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Letters

April 4, 2003

Technion Taps Women’s Leadership Potential

There are at least six and very likely several more than the five organizations with women at the helm mentioned by opinion writer Shifra Bronznick in her analysis of women’s advancement in American Jewish organizations (“Unleashing Women’s Leadership Potential,” March 21). The American Technion Society, the leading American organization raising funds for Israeli higher education, elected its first woman president two years ago.

In fact, just as Bronznick recommends, we go well beyond “conducting leadership searches on the basis of… meritocratic standards that ignore questions of gender.” Our organization makes a special effort to develop top women leaders through a strategic women’s initiative, launched at the national level and now being rolled out to our chapters across the country.

The American Technion Society arrived at this juncture through the most pragmatic reasoning: Any successful organization — especially one focused on major gifts — must tap into women’s enormous talents, drive and means, as well as into the special style that women often bring to the helm. We know that their leadership at every level, and especially at the top, is simply too important to leave to chance.

Evelyn Berger

President

American Technion Society

New York, N.Y.

Rising Antisemitism Is Sign for European Jews

Both Lauren Gottlieb’s and Moses Constantinis’s March 28 opinion articles were particularly acute in their analyses (“Europe’s Blind Antisemitism…”; “… Perceives All Jews as Representatives of Israel”).

But both articles beg the question: Isn’t it time for Jews to abandon Europe and find a different place to live. During the last 13 years around 1 million Jews left the former Soviet Union, a region with a vast Jewish heritage, because it was no longer possible for them to live dignified lives there. Western Europe has a vast Jewish heritage, but it is no longer possible for Jews to live with dignity in these countries.

And the problem will not get better. By some estimates, Western Europe will be 25% Muslim by 2025. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will most likely not have been resolved by that point. Memories of the Holocaust will by then have morphed into some other kind of narrative in which Europeans will say it did not happen, either because of Holocaust-denying “revisionist” historians or out of the desire for Europeans to expiate their guilt by showing that “Jews have proven to be just as bad as Nazis, so it was not a big loss to humanity.”

There are somewhat less than 1 million Western European Jews. They can leave with much less difficulty than Russian Jews, and this can be accomplished in 10 years.

The modern exodus is more important for French, Belgian, and British Jews. In remnant communities such as in Greece, my native community, the decision to depart or not is moot. There are only 5,000 Greek Jews left. The rate of intermarriage is approximately 80% to 90%. The community will disappear anyway during the next 50 years.

Maybe if we can encourage some of our young people to leave, some vestigial Greek Jewish community can remain in either Israel or the United States.

Guy Benrubi

Associate Dean for Medical Affairs

University of Florida College of Medicine

Jacksonville, Fla.

Normally I respect the opinions that appear in the Forward Forum, but it was just too much to read opinion writer Lauren Gottlieb’s statement that “while the distinction between Jew and Israeli may be clear cut to those of us raised in metropolitan New York and Los Angeles, the semantics become little more than, well, semantics, when it comes to certain European perspectives.”

There is no community on this earth more anxious to erase the distinction between Jew and Israeli than certain hard-line, pro-Israeli Likudniks who for the last 20 years or so have set all the terms of permissible dialogue about Israel. If the Jewish community wants to admit that there might be a distinction between the policies of the Sharon government and the conscience of any individual Jew, it’s time for its members to stand up and say so.

Diana Jarvis

New York, N.Y.

Shul Turnout of More Concern than Siddurim

Revelations that some Conservative Jews are using Orthodox siddurim to pray with is nothing new (“Conservatives Taking a Page From Orthodox Prayer Book,” March 28).

Thirty years ago I celebrated my bar mitzvah at a Conservative synagogue in suburban Chicago that worshipped with the Orthodox “Birnbaum” prayer book as opposed to the “Silverman” edition that most United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism affiliates used at the time.

Furthermore, the small number of Sephardic congregations affiliated with Conservative Judaism have by necessity always relied on traditional liturgical editions since their movement never got around to developing a siddur consistent with their melodic patterns.

It is funny that no one at the Jewish Theological Seminary ever worried if congregants at Cedarhurst’s Sephardic Temple, for instance, might be drawn away from the movement’s teachings after praying with a “De Sola Pool” or “Orot” Siddur.

Although I am Orthodox, I have taught religious school at a major Chicago-area Conservative synagogue for nearly a decade. Knowing how difficult it has become to inculcate a sense of Jewish religious commitment within the Conservative movement, I would think that Rabbi Jerome Epstein would be thrilled that his constituents are praying regularly. What difference should it make to him if the “Art Scroll” Siddur has gained popularity within the ranks of the United Synagogue?

I would venture to state that most American Jews attending Conservative congregations aren’t davening with “Art Scroll” or “Jules Harlow” siddurim on a daily basis. That ought to be the real concern of the Rabbinical Assembly that guides Conservative Judaism.

David Blatt

Chicago, Ill.

Funds for Shul Project To Be Used Judiciously

A March 21 article about our congregation’s decision to end the Wooden Synagogue Project indicated that we are intending to spend the $2 million raised to date on a new plan (“Wooden Synagogue Project Abandoned”). This statement is very misleading. We have no intention of using funds donated to the Wooden Synagogue Project before approaching donors about recommitting to our new plans. Moreover, we are well on our way to presenting a design to donors which I am excited to say will be anything but a “typical modern building.”

Denise Resnikoff

President

Congregation Beth Israel

Berkeley, Calif.

Report on Purimspiel Replays Sexist Humor

In columnist Masha Leon’s recounting of the Jewish Museum’s March 5 Masked Purim Ball, she refers to actress Fran Drescher’s having made “chopped liver” of Queen Vashti (“Esther Drescher? ‘The Nanny’ Tried New Role for Purim,” March 21).

I take it that by this that Leon means Drescher cut down Vashti, although I am puzzled as to why she would use a centuries-old, much-beloved Ashkenazic dish to invoke something negative. Perhaps next time, she could say that someone made “pate de foie gras” out of someone or something.

Leon also quotes Drescher as referring to Queen Esther’s predecessor as King Ahasuerus’s “pre-menstrual shiksa wife.” For Leon to have reported on this statement in the positive light in which she does is surprising for several reasons.

“Shiksa” is a derogatory word for a non-Jewish woman and has no place on the lips of anyone — certainly not those of a celebrity addressing an assembled group at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan. Furthermore, Drescher’s use of the derogatory term for a non-Jewish woman apparently was meant to imply that there was something negative about Vashti’s not being Jewish. The fact that Vashti was not Jewish makes sense, since neither was King Ahasuerus — a man who discarded his wife because she (rightly) refused his request to act in an immodest fashion. Regardless of motive and outcome, let us remember that it was Esther — and not Vashti — who married outside of her faith.

Lastly, the question of whether Vashti suffered from pre-menstrual syndrome aside, the disorder strikes many women in their child-bearing years. The unfortunate ramifications of PMS can run the gamut from slight mood swings and physical discomfort to depression and monstrous physical pain. Considering that PMS affects only women directly, the remark appears to be not only callous, but also sexist in trying to find humor in women’s suffering. There is nothing halachic, kind or funny about making fun of another’s misfortune or illness, nor in using such a condition, which strikes and debilitates so many, as a sort of “shorthand” to slander someone unavailable to defend herself.

Sandy Austen

Plainview, N.Y.

Engage

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