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July 15, 2005

Ignore Shoah Deniers

I take issue with a July 8 article on the Institute for Historical Review (“Holocaust Revisionists Take On Mideast Policy”), not because it was poor reporting but because printing it displayed irresponsible journalism.

A study of the psycho-social background of most Holocaust revisionists would, in all probability, find people who grew up as emotionally needy children who crave attention. Their hero, the discredited historian David Irving, had a father who was fighting against the Nazis and never came home — not because he was killed, but because he cut off all ties with his wife and family.

Clearly, the Institute for Historical Review’s director, Mark Weber, and his ilk just live for coverage, constantly seeking the spotlight for their depraved and gleeful torturing of our older relatives. It is for this reason that I think the Forward should not fall into their trap and provide them with the coverage that they want. Following publication of the article, the institute was gleefully bragging to readers of its e-mail newsletter about how they got into the Forward.

The proper thing to do is just ignore them. If the Forward feels that it must write about Holocaust revisionists, then leave out their names and those of their institutions. They won’t go away, but there will be fewer people attracted to them and less pain for our parents’ generation, which already has suffered so much.

Yair Nissan

New York, N.Y.

Being a Jewish Writer

In a June 24 book review of Derek Rubin’s anthology, “Who We Are: On Being (and Not Being) a Jewish American Writer,” Mark Oppenheimer asserts that I “consider the label ‘Jewish writer,’ insulting” (“A Good, Old-fashioned Argument”).

There is no basis for so gratuitous a statement. What I have said repeatedly is that I believe the phrase “Jewish writer’ to be an oxymoron suggestive of a primal conflict: the civilized restraint that characterizes the committed Jew pitted against the wilderness of the fiction writer’s imagination. Oppenheimer attributes insult where none exists.

Cynthia Ozick

New Rochelle, N.Y.

Students Act on Darfur

One of the most heartening developments in the Jewish community’s work on behalf of Africa has been the activism of Jewish college students as individuals, as campuses and internationally (“African Poverty Surging on Communal Agenda,” July 8). Young people have embraced the Darfur crisis with the same energy as previous generations opposed apartheid in South Africa or supported the struggle for civil rights in the United States.

A key activist in galvanizing the campuses has been Ben Bixby, the past president of Georgetown University’s Jewish Students Association, who worked with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience to create Students Take Action Now for Darfur. With 80 chapters in 24 states and six Canadian provinces, Stand has promoted an aggressive campaign to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur.

Students have invested a great deal of creativity in support of Darfur. At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, student Anna Thompson organized Hillel’s Students United for Darfur Awareness Now. The group set up a mock refugee camp where students spent the night handing out information, collecting signatures for a petition and selling green bracelets.

Texas Hillel’s Darfur awareness group, the White Rose Society, launched a petition to gather 40,000 signatures signifying the number of Darfurians killed in the genocide. New York University’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life hosted a “freedom Seder” in the park, bringing together 100 students for discussion, speakers and reflection on the genocide in Sudan. The Bronfman Center later hosted a show of art created by Darfur refugee children. The display was featured prominently and positively in The New York Times.

And in mid-May, five students from the Claremont Colleges conducted an 11-day road trip up the coast of California and back down through the Central Valley to promote Darfur awareness in high schools and synagogues and among legislators. The students collected more than 1,500 signatures for a petition against the violence in Darfur.

In short, the list of local campus activities on behalf of Darfur is long and inspiring. Although the Sudanese government has shown itself to be resistant to change, international pressure is the only way to save lives in Darfur — and our students know it.

Avraham Infeld

International President

Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life

Jerusalem, Israel

Raise Interfaiths’ Sights

A July 8 editorial on the Jewish Outreach Institute’s study of interfaith children goes beyond standards that the Forward itself set during the debacle of the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey (“Welcoming the New Jews”).

As I recall, the NJPS’s sponsor, United Jewish Communities, was stoutly criticized by the Forward not just for failing to bring forth the survey on time, but also for all the methodological infighting that took place among the Jewish demographers it had hired. Imagine what the Forward would have written if the results of the NJPS — which were based on thousands of in-depth interviews — were reported as resulting from 90 self-selecting respondents with only 30% of them considering themselves “Jewish by religion.”

Whether the Jewish Outreach Institute’s study was worthy of a front-page news article is questionable, but the extended editorial space given to the survey went beyond my understanding of what the Forward is promoting as meaningful Jewish identity. Surely seeing a Jewish movie or going to a Jewish book fair, as some of the respondents indicated, falls short of transmitting a Jewish identity to their children.

It almost seems as if the editorialist failed to read the rest of the Forward. Embedded in those pages — in every story, article, review, notice — is the entire rich panoply of Jewish life in America: its values, its problems, its arguments and much, much more.

There is no need for the Forward to applaud the harmful minimalist approach to Jewish identity embodied in the study. Better to raise the respondents’ sights — send each of them a complimentary subscription to the Forward.

Irv Kaufman

Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Revisit Orthodox Poll

The dilemma posed by polls is not so much the bare statistical results, but rather what to make of them. It is on this plane that I suggest that a July 1 article on a poll commissioned by Yeshiva University falls wide of the mark (“Orthodox Disagree With Other Jews on Gaza Pullout, Iraq War”).

The article contains two sets of comparisons of the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox communities in the United States. One set, played down in the headline and by its positioning in the latter portion of the article, lists the areas in which these two groups agree, such as opposition to sharing Jerusalem with a Palestinian state, wariness of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’s ability of to rein in terrorist groups, high approval ratings for Prime Minister Sharon and support of President Bush’s policies toward Israel.

Instead, the article emphasizes those areas of disagreement, such as the effect of the Iraq War on the security of the United States and Israel, and the pullout from Gaza.

On close analysis, the more critical divide seems to be between Jews in Israel and non-Orthodox American Jews. For example, as the article points out, 80% of the Orthodox Jewish community in the United States has a favorable view of Bush, and 81% of the Israeli respondents are of like mind, but the non-Orthodox community in the United States views Bush’s policies with varying degrees of negativism.

And, finally, the question remains: “So what?” What is the significance of these poll results? The article seemingly implies that the increasing divergence of views between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities in the United States will somehow inhibit the ability of the two groups to work together on issues on which they agree. Nothing could be further from reality.

Julius Berman

Chairman, Board of Trustees

Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary

Yeshiva University

New York, N.Y.

‘Tell It On and On’

Opinion writer David Twersky offer a worthy tribute to the legacy of civil rights songs inspired by Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney by recalling the contributions of Richard Farina, Tom Paxton and Bob Dylan (“And the Choirs Kept Singing of Freedom,” June 24).

But one important figure is missing: Edith Segal, whose song “Tell It On and On” was also sung widely in schools, at meetings and at rallies. It concentrated less on the martyrs themselves and more on the anxiety of their families and friends, who were waiting to know: “Where have our brothers gone…? Tell their names and tell their story — tell it on and on!”

There is no mention of the song on the Internet, but it was issued, first on cassette and later on CD, on a recording entitled “Helene Williams Sings Songs of Conscience,” which also contains several songs by Edith Segal about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Leonard Lehrman

Via e-mail

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