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November 27, 2009

The Gender Gap Isn’t Only at the Top

The information contained in the November 13 article “Jewish Women Lag Behind Men in Promotion and Pay,” regarding the large discrepancy in pay and promotion between Jewish women and men in Jewish communal organizations, is not new. What is disgraceful is that there has been so little change in the field. In fact, the headline should have read, “What’s a Nice Jewish Woman Doing Working for a Jewish Organization Anyway?”

The article focused on women at the top but basically ignored the larger number in middle management and support staff roles who are truly underpaid with little opportunity for career advancement. From personal experience as a Jewish communal professional, I know that women who choose to work for Jewish communal organizations are just as dedicated, just as intelligent, just as well-educated and just as capable as their male co-workers but find themselves underpaid, under-appreciated and working longer hours and with a smaller staff than most of their male colleagues. They work evenings and weekends, despite the fact that many have families and homes to manage and many are single mothers.

One has to ask, what is it about our Jewish culture that it undervalues Jewish women so cavalierly. Why has so little changed? How many more studies do we need to effect serious change in the field? What would happen to these organizations if all the female employees decided to stay home for a week? Let’s see if the guys could manage without them. I doubt it.

Rosalyn Borg
St. Louis, Mo.

As longtime subscribers to the Forward, we wanted to comment on your November 13 front-page story “Jewish Women Lag Behind Men in Promotion and Pay.” We appreciate the extensive amount of research that enabled such a comprehensive story. We also applaud the passion expressed in your accompanying editorial (“Gender Negotiations”) about this disgraceful gap in pay between men and women that continues at Jewish organizations in this so-called age of enlightenment.

However, we believe you missed an opportunity to make another observation that, to us, screams for attention. How could you have not commented on the gross levels of compensation these executives enjoy? With 17 individuals in your survey getting salaries above $400,000, 13 between $300,000 and $400,000, and 15 more in the $200,000 to $300,000 range, there is clearly an over-the-top salary structure that should be extremely embarrassing for these nonprofit organizations to see in print. We understand that responsible people at the top of important organizations should be properly compensated. But, in the depth of the Great Recession of 2009, such bloated salaries are obscene!

These compensation levels, which are likely only the tip of the iceberg of pay for other executives in these organizations, make us inclined to reconsider our level of giving the next time a solicitation request from any of them comes our way.

Elaine and Arnold Cogan
Portland, Ore.

There Is a Monument To Lisbon’s Massacre

I am writing in relation to your wonderful article on Richard Zimler in the book section of the October 30 issue (“Found in Portugal: World Famous Jewish-American Novelist”).

Jessica Siegel writes about the site of the 1506 Lisbon Massacre and reports that “walking the cobble-stoned streets of Rossio Square in the heart of Lisbon today, there is no sign that anything like that occurred.”

Actually, on April 2008, exactly 502 years after the massacre, the Portuguese Jewish community, the Catholic Church and the City Chamber inaugurated a monument on the site of the massacre (adjacent to the Rossio Square) that reads “in memory of the thousands of Jews, victims of intolerance and religious fanaticism who were murdered in a massacre that began in this square on April 19, 1506.”

Irene Shomberg
Forest Hills, N.Y.

Orthodox ‘Mores’

In his October 30 opinion article “Reframing Liberal Judaism,” Ben Dreyfus writes: “We need to eliminate the idea that Orthodox Judaism is more anything and liberal Judaism is less anything.” Of course he is correct, but for the liberal movements, the issue is not Judaism, but Jews.

There are many important and meaningful ways in which Orthodox Jews are, in fact, “more.” They are more likely to devote time to serious study of Jewish texts, and to be able to read them in Hebrew; they are more likely to provide a serious Jewish education to their children; they are more likely to visit Israel regularly, and even to move there; and they are more likely to marry other Jews. These are critical behaviors, and they should not be more characteristic of one denomination as opposed to any other, but the fact is that they are.

All of these “mores” are challenges to the liberal denominations, which are numerically larger, but which have not managed to create the same depth of attachment to Jewish history, tradition, learning and peoplehood among their members, despite (or perhaps because of) their philosophically modern outlooks, which give them access to millions of Jews for whom Orthodoxy is not a remotely serious consideration.

These movements have their own important “mores” to be proud of too — more women in meaningful religious roles and more engagement with the world around them, to name but two — but they have not figured out how to create enough adherents who care about their Jewish identity more than they care about their various other identities.

If the liberal streams are to survive as significant forces in shaping the Jewish future, and I hope that they do, they must figure out a way to duplicate some of the “mores” of their Orthodox brethren, but within the context of their own visions of authentic Judaism.

Neil W. Schluger
Millwood, N.Y.

Thank you Ben Dreyfus for your article “Reframing Liberal Judaism.” It reminded me of an instance about 17 years ago when I lived in Rockland County, N.Y.

I had written a letter to our local newspaper complaining about someone who purchased a home on our street and who had unmarked contractors convert the house to a shul in violation of local zoning laws. Attorneys for that person filed an action against everyone in the community who complained. Those of us named hired a local attorney (a member of a Reform synagogue) who interviewed us. I told him that as a religious Jew I objected to this flagrant violation of local zoning laws. A week later, the attorney sent me an affidavit that I was to sign. The affidavit said, in part, “As an Orthodox Jew, I feel….” When I called him to ask where he got the idea that I was Orthodox, he said, “You told me you were religious!” I tried to explain that being religious had nothing to do with being Orthodox. He just amended the affidavit, and I doubt he ever got the message.

I’ve also had fellow Reform Jews say to me, “Well, that synagogue is really Reform.” I think I know what they mean, but I’m really not sure.

We in the Reform movement have a truly positive message of what our Judaism is. We don’t need to measure it in terms of any other stream of Judaism. Nor do they in terms of us.

Wallace S. Nathan
New York, N.Y.

Fighting Campus Antisemitism Isn’t a ‘Right-Wing’ Issue

Your October 14 article “Controversial California University Refers Complaints About Muslim Campus Group to FBI” lumped me into the category “Jewish activists on the right.” My work at the Zionist Organization of America has been dedicated to ensuring that Jewish students who face Israel-bashing and antisemitic harassment are protected under federal civil rights laws. This is not a “right-wing” or “left-wing” issue.

By opening with this simplistic characterization, you immediately polarized the issue, virtually guaranteeing that those who see themselves as centrist or left-wing would read the rest of the article with a jaundiced eye. Applying a gratuitous label added nothing about the groundbreaking civil rights work that the ZOA is doing.

Your description of the ZOA-triggered government investigation into the University of California, Irvine’s response to campus antisemitism was also inaccurate. You stated that the investigation occurred in 2007. That is when it concluded, but it started in 2004. You stated that the investigation was “extensive.” It wasn’t. Despite our repeated requests, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights refused to interview all of the relevant witnesses. In fact, OCR did not interview a single UC Irvine official, or even visit the campus, for almost two years into the investigation — and it did so only after the ZOA complained to the then-head of OCR and pointed out that the agency’s own manual called interviews “integral” to its investigations.

You also stated that UC Irvine was “cleared of any allegations of discrimination or of failing to respond to students’ complaints.” In fact, there were a handful of incidents regarding which OCR concluded that the university’s response to antisemitic harassment was adequate (a finding not supported by the evidence and one basis of our pending appeal). But most of the allegations we made weren’t even investigated, because OCR concluded that they weren’t timely filed (a finding we’ve contested), or that they weren’t within OCR’s jurisdiction to decide.

In addition, you omitted the fact that in 2008, OCR initiated a second ZOA-triggered investigation into UC Irvine’s response to campus antisemitism. We’re still awaiting a decision.

Susan B. Tuchman
Center for Law and Justice
Zionist Organization of America
New York, N.Y.


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