November 26, 2004
Building Ties to Israel: A Priority for Movement
A November 12 article suggests an unawareness of the Reconstructionist movement’s connections to Israel through the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (“Reconstructionists Boost Focus on Israel”).
The Reconstructionist movement’s only rabbinical college requires that its students spend a year studying in Israel. Recently we more than doubled our Israel expenditures to ensure that the experience is positive, safe and fulfilling for the 12 students currently participating in the program.
Rabbi #[email protected], who graduated from Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in 1996, works full time as our director of Israel student services. Our program supports our students, as well as students from London’s Leo Baeck College – Centre for Jewish Education, a leading European rabbinical school aligned with progressive Jewish thought. In addition, we support a part-time academic adviser and two teachers who offer courses exclusively for our students.
Our goal is to help our students develop a significant relationship with Israel and its people through cultural, religious and social immersion. As the Forward correctly notes, Mordecai Kaplan, whose writings inspired the founding of the Reconstructionist movement, placed Israel at the
spiritual center of Jewish thought and experience. We believe that the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College’s Israel program, along with a new initiative suggested by a task force of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation to place Israel at the center of its priorities, will help ensure that this always remains the case.
Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
More Description, Less Opinion in Book Review
What is the point of a review that treats readers to the reviewer’s somewhat negative opinion of a book — among other things, bizarrely asserting that missing the Bible’s “humor” is perhaps the book’s “most important” shortcoming — while telling them very little about its contents (“How Jewish Is the New ‘Jewish Study Bible’?”, November 12)?
I assume that one of the main purposes of a review is to give readers enough information about a book to enable them to decide whether or not to read it, and it would be a real shame if Forward readers should conclude that Oxford University Press’s “Jewish Study Bible” is nothing special. It is one of the richest one-volume Bible commentaries ever published. It not only contains concise, illuminating, up-to-date annotations on the biblical text and a judicious selection of classical Jewish commentary, but also features expert essays on biblical religion and poetry, on the history of Jewish biblical interpretation from ancient times to today and on various types of interpretation (halachic, midrashic, medieval, modern, feminist). It also examines the role of the Bible in Jewish life and thought, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, in the synagogue, in philosophy and mysticism, and in Israel — not to mention dealing with the history of the biblical text and translations, the Bible and history, and much more.
I admit a certain bias in this matter because I was one of the 39 people who wrote parts of the volume, but since the Jewish Book Council gave the work its 2004 National Jewish Book Award for scholarship, readers don’t have to take my word.
Ellis Professor of Hebrew and
Semitic Languages and Literatures
University of Pennsylvania
Republican Silence On
‘Shylock’ Slur Troubling
In a November 19 article regarding the resurgence of the Shylock character, the Forward refers to an incident last year when a Republican political action committee’s Web site referred to financier George Soros as a “descendant of Shylock” (“The Return of Shylock”).
Although such an antisemitic smear of a public figure normally would lead to vocal criticism, there was remarkable and universal silence among Jewish conservative commentators and activists affiliated with the Republican Party. The response was similar to the discovery of President Nixon’s antisemitic ravings on his now-infamous White House tapes.
Jewish conservative reticence in the
face of antisemitic behavior by their Republican allies is deeply troubling and is symptomatic of a conservative form of political correctness. Apparently, the antisemitic remarks toward Soros were acceptable because of his steadfast and vocal opposition to President Bush. In contrast, if such an analogous smear had been posted on a liberal Web site against a supporter of the president, America’s conservative media echo chamber would have been full of critical quotes by Jewish conservatives decrying antisemitism. The use of ideological blinders by Jewish conservatives in the face of antisemitism by their political allies is an unhealthy development for our community and our country.
Resettlement Program In Kansas City a Success
Last month, the Forward reported on resettlement/acculturation efforts in Kansas City (“After 25 Years, Soviet Emigrés Still Strangers,” October 15). There is more to the story, however, than appeared in the article.
Since the late 1980s, our community has facilitated one of the most comprehensive and successful resettlement and acculturation programs in the country. From the beginning, our federation leaders laid out a detailed plan to provide for the influx of almost 2,000 émigrés. Hundreds of Kansas Citians donated household items, money and their time to welcome their fellow Jews. Jewish agencies throughout the city provided financial support to help integrate émigrés into Jewish life, and congregations adopted individual families, resulting in many long-term, close relationships. Most émigrés now consider themselves American Jews.
They attend synagogue and temple functions; they are enrolled in Jewish day schools, preschools, camps and religious schools, and participate in youth groups. Area students have won Judaic essay and art contests, as well as numerous other academic awards. College students from our community are participating in Hillel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and other Jewish and Israeli programs on campuses throughout the country. A group of professionals has formed the Émigré Leadership Institute, in partnerships with the Helzberg Leadership Institute, because they are eager to become part of our community by serving on boards and contributing to organizations.
Admittedly, not all people become involved in the Jewish community in which they live — but it is important to remember that this is true as much for American-born Jews as it is for émigrés.
Renana and Michael Abrams
Congregation Beth Shalom
Kansas City, Mo.
Congregation Ohev Shalom
Kehilath Israel Synagogue
Temple Beth Torah
Temple B’nai Jehudah
Kansas City, Kan.
Memories of Fairbanks, Ala., Frozen in Time
Thanks for the September 17 “Letter From Fairbanks,” which brought back memories of my time there (“In Alaska, a Real-life ‘Northern Exposure’”).
I was stationed at Ladd Air Force Base in Fairbanks from 1954 to 1956. The base no longer exists, but the entry gate was in town. As soon as you departed Ladd, you were in “downtown” Fairbanks.
During the time I was stationed at Ladd, Jewish services were conducted every Friday at 8 p.m. We had about 20 congregants each Friday night, and the Jewish civilian population was included. The number depended upon on who was not on duty that night. Services were generally conducted by members of the congregation. Occasionally the Jewish Welfare Board sent up a rabbi, but that only happened during the summer.
When we first arrived in Fairbanks, we received a knitted wool blanket, courtesy of the Women’s Club in St. Louis. I still have the blanket in my possession. The service personnel were also provided matzo and jars of gefilte fish for Passover by the Jewish Welfare Board.
I remember that we had a problem — a welfare board rabbi who said we could not light Sabbath candles at 8 p.m. in the summer. In fact, because of this we asked the Jewish Welfare Board not to send us any more rabbis.
We did perfectly well with our own ceremonies. Challah always was available, because one of the congregants was the baker for the base. He also taught my wife how to make bagels.