Letter May 26, 2006

Pluralism at Seminary

A May 12 letter writer asks who will serve as the Jewish Theological Seminary’s halachic authority now that Arnold Eisen has been selected as chancellor (“Conservative Seminary Lacks Rabbinic Leader”).

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly is, in fact, the halachic authority for the Conservative movement. Eisen has indicated in interviews that he intends to be guided by its decisions.

The committee has designated representatives from JTS, and its commitment to halachic pluralism remains a hallmark of the movement. Therefore, rabbis who function as religious authorities for their communities may select opinions with which they concur.

I am confident that as a scholar and committed Conservative layman, Eisen will forge a constructive relationship with the Rabbinical Assembly and its Committee on Jewish Law and Standards that will enable the seminary to go on to even greater levels of excellence.

Rabbi Alvin Berkun


Rabbinical Assembly

Pittsburgh, Pa.

A Family of Doughboys

A May 5 article on American Jews who served in the U.S. Army during World War I struck a familiar note with me (“The Last of the Jewish Doughboys Ship Out”).

My father’s oldest brother, Dave Satisky, born in 1896, enlisted in the Army in 1912, at the age of 16. He served in Mexico with then-Colonel John Pershing, and then in the Mexican border war.

He shipped out to Europe in 1917, and according to his military records — all of which I possess — participated in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, and the Avocourt and Troyon defensive. He was discharged in 1919, but then re-enlisted a number of times after that, serving a total of 25 years in the Army and in the Army Air Corps, before his final discharge in 1946.

He died at 75 at the Veterans Hospital in Hampton, Va. During World War II, he was at Hickam Field, Scofield Barracks, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and he participated in the battles at Midway Island and the Solomon Islands. He received a Presidential Unit Citation, Asiatic Campaign ribbons, three battle stars, the American Defense Medal, two Bronze Stars and a Good Conduct Medal. He retired as a master sergeant and returned to join our family in Newport News, Va.

His youngest brother, my uncle Marcus Satisky, enlisted in the Army in 1928 and joined the Army Air Corps at the beginning of World War II, while a warrant officer junior grade. By the end of the war he was a major, and he retired in 1964 as a colonel. He served a total of 32 years, with duties spent in Hawaii, Panama, Japan and Germany, with his last duty as inspector general of the Amarillo Air Force Base in Texas.

I also had two other uncles who served in World War I, and a third uncle, on my mother’s side of the family, who served in Europe and went through the whole of Europe, from the D-Day landing to the end.

As for myself, I also served in the U.S. Army in the 1960s, as an infantry officer, airborne qualified.

Donald Satisky

Lake Oswego, Ore.

Fight State Terrorism

Whatever the merits of some Jewish leaders’ concerns about President Bush’s public commitments to Israel’s security in the face of the Iranian threat, one thing is certain: Anyone who recognizes the threat to world peace posed by Iran’s unhinged leadership should be grateful to Bush for his conviction that Israel — nuke-pursuing Iran’s first declared desideratum for obliteration — is a full ally of its second target, the United States (“Groups to Bush: Drop Iran-Israel Linkage,” May 12).

The closing salutation of the Iranian president’s recent missive to Bush, tellingly, was “Peace only unto those who follow the true path.” Equally clear is the mendaciousness of those who, like the anonymous activist quoted in the article, accuse the president of “playing [domestic] politics.”

Islamist madmen and unnamed cynics alike can sneer at Bush all they wish. But there are those of us who value sincerity and steadfastness in the fight against terrorism in all its forms, including when the actors are states.

Rabbi Avi Shafran

Director of Public Affairs

Agudath Israel of America

New York, N.Y.

Silence on Sex Abuse

A common theme running through sexual scandals in religious communities — whatever the religion or sect — is that often the perpetrator is protected by his colleagues (“Rabbi Fired Over Sex Claims, Defenders Offer Mea Culpa,” May 19). That protection probably results from a combination of idealism, naiveté and a self-protective reflex; how painful it is to acknowledge that one’s supposedly holy profession is infected by abusive and exploitive leadership.

One also sees that the perpetrator is often infected with a pernicious form of narcissism. Right now, Rabbi Mordechai Gafni is portraying himself as sick. I would concur that he is sick, and part of his sickness is apparently an unwillingness to take responsibility for his actions as an independent moral agent. Abusers who do heal have to learn to empathize with their victims. He has apparently lost, or never had, that capacity for compassion.

I am glad the Forward is willing to put this story in the public domain. Washing one’s linens in public keeps us alert to the fact that con men come in every denomination, and humble with the knowledge that sexual predation knows no boundaries.

Anna Rubin

Ellicott City, Md.

Does anyone doubt that if Rabbi Mordechai Gafni’s victims had been boys or men, the response by his rabbinic colleagues would have been radically different — from the beginning? This case, then, is about not only ignorance and hubris but also misogyny.

The three women divorced from Gafni are now, according to rabbinic law, morally blemished and ineligible on that account from marrying Cohanim. He, on the other hand, bears no such stigma. And if Gafni is a Cohen, he will continue to be one, and could — God forbid — marry a bat Cohen.

Perhaps the rabbis who are now doing soul-searching would like to visit this piece of misogyny, as well.

Shulamith Magnus

Cleveland, Ohio

Ford’s Son Made Right

While a May 12 Fast Forward article evinces a full knowledge of Henry Ford’s peccadilloes and predispositions, the temptation to impose today’s values on an interpretation of that era has not been resisted (“Henry Ford, The Change-Averse Revolutionary”). Antisemitism then was not a top-down phenomenon, but very thoroughly universal; nor was it merely a matter of feeling, but of action, often at a national level.

It was not a very good time to be Jewish, or Irish and Italian, for that matter. Barbershops in most cities had so-called “Three Eyes” barbershops for Irish, Italians and Israelites to use so their fallen hair would not dirty the floors of WASP establishments. You can still find one such barbershop at 18th and Northline Road in Wyandotte, Michigan, though few people today know what the quaintly-painted 3-eyed logo means.

I prefer to look at what Ford’s sons did to set matters right. Henry Ford II, referred to in Detroit as “Hank the Deuce,” was 180 degrees the opposite of his dad. He was a major patron of the arts and buyer of half the paintings in the Detroit Institute of Arts. He was a leader in the fight to allow Jews into Wayne State University and the University of Michigan on a non-quota basis, and during the bitterly cold strike of 1968 he led a convoy of trucks loaded with cordwood around to the picket line to ensure the oil-drum burners that the strikers used to keep warm had enough wood.

Ford Motor Company was the first to hire black workers as anything other than strikebreakers, and the first to recognize the United Auto Workers, though not without a few fights on the field of honor with Walter Reuther. You could knock Hank in the Detroit union neighborhood bars for his corporate policy, but any personal attacks and you suddenly didn’t feel so good — and it could have been a Jewish fist connecting with your kisser.

Walter O’Brien

Columbia, Md.

In Brandeis’s Footsteps

A May 5 article on Tony Kushner receiving an honorary degree from Brandeis University (“Nod to ‘Angels’ Artist Stirs Feud Over Brandeis Legacy”) reminded me of an interview I did with the playwright. It was less than 12 weeks after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

He said, and I quote, “The only bulwark against antisemitism is hate-crime legislation in the United States. And the Bill of Rights. And the whole glorious tradition of Western civil libertarian jurisprudence and the legislative traditions that have led to the constitution.”

I’d like to think that Louis Brandeis, the former Jewish justice for whom the university is named, would be proud.

Barry Joseph

Brooklyn, N.Y.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.
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Letter May 26, 2006

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