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September 25, 2009

With Ehud Olmert, What Could Have Been

Your September 11 article “Hidden in Olmert Indictment Are Charges That He Swindled U.S. Jews” reported that pro-Israel organizations allegedly “unwittingly ponied up tens of thousands of dollars in false travel expenses for Olmert that he used as a personal travel fund for himself and for his friends and family.”

An alleged example of this conduct occurred in June 2005, when Olmert was in New York when he was a vice prime minister in the government of Ariel Sharon. That month, Olmert spoke at separate fundraisers for the Israel Policy Forum, of which I was then president, and Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, and is alleged to have double-billed his travel expenses.

The Forward story says that Jewish groups have adopted a “silence policy” toward Olmert’s alleged billing practice, but suggests that this silence could come to an end if some of these groups’ officials are called as potential witnesses for the prosecution.

If by chance, I am one of those called as a witness, I would be compelled to testify as to the amount the IPF paid for Olmert’s travel. But I would also not hesitate to speak as a character witness for the defense, if asked, and testify about the courage Olmert displayed when he was vice prime minister and then prime minister as he sought to bring about peace and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians.

The words he spoke to IPF in June 2005 still echo in my ears: “We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies.”

Alas, who knows what could have been?

Seymour D. Reich
New York, N.Y.

Nothing Wrong With Promoting Judaism

I was appalled by your article “Birthright Alumni Center Tied to Haredi Outreach Group” (September 11).

First of all, the Jewish Enrichment Center is not Haredi or “ultra-Orthodox.” JEC is simply a Jewish organization that hopes to reconnect young Jews with their heritage and enable them to be literate in their own religion (which most young Jews are not even close to today). Yes, they would like to expose their participants to a traditional Jewish lifestyle, which the vast majority have never witnessed (but which is the way that most of their great-grandparents lived their lives). And they do encourage young Jews who attend their programs to marry other Jews and raise their children in a Jewish home. With half of Jews intermarrying and a dismally low birthrate among Jews, what’s wrong with that?

It is very telling that Michael Steinhardt, who I do not believe is very observant himself, directed funding to JEC. He obviously understands the approach that will work in keeping Jews Jewish.

What is the point of spending such large sums of money having Birthright participants get a free trip to Israel if it does not inspire them to perpetuate our religion?

Arlene Ross
Forest Hills, N.Y.

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