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July 18, 2008

Lithuania’s Obligations

I find it both sickening and frustrating that the Lithuanian government still tolerates antisemitism (“Europe’s Shameful Honoring of Vilnius,” July 4). I was in Vilna the day the neo-Nazis mentioned by opinion writer Rabbi Andrew Baker made their march down Gedimino Prospekt. I did not know about the march until the next day, but I did find out from other people that the police did nothing to stop the march.

This is not really too surprising when one considers the fact that the city’s main post office allows the sale of blatantly antisemitic materials within its walls. That is not information I am getting secondhand. I saw and handled the material myself in a shop which is inside the post office. The same shop, under the same owner, has been there at least 10 years. It is not like the postal officials could possibly be unaware of what the owner sells.

Lithuania has been free for almost two decades. I have seen with my own eyes buildings which sit empty that belong to the Jewish community. The building which served as the ghetto library sits vacant and has for years. On the site of the Great Synagogue sits an ugly kindergarten. This is so even though the Lithuanian government approved an architect’s model to replace the school eight years ago.

How much longer is this affront going to be allowed to go on? Lithuania is a member of both NATO and the European Union. When is it going to be required to live up to its obligations?

The only thing that will help the Jewish cause in Lithuania is direct confrontation. How has the Jewish community benefitted so far from going with hat in hand to ask for what is rightfully theirs?

Wyman Brent
San Diego, Calif.

God and Kashrut

The East Village Mamele’s acceptance of rabbinic statements that the reason for kashrut “is because God said to do it” bows before authority to avoid controversy (“A Kosher Dilemma,” July 4). What is the “it”? Where does God say to be kosher? And when? And to whom? Where is kashrut defined in the Bible?

The idea of kashrut developed over centuries, attended by much rabbinic commentary. There is no single place where God says, “Do it.” Nor is there a commandment to eat meat.

The whole problem can be simplified: Just follow the commandment in the Garden of Eden: “I give you every seed, herb and green thing for food.” We know what the “it” is here, what God said, to whom God said it to, and where He said it.

Roberta Kalechofsky
Marblehead, Mass.

Ethiopian Immigration

I don’t claim to have any special knowledge of the validity of claims advanced for Falash Mura (“Funding Runs Out for Ethiopians,” June 20). But concerning the waning enthusiasm within Israeli society for the rescue and absorption of that remnant wishing to claim Jewish ancestry and thus, legitimacy, one thing is certain: Hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union have been brought to Israel over the decades, and the discontent, lack of integration and unwillingness to serve in the military more than a few of them have exhibited cast a very long shadow of doubt.

The reservations and attendant lack of certainty within Israel about the merit of absorbing still more immigrants, therefore, are quite legitimate.

Allen Tobias
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Set Up Charter Schools

To Michael Steinhardt and the movement to establish Hebrew-language charter schools, I’d like to say “hear, hear” (“Charter School Effort Opens Rift on Civic Values,” June 20).

As is the case with many Jewish families, our local day school was out of reach financially for our two children; even with scholarships, tuition at traditional day schools can add up over the years to a heavy financial burden. If you also want your children to have the benefit of Jewish summer camp, the totals are simply more than most middle class Jewish families can afford.

We were fortunate to find an excellent charter school in Ann Arbor for our younger child. With small classes and a highly dedicated faculty, it has provided what is essentially a private school experience at public school prices. This has included all the special education accommodations our daughter needed.

Given the fact that the charter school model has important similarities to a day school, why should a focus on Hebrew not be added so that millions of Jewish families will have the option of an affordable school where Jewish children can study together Hebrew language and everything that pertains to Hebrew language? The overarching question here should only be how the Jewish community can put the largest number of Jewish children in real, daily touch with their heritage.

Here in southeast Michigan, as well as in nearby Toledo, Ohio, the Arab community has adopted a similar view, and at least seven Arabic-focused charter schools have already been formed. The Arab language focus charter school in Ann Arbor, in particular, is doing very well, with preschool through high school classes enrolling 450 students.

As at all charter schools, the enrollment is formally open to all and no prayer or religion is taught, thus justifying its operation with public funding. The reality (as at all charter schools) is that the school’s student body reflects the school’s charter — almost all students come from Arabic language backgrounds.

There is a smattering of Christian students and one Jewish family. Arabic and Arabic culture are taught daily. Its specialized nature accommodates the demand of its particular population.

But for Jewish children in Michigan, there are no charter schools that provide Jewish studies or Hebrew language, no Jewish teachers for role models and none where most of the other students are Jewish. The question is, why should a large American Jewish community, such as that of the Detroit suburbs and Ann Arbor, provide fewer educational options for Jewish children than an Arab community provides for theirs?

Lauren Mermelstein
Ann Arbor, Mich.


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