April 29, 2005
Review Lacks Context Of Ethiopians’ Rescue
Arts & Culture writer Amir Shaviv ends his April 1 review of Steve Spector’s meticulously researched book on Operation Solomon by attacking the activists who put the issue of rescuing Ethiopian Jews on the agenda of world Jewry, and who put their own lives at risk to get the Ethiopian Jews to Addis Ababa before the country would fall to anti-revolutionary forces (“Out of Africa: The Rescue of Ethiopian Jews”). Shaviv implies that his colleague at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Will Recant, and activist Susan Pollack are misguided and idealistic, and that they recklessly led many Ethiopian Jews to death in the hovels of Addis Ababa.
It is ironic that Spector, who gave a fair and balanced examination of the events of 1989-1991, came out with completely different conclusions. He considered the heroine of Operation Solomon, Pollack, the main person responsible for saving the entire Gondar Jewish community.
To be generous to Shaviv, perhaps he came to his views because of the way that Spector, by necessity, wrote the book. Spector purposefully focused on the last phase of the rescue of the Ethiopian Jews from Africa. It was an immense job, and I think all will agree he was thorough. Yet to fully understand the complexity of the issue, the motivations of the players and the roles that they played, one must know and understand the prior history of the rescue, which was started by Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1977. To get a complete story of the rescue of the Ethiopian Jews, we will need many Spectors to examine the related events of the years prior to Operation Solomon.
To use an analogy from biology, the challenge is like trying to interpret what is going on in a tissue from examining one microscopical cross-section of that tissue. Such limited examination can lead to a number of contradictory interpretations, all of which could be possible. The truth will not become apparent, however, until a series of such cross-sections can be examined, a series that shows the gestalt.
Shaviv takes Spector’s information-laden slice and condemns those who created the situation necessitating the heroic rescue by Israel. He neglects the rest of the big picture, applauding some of those who were silent and inactive when it was possible to save the entire community years beforehand without such loss of life and for much less money. Establishment leaders, executives and organizations could have acted at the right time, but for whatever reasons, chose to remain silent until it became fashionable to advocate the rescue of the Ethiopian Jews. They waited until after Operations Moses and Joshua in 1984 and 1985. Then it was not only fashionable, it was good fund-raising.
American Association for Ethiopian Jews
Reform Rabbis, Cantors Working in Partnership
After reading the April 15 article on the recent resolution of the Central Conference of American Rabbis on the relationship between rabbis and cantors, I had to wonder whether the Forward attended the same convention as I did (“Cantors, Rabbis Still Out of Tune, A Parley Shows”).
The Forward took what was essentially a discussion of semantics and nuance, and tried to turn it into a huge controversy and struggle for power. The reality is that the Reform rabbis and cantors are working in partnership more than every before, and the resolution we passed seeks to increase our cooperation for the betterment of our congregations. The article minimizes this reality, relying on “some movement insiders” to claim there is a struggle of heightened importance.
Isn’t there enough news in the Jewish world for the Forward not to resort to sensationalism and create a disagreement where none truly exists?
Rabbi Jeffrey Wildstein
Improving the Media’s Coverage of Genocide
Arts & Culture writer Gal Beckerman’s April 15 review of Laurel Leff’s book on the Holocaust and The New York Times was right on the mark (“Counting the Gray Lady’s Sins”). Genocide may be so overwhelming that not even the Holocaust “sticks to the ribs” — let alone the genocides that involve fewer murders. Of course The New York Times shirked its duty; the publisher’s concept of Judaism should not have influenced how Hitler’s behavior toward the Jews, as victims to be eliminated, should have been reported.
But deaths of such a magnitude, except for the victims, is hard for others to get their arms around, and to keep it there. The slow pace of agreement on the Canadian Museum of Human Rights as reported by the Forward in the same April 15 issue, only emphasizes the tyranny of too many deaths (“Controversial Canadian Museum Moving Forward”).
Perhaps the Canadians — and the rest of the world, too — must see these terrible events as a string of pearls, rather than a series of individual martyrdoms. All belong on the same string.
Genocide is simply too terrible to lose its significance only because numbers diminish our view.
Set Realistic Goals For Leaders Forum
While the April 22 article on the Israeli president’s plan to create a forum for Jewish leaders from around the world correctly quotes my concerns about inflated expectations surrounding such meetings, I do not count myself among those “resistant” to this conference, as the article implied (“Israeli President Set To Hold Parley On ‘Crisis Situation’ of World Jewry”). Bringing together 300 Jews, including many who have not previously been deeply involved in Jewish life, can weave a new network of relationships, galvanize interest around major initiatives and areas of needed focus, and facilitate the exchange of ideas.
What it cannot do is “solve” the long-term problems facing us. Hence, while I applaud President Moshe Katzav’s initiative for bringing together Israeli and Diaspora Jews to focus on long-term issues facing the Jewish people, we can only strengthen the outcome by setting realistic expectations.
Executive Vice President & CEO
UJA-Federation of New York
New York, N.Y.
Conference Needs More Informed Criticism
At a time when the global Jewish community is defending against a way of antisemitism and Israel is struggling with monumental decisions, the Jewish community needs to be more unified than ever, and this applies directly to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Unfortunately, the recent public criticism of the process by which the chairman of the Presidents Conference is chosen points to the need for reforming the process to help build this needed unity. This controversy was highlighted by the unfortunate words and tone of an April 22 letter to the editor (“Respct Conference’s Nomination Process”).
The letter writer vigorously defends the Presidents Conference’s nominating process and dismisses Abraham Foxman’s criticism of that process as based on a “lack of knowledge.”
There are two things wrong with the letter. The first is substantive. There are indeed serious flaws in that process, as Foxman suggested. We have laid out our concerns in a private letter to the Presidents Conference.
Second, and perhaps more important at this critical time for world Jewry, is the tone of the disagreement. The letter writer suggests that any one who criticizes the Presidents Conference is ignorant. Foxman may be many things, but ignorant of the facts of Jewish life is not one of them.
The letter writer is free to defend the process, but ought not to do so by dismissing fair and informed criticism as ill informed. To do so is to argue ad hominem, not to the merits.
Jewish life needs more informed criticism, not less. Jewish leaders ought not, by their choice of words, attempt to silence debate.
American Jewish Congress
New York, N.Y.