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December 5, 2003

Abuse Issue Examined

Ten years ago, the UJA-Federation of New York convened a group of human services professionals to determine what needed to be done about spousal abuse in the Jewish community — a long-denied issue that is a stark reality for far too many Jewish women and children (“Open Our Communal Eyes to Spousal Abuse,” November 21).

Out of this meeting emerged the UJA-Federation Task Force on Family Violence. During the last decade, the task force has guided the development of an integrated, collaborative and far-reaching array of services that address the complex needs that these families present, and has worked to educate the community in the hope of preventing its occurrence.

Much of this work is supported with communal dollars. We have had some wonderful partners in the rabbinic community, but we clearly need more from all the religious streams. Transforming cultural norms presents a great challenge, but there are growing numbers of Jews, community members as well as professionals, who recognize that abuse should not and must not be tolerated. Much has yet to be done, but we are proud of the consciousness we have raised and the progress we have made in helping so many to take back their lives.

Anita Altman

Founder, Task Force on Family Violence

UJA-Federation of New York

New York, N.Y.

Hope for ADL’s Future

I believe the Anti-Defamation League, as well as the Jewish community at large, is very appreciative to have a leader such as Abraham Foxman as head of one of the most important Jewish communal organizations in America (“Leaders Urge ADL to Plan for Future After Abe Foxman,” November 28).

Foxman not only speaks out on issues relating to antisemitism and human rights, he has also been a great spokesperson for the State of Israel.

He pays special attention to the infrastructure and professional leadership at ADL. I am confident, if and when Foxman makes the decision to leave, he will leave the ADL with very strong professional and lay leadership. My hope is that he will stay in his position for many more years. We in the Jewish community need him.

Marvin Lender

Woodbridge, Conn.

Off-step on Flamenco

Dance critic Joseph Carman’s November 21 column is typical of the romanticized nonsense that is becoming more and more frequent in Spain, about the supposed connection between old Jewish music and flamenco (“Aaiieee! Uncovering the Jewish Roots of Flamenco”).

While they certainly share musical traits common to many areas of the Mediterranean, there is no basis for supposing any kind of direct connection. Flamenco as heard today is not as old a form or a style as people would like to think, for one thing; and for another, the contact between Jews and Gypsies in the late Middle Ages — when the Gypsies were arriving and the Jews would be formally leaving not that long afterward — was probably very minimal, even if there probably is some truth to Gypsies helping some Jews hide and get across the Portuguese border safely.

Furthermore, as an ethnomusicologist I take issue with the claim that “Santangelo has traced one of flamenco’s roots to a pre-Inquisition song called ‘Romance,’ whose melody and rhythm are still performed regularly on flamenco stages.”

A romance, pronounced ro-mán-ssey, is a genre, not a song. It is a narrative ballad with a certain structure. It was first documented in writing in 1421, so existed at least some time before that. There are hundreds of romances, some of whose words are indeed pre-Expulsion and many which are from later periods. But we have no music documented for these poems from that time; the melodies to which they are sung are all from later on.

Judith Cohen

Toronto, Canada

Frank Routine Tasteless

I am a reasonable person. In fact, I am a reasonable Jewish man. I like comedy and satire as much, if not more, than the next guy. I also understand that satire sometimes encompasses poking fun at and ridiculing things that we hold dear. But comedian Jon Hayman’s ridicule of Anne Frank most definitely crossed a line that deserves not to be crossed (“Comics Take Sides in Rift Over Anne Frank Jokes,” November 21).

Is Hayman really so desperate for material that he has to ridicule Frank — or all Jewish women, for that matter? Fellow comic Ron Zimmerman was not much better in his response to Hayman’s routine. He intended to provoke another professional in his industry by reading in public anti-Jewish revisionist rhetoric. What’s with that? My 14-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son were so offended they decided to stop watching their favorite show, Zimmerman’s “7th Heaven.”

I applaud Annie Korzen for being so brave as to stand up to industry leaders, potentially risking her own career to defend the honor of the Jewish people. My children could look to Korzen as a role model and to Hayman as an example of what not to do. In fact, I can’t help compare the selfless actions of Annie Korzen to the bravery of Queen Esther. Perhaps we should thank the producers of “Sit ‘n’ Spin” for providing us with an update of the Purim story. Is it a coincidence that the villain here, ready to degrade the Jewish people, is named Hayman?

Robert Young

Sharon, Mass.

Re-evaluate Institutions

The Forward offers a useful classification system for Jewish communal institutions in its November 14 Giving section, but fails to draw any conclusions about their executive salaries beyond noting that they are “usually not too different from those at non-Jewish charities of comparable size and structure” (“Comparing Apples with Apples When It Comes to Executive Pay”).

The Shefa Fund, which was ranked No. 1 this year by Charity Navigator among Jewish not-for-profits, promotes the idea that Jewish organizations be evaluated for how well they fulfill Judaism’s economic and social values — rather than for how well they match up to American norms of conduct for non-profits. Organizations defined by values of covenant, stewardship, mutual responsibility, obligatory tzedakah and sustainability would not be rattled by the prospect of being held accountable by funders. Instead, accountability would be built into their structures — and funders would experience their participation as an exercise of Jewish spirituality and identity.

Jeffrey Dekro


Rabbi Mordechai Liebling

Torah of Money Director

Shefa Fund

Philadelphia, Pa.

Keeping Kids Jewish

A November 7 letter writer argues that interfaith couples may interpret active promotion of in-marriage as disapproval of their relationships and may therefore feel rejected by the Jewish community (“Concern on In-Marriage”).

That is certainly not the intent of the programs of the Continuity Committee of the Jewish Federation of the North Shore of Boston, whose tagline is “Helping to keep our children Jewish.”

Our programs seek to reduce the alarming decline in our numbers through education and through the elimination of monetary barriers to activities that are critical in imprinting a Jewish identity in our youngsters. Our approach to interfaith couples is to welcome the non-Jewish partners to our community and to make it easy for the families to rear Jewish children. We do this through outreach to the intermarried and through educational programs offered to them and to the community at large. Some of those programs emphasize the need to express our collective gratitude to non-Jewish parents of Jewish children for their commitment and sacrifice in raising Jewish children and for enriching us with their membership in our community.

On the other hand, we do promote in-marriage. We offer free conversion classes and free conversions for existing or prospective parents of Jewish children. It seems to me that interfaith couples that are truly committed to a Jewish future for their offspring should realize the rarity of their circumstance, embrace our policies and promote in-marriage for their own children.

Jacob Goldstein

Member, Continuity Committee

Jewish Federation of the North Shore of Boston

Lynnfield, Mass.

Coalition Open on Pact

A November 28 article draws a false headline from a false statement in its lead sentence, “One of the country’s largest anti-war coalitions has voted against endorsing an informal diplomatic effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” (“U.S. Peace Coalition Rejects Unofficial Israeli-Palestinian Pact”).

The following sentence in the article is more accurate in reporting that the vote was in fact made by the Palestine Working Group of United for Peace and Justice. The distinction is important.

United for Peace and Justice has not as a body voted on whether to support or encourage the Geneva Understandings. The Palestine Working Group, a small subcommittee which did vote against the resolution originally brought by The Shalom Center, asked for a revised version to be developed, and that one is now under serious discussion.

The Forward’s misstatement is important, for it helps to poison relationships between Jews who are searching for a just and stable peace in the Middle East and an end to President Bush’s disastrous misadventure in Iraq, and hundreds of antiwar communities and organizations of many different sorts.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow


The Shalom Center

Philadelphia, Pa.

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