September 21, 2007

Israel’s Debt to Sudan

The suggestion by opinion writers Stephen Solarz and Rafael Medoff that Israel should welcome Darfur refugees for humanitarian reasons is a good one (“Create a Temporary Israeli Haven for Darfur Refugees,” September 7). I would suggest, however, that apart from humanitarian considerations, this would allow Israel to recognize its 25-year-old debt to Sudan for its assistance in facilitating the rescue and movement to Israel of close to 11,000 Ethiopian Jews.

In 1984 and 1985, I served in Khartoum as the refugee affairs counselor for the American embassy. At the request of both the American and Israeli governments, I joined with senior Sudanese officials to design and execute Operation Moses and Operation Sheba.

Had it not been for the help and support of dozens of Sudanese officials, hundreds and perhaps thousands of Ethiopian Jews would have died in squalid refugee camps in the Sudan. Many hitherto untold detailed accounts of this partnership of Americans, Israelis and Sudanese are revealed in Howard Lenhoff’s recently released book, “Black Jews, Jews and other Heroes.”

The brave men who decades back helped rescue the “Black Jews” are not among those fleeing Darfur. Yet by welcoming the Darfur refugees, the government and people of Israel will show their appreciation and respect for the forgotten righteous Muslims who put saving helpless victims ahead of religious, ethnic or geopolitical differences. It is fitting and proper that Israel now do the same.


Israel cannot and should not take the refugees from Darfur. The Israel of 2007 has far less of a capacity to let in people than the United States of 1939.

Anyone from Guatemala who treks through Mexico and claims refugee status in the United States should be refused, because they could have claimed refuge in Mexico. The same goes for those from Darfur. They can seek asylum in Egypt, and by passing through Egypt they betray themselves as economic refugees seeking a better life in Israel.


West Side’s Other Story

Stephen Whitfield writes cogently about the implications of the fact that the creators of “West Side Story” — Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Laurents — were all Jewish (“West Side Storied,” September 7). Yet he ignores the surely equally relevant fact — and perhaps more relevant — fact that all four were gay.

An article exploring and enlarging upon the implications that fact and its impact upon “West Side Story” might be well worth reading.


Especially at this holiday time, it should be added that the original Jewish inspiration for “West Side Story” largely survives in Leonard Bernstein’s score even though the original scenario was changed.

As I pointed out in the Forward in 2002, the famous opening three-note motif — a rising fourth followed by an augmented fourth — is a full-throated invocation of the call of the shofar — a tekkiah g’dolah.

This shofar motif is inextricably woven throughout the entire score — Bernstein himself, without revealing its source, maintained the entire score is based on this three-note kernel — which is why he never even tried to undo it. The overture is vivid tone-painting of terrifying Jew-baiting, for example, subjecting this shofar theme to being mocked and chased by the other instruments.

The song “Maria” is an obsessive variation on the shofar motif curled in on itself — also toying with the augmented fourth transforming into a perfect fourth, then reverting back.


Judge Deserves Credit

Judge Edward Korman deserves enormous credit as the architect and driving force behind the agreement by the Swiss banks to pay $1.25 billion to settle lawsuits brought on behalf of Holocaust victims and their heirs (“The Swiss Bank Claims Process Is Both Just and Thorough,” August 31).

Our August 17 opinion article was not intended to detract from Korman’s significant achievements, nor was it intended as a personal criticism of Korman or his handling of an individual case (“Swiss Bank Claimants Deserve Better”). Our purpose was to draw attention to failures in the implementation of the settlement that have resulted in unfair denials of compensation to many Swiss bank claimants.


On Chinese Esperanto

In 1981 I was employed jointly by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Chinese government to deliver a series of lectures on finance and economics at a newly established center in Dalian, Manchuria (“Crocodiling in Esperanto On the Streets of Hanoi,” August 24). My wife, who taught English in exchange for lessons on Chinese brush painting, visited Harbin, a provincial capital near the Soviet border, and took with her rice paper to trace the inscriptions on the gravestones of Harbin’s Jewish cemetery. Because China had a closed-door policy from 1949 to 1979, few people she met spoke English well, and all asked her if she knew Esperanto.

Many educated Chinese believed that the only way they could communicate with Westerners was through the acquisition of Esperanto, a language quite easy for anyone to learn, because the Chinese language, using 5 or 7 tones in speech and totally unfamiliar ideograms for reading and writing, was extremely difficult for Westerners to comfortably acquire. But another reason for its attraction to educated Chinese was that Ludwig Zamenhof took as his model for word formation the Chinese language.

During the start of the reform period, when my wife and I were in China, we saw more than a few magazines, newspapers and wall hangings written in Esperanto. In truth, though, the people reading and using Esperanto were elderly. The young then were interested in trying out their newly acquired English on non-Chinese strangers, believing its acquisition would further their careers.

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September 21, 2007

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