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May 11, 2007

Ex-Chief Rabbi’s Words Are Essentially Sorcery

Rabbi David Ellenson opines about Orthodox rabbis in Israel who are saying that Reform Judaism is the cause of the Holocaust and who refuse to give legitimacy to the Reform rabbinate (“Obscene Orthodox Hatred Demands a Clear Denunciation,” May 4).

This pains Ellenson — as it should — since he is the head of the Reform movement’s seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

But this Orthodox rhetoric does not trouble me. My rebbe, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, would say about pronouncements like those of Mordecai Eliyahu, the former Israeli chief Sephardic rabbi, that they are essentially sorcery — neither theology nor history, but rather the equivalent of witchcraft, magic or the occult.

And I say that pushing a Reform rabbi out of a memorial ceremony is nothing more than sheer bullying.

So, if these Orthodox rabbis want to be known as sorcerers and bullies, they have my blessing. But in my eyes, they are no longer rabbis.

Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy
Teaneck, N.J.

Catholics Steer Clear Of Evangelical Pastor

Pastor John Hagee has certainly reached out to the Jewish community, which is good (“As Evangelical Firebrand Hooks Up With Federations, Liberals Speak Out,” May 4). But whether his support for Israel has ulterior motives is a question that needs to be answered.

I will say this much: The Catholic League has long tracked Hagee’s relentless anti-Catholic bigotry, and we will have nothing to do with him — even on those matters in the culture war, such as abortion, where we agree.

The Catholic League is proud to stand fast with Israel, and Jews should know that we harbor no biblical agenda.

William Donohue
Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights
New York, N.Y.

JDC’s Critics in Russia Are Not Just ‘Exceptions’

For nine years I was an employee of the St. Petersburg office of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and I was able to see very closely the negative transformation of the Joint’s Jerusalem-based Russian department. In the early 1990s it was a creative and enthusiastic organization that partnered with Russian Jews and supported indigenous projects. But the department’s proclaimed goals were slowly overshadowed by a growing tendency toward authoritarian bureaucracy, lack of respect for local people and direct governance instead of partnership.

I resigned from the Joint in 2002 because I did not want to participate in the destruction of our community, which had been built with much difficulty.

Unfortunately, in the five years since I resigned, these tendencies have only increased, leading to the situation reported in an April 20 article (“Model Community in Russia Revolts Against Aid Agency”).

It is a pity that in an April 27 letter to the editor responding to that article, the Joint’s executive vice president presents those who have criticized the organization’s operations in St. Petersburg as being a “few exceptions” (“JDC Stays Accountable”).

It is just not true that the Joint’s new Yesod center is “used by hundreds daily, morning through evening.” In reality, the extremely expensive Yesod building has been empty most of the past two years. Some events are organized only for missions from the United States.

The Yesod is an obvious example of mistakes in the Joint’s planning. Such mistakes are the inevitable result of undemocratic decision-making and of the absence of dialogue with local leaders.

When highly professional local leaders of Jewish organizations in St. Petersburg go public with their complaints, it is obviously not an attempt to hide anything, as is suggested in the Joint’s letter to the editor. It is an attempt to make it clear that the situation must be discussed and solved without surgery and poison.

Most American Jews do not read Russia’s Jewish newspapers, and they know next to nothing about what is happening on the other side of the globe with the money they have donated. Hopefully the light of glasnost, of openness, will help stem these negative developments and provide for fruitful dialogue between the Joint and local Jewish communities in Russia.

Natalia Gordina
Formerly Deputy Director,
St. Petersburg Office
American Jewish
Joint Distribution Committee
St. Petersburg, Russia

I was surprised and saddened by the response of the Joint leadership to an April 20 article about the situation in St. Petersburg. As a longtime observer and student of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union, I can testify that the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center is one of the most vibrant, creative and innovative Jewish organizations in Eastern Europe.

The center runs a wide range of activities, such as the renowned Klezfest festival, that benefit not only St. Petersburg Jews but also Russian-speaking Jews around the world. The center’s unique library and its bibliographical magazine are indispensable for anyone who is interested in what is going on in today’s Russian-Jewish culture.

The center’s premises — which are located in the most prestigious part of the city, two steps from Nevsky Prospect — are always teeming with people of different ages who come there for Yiddish and Hebrew classes, art exhibitions, concerts, lectures or simply to hang out with fellow Jews. It is truly remarkable that such a small place can offer with a modest budget such a diverse variety of services.

The impact of the St. Petersburg Jewish Community Center on Jewish life cannot be measured in square feet or in dollars — both of which seem, in my humble opinion, to be utilized in a most efficient manner — and I can only plead with the Joint leadership not to discontinue their support of one of the finest Jewish institutions in Russia.

My fear is that the new and expensive Yesod center, located in a faraway and rather depressed area of the city and run by cold Soviet-style apparatchiks, can never replace the genuinely haimish atmosphere of the old Jewish community center.

Mikhail Krutikov
Assistant Professor, Slavic and Judaic Studies
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Mich.

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