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June 27, 2008

Sobibor Wasn’t Polish

A June 13 Shmooze article on Holocaust-themed graphic novels refers to Sobibor as a “Polish extermination camp” (“Comic Explores Shoah”).

After a relatively long absence of such mindlessly insulting and history-falsifying nonsense, we were shocked to again find it again in print — and all the more so in a Jewish newspaper like the Forward.

Any time a newspaper labels a Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland as “Polish,” it devilishly switches the perpetrators and the victims. These historically false simplifications take the blame off of the Nazis and put it on others — specifically, us Poles.

I am quite aware of the unfortunate ambiguity of the English language, which may define “Polish death camps” as camps that are geographically located in Poland. But at the same time, people of limited or no knowledge about the atrocious German genocide machine might fall under the false impression that death camps of that era were Polish — that is, devised, built and operated by Poles.

Krzysztof Kasprzyk
Consul General
Republic of Poland
New York, N.Y.

Obama Group Diverse

Contrary to what the Forward reports in a June 20 article, the Jews for Obama project has no board, advisory board or fundraising goal (“Jewish Democrats Rally Around Obama”). Rather, all these belong to Kahal America, a nonprofit issues-advocacy organization that sponsors Jews for Obama.

Kahal America advocates for fresh approaches, rooted in core Jewish ethics, to many of our country’s most pressing issues, including healthcare, education, economic policies, the environment, civil rights, national security, Middle East peace and foreign affairs. Kahal America sponsors Jews for Obama because we believe that Senator Barack Obama’s positions on these issues are in alignment with the Jewish mandate to repair the world.

Kahal America and its Jews for Obama project is also not “a group of Jewish Democrats,” as the Forward reports. Several of the group’s founders are unaffiliated with the Democratic Party; some are Independents, while others have voted Republican in the past. The goal of Kahal America is to build a big tent in which American Jews from diverse political and denominational affiliations can feel comfortable working together for a more just America that preserves the freedoms and opportunities that have enabled American Jewry to flourish here.

Gidon Remba
Kahal America
Washington, D.C.

School Open to All

We would like to set the record straight about the purpose of a Hebrew-language public charter school that we are helping to develop in Brooklyn (“Charter School Effort Opens Rift on Civic Values,” June 20).

The goal of the school is to teach students from a wide range of backgrounds about a rich, dynamic language and culture that is part of the city’s social fabric — the same goal being pursued by dozens of other dual-language public school programs in New York. That is why we are proposing to locate the school in Community School District 22, which is home to a highly diverse student population.

Based on the experience of other dual language programs in the city, which have drawn large numbers of students from other ethnicities, we fully expect to attract a kindergarten-to-5th grade student body that is every bit as diverse as the district. And we are thrilled by the prospect of black, white, Hispanic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and new American immigrant children learning together about tolerance and cultural diversity, as well as Hebrew and the core academic subjects.

One of the reasons we chose the charter school structure was precisely because its admission requirements guard against concerns about separatism and discrimination. New York’s charter law requires us to encourage and accept students of all backgrounds and select students based on a lottery if the school receives more applications than seats. Moreover, the law requires charter schools like ours to focus on serving students at-risk of academic failure, and this responsibility is central to our elementary school’s mission.

Our role model in this case is the Hellenic Classical Charter School in Brooklyn. In addition to teaching Greek and Greek culture, the Hellenic school offers a challenging academic program that is focused — as we are — on preparing students to be life-long learners and to thrive in a globalized, interdependent environment. Not surprisingly, the Hellenic school has succeeded in attracting large numbers of students who are not Greek — in fact, the overwhelming majority of students there are African-American.

All of this should assure Forward’s readers that the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School will reflect and advance the best ideals of pluralism and integration of America’s public education system.

Sara Berman
Proposed Hebrew Language Academy Board of Trustees
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Charles Capetanakis
Proposed Hebrew Language Academy Board of Trustees
Hellenic Classical Charter School Board
Brooklyn, N.Y.


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