December 12, 2008

A Community Liaison, Not a Special Pleader

I read with interest your article about candidates vying for the Jewish liaison position in the Obama White House, a position I held under President Gerald Ford (“The Race Is on for Hot Job as Obama’s Liaison to Nation’s Jews,” December 5).

With all due respect to those who have succeeded me, I think the position has been miscast as that of a special pleader. When I was asked to assume the role, I said I would do so only if I was offered a significant substantive position and Jewish community liaison was an additional function. Thus, I served as associate director of the White House Domestic Council and as special assistant to the president. When I called people, they seldom knew in advance which hat I was wearing. I think that was better.

A Tolerance Museum, Or a Parking Lot?

Regarding Buzzy Gordon’s November 28 opinion article “An Intolerable Spot for a Museum,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center is building its Museum of Tolerance on Jerusalem’s municipal car park where, each day, hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims have parked their cars for 50 years. The Museum of Tolerance Jerusalem will not extend beyond the parking lot perimeter, and the existing Mamilla Cemetery will remain untouched.

As Israel’s Supreme Court concluded in its unanimous decision in favor of the project: “For decades this area [parking lot] was not regarded as a cemetery by the general public or by the Muslim community… no one denied this position. Not only was the compound not identified as an area with religious sanctity… but it was the subject of planning for various purposes throughout decades, without any objection for reasons of the sanctity of the site.”

For nearly a half century, no Muslim group ever protested. When the project began the model was displayed at City Hall and newspaper ads were published in the Hebrew, Arabic and English press without any protest.

The bones found, when construction began, were between 300 and 400 years old. They were unaccompanied by a single marker, monument or tombstone. Imagine the chaos to society if, after 50 years of designation for public use, land were to be changed and reverted to what it may have been four or five centuries ago.

A Center for Human Dignity promoting tolerance and civility is more respectful and a better use of the space than a 1,000-car parking lot. To quote the Supreme Court: “The importance and benefit of realizing the plan to build the Museum of Tolerance in the center of the city of Jerusalem are very great. The Museum of Tolerance embodies an ideal of establishing a spiritual center that will spread a message of human tolerance between peoples, between sectors of the population and between man and his fellow-man.”

Secrecy Is No Solution To Sexual Abuse

It saddens me that your November 28 editorial “Abuse and Trust” took a stand behind New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind instead of supporting what is needed to protect children from being sexually victimized.

It’s heart-breaking to watch how a few Jewish leaders in the Orthodox world keep manipulating community members into believing they do not have to report heinous crimes committed against our children to child protective services. Hikind is wrong to keep secret from law enforcement officials the names of both alleged sex offenders and those who have been victimized. Each day that goes by that he refuses to work with those who can really help means another child is being sexually victimized.

One has to realize that turning over the names of alleged sex offenders and also those who were allegedly sexually abused to child protection workers does not mean that the names will be made public. It only means there is a possibility that those who perpetrate crimes against our children may be prosecuted and that those who have been sexually victimized will be offered real help.

As Jews, we all have a moral responsibility to protect our youth. We all must consider ourselves mandated reporters — meaning if you suspect a child is at risk of harm you make a hotline report. Leave the investigating to those who have the specialized training and can conduct forensic investigations. Dov Hikind does not have this sort of training.

Attorney Michael Dowd, Assemblyman Dov Hikind and the Jewish community all want the same things. They want children to be safe from sexual predators. They want victims of abuse to find justice and healing. They disagree on how best to accomplish these goals.

That Hikind’s one request for survivors of sexual abuse to contact his office brought more than 1,000 responses is testimony to the scope of the problem. And while we applaud his commitment to protect the identity of the victims, he needs to remember that many of those who assaulted these innocent children still live and work in the community.

Because of the archaic statute of limitations in New York, civil lawsuits are the only way to expose predators and warn parents of the dangers in their community. We hope that Hikind will put the protection of the innocent and the vulnerable first and work with Dowd to make sure that these dangerous predators are exposed.

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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December 12, 2008

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