April 30, 2010

Opening Up Poland’s Jewish Community

I read with great interest Konstanty Gebert’s April 23 article “Why Poland’s Jews Mourn Their President.” The Polish Jewish community shares a deep sense of loss over the deaths of President Lech Kaczynski, First Lady Maria Kaczynski and the 94 others who perished in that tragic plane crash near Smolensk on April 10. The fact that these events occurred within the context of the 70th anniversary observance of the Katyn massacre, and as we marked Yom HaShoah, added to our collective pain. I also agree strongly that President Kaczynska was perceived as a strong and genuine friend and supporter of the Jewish community and a powerful ally of the State of Israel.

I differ, however, with Gebert on two fronts. First, when Gebert states that the Orthodox Nozyk Synagogue is Warsaw’s only synagogue, he ignores the existence of Beit Warszawa, the Progressive Jewish community of Warsaw, where I serve as senior rabbi. Beit Warszawa functions as a synagogue, hosting regular Shabbat and holiday services, Torah and text study, and Jewish lifecycle events. Second, there is his estimate of the number of Jews in Poland. While the number of those registered with the “official” Orthodox-dominated communities may number 8,000, it is estimated that the actual number of Jews in Poland is more like 20,000 to 30,000.

Since the fall of Communism 20 years ago, Poland has emerged from a one-party state and become a multiparty democracy, and has gone from a command economy to a free-market economy on the European model. It is time that the Jewish community of Poland, both in its structure and its governance, reflect that reality, and permit a variety of affiliations and denominations to flourish as equal partners at the table.

Nazi Regime’s Nature Was Clear From Start

In his April 16 review, Jerome Chanes praises Stephen Norwood’s “The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower,” which exposes American university presidents who pursued friendly relations with Nazi Germany in the 1930s (“The Nazi Sympathizers Who Ran American Universities”).

However, Chanes also argues that with regard to the early years of Nazi rule, some of the indignation at the actions of those presidents during that period “is based on what we retroactively know” about the Nazis: “1934 was, after all, not 1939,” Chanes writes.

Yet, in his opening chapter, Norwood describes many outrages perpetrated by the Hitler regime during the years 1933 and 1934, such as firing all Jews from the civil service, including professors at universities; forcing the shutdown of many Jewish businesses; arresting tens of thousands of political opponents; and rewriting school curricula to reflect Nazi ideology. These and other Nazi actions were widely reported by the American news media at the time and well known to university presidents; that should have sufficed to dissuade the universities from seeking friendly relations with Nazi Germany.

Anti-Beck Verse Makes Matters Worse

One does not have to agree with Glenn Beck’s politics to feel disgusted by Jewish Funds for Justice’s creation of a Web site where Beck haters can hurl ad hominem attacks at the radio personality (“Dumping on Glenn Beck, in Meter,” April 16).

If Jewish Funds for Justice disagrees with Beck, fine and good — but give us a more substantive challenge to his positions than a call for sophomoric poetic rants. Indeed, if this group is concerned about “justice,” the least it should do is remember and follow the teaching of Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischa: With justice you shall pursue justice.

Even the pursuit of justice must employ just means. If not, perhaps a name change is in order.

Here’s a Tip: L.A. Eatery Is Dairy, Not a ‘Deli’

Your readers should be advised that Steven Spielberg’s mother, Leah Adler, does not “run a deli” (“Jewish Women Get a Place on the Map,” April 2).

The Milky Way is a charming spot with comfortable booths, lace curtains and soothing classical piano music in the background. Adler personally welcomes her patrons and visits each table to make sure her guests are enjoying the delights of her kosher dairy menu.

Her restaurant is an island of serenity in a busy commercial area of Los Angeles. To call her restaurant “a deli” is like referring to Placido Domingo as “a singer.”

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April 30, 2010

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