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December 5, 2008

When Nonprofits Fold For the Wrong Reasons

I am troubled by remarks made by Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, in your November 21 article “Not-for-Profits Brace for Trouble.” He said, “I think you’ll see some small nonprofits fold, or at least go into a holding pattern. Given the tens of thousands of Jewish organizations, if a few don’t make it out, it’s not going to be a tragedy.” I don’t mean to single out Tobin, as I’ve heard similar sentiments in other quarters, including recently from a member of a prominent philanthropic family.

I agree it is not generally a “tragedy” for the Jewish community if some nonprofits cease to exist (though it is for those organizations and the clients they serve). During normal times there are valid reasons nonprofits “fold” that are indicative of a well-functioning social infrastructure: Their missions are largely achieved; they employ ineffective or outdated techniques; or, in the estimation of the donor community, they no longer provide sufficient value to justify the investment required. I in no way advocate preventing nonprofits from disappearing; self-perpetuation is not sufficient justification for their existence. But these are not normal times, and we must consider more closely which nonprofits won’t “make it out,” and for whom it will be a tragedy.

It would be a tragedy for the Jewish community as a whole if the heightened mortality of this period of economic turmoil disproportionately affected those nonprofits whose work holds the greatest value for future generations, even if they do not exhibit the fatal behaviors mentioned above. The tragedy would be wholesale disinvestment in promising groups for reasons unrelated to their effectiveness, completion of mission or return on investment. Such sectoral rotation by philanthropists threatens the quality of the Jewish world we will bequeath to our descendants.

Martin Kaminer
Bikkurim: An Incubator for New Jewish Ideas
New York, N.Y.

Evangelicals Deserve Thanks, Not Ridicule

Eli Valley’s November 14 cartoon “Evangelical Zionist Tours of Israel!” presented Christian Zionists as duplicitous, hate-filled fools, spouting horrible words that, as far as we can see, no Christian would ever say or, for that matter, think. The cartoon suggested that Christian Zionists think Hitler “was fulfilling God’s will,” desire to bomb the Dome of the Rock and enjoy the suffering of others. In short, it presented as fact every negative, untrue, stereotype we have ever heard about Christians, while inventing a few of its own.

We were horrified! That cartoon is as bigoted toward members of another religion as any antisemitic cartoon or work of literature that ever sought to present Jews as a money-hungry, power-grabbing, unmerciful people. As Jews, we have been the subject of bigotry and racism for millennia; God forbid we should practice that sort of horrifying bigotry toward others. How would we feel if a Christian newspaper published something equivalent about Jews?

And to make matters worse, the horrid things that cartoon suggests are being said, and published, in a Jewish newspaper, about a group of people that has consistently, and dramatically, gone out of its way to support both Israel and the Jewish people. Perhaps a little reality check is in order here: Jews make up a mere 2% of the population of the United States, while Evangelicals make up more than 25%. The fact is consistent, heartfelt Christian Zionist support for Israel — combined with their very real threat to vote out any politician not seen as standing with Israel — may be the biggest reason American legislative bodies consistently support Israel.

We believe you owe our Christian neighbors a major apology.

Marty and Barbara Levin
Philadelphia, Pa.

The portrayal of Evangelical Christians in Eli Valley’s cartoon “Evangelical Zionist Tours of Israel!” is not only unfair and dehumanizing, it is inaccurate. The couple depicted in the cartoon are portrayed as reveling in racist violence as, for example, they admiringly show a staff member at Yad Vashem a picture of Hitler with the words “Servant of the Lord” written on it or gleefully snap pictures of an animatronic “holocaust” of Jews and Muslims. The message of the cartoon is clear: Evangelical Christians are despicable people whom Jews may legitimately hate because, after all, they crave our deaths.

The most empirical, rigorous social scientific studies of regular church-attending Evangelical Christians — precisely the kind who might be interested in a visit to Israel — demonstrate that they are one of the most altruistic groups of Americans. For example, Syracuse University’s Arthur Brooks found that devout Evangelicals (along with other highly observant Christians and Jews) are far more generous than other Americans. They are overrepresented among donors to secular charities, to blood banks and even to homeless beggars. Harvard’s Robert Putnam finds among such people one of the few groups left still eager to donate their energies and hours to civic causes. University of Virginia sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox even discovered that devout Evangelical fathers are more sensitive to their wives and spend more time with their kids than do mainline Protestants or secular Americans. They are also less likely to be violent.

Do Evangelical dogmas of supersessionism and the organized conversion efforts of a few of their groups offend me as a Jew? Absolutely. But I don’t mistake them for racism, as the cartoonist apparently does. (Who imagines Evangelicals dubbing Joe Lieberman a “pasty-skinned Jew”?) Are there antisemitic Evangelicals? A 2005 Pew study found 6% of white Evangelicals had an unfavorable opinion of Jews (compared to 11% of seculars). But condemning an entire group of people based on the vices of a few is pure bigotry — exactly what the cartoon purports to denounce.

Stephanie Muravchik
Claremont, Calif.

The cartoon you featured recently about Christians in the Holy Land is one of the most offensive things I have ever seen in print. I am a Christian, whose dad, uncles and aunt were in World War II, and fought at great risk for the freedom of the Jews in Europe. Many times, I myself have had very heated discussions with some members of my Presbyterian Church over the fate of the Holy Land. The Presbytery tends to be pro-Palestinian in outlook.

My husband is from Europe and has seen firsthand what is now taking place in many countries that belong to the European Union, where there has been an uptick in anti-Jewish bigotry. I am sure that you are aware of this. It would seem to me that you would be thankful for Christians who still hold to the truth that Israel is part of God’s plan and that you are his chosen people. But I guess not! It seems that instead we are held up as objects to be ridiculed.

Michele Mitchell
Casa Grande, Ariz.

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