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November 17, 2006

Borat Is No Mensch, Glod Deserves Better

We in the Jewish community shouldn’t be too quick to laud Sacha Baron Cohen, aka, Borat (“Forward 50,” November 10). My husband and I saw the film “Borat,” and while one can’t deny Baron Cohen’s skills as a comic, his talent was overshadowed by the unethical business practices he used in recruiting the “actors” for his film.

It seems that many, if not most, of the participants were duped into believing that they were being filmed for a documentary — not a comedy in which they would be mocked — and were paid an insulting pittance.

Baron Cohen deceived the well-meaning, the poor and others who thought they were participating in something worthwhile. In so doing, he also reinforced the ugly stereotype that Jews are devious and can’t be trusted.

Now, there’s a flood of lawsuits headed his way. May both he and 20th Century Fox be held accountable for their cruel and unethical actions — and be forced to pay the unwitting participants, particularly the residents of Glod, Romania, a handsome sum.

Leann Sherman
West Hartford, Conn.

For a Young Sculptor, Shul Gig Was No Joke

I don’t think Philip Johnson was playing an “architectural joke” on Congregation Tifereth Israel, as your writer suggests, in placing art works by my father both behind a bed at his home and behind the ark he designed for the synagogue (“Deconstructing Philip,” October 20). My father’s “Creation” was made four years after his “Clouds of Magellan” was installed in Johnson’s guest house. He had been living with the work and still liked it.

Whether the congregation or anyone else approves or disapproves of Johnson’s politics, the artwork stands independently. Ibram Lassaw was Jewish. So not only did Johnson donate his synagogue design, but he made a contribution to American art by giving a young sculptor a job that paid the rent and put food on our table.

Denise Lassaw
East Hampton, N.Y.

Event Cancellation Was No Free Speech Issue

Your October 13 article “Scholars Fume Over Canceled Events,” which notes the failure of Tony Judt to appear at Manhattan College to deliver a lecture titled “Goodbye to All That? War and Genocide in European Memory Today,” is completely mistaken in stating that “school officials, under fire from a local rabbi, insisted that he restrict his comments to the Holocaust and not touch on the subject of Israel.”

The rabbi to whom you refer was advised to reread (read?) Judt’s articles and the First Amendment. Had you inquired of the Holocaust Resource Center or the school’s office of College Relations, you would have realized that the college kept its door open. While the resource center did send out an e-mail to concerned community members explaining that the subject of Judt’s talk was the Holocaust and not Israel, no preconditions or limitations were placed upon his speech. Judt withdrew seemingly because he was concerned about his reception; no grand principle of intellectual freedom was at stake.

Frederick M. Schweitzer
Holocaust Resource Center
Professor Emeritus of History,
Manhattan CollegeBronx, N.Y.

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