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October 3, 2008

Rally Leaders Failed Us By Excluding Palin

I recently attended a Holocaust studies conference where the overriding theme was the failure of Jewish leadership and the Jewish establishment while the Holocaust in Europe was raging. The failure of Jewish conscience and unity — along with the obstructionism of the U.S. State Department and Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s acquiescence — contributed to the success of the Hitler extermination plan.

On September 22, I attended the anti-Ahmadinejad rally in front of the United Nations (“Rally Against Iran Becomes Political Firestorm,” September 26). Once again, there was a failure of Jewish leadership and of the Jewish establishment. Once again, there was lack of unity, leading to a disgraceful, cowardly and rude disinvitation given to Sarah Palin, telling her not to attend the rally, where one expected to hear her voice raised against a nuclear Iran.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, representing some 50 leading establishment Jewish groups, failed the Jewish community. By deciding to disinvite Palin, when Senator Hillary Clinton withdrew — for whatever reasons — and turning this critically important protest into a parve non-political gathering, the overriding message was very clear: The Jewish establishment only cares about power and position, not what is best for the Jewish community.

Tragically, the Jewish leadership ignores the warning in George Santayana’s statement, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Helen Freedman
New York, N.Y.

This past April, Senator Hillary Clinton explained in a television interview what she would do as president if Iran were to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon: “I want the Iranians to know that if I am president, we will attack Iran.” She further stated that the United States “would be able to totally obliterate them.”

While I would have preferred for Senator Clinton not to have canceled her planned appearance at the recent Stop Iran rally, we should remember that she has been a staunch friend of our community and a leader in the Senate in working on behalf of Israel’s security and welfare. Her extraordinary words about Iran — as stated policy of a presidential candidate and of an important member of the Senate — are worth at least as much as an appearance at a rally.

Rabbi Menachem Genack
Englewood, N.J.

I cannot believe that the organizers of the Stop Iran protest bowed to pressure because Hillary Clinton got peeved. Neither can I believe that not having political figures in attendance is going to further the goals of the gathering. After all, who but the political powerhouses are going to be able to do anything that needs to be done to prevent Iranian threats?

Bill Mann
South Pasadena, Calif.

For Many, Government Aid Is a Necessity

Poor people, needy families and the elderly don’t want to ask for help buying food, obtaining health care and housing, or for job training and child care. The current economic climate has thrust many working families and once independent senior citizens into desperation. I admire Noam Neusner, but his September 19 column, “Our Economic Echo Chamber,” is evidence that he is unaware of the raw need that too many Americans — yes, even American Jews — are experiencing.

Let me state at the outset that my organization, the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, has remained on very good terms with the Bush administration and is proud that the president and first lady have generously contributed personally to us for the past five years in a row. In my conversations with the president, I have stressed our commitment to trying to help every client become independent if possible and for those who are too frail, young, old or disabled, we seek to improve their quality of life. He was moved by the leveraging and comprehensiveness of our programs, including our kosher food pantry network (the largest in America, serving more than 13,000 households per month) and job training, housing, home care and crisis intervention.

Nevertheless, as important as personal contributions are, as well as the support of foundations and the vital help of UJA-Federation of New York, it would be impossible to do our work without government. Everything we do to help find jobs for thousands of people each year has its foundation in government funding — and it is money well spent. The affordable housing we build or renovate is funded with at least 90% government money and supplemented via generous contributors.

The Jewish community is enormously generous to causes large and small. We are obligated to care for the weak, lift the fallen, heal the sick and free those in captivity. We are a community that is very much in touch with the hard reality of economic life and choices people have to make such as paying the rent or buying food or medicine. We do not have a “Jewish group … devoted to making the case for free market economics,” as Neusner clamors for, because we are proud that we are a compassionate America.

William E. Rapfogel
Chief Executive Officer
Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty
New York, N.Y.

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