November 30, 2007

Israel Faces Difficult Decision on Refugees

The dramatic headline and conclusion to a November 16 article ignores the very positive ongoing dialogue between Israel and American Jewish organizations (“Israel Turns Down Help on Darfur Refugees”).

The article correctly notes that the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and a number of American Jewish organizations have offered their advice and expertise to the Israeli government as it grapples with a complex challenge: protecting the integrity of its borders while offering protection to refugees fleeing persecution and preventing mass illegal entry of economic migrants from other parts of the African continent. Concerned Israelis have listened intently and with interest.

Following the tradition set by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, whose government welcomed and resettled Vietnamese boat people decades ago, the recent actions of the Israeli government to accept 500 Darfuri refugees and provide them with shelter, jobs and training are in keeping with the highest standard of Jewish values. This decision is an important step forward in addressing the difficult challenges Israel faces in dealing with the current influx of refugees and other migrants, and the American Jewish community is helping in this. For this, they should all be praised.

Those consultations continue, and HIAS remains prepared to assist Israel in meeting its latest humanitarian challenge. The strategy on how to resolve this dilemma — including the extent to which to invite outside assistance — is solely and legitimately the decision of the Israeli government.

Multiple Classes Offered

The Forward is incorrect in reporting that “At American University… one Jewish studies course was being offered per semester” (“Fellowships Aim To Boost Jewish Studies Programs,” November 9). At American University, most Jewish studies courses are housed in the traditional disciplines.

For example, the history department offers several courses in Jewish history, including classes on the Holocaust and on American Jewish history. Both history majors and students seeking out Jewish studies find their way to these classes.

For the Spring 2008 semester, American University students may choose from seven different Jewish studies classes, in addition to courses in Hebrew language and internship. Thanks to the generosity of the Jewish Studies Expansion Project, that number will increase in the next two years to meet student demand.

Jellyfish in Maryland Opinion columnist Leonard Fein may have been a bit off in remarking that the Habonim camp he attended in Maryland was on the Severn River (“Time Does Not Favor the Jewish State,” November 23). I believe it was on Aberdeen Creek, a branch of the South River — which is just south of the Severn River, on which the Naval Academy is located.

However, Fein’s memory of the painful sting of the allegedly antisemitic “jellyfish,” Chrysaora Quinquecirrha, and his associating it with this week’s peace conference is right on target.

Playing in New Orleans

A November 2 article on Joe “White Boy” Stern brought to mind my search for a home for the large collection of jazz and folk records lovingly assembled over the years by late husband, Murray Zuckoff (“In Big Easy, ‘White Boy’ Stern Makes Brass History”). Having been turned down by various institutions one would naturally identify as wanting the LPs, I asked myself who would need these classic recordings.

Suddenly, I flashed on New Orleans, a city which has suffered and lost so much. I turned to one of the city’s universities, the Xavier University of Louisiana. The university librarian, Robert Skinner, was ecstatic about the prospect of receiving several hundred of Murray’s records, and soon they were on their way to Xavier’s library, where they became the “Zuckoff Jazz and Folk Music Collection.”

Support Charter Schools

Opinion writer Daniel Treiman suggests that the model of the Ben Gamla Charter School in Florida is a betrayal of American Jewish liberalism (“The Charter School Temptation,” November 16).

It is critical to acknowledge that the promise of charter schools to introduce rigorous and innovative strategies to improve student learning and raise achievement — especially for students from low income communities and those at-risk of academic failures — are aligned with the ideals of social justice that ground American Jewish liberalism. We should defend a vision that public schools provide a route to upward mobility.

In New York City, charter schools have advanced that vision. These schools have raised the bar for students and generated high achievement results. To fully achieve this vision, however, opportunities for chartering must be coupled with rigorous accountability by charter school authorizers. This requires critical and measured analysis of charter school proposals and ongoing performance evaluation of school success.

Prior to approval, authorizers must carefully consider whether a proposal will further the charter school movement’s objectives for increasing achievement and learning among at-risk students and ensure that furthering a group’s private interest or agenda is not part of delivering that promise. True, this is a daunting and challenging task for authorizers, but not one that should compromise the entire movement and prevent us from supporting an effort to deliver on a critical value of American Jewish liberalism: that the schools in our public system should further educational opportunity and high achievement for all.

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November 30, 2007

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