings, and the Corporate Squeeze” (“Green Dreams and Red Tape: A Tale of Innovation, Squelched”). In this case, it is the losers in the battle who get to edit out a few facts to make the story seem more sympathetic to their cause.

The South Bronx Clean Air Coalition did not “spring up to oppose” the planned Natural Resources Defense Council paper mill as implied in the article. The coalition was formed well before the NRDC’s proposal became public in order to fight a regional medical waste incinerator being built in the South Bronx. Angry residents, galvanized by the back-room deals and misrepresentation surrounding the incinerator project, assumed that the recycling mill was yet another toxic facility being dumped in their neighborhood.

Inexplicably, the site the NRDC chose for their paper mill had been earmarked for the Oak Point rail freight yard, a project that was supposed to help reduce air pollution in the Bronx by diverting cargo shipments from truck to rail. Building the recycling plant at Oak Point would reduce the space available for the rail yard, crippling its chances for success. Support for the paper recycling plant that would have been forthcoming from other New York City environmental organizations never materialized. These groups had been advocating the rail freight project for years and saw the NRDC’s efforts as unwitting sabotage.

There’s no doubt that red tape, community opposition and government in-fighting played a role in the demise of the paper mill proposal, but I’ve never understood why the NRDC shot itself in the foot by trying to push out one project for the benefit of the environment in order to build another.

Ed Ravin

Bronx, N.Y.

Orthodox Are Better Off Working and Studying

Undoubtedly, Rabbi Avi Shafran’s time would be better spent trying to solve the problem of childhood poverty in his community from within rather than whining that there is no free lunch (“When Poverty Is Worth Less,” July 18). A subsidy of $309 per newborn is not the solution to ultra-Orthodox poverty in Israel — it’s not even a Band-Aid.

What would help to alleviate this problem? Communal leaders such as Shafran need to tell young ultra-Orthodox parents that it is unacceptable to bring more children into the world than they can afford. They need to tell them that learning Torah is a lofty value that should be pursued after, or at least while, they take care of their financial responsibilities — and not before.

On the one hand, Shafran makes it sound as if putting food on the table and clothes on our children’s backs is a shallow and overly materialistic value. And yet on the other hand, he looks to those who do earn money to support the Torah scholars in his community. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

The issue is not whether Jews should help Jews with poor families — of course they should, and they always have. Rather, the issue is why is the ultra-Orthodox leadership continues to encourage its followers to lead lives that will guarantee hungry babies. Since when is making a living something to be embarrassed about?

The study of Torah is an admirable pursuit, but Jewish tradition has never advocated study at the expense of feeding one’s wife and children. The ketubah, the halachic marriage contract between a Jewish bride and groom, requires a man to support his wife. Jewish fathers are required to give their sons the means to earn a living.

Studying Torah without a viable means to support the children that one is bringing into the world is contrary to Jewish tradition and not an alternative or admirable lifestyle. This choice is irresponsible for the parents who make it and even more irresponsible for the rabbis who promote it.

Debby Flancbaum

Teaneck, N.J.

Rabbi Avi Shafran points a painful spotlight on a Jewish tendency to be like the public humanitarian who beats his own wife and kids.

Support and admiration for those devoted to music, the arts, and the pure sciences — non-Jewish concepts of the national soul — sits very well with us. But those devoted to Torah study — the specific national soul of the Jew from time immemorial — well, this has become repugnant to many in the Jewish community.

The czars hoped to end their Jewish problem with military conscription and crushing financial burden — do we really wish to mimic their methods of “social engineering”?

Elliot Pines

Los Angeles, Calif.

Helping Falash Mura A Moral Imperative

Approximately 20,000 of our fellow Jews are still in Ethiopia awaiting aliya (“Activists: Ethiopians Die As Care Is Denied,” July 18).

They are enduring food shortages and living in hovels, often 12-15 to a tiny room in places where disease is rampant. Last year United Jewish Communities made an emergency allocation of $39 million to Argentina, but not one cent to the remnant of Jews in Ethiopia.

Most of these ardent Zionists and observant Jews will come to Israel, sooner or later. Regardless of how the Israeli government responds — and now it is doing nothing — how can we allow our Ethiopian Jewish relatives to suffer the ravages of malnutrition and disease, and not do everything possible to bring them to Israel quickly, well-fed and speaking Hebrew?

The more Israel-ready they are, the speedier and less costly their absorption will be, and the greater their chance of success.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, UJC and the local federations must immediately make an emergency allocation of $5 million for each of the next two years. American Jewish leaders must use their substantial influence to bring the remaining Ethiopian Jews to Israel at a rate no less than the 800 to 1,000 per month the Knesset’s immigration committee has deemed feasible.

This is a moral imperative.

Middie Giesberg

Past Chair

Richard Giesberg

Past President

North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry

Los Angeles, Calif.






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