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June 13, 2003

Landmark Policy Fair

The American Jewish Congress finds it “profoundly troubling” that the federal Department of the Interior has issued a new policy that will treat all historically landmarked buildings, whether secular or religious, neutrally when it comes to grants for preservation repair costs (“Group Pans Church Grant,” June 6).

While there would be justifiable concern were federal funds used for the preservation of clearly religious objects such as Torahs or church altars, the notion that public funding support for window, facade or plumbing repairs may be granted to all kinds of landmarked buildings except religious ones is clearly discriminatory. This would favor secular institutions over religious ones.

A recent survey by the National Trust for Historic Preservation found that the average historic congregation faces up to $2 million of repair costs. If America wishes to preserve historic sites for future generations, we must include all historic sites and religious congregations should not be expected to bear that cost by themselves. Neutrality and non discrimination toward religion is a principle that the entire Jewish community should support.

Nathan Diament

Director of Public Policy

Orthodox Union

Washington, D.C.

Clear Healthcare Goal

It is unfortunate that the healthcare reforms that have been proposed so far by the Democratic presidential candidates do not address the core structural problem of our healthcare system (“Dems Propose Variety of Plans To Reform Healthcare,” May 30).

There is nothing wrong with incremental approaches, as long as we are clear that the goal is universal coverage for all Americans. Employer mandates or incentives and tax credits for health insurance will not get us there.

What will achieve universal coverage are single-payer plans such as “The United States National Health Insurance Act,” introduced this year by Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. Under this plan, overall healthcare spending will be reduced by $50 million, payroll taxes will be reduced to 3.3%, 95% of families will pay less for healthcare and every person living in the United States would be covered. What will be removed are the inefficiencies of insurance company administrative costs, marketing and paper work that bog down the current system.

Robert Kestenbaum

Executive Director

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring

New York, N.Y.

Define ‘Jewish District’

In a May 23 article on the Texas redistricting scandal, Democratic Rep. Scott Hochberg is quoted as lamenting that after the last redistricting, “We were all put into essentially non-Jewish districts” (“Texas Democrats See Jewish Seats at Risk”).

This is just silly. What exactly is a “Jewish district” anyway? Virtually nowhere do Jews represent a significant enough portion of the population in a legislative or congressional district to merit the name “Jewish district,” with the possible exception of a few New York City Council seats. Needless to say, Jews make up a proportion of Congress way beyond our actual numbers and the reason for this has nothing to do with “Jewish districts” and everything to do with the admirable proportion of Jews who dedicate their lives to politics. Powerful Jewish congressmen like Texan Martin Frost and Virginian Eric Cantor owe their position to hard work and dedication, not to a higher-than-normal proportion of Jews in their districts.

Since most of the Jews in Congress represent areas with a small Jewish presence, no redistricting plan is going to reduce the drive of the Jewish community to stay active in politics and will certainly not decrease “Jewish representation.”

Josh Kahn

Seattle, Wash.

Compassionate Kashrut

The recent challenge to shechitah, or kosher slaughtering, provides us with an opportunity to show the world what Judaism is really all about (“Britain Set To Deliberate Ban On Kosher Slaughter,” May 30)

To do so we must make a clear distinction between the timeless principles of Judaism and the historical means by which Jews have lived them. The rules of shechitah, and the training of a shochet, or ritual slaughterer, center around protecting animals from unnecessary suffering. Given the technology available to our ancestors, shechitah was, all irony aside, humane. Of course, one might argue that true compassion would mean becoming vegetarians. I agree, and I am. But if we are still going to kill animals for food, the Torah says that we must do so with as much compassion as possible.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Auschwitz’s Legacy

For four-fifths of his June 6 opinion column, Leonard Fein feelingly describes President Bush’s visit to Auschwitz (“Bush’s March Of The Living”).

Then, incredibly, Fein segues into tongue-clucking about the war in Iraq, and concludes with an obscure admonition about war-mongering. What is his point? Surely one lesson of Auschwitz is that the Hitlers and Saddam Husseins of this world should be stopped sooner rather than later; the display cases of the victims’ artifacts are hardly an argument for forbearance in the face of monstrosity. Fein was moved by the sight of pacifiers collected at Auschwitz. Is he unmoved by the reports of the mass graves of Iraqi children? Would he have chided Presidents Roosevelt and Truman over German lives lost as we liberated Germany?

Is Fein’s point simply the reflexive, mental flinch of one unable to accept the implications of the display cases at Auschwitz, and thereby prepared to accept their successors?

Maynard Thomson

Cleveland, Ohio

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