May 27, 2005

Virtual Shoah Survivors

I want to congratulate opinion columnist Leonard Fein for his courage in tackling the issue of the March of the Living program (“Too Young To March?” May 13).

I am not a stranger to marches. I was 12 when the Germans made us march from our homes through the length of our town to the soccer field. We were then thrown into the Lodz Ghetto, minus our young and our old people.

I was 14 when I marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau, where my arm was tattooed with a number. My whole family was probably gassed by then.

I was 15 when I was forced onto the death march from Gleiwitz, a satellite camp of Auschwitz. After two days, fully half of this camp’s population was shot. Bodies of the dead were strewn over the ditches along the road of the march.

I was too young to be on those marches. No Jewish child — or any child — belonged there.

Sixty years later, there is not a day or night that I don’t think about Auschwitz. No child deserves to have his mind occupied with these damaging images and thoughts.

No child belonged in Auschwitz during the war. Nor does a child belong there after the war. Please protect our children from my memories. Protect them from becoming virtual Auschwitz survivors.

Fein probably will be ostracized for publishing his thoughts on the March of the Living. I, for one, want to thank him for making me feel that I am not alone in my position.

Menachem Warshawski

Queens Village, N.Y.

Retention Key for Shuls

I applaud the efforts of Synagogue 2000, the STAR Foundation and others who are working to “revitalize and re-energize” synagogue life, but what is missing from the efforts are the statistics and a permanent solution (“Synagogue Renewal Efforts Earn Mixed Results,” May 13).

The statistics from many surveys state that at any one time, the synagogue affiliation rate is about 30%. Surveys also tell us that nearly 80% of Jews affiliate with a synagogue at some time, and some surveys put the figure at more than 90% for households with school-age children. Therefore, the goal of the synagogue renewal efforts should be the retention of synagogue members to ensure Jewish continuity and survival.

It is helpful to study and experiment with synagogue revitalization, but more study needs to be dedicated toward understanding the barriers to synagogue affiliation and the reasons for disaffiliation. A recent survey by the North American Association of Synagogue Executives, of which I am president, demonstrated that the cost to maintain a synagogue of any size is about $2,500 per household. If it requires such a significant financial commitment to become and remain “affiliated,” then perhaps we need to change either our funding model or our definition of affiliation and membership.

A change in the funding model would require congregations and the community to shift from a membership “dues” model to a different definition of affiliation requiring a lower financial threshold. One approach could be the creation of significant endowment funds to generate income in place of synagogue membership dues. All it would take would be one generation of major donors to shift their mega-contributions from the myriad Jewish and secular nonprofit organizations they support. This onetime shift could have a lasting and immeasurable effect on the future of synagogues in America and on the continuity and survival of Judaism.

A second approach would be to re-examine how one connects or “affiliates” with a synagogue and with the Jewish community. My local federation is bringing together rabbis, Jewish professionals and lay leaders to explore ways to connect the Jewish community. I am beginning to learn that “how” one belongs to the Jewish community or synagogue is not as important as “whether” one belongs. This area needs further study.

To ensure Jewish continuity and survival, we must make sure that the required size of the contribution is not a barrier to retained and continued commitment.

Glenn Easton

Executive Director

Adas Israel Congregation

Washington, D.C.

Watching the Watchers

I sympathize with opinion columnist Leonard Fein’s pain at seeing Human Rights Watch struggling to defend its contribution to anti-Israel boycotts and false allegations of war crimes (“Monitoring The Monitor,” May 20). But the NGO founded as Helsinki Watch, which once led opposition to Soviet human rights abuses, is no longer “highly regarded and respected,” as Fein wrote. In the process, the universal human rights principles that emerged from the Holocaust have been corrupted by a narrow ideological agenda.

Ironically, Fein’s own words illustrate NGO Monitor’s importance in exposing these abuses. In our correspondence prior to his May 20 column, Fein echoed Human Rights Watch’s standard justifications. But apparently he soon came to realize that the excuses are untenable.

Fein stopped trying to refute NGO Monitor’s report on Human Rights Watch’s role in the 2001 conference in Durban, which revived the “Zionism is racism” and apartheid campaigns. And what remains of the attempt to defend Human Rights Watch’s Middle East staff conveniently omits the references to their previous experience in Israel bashing. NGO Monitor exposed the credentials of Lucy Mair, who, before joining Human Rights Watch, wrote for the Electronic Intifada Web site, where she liberally used terms such as “apartheid.”

Fein accepts the central argument that the heads of NGO superpowers are not immune to the requirement for accountability. But while Fein accepts Human Rights Watch’s claims at face value, others can examine the detailed quantitative analysis on NGO Monitor’s Web site. In contrast to Human Rights Watch reports on Israel, our analyses, covering dozens of NGOs, are documented. The huge growth in traffic and desperate efforts to silence the debate reflects the importance of this analysis.

NGO Monitor also demonstrates that exploitation of human rights norms is not limited to words — it is also reflected in Human Rights Watch’s support of campaigns to further isolate Israel, from the academic boycott in the United Kingdom to the commercial boycott of Caterpillar Corporation. Is this an example of the “legitimate criticism” that Fein is trying to justify?

Gerald Steinberg


NGO Monitor

Jerusalem, Israel

I commend Leonard Fein for exposing NGO Monitor for acting on the belief that “the best way to defend Israel is to condemn anyone who criticizes it.” As Fein explains, that belief underlies in particular NGO Monitor’s obsession with Human Rights Watch. The fixation arises not because our reports are especially problematic — they are widely considered among the most fair and accurate around — but because they are so credible.

As Fein notes, Human Rights Watch has issued considerably fewer interventions on Israel than on any other country in the region, such as Iraq, Sudan, Egypt, Turkey and Iran — a fact that NGO Monitor repeatedly has tried to obscure. Still, like any credible international human rights organization, we do criticize Israel — and this has incurred the wrath of NGO Monitor.

That’s because, for NGO Monitor, there is no legitimate criticism of Israel’s human rights record, only efforts to “demonize” Israel. Its repeated pleas for “context” are thinly disguised excuses for abuse. Rather than seriously analyzing our detailed, carefully researched reports, NGO Monitor tries to dismiss them with allegations about their authors’ backgrounds. Even when the Israeli government acts on our reports — as, for example, the Israeli military did following our Jenin report and the Israeli Supreme Court did following a report on house demolitions in Rafah — NGO Monitor continues to insist that the reports are baseless.

Moreover, Israel’s critics hate us almost as much as NGO Monitor does, though one would never know it from its Web site. Why? Because we put the lie to the claim that Israeli forces committed a “massacre” in the Jenin refugee camp. Because our condemnation of the anti-Israeli slander at the 2001 conference in Durban was reported in scores of newspapers around the world. Because our seminal report on Palestinian suicide bombing is unparalleled in its depth, unequivocal in its condemnation of these crimes against humanity, and central to a major effort that is under way to encourage governmental and civil society leaders in the Middle East to reject these tactics.

As Israeli abuses contribute to anti-Israeli sentiment in many parts of the world, it is no favor to the nation to pretend that all reporting on these abuses can be dismissed as biased. Fein has done Israel a service by moving the conversation back to more factual ground.

Kenneth Roth

Executive Director

Human Rights Watch

New York, N.Y.

The Right to Filibuster

I commend the Forward for its brilliant May 20 editorial regarding the current crisis in the Senate (“Crippling the Opposition”). The editorialist’s ability to put a historical perspective on the issue really shows it in clear terms.

Those Republicans who are willing to put their short-term partisan interests over the wishes of our Founding Fathers don’t deserve the honor of serving in such a high capacity. I am a Democrat, but I would be saying the same thing if my party was trying to eliminate minority rights in the upper chamber.

I am a firm believer in our government’s system of checks and balances, which is among the best in the world. Those Republicans who want to eliminate those checks and balances should be ashamed of themselves.

One day, the Republicans will be in the minority once again, and when they are they will want their right to filibuster — a right they and all senators present and future should have.

Steven Clayton

Ocean, N.J.

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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May 27, 2005

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