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May 18, 2007

Comprehensive Reform Needed on Immigration

Poll after poll after poll released since November 2006 shows majority support for immigration solutions that include enhanced border security, workplace and employer enforcement, earned legalization for undocumented immigrants with a path to citizenship, and expanded visas for future immigrant workers and families (“Cease Citing Bible To Defend Bush’s Immigration Bill,” April 27). Obfuscating this fact with an argument that we immigration advocates rely too heavily on the Bible does a disservice to the healthy discourse about how to best fix America’s immigration system.

Several major polling organizations are seeing similar results. In April, USA Today/Gallup found that 78% of Americans favor allowing immigrants who came to the United States illegally to apply for citizenship if requirements are met. The same month, CNN/Opinion Research found that 77% of Americans favor a program that would allow illegal immigrants already living in the United States for a number of years to stay in this country and to apply for American citizenship if they had a job and paid back taxes. And in March, a New York Times/CBS News poll found 59% of Americans to believe that illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years should be given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status.

Clearly, most Americans have come to the same conclusion: that truly comprehensive immigration reform would combine a path to citizenship for the current undocumented population after paying reasonable penalties and meeting reasonable criteria, realistic numbers of visas for new immigrant workers to fill jobs in the United States, labor rights protections for immigrant workers, strict enforcement of the law to stop bad-apple employers from circumventing the system and backlog reduction for families waiting to be reunited. When all is said and done, if America does end up with the kind of comprehensive approach we advocates are working for, it would fulfill both the public’s desire for a real solution and the biblical injunction to love the stranger.

Gideon Aronoff
President and CEO
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
New York, N.Y.

Status Quo of Affiliation Now Being Challenged

We agree completely with opinion writer Hal Lewis’s concern about the future long-term involvement of young people in Judaism, but disagree with his analysis (“Increasing Affiliation Requires More Than Sabbath Yoga,” May 4).

Data show that most people who affiliate with synagogues attend them only sporadically and most Jews simply don’t belong to synagogues. Synaplex is a response to this serious issue and is designed to increase synagogue involvement of both groups.

Today, more than 160 synagogues are implementing Synaplex and getting at least twice the participation they achieve on a regular Sabbath. These preliminary data bode well for the Jewish future, as do the work of individual rabbis and the experiences of other similar national and local synagogue efforts.

The current model of synagogue affiliation is one that requires new solutions for people of all ages. Changes in family structure and mobility, as well as generational shifts in attitude about joining institutions, interfaith marriage, cost and other factors are challenging the status quo of affiliation — a term that also misses the many ways in which Jews are involved in Jewish life that never gets captured in many standard kinds of surveys of “affiliation.”

Synaplex is an adaptable methodology enabling synagogues to incorporate recent findings about Jewish identity and the insight that people grow and change over time. The question is, will people grow out of synagogues, or will synagogues grow with them as they progress through the normal developmental stages of life?

While Lewis paraphrases H.L. Mencken in his analysis of how to involve upcoming generations in synagogue life, it’s more helpful to paraphrase our sage, Hillel, and engage in a respectful debate about how innovations within and outside of the institutional community can keep people from straying from it.

Rabbi Hayim Herring
Executive Director
STAR: Synagogues Transformation and Renewal
St. Louis Park, Minn.

Lawsuits on Insurance Claims Not Precluded

A May 4 article might give readers the mistaken impression that legislation introduced in Congress to help survivors recover insurance policies would conflict with previous agreements by the United States government (“Bill To Aid Survivors Could Undermine Settlements”). To the contrary, the Holocaust Insurance Accountability Act of 2007, co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of senior members of Congress that includes Democrats Robert Wexler and Henry Waxman and Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Eric Cantor, would fill in serious gaps in the operation of previous deals.

The article quotes Stuart Eizenstat, President Clinton’s special representative on Holocaust-era issues, as saying that the United States “reached agreements which precluded future lawsuits” on insurance claims. The American government, however, made no such agreement, and lacked the legal authority even to try.

A simple reading of the texts of the agreements would confirm that the United States attempted no such maneuver. Eizenstat’s book recounting the negotiations explains that he and the Justice Department fully understood that the government could not legally agree to preclude individuals’ insurance claims against private companies and did not try to do so.

Congress clearly has the power to enact the Ros-Lehtinen-Wexler legislation under the foreign commerce clause and its authority to legislate federal court jurisdiction. Moreover, court decisions, including rulings by the Supreme Court, have noted that Congress had been silent on Holocaust-era insurance claims, prompting the legislation now moving forward.

Far from undermining prior settlements, the proposed legislation would — at long last — allow survivors and heirs to proceed as principals, with the protection of American laws and courts, in the quest for a full accounting of their families’ insurance legacies.

Samuel Dubbin
Miami, Fla.

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