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May 9, 2008

Hold China Accountable

Opinion writers Antoine Halff and Shalom Solomon Ward question why China should bear the brunt of the Jewish community’s ire when India, Russia and Japan also import their share of oil from Sudan (“Enough Misguided Maligning of China,” May 2). But facts are facts.

China is Sudan’s largest customer. According to records from the Central Bank of Sudan, China took in 75% of Sudan’s total export in 2006, most of which was oil. Moreover, China has provided 90% of all small arms purchased by Sudan since 2004.

China has repeatedly used its position on the United Nations Security Council to help Sudan thwart all efforts to allow the full deployment of an international peacekeeping force in Darfur. Even when U.N. Resolution 1769, which authorized 26,000 peacekeepers for Darfur, passed last July, China held out until the Security Council dropped language threatening sanctions against Sudan if it did not comply. And it hasn’t.

Most of the peacekeepers still have not been able to deploy due to restrictions that Sudan’s president, Omar Al-Bashir, continues to place with impunity.

Meanwhile, China provides the money, weapons and the diplomatic cover Al-Bashir needs. Halff and Ward seem to argue that the Jewish community should pretend China cannot use its leverage to help end a genocide that has left 450,000 people dead and displaced another 2.5 million. They fear that if we speak out on this tragedy and call for our leaders to place accountability where it lies, we could fan the flames of a nascent Chinese antisemitism.

But “Never Again” is not about convenience. If it is to mean anything at all, it must be absolute.

Ruth Messinger
American Jewish World Service
New York, N.Y.

Rabbi David Saperstein
Director and Counsel
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Washington, D.C.

Forgiveness Not Asked

I did not ask for forgiveness at a recent Emunah of America event, as the headline to the May 2 On the Go column implies (““Daughter of Nazi Asks Forgiveness at Emunah Holocaust Memorial”).

Instead, at that powerful, unforgettable moment in time at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue I asked survivors, as well as their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, “Will you please rise so that I may humbly salute you on behalf of myself and my family.” There is quite a difference.

Asking forgiveness would be presumptuous, coming from me. I leave platitudes to German politicians who may or may not be sincere.

In 1951, when I was 9 years old, I encountered Willi Meyer, my first Jew. Willi offered a heart ready to forgive.

He was rejected and I, there and then, rejected my family and the German in me. From that moment forward my soul felt the loneliness that comes from knowing truth and not being understood by the world around. And this was repeated over and over throughout my life.

Why would I feel the need to ask blanket forgiveness? It is meaningless. I stood with the Jewish people since I was a child because it is right and just.

Liesel Appel
Asheville, N.C.

Jewish Life in Baltics

It was with great pleasure that I read of the release of the “YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe” (“Epic Encyclopedia Turns a Page in Study of Jewish Eastern Europe,” April 18). The two-volume set will have a place of honor upon the shelves of the Vilnius Jewish Library as a valuable research tool and reminder of what used to be.

At the same time, I am concerned that it will reinforce the belief among many people that there is now nothing Jewish to be found, especially in the Baltic countries. Having just returned from a five-month visit to Europe, spent mostly in Tallinn and Vilnius, I can say that Jewish culture is reviving.

There is a new Jewish synagogue in Tallinn led by the wonderful Rabbi Shmuel Kot. What a joy to attend the Friday evening services and to break bread and drink wine with the rabbi afterward. It was even more a joy to be there the night the rabbi walked in to announce the birth of his newest child. The synagogue sits next to a Jewish school, which one day his son will no doubt attend.

And in Vilnius, I met with the staff of the Vilna Gaon Jewish Museum and of the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, as well as with the director of a local Jewish school. There is Jewish life in the Baltics. Things can never return exactly to the way they were before the war.

However, it is past time to only remember Eastern Europe as a place which was. It is time to once again to help make them a place which is.

Wyman Brent
San Diego, Calif.

**Church-State Realism **

In the rush to meet the Forward’s publication deadline and the rapidly approaching Passover holiday, I did not fully make clear the position of the American Jewish Congress in regard to a lawsuit challenging Detroit’s urban beautification program (“Church-State Lawsuits Divide Organizations,” May 2).

The district court in that case held that churches, along with other establishments in central Detroit, could benefit from a program that paid the costs of building facade repairs, except that the city could not pay for repair of church bulletin boards or stained glass windows.

Contrary to what the Forward reports, AJCongress is not sitting out the appeal of that decision. We are currently in the process of preparing a brief supporting that decision.

AJCongress believes that, for better or worse, the district court gave those challenging the program as much as feasible under current law, which is not what we would want it to be. We believe that in the current judicial environment, the soundest course is to defend what is possible to defend, and not to seek from lower courts what those courts are powerless to give — namely, overriding Supreme Court decisions.

Marc Stern
General Counsel
American Jewish Congress
New York, N.Y.


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