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October 22, 2010

The Belarus Jews’ Story Continues

Judith Matloff’s article, “The Last Shtetl Jews of Belarus” in the October 15 issue, is a moving account of a genuine human tragedy. However, her conclusion that “[w]hen these last people pass on, so will 350 years of vibrant Jewish tradition in Belarus,” is unwarranted.

In fact, alongside these individual stories, there is also the story of the rebirth of Jewish life among young people in post-Soviet Belarus. The World Union for Progressive Judaism, of which I am a vice president, is proud to be involved in this historic renaissance, along with the Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel and World ORT, and in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, the Breslauer-Soref Texas Foundation, Central Synagogue of New York and other supporters.

We are about to open a center of Reform Judaism in the old Jewish quarter of Minsk. Our three congregations in Minsk include a congregation of young adults, and one for hearing-impaired people and their families. We have congregations in nine other communities in Belarus as well, including Vitebsk, where our youth groups from around the former Soviet Union eagerly take part in the Purim festival organized by the Jewish Agency each year.

Our congregations in Belarus have more than 3,000 members, and held more than 40 bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies during the past year. This summer, 180 young people took part in two Reform summer camps in Minsk — the 20th year we are holding these camps.

The story of Jews in Belarus is far from over. In fact, this chapter may turn out to be the most exciting yet.

Gary M. Bretton-Granatoor
New York, N.Y.

My father was born in Belarus and came to the U.S. as a boy in 1922. His parents lost contact with relatives whom they left behind when they stopped hearing from them during World War II. However, I was heartened to find that there is an organization that helps people in Eastern Europe who went through the Holocaust and are needy survivors. It is the Survivor Mitzvah Project ( Other charitable and humanitarian organizations can only do so much in these difficult economic times, and this project can assist in giving much needed aid to fellow Jews who have suffered so much and are sick, old, and alone.

Jeannie S. Miller
Allentown, Pa.

A Better Rabbi Search

My knowledge of anti-trust law pales next to Barak D. Richman’s (“Rabbi Searches Are Tough, But Are They Illegal?” October 8). For the most part, though, I do not think it matters as much whether the Conservative movement’s placement procedures comply with the law of the land, as much as whether the process keeps Conservative Judaism attractive to its current and potential constituents.

In the last generation, membership in the movement’s congregations has decreased. For a fundamentally hierarchical system so dependent on the efficacy of the rabbis who occupy pulpits across North America, the manner in which professional talent gets distributed will undoubtedly be part of the movement’s legacy.

The writer expresses the same reservations that I had when I served on a search committee in the 1980’s. Our congregation, a medium-sized one just beyond a major metropolitan area, was sent the resumes of decent people whose stars had crested. We really would have preferred a diamond in the rough a few years after ordination, who would have been delighted to come to a place like ours, but first had to do time in rabbinical Podunk. There were a number of Reform-trained rabbis who would have made our sanctuary sparkle, but could not be recruited.

The Rabbinical Assembly may have a restricted monopoly, but Conservative Judaism does not. If anything, being manipulated destroys loyalty. Professional regulations of this type can only bring forth expression of traits that the Conservative movement would be better off without.

Richard M. Plotzker
Wilmington, Del.

A Double Standard on Bigoted Speech

While the firing of CNN host Rick Sanchez for his anti-Semitic remarks seems appropriate, as noted in the October 15 editorial, “Chilling and Routine,” it points to a double standard in the media. Commentators and political leaders routinely make bigoted statements against Arabs and Muslims, usually without consequence. For example, we hear that the “Ground Zero mega-mosque” is a “triumphal mosque on a site of Islamic conquest,” to quote Pamela Geller from an August posting on her blog, “Stop Islamization of America.” Also in August, Newt Gingrich compared Islam to Nazism. In November 2006, Glenn Beck said the first Muslim elected to Congress should “prove” that he is “not working with our enemies.” Such statements are based on prejudice and falsehoods, and are probably more insidious than anything said by Sanchez. The difference is that our society does not tolerate anti-Semitism, but continues to tolerate anti-Muslim bigotry. Our society — and especially the Jewish community, which has often been on the receiving end of such hate — should know better.

Jason Dzubow
Washington, D.C.

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