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November 23, 2007

Protect Pakistan’s Nukes

Three cheers for a November 16 editorial on Pakistan (“The Bomb and the Taliban”). The most compelling idea that should inform our policy toward Pakistan is the urgent need to keep that country’s nuclear arsenal out of the hands of the Islamist extremists. That requires some stability, which rests, inter alia, on cooperation between a strong military and a strong executive branch.

Following talks with senior officials at the State Department and members in both houses of Congress in foreign policy leadership positions, I traveled last week to Islamabad for talks with President Pervez Musharraf and General Ashfaq Kiyani, who is slated to become chief of staff once Musharraf resigns his army position, as well as Cabinet ministers and intelligence officials.

There is no doubt that a return to democracy must be the ultimate goal for Pakistan, a goal Musharraf and the army leadership understand. But Pakistan must immediately cope with the dangers emanating from the Islamist uprising and continued pressure from all NATO countries to subdue the Taliban and Al Qaeda in the historically independent Pashtun areas along the mountainous border with Afghanistan.

The real choice we face is not between Musharraf and a return to an effective democratic system, but between Musharraf and the possible collapse of Pakistan. What must at all costs be avoided is, as the Forward points out, the “nightmare scenario… of nuclear weapons… coming into the hands of an extremist regime.”

Jack Rosen
American Jewish Congress — Council for World Jewry
New York, N.Y.

Yiddish Theater Growing

An otherwise commendable October 19 article on the Hebrew Actors Union erroneously claims that “the Yiddish theater is in decline” (“Battle Forming Over Jewel of Yiddish Stage”).

While it is true that the Second Avenue theaters are no longer in operation and that attendance numbers had been in significant decline throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the Yiddish theater has been enjoying a decade-long rebound. For each of the past several years, The Folksbiene has experienced a steady growth in audience attendance.

Last season, we hosted 30,000 patrons, compared with 20,000 just a few years before; we presented the Yiddish stage debuts of six professional actors under the age of 30 and presented two new original Yiddish musicals. Two of our past three seasons have seen Drama Desk Award nominations. Hardly what one would expect of a declining art form.

The Folksbiene is not alone in this growth trend. The demand for an even broader spectrum of Yiddish dramatic productions has led to the establishment of two new independent companies in the past three years. The New Worlds Theatre Project produced critically acclaimed productions of Peretz Hirschbein’s “Carcass,” followed by “The Amulet.” The Theater of the Diaspora has recently made its debut with “Yosl Rokover Speaks to God.” And Yiddish theaters in Warsaw, Montreal, Tel Aviv, Strasbourg and Bucharest have also experienced very successful seasons over the past several years.

There have been repeated hysterics about “the death of the opera,” “the death of the novel,” “the death of painting” and “the death of Yiddish theater” for longer than anyone can remember. Fortunately, we are all still here and feeling quite well.

Jeffrey Wiesenfeld
Chairman, Board of Directors
The National Yiddish Theatre — Folksbiene
New York, N.Y.

Door Open to Converts

Rabbi Marc Angel, a past president of the Rabbinical Council of America, writes that “the RCA leadership has capitulated to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate” (“Slamming the Door on Converts,” November 9). He claims that the result will be great pain and anguish for potential converts, while discouraging others from conversion altogether.

As past and current presidents of the Rabbinical Council of America, we can assure Forward readers that the RCA has neither capitulated to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate nor slammed the door on converts.

The Chief Rabbinate, for its part, has demanded nothing of the sort. Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar’s visit to North America was at the invitation of the RCA, and was carried out in an atmosphere of cooperation and genuine partnership.

Both the Israeli rabbinate and the RCA are fully in accord on the benefits of standardized conversion policies and practices, such as those embodied by the new RCA/Beth Din of America network of regional courts for conversion in North America. It is precisely the concern for facilitating acceptance of genuine converts in other Jewish communities by the adoption of halachically responsible and widely accepted standards, for minimizing anguish and undue burdens during the course of conversions, for allowing where appropriate for reasonable variations based on local circumstance and practice, and for maintaining comprehensive records and databases to the benefit of all concerned, that has brought about the new system.

Any RCA member will still be able to perform conversions independently — but, as in the past, without automatic RCA endorsement of his conversions. We prefer to let the facts speak for themselves, a harbinger of which can be seen by any concerned individual who wishes to review the already operative protocol for Geirus Policies and Standards. A fair reading thereof will show the new system to be at least as concerned for the sensibilities and acceptance of conversion candidates as the previous system whose demise Angel so laments.

Rabbi Shlomo Hochberg

Rabbi Kenneth Hain

Rabbi Hershel Billet

Rabbi Kenneth Auman

Rabbi Dale Polakoff

Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld

Past Presidents
Rabbinical Council of America

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