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April 4, 2008

Spitzer Story Was No More Than Tribalism

Boy am I relieved; it turns out that Eliot Spitzer wasn’t really Jewish after all (“Fallen Eliot Spitzer Was a Favorite Son of a Tribe He Never Quite Embraced,” March 21). Thank you to the Forward for publicly kicking him out of the community, so that now we no longer need to feel any collective guilt.

“He was more WASP than he was Jew,” the Forward quotes one Democratic political consultant as saying. “He was much more comfortable in Princeton than in an Orthodox synagogue.”

Gee, that only describes about 80% of American Jewry. Dov Hikind chimes in by saying that the name Spitzer “might’ve been the most Jewish thing about him.” But, of course, Hikind would probably say the same about most of us.

And Spitzer’s own definition of his upbringing — “both parents who raised me were more observant than I have been” — only describes most of the Jews I know.

Still, now is a perfect time to question Spitzer’s Judaism, instead of, say, before the scandal — when it would have been actual news and not just sad Jewish tribalism at work.

Scott Egolinsky
New York, N.Y.

Veterans Group Still Has a Strong Presence

The Forward was invited to the opening of an exhibit in our National Museum of American Jewish Military History devoted to commemorating a most important event in the history of the Jewish War Veterans and the American Jewish community: the 75th anniversary of the JWV-led march in New York City to protest the rise of Adolph Hitler in March 1933, the first such Jewish organized protest against Nazism in the United States (“Jewish Veterans’ Group Struggles To Retain Relevance,” March 21).

The Forward dismisses the exhibit in half a sentence, and then goes on to depict the JWV as a dying and irrelevant organization in the Jewish community. JWV is a strong and vibrant member of such groups as the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. We participate fully in their deliberations, as well as with the other veterans’ service organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans.

Our organization reaches out to the current members of the military. Perhaps they were unable to attend the opening of our exhibition because they are currently busy serving our country, as have generations of Jewish service people before them.

Lawrence Schulman
National Commander
Jewish War Veterans of the USA
Washington, D.C.

If the Forward wants to see just how relevant the Jewish War Veterans organization is, it ought to come out west. The Department of Southwest is the most visible and relevant veterans organization in Arizona, and is at the forefront of veterans causes.

We raise more than three times the money to help disabled and homeless veterans than all of the rest of the veterans’ service organizations in Arizona.

Mel Brody
CommanderDepartment of Southwest
Jewish War Veterans of the USA
Scottsdale, Ariz.

Help Improve Housing Options for NY Poor

It is a good thing that the Orthodox Union is organizing a showcase for 14 “out-of-town” cities, citing affordability as a main factor in convincing more New York families to move to their towns (“High Cost of Living Leads Orthodox To Look Beyond Borders of New York,” March 28). However, it does point to the extraordinarily high cost of housing and living in New York. It also highlights our community’s failure to find affordable options for poor and working poor Jewish families in this region.

In New York City, 226,000 Jews live at or below 150% of the federal poverty level (approximately $28,000 for a family of four) with another 104,000 living with an income of less than $38,000 (we call them the near-poor). These are families that struggle desperately to pay their rent and basic costs of living and do not have the financial security to move across the country in search of lower housing and living costs.

The Jewish community must do more than serve as real estate agents for member synagogues across the country, essentially farming out those who can’t make it here in New York. By joining Mayor Michael Bloomberg in advocating for a higher poverty standard in New York City to reflect the higher costs of living here, we can improve the options and quality of life for the poor and near-poor New Yorkers.

It is incumbent on each and every one of us to engage in fundraising, advocacy and volunteerism to help those in our city who are needy. The O.U. showcase highlights the sky-high rent problem; now it’s up to us to focus on the needy in our Jewish community.

William Rapfogel
Executive Director/CEO
Metropolitan Council onJewish Poverty
New York, N.Y.

Kiryas Yoel in upstate New York is viable because it’s close enough to Manhattan so that the men can bus to the 47th Street diamond district and other places in the borough. New Hempstead — with its expansive homes, many occupying more than an acre — is a step up from Monsey with its attached houses and apartments.

Observant Jews are taking modesty into account in opting to live together in places in New Jersey like Passaic, rather than in ritzier mixed communities like Teaneck.

As for the San Francisco Bay area, San Diego and Seattle, they may offer other things than New York, but is affordability one of them?

Jeffrey Blustein
Livingston, N.J.

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