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November 5, 2004

Shuls Without a Prayer

The picture of Szeged Synagogue mentioned in an October 29 article caught my attention, because my husband and I visited it in 2000 (“Built Judaism: How Synagogue Photography Opens Worlds”). The restored synagogue, with its cobalt blues and gold inlay, is truly awesome. I believe that Tony Curtis, the movie actor, paid for its restoration (that was what our hosts in Szeged told us).

However, I’m sorry to say it doesn’t function as a synagogue anymore, since there are either no or too few Jews to use or maintain it. Instead, it’s a community center. I don’t know how many of the other beautiful synagogues mentioned in the story have met with the same fate, but it’s important to know that these “synagogues,” restored thanks to the largesse of American donors, are now just municipal or nonsectarian buildings.

The Transylvanian city of Nagyvarad (as it’s known in Hungarian; Oradea Mare, as it’s called in Romanian) had at least three distinctive synagogues. None of them is in use — nor is the one on the road to Timisoara, which is being used by a farmer for his chickens.

Martha Fried Fleischer

New Canaan, Conn.

On Jewish ‘Peoplehood’

An October 29 letter writer argues for upholding the “fight” against intermarriage (“Without ‘Peoplehood,” Judaism Is Meaningless”). As the Catholic husband of a Jewish woman, I struggle for a response. On the one hand, we have made mutual respect for each other’s traditions a hallmark of our marriage. We observe each other’s holidays, and we travel frequently to spend time with our respective families.

On the other hand, I feel compelled to respond to the letter writer that my wife and I did not choose to marry based on the advice of a priest or rabbi, or to advance a social principle. Our relationship is based on mutual love, respect and devotion. I have to believe that Jewish society did not develop entirely in a homogenous bubble, and I hope that I am able to contribute, in my own limited way, to a proud tradition.

My wife and I look forward to the possibilities and challenges of raising interfaith children, teaching them to take the best of both worlds and forge their own identity. While it may look to the letter writer as the end of Jewish “peoplehood,” I can only see it as the beginning of something new and beautiful.

John Halski

New York, N.Y.

The Young Socialists

As an ex-City College, midday-lunchroom bystander of the early 1940s, when members of the Young People’s Socialist League and other enthusiastic classmates were bellowing their revolutionary views, I thought to add to Philologos’s interesting October 22 column (“YPSL Pride”).

Those noisy, left-leaning ideologues of the time did make a meaningful contribution to our sociopolitical structure, even if the American body politic did not completely embrace all their thinking. What was apparent then — as we were coming out of the severe depression and concluding that horrific war — is that when faced with major dilemmas, a society, if it is to survive, must risk experimenting with new ideas and courses of action. To some extent ours did, borrowing meaningfully from the socialists, labor unions and civil libertarians of the day.

Although not much remains today of that left-leaning sociopolitical entourage, they did contribute at the time, either directly or indirectly, and laid the basis for numerous worthwhile pre- and postwar corrective policies.

Sheldon Schaffer

Birmingham, Ala.

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