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April 27, 2007

Shoah Is Taught in U.K.

The British government and its citizens are anything but in fear of the facts when it comes to teaching about the Holocaust and the State of Israel (“Fear of Facts,” April 20).

Teaching the Holocaust is mandatory in all secondary schools in the United Kingdom. Education Secretary Alan Johnson has made it clear that certain subjects, including the Holocaust, will be protected in the British school curriculum. Holocaust education is something we take very seriously in the United Kingdom, and teachers will continue to teach the Holocaust to our schoolchildren in the future.

What’s more, the British government pays for two children from every school in Britain to visit Auschwitz every year and for thousands of children to visit the permanent Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London.

While we do not seek to interfere in the independent National Union of Journalists’ internal discussions, we disagree with their decision to boycott Israeli goods. The British government believes that, as a friend of both Israel and the Palestinians, we can best exert influence by encouraging both sides to take the steps needed for progress toward peace through close engagement. As far as Israeli goods are concerned, Britain will continue to trade with Israel, with which it has very healthy and growing commercial relations.

Sir Alan Collins
Consul General
British Consulate General
New York, N.Y.

It is irresponsible for any teacher to avoid teaching about the Holocaust — or about any subject they consider controversial — for fear of offending students. The role of the teacher is not only confined to distributing the facts, but also to enlighten, inspire and shape future generations’ attitudes. It is therefore both shocking and unacceptable for any teacher to choose to avoid teaching the Holocaust, an event that holds some of the most important lessons for humanity today.

However, it is important to be clear as to the situation in schools in the United Kingdom. The education department study cited by the Forward referred to one particular school that avoided selecting the Holocaust as a topic for its coursework. While this is clearly unacceptable, it is important to remember that it was only one school.

In England and Wales, it is compulsory for all students ages 13 and 14 to learn about the Holocaust. The example cited in the study referred to a course for older students in which they can choose which history topics they wish to study. There is absolutely no suggestion in the report that this — or any other — school is failing to cover the nationwide curriculum’s requirement to teach about the Holocaust.

This incident does, however, highlight the need for more stringent monitoring of Holocaust education.

Karen Pollock
Chief Executive
Holocaust Educational Trust
London, England

JDC Stays Accountable

While the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee may not be perfect — and has indeed occasionally been criticized by its beneficiaries — it certainly does not deserve victimization (“Model Community In Russia Revolts Against Aid Agency,” April 20).

As custodian of public funds, the JDC follows Western standards of accounting, transparency and accountability — practices recognized by both the Better Business Bureau and Charity Navigator. While process and procedures sometimes slow distribution to recipient organizations, they also prevent an unchecked misappropriation of funds into mysterious pockets.

The Forward cites leaders of four entities who claim to have difficulty with our procedures, but not by name. What do these leaders have to hide?

In one case, our audit determined that one of the cited program directors has been collecting thousands of dollars in tuition fees with no accountability for the collected funds. Should the JDC give this organization a blank check? I think not.

The Forward also compares the old Jewish community center’s $200,000 annual operating costs to the $1 million required to run the Yesod center we opened last year. While the numbers are valid, the Forward omitted a critical fact: the old center is about 2,000 square feet and used sporadically; the new, modern facility is 70,000 square feet and used by hundreds daily, morning through evening.

Furthermore, the old, dysfunctional center’s governance is inverted. Its founder appointed his own board, which then hired him as the organization’s director. This board now oversees his spending decisions. Is this accountability?

Ultimately the JDC, our federation partners and our donors should be proud. With our local partners in the former Soviet Union, we have sustained an important community dear to us. We have also witnessed an amazing rebirth of Jewish life, which allows Jews in St. Petersburg to enjoy a rich communal life. They — and not the few exceptions — are testimony that the JDC nurtured the right seeds to ensure a vibrant Jewish future.

Steve Schwager
Executive Vice President
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
New York, N.Y.

We are disappointed that the Forward implies that our recent decision to shift our funding for the Hillel program in the former Soviet Union was a result of some dissatisfaction with the JDC. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Our decision to direct our funding for the Hillel program in the former Soviet Union to Hillel is part of a larger strategic approach to the renaissance of Jewish life in the region, one consistent with the longstanding policy of the JDC to train and empower local people to run local projects.

For the past 12 years, Hillel has been operating in the former Soviet Union in partnership with the JDC and our foundation. The new structure, in which both the JDC and our foundation remain as part of a broader coalition, builds on that experience and collaboration and will consolidate all college-student outreach efforts among these groups into a newly-constituted Hillel structure with branches that will report directly to Hillel’s Moscow-based Russia regional director.

As part of the restructuring, all parties, including the JDC, agreed that it made more sense for us to start funding Hillel directly for the program and to begin holding Hillel to the same high standard with which the JDC has managed the project in the past.

Lynn Schusterman
Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
Tulsa, Okla.

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