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June 27, 2003

Recognize Reform In Lutheran Church

I was disturbed to read in an otherwise cogent opinion column by David Klinghoffer some dangerous and morally dubious generalizations about Lutheranism (“Keep Taboo on Conversion to Christianity, June 13”).

It behooves us, especially in the shadow of Jewish historical experience, to at least fulfill Hillel’s dictum, “what is hateful to you, do not do to others,” and avoid skewed or partial prejudicial portrayals of others.

While it is indeed correct that historically Christianity generally distanced itself from its Jewish moorings, to single out Lutheranism is unfair; to suggest that it “produced” Nazism is deplorable, if not libelous. While Christianity bears heavy responsibility for making the ground so amenable for the process that culminated in “The Final Solution,” Nazism was “produced” by a fanatically secular ideology. Undeniably and shamefully it received a wide cross-section of Christian as well as Protestant support.

Yet it was also precisely the Lutheran Confessing Church that expressed some of the strongest opposition to Nazism. What is worse is that uninformed readers will conclude from Klinghoffer’s comments that Lutheranism today is “detached from the Jewish seed at the heart of their faith.”

Yet not only has contemporary Lutheranism very much rediscovered its Hebrew Bible roots, but both in the United States and around the world it has gone so far as to actually condemn and repudiate Luther’s own antisemitism.

All this is not to deny that there is still a long way to go before Christianity in general has purified itself of anti-Jewish sentiment. But to ignore the monumental changes in much of Christian teaching today — including Lutheranism — concerning Jews and Judaism is morally bad, dangerous and self-defeating.

Rabbi David Rosen

Director, Department for Interreligious Affairs

American Jewish Committee

Jerusalem, Israel

Religious Buildings Also Deserve Preservation

The American Jewish Congress finds it “profoundly troubling” that the 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 Torah scrolls 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 as it disadvantages religion as opposed to the secular.

A recent survey by the National Trust found that the average historic congregation faces up to $2 million in 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.

A Boys Town Where All The Citizens Are Jewish

While it was quite informative to learn that Father Flanagan’s Boys Town has its first Jewish mayor, Forward readers may be interested to know that Boys Town Jerusalem’s mayor —indeed, its entire 1,000 student population — is Jewish (“New Mayor Puts a Different Face On Father Flanagan’s Boys Town,” June 20).

Boys Town Jerusalem was founded in 1948 to provide a haven for those children who survived the Holocaust and for the children of the masses of destitute Jews who poured into Israel from countries around the world. Today it is one of Israel’s premier institutions for educating the country’s next generation of leaders in the fields of technology, commerce, education, the military and public service.

The school’s mission is to turn young boys from limited backgrounds into young men with limitless futures. From junior high school to college, the academic-, technological- and Torah-oriented curriculum at Boys Town is designed to turn otherwise disadvantaged Israeli youth into productive citizens of tomorrow. The campus, located on 18 beautiful acres in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood of Jerusalem overlooking the Judean Hills, is a home away from home for its student body.

Rabbi Ronald L. Gray

Executive Vice President

Boys Town Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel

The Death Penalty And the Rosenbergs

The lives of convicted spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were the subject of Sam Roberts’s “The Brother,” a book which I reviewed in 2001 for the New York Law Journal (“Political Truth and the Rosenbergs,” June 13).

So influenced was I by the book that it ultimately led me to membership on the Association of the Bar’s Capital Punishment Committee, for, however legally sufficient the lean evidence that implicated Ethel Rosenberg, I could not shake off the wrongfulness of the death sentence imposed on her by Judge Irving Kaufman.

Indeed, that feeling extended to Julius Rosenberg, against whom the proof was substantial. In short, Roberts’s great book drew back the curtain on their lives and deaths with such force that I could not but be brought up short by what had been my lawyerly, detached disposition in favor of the death penalty.

I saw that however much revenge might please, there was the feeling in me of something insuperably abnormal about the death penalty, something like a forbidden reversal by man of the act of creation.

Long after my review of the book, I learned by chance that the execution of Ethel involved not one but two women. The other woman was Elli Barczatis, who had been secretary to Otto Grotewohl, the East German prime minister. A Western agent, having seduced Barczatis, persuaded her to act as an agent. She was eventually discovered.

Her case became public, unfortunately, just after the executions of the Rosenbergs. In the words of Communism’s spymaster, Markus Wolf, “The name of the game in espionage… was parity.” And so Barczatis was beheaded in Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany.

Harold Reynolds

Scarsdale, N.Y.

Judge Classic Films By Standards of Era

What arts writer Michael Bronski fails to take into consideration in his article about “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “Crossfire” is that each was a groundbreaking film made at a time, as director Elia Kazan said, “when the word ‘Jew’ was never mentioned before” (“Remembering Gregory Peck, and a Not So Gentlemanly Agreement,” June 20).

The Jewish community was terrified that any film tackling antisemitism might make the problem worse. Elliot Cohen and the American Jewish Committee launched a virulent campaign against RKO Studios for wanting to produce “Crossfire.” Wealthy Los Angeles Jews and an assortment of movie executives pressured Twentieth Century Fox in an effort to discourage production of “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

In this environment, it took great courage for Dore Schary at RKO and Darryl. Zanuck at Fox to move forward in the face of a great deal of resistance, both within their own studios and from without. In fact, many of the “silly lines” that Bronski refers to in “Gentleman’s Agreement” — like those of the “Jewish investor” that were not in the original Hobson work — were added by writer Moss Hart as a way of deriding those who tried to stall production.

In analysis, each needs to be seen as a motion picture made in 1947. To look at the films by today’s “standards” is wrong and unfair — these two classics were not made today. These films were made right after the Holocaust, at a time when, as Dore Schary once said, “American Jewry was genuinely frightened about the Jewish problem.” Studies, some undertaken by the same Jewish organizations that attacked production, proved that these films had a great positive impact in lowering antisemitism in the years that followed their release. Both Schary and Zanuck showed a great deal of courage. They and the films that they produced truly deserve our admiration.

Eric Goldman

Teaneck, N.J.

A couple of corrections to Michael Bronski’s article on “Gentleman’s Agreement” are in order. Gregory Peck’s character is named Philip Skylar Green, not Philip Schuyler. (I am not sure of the spelling of Skylar, however, and it is not in the credits.) He goes by his middle name until he decides to pretend to be a Jew, then he uses Philip since it sounds less WASPy than Skylar.

He does not call himself “Phil Greenberg” in front of the mirror, but rather “Phil Green,” his real name. He only writes “Greenberg” on his mailbox later because of some letters he is sending out under both names (to compare employer reactions to the two names).

Finally, Bronski calls it “vaguely antisemitic” that there is a Jewish character in the movie who takes the position that it is best not to bring up antisemitism, that doing so only fuels it. Yet earlier in the article Bronski notes that the American Jewish Committee has exactly the same response to the movie. So the portrayal is indeed realistic, and if it is realistic, it is certainly not antisemitic.

Judith Antonelli

Brookline, Mass.

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