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April 30, 2004

Progressive Union Aims To Open Student Talks

The April 16 article on the lack of open debate on campus is a crucial reminder of the need for support of left-leaning Jewish students who wish to voice their opinions about Israel on campus (“Stifled Discussion Dampens Student Advocacy Efforts”).

To address this need, several progressive Zionist groups — Hashomer Hatzair, Habonim Dror, Meretz USA and the Labor Zionist Alliance — are launching the Union for Progressive Zionists. This network of student groups on campuses throughout North America will offer an alternative to the current campus dichotomy of pro- or anti-Israel by promoting a strong, constructive and critically engaged connection to Israel. The organization, which is already active on several pilot campuses, will be launched nationwide at the beginning of the upcoming academic year. It will bring together progressive students at a national conference, create a community through an activist listserv, provide students with speakers to bring to their campuses and connect them to progressive Jews in their communities.

In our work we have encountered many students who have simply chosen to tune out all discussion of Israel and to drop out of Jewish communal life because they were uncomfortable with the polarized options available to them on campus. Those students who try to open a dialogue by questioning the dogma of Israel advocacy groups or by creating their own progressive groups find themselves labeled anti-Israel or even self-hating Jews. Unless they are provided an alternative, the great number of Jewish students will lose all connection to Israel as part of their Jewish identity.

Aaron Wolfe

Hashomer Hatzair

Josh Cohen

Habonim Dror North America

Moran Banai

Meretz USA

Chaya Rubin

Labor Zionist Alliance

New York, N.Y.

Actor ‘Played the Jew’

I was intrigued by the April 2 article about the obscure, old-time film actor Max Davidson (“He Played the Jew, Perhaps a Little Too Well”). The only film I’d seen him in is a 1929 Our Gang talkie called “Moan & Groan Inc.,” a silly short in which Davidson chases the Little Rascals around a spooky abandoned house. He has one clever scene in which he serves an imaginary meal to Farina, who “eats” his food. I’d thought Davidson was portraying a “wolfman wannabee,” as my husband put it, and not a stereotypical Jew.

Ellen Levitt

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Survivors Deserve More From Restitution Body

Opinion writer Roman Kent of the Claims Conference indicts Jewish federations for abandoning Holocaust survivors over the past five decades, but avoids the real question: why does his organization, which is the central Jewish agency responsible for funding survivor social service programs worldwide, insist that other institutions shoulder more of the burden while it retains a valuable portfolio of property in Germany, controls a huge reserve fund worth at least $250 million, and continues to allocate 20% of its annual outlays to research, documentation and education projects (“While the Jewish Community Watches, Survivors Suffer,” April 23)?

These Claims Conference resources are the single largest source of potential funds to aid survivors. They dwarf any discretionary funds under the control of our federations, which — contrary to Kent’s sweeping claim — already allocate substantial and growing amounts of local funds to support survivor-related programs in our cities. Claims Conference assets also eclipse the unspent, leftover funds under the control of the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn that are now the subject of so much debate. All these sources together could truly address the need but there seems to be little will to do this.

Instead of using his leadership platform to pass the buck, it would be far more helpful if Kent threw his full effort into revising the outdated and inadequate priorities guiding the Claims Conference in recent years. New demographic realities and humanitarian necessities demand more openness, responsiveness and coordination from the lead agency on which survivors and the Jewish community depend.

Danny Kadden

Olympia, Wash.

The writer is a past consultant to the Holocaust Survivors Foundation USA.

Shoah Victims’ Welfare A Main Concern of UJC

The welfare of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust is of great concern to United Jewish Communities and the Jewish federations of North America.

UJC’s responsibility is to meet the most urgent needs of the Jewish people.

In a global environment in which limited philanthropic dollars are called to serve on numerous fronts at home and abroad, Jewish federations across the country maintain that the needs of Holocaust survivors here at home are a priority.

Jewish federations have developed and support a wide network of health and social service agencies that provide critical services to our Jewish elderly. Holocaust survivors are beneficiaries of these services. At least $15 million annually is allocated for survivor services from federation sources.

We are appreciative of the outstanding successes of the Claims Conference in negotiating restitution agreements and for providing dollars to help support federation-funded services for survivors in the United States.

There is no doubt that as the needs of survivors become more urgent, there will be increased spending to meet them.

Robert Goldberg


United Jewish Communities

New York, N.Y.

Online Activist Group Not Neutral on Mideast founder Wes Boyd is quoted in an April 23 article as saying, in regard to the Middle East, “We haven’t gone there because it’s so complicated” (“Republicans Gunning for Online Activist”).

The statement is simply untrue. Through most of 2003 the site had a long, ostensibly descriptive essay on the American-sponsored road map to peace. The essay opened as follows: “In July, 2000 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak broke off talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat at the Camp David summit hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton. That September, Ariel Sharon, chairman of the Likud party, made a provocative visit to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem.”

Not exactly what most observers would describe as a neutral, descriptive analysis — and it gets worse from there.

It is curious that Boyd denies the group has ever gotten involved in the politics of the Middle East. For an organization which is not so subtle in its charges as to the current administration’s candor, it does not lend much credibility to see such a blatant misrepresentation of the facts.

Michael J. Granoff

Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.

Maligned Campus Show A Watershed For Atlanta

I was thrilled that the Forward covered the recent Campus SuperStar show put on by Hillels of Georgia (“‘Campus SuperStar’ Sexes Up College Life With Song,” April 9). After reading the article, though, I wondered which event the Forward attended.

Virtually the whole article was spent snidely nitpicking about the details that the Forward didn’t like. That’s too bad, because Campus SuperStar was a watershed event for the Jewish community here in Atlanta.

On a cold Thursday night, more than 1,000 people showed up at a sold-out concert venue to watch a “campus” talent show. The event was so popular that the organizers had to turn away hundreds of people who wanted tickets.

The energy was electric and the audience was screaming and singing along with the contestants. After the event, I spoke with literally dozens of people who enjoyed it so much that they were asking about tickets for next year’s event.

In addition to being an incredibly entertaining night, it was very important for the Jewish community. Campus SuperStar raised more than $210,000 for Hillel. This money will help ensure that Jewish college students in Georgia can have a positive and meaningful Jewish experience on campus.

It’s unfortunate that the Forward didn’t like the set design or a contestant’s hairstyle, but it’s a real shame that the whole point of the evening was missed.

Darren Katz

Atlanta, Ga.

The writer was public relations/marketing chair for Campus SuperStar.

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