June 30, 2006
WZO Is Reorganizing
I recently returned from serving as a delegate to the World Zionist Congress, and wonder whether Hebrew University professor Gabriel Sheffer was actually at the event when he commented that “young people aren’t involved” in the World Zionist Organization (“Rabbi Boycotts President at Zionist Parley,” June 23).
Their significant presence was felt throughout the congress, as it is in local activities due to work of the Hagshama Department. I participated in a resolutions committee meeting in which a Canadian college student repeatedly went toe to toe with both Israeli and Diaspora veterans regarding wording of resolutions about social issues in Israel. It was no doubt an empowering experience for him and bodes well for future Zionist leadership.
On the other hand, Sheffer’s statement that “there are people who say [the WZO] should be abolished” is accurate, and that sentiment was not lost on the delegates. A wall-to-wall coalition passed a very detailed resolution prescribing the steps the WZO must take to begin a process of self-examination and reorganization. The test of the organization’s relevance will be in its ability to truly address what has become known internally as “WZO Renewal.”
This was my first congress since I was a young idealistic delegate nearly 30 years ago. To be honest, my expectations were rather low, but I was actually impressed by the level of dialogue between the different ideological groups, the youth involvement and the broad support for “WZO Renewal.”
Appropriately inspired, I competed, ultimately successfully, within the international Labor Zionist caucus for a seat on the WZO executive committee. The onus is now on the WZO leadership — including yours truly — to implement the congress resolutions and engage in the real work of the Zionist movement.
Migrants’ Real Impact
Two June 23 letter writers would lead readers to believe that massive Mexican and Hispanic immigration has no meaning beyond whether Hispanics and Jews have some interests in common — and if they do, then the immigration is good (“Coalition With Latinos Is in Communal Interest”). This is a dangerously narrow view of the question.
The immigration bill passed by the Senate is one of the most radical, sweeping and dishonest pieces of legislation ever passed on Capitol Hill. It would turn tens of millions of illegal immigrants and their families into legal permanent residents. It would increase the number of new legal permanent residents from 1 million to 2 million per year — or even, according to Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, to 3 million per year.
What the bill’s supporters claim is making people go to the back of the line for citizenship in fact puts them at the front of the line for legal permanent residency — and that is amnesty, regardless of what the bill’s supporters tell us. Similarly, what the supporters claim is a temporary guest worker program is a path to legal permanent residency and citizenship.
The promises of serious law enforcement put out by the supporters of this bill are a palpable falsehood. For example, the bill forbids local law enforcement officials from having anything to do with apprehending illegal immigrants. The massive legalization in this bill would lead to tens of millions more illegal immigrants entering the United States, who in turn will become the object of future demands for amnesty.
The letter writers’ focus on the benefits of a Jewish-Hispanic alliance are not just narrowly ethnocentric, but harmful to the nation. Such an alliance means Jewish support for Hispanic political objectives.
But what are these political objectives? Mainly, the continued mass legal and illegal immigration of Mexicans and other Hispanics. It is time for the Jewish community to look at the total impact of this bill on the United States.
New York, N.Y.
First Kosher Subway
The new kosher Subway restaurant in Cleveland is not, as a June 9 article reports, the first one “answering to a higher authority” (“Subway Pulls Into New (Kosher) Station”).
As a vegetarian, no-longer kosher-keeping Jew living in India last year, I was intrigued to enter a Subway in the southeastern coastal city of Chennai and see two entirely separate lines and service counters, serviced by one central cashier. Meeting the dietary needs of religious Hindus, the left side served meat while the right side was strictly vegetarian, set up so as to not contaminate or offend customers who made dietary decisions based on religiosity.
Unless my memory has gone completely awry, the new kosher Subway in Cleveland is far from the first of its kind in the world.
In 1994, when I lived in the Negev city of Beersheba, there was a (certainly kosher) Subway in the food court on the lower level of HaNegev Mall across from the central bus station. It had, in my opinion, the best food in the whole place, including the kosher Pizza Hut on the outside plaza.
But I haven’t been there for a couple of years, so I cannot say for sure whether it is still there today.
The Rebbe’s Legacy
Opinion writer Joseph Telushkin’s remembrance of his father’s relationship with Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson is commendable for its sensitive portrayal of a son’s awakening to Judaism’s commanded gesture of loving kindness (“He Who Could Command Legions of the Faithful,” June 23). Like millions of Jews throughout history, the performance of this mitzvah is one of the eternal values of Jewish peoplehood.
Lost in the analysis of the remembrance of the rebbe, however, is the other significant factor in his effectiveness as a leader: he allowed himself to be portrayed as the revealed messiah of the Jewish people, a view that has run counter to the vast majority of every Jewish community’s norms for more than 2,000 years. This declaration of the rebbe’s kingship is on view in any number of videos and other promotional material which emanate from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn on a daily basis — most notably the famous “Mitzvah Tanks,” which tool up and down the by-ways of the city in an advertising campaign for Jewish redemption that is the corollary equivalent of Evangelical Christians’ attempts to convert the unfaithful to the lordship of Jesus.
Why the Jewish community is unafraid to say this remains a great and frustrating mystery of our time.
From the manipulation of secular Jewish money for outreach efforts to the overly romantic portrayal of traditional Judaism’s uniform — all beards and hats bent just like the rebbe wore his — this modern-day movement, it seems, is in line with general millenialist religious expression of our era. Forward readers deserve an honest assessment.
Maybe a call is in order for another study on outreach, this one truly testing Chabad’s methods and effectiveness. How long do its newly religious stay religious? What are their socioeconomic backgrounds? What happens when you remove alcohol from the equation? It’s not uncommon to find copious amounts of vodka at Chabad events for countless young men and women on campuses across the United States. Is it growing as a movement, or do they just have good public relations?
I have no doubt that the Lubavitcher rebbe performed many acts of kindness. It’s also undeniable that he countenanced and encouraged an entire messianic movement around his personal rabbinate. Is this what the American Jewish community upholds as an exemplar of leadership?
Rabbi Andy Bachman
Joseph Telushkin’s description of his father’s first-hand experiences with the Lubavitcher rebbe were very moving, and at the same time enlightened me to Telushkin’s positive feelings toward Chabad today. I commend the Forward for taking the step to publicize what the article summed up: The rebbe devoted his whole life to the welfare of every single Jew in every part of the world — and his work continues.
I was touched by the reminiscences of Joseph Telushkin concerning the Lubavitcher rebbe. However, the behavior of the rebbe to Telushkin’s father, a loyal employee of 50 years, raises a question.
The rebbe had his secretary call to inquire about the health of Telushkin’s father. But it appears that he himself neither called nor went to visit his long-time employee. This kind of warmth wrapped up in cold distance seems, at least to me, like bizarre behavior. Even the president of the United States makes personal calls and visits.
What this prompts me to ask is that while we are waiting for centuries for the messiah to come to redeem Israel, maybe he won’t actually be coming in person at all. Perhaps he will call in his redemption, or have his assistant call to save us.
Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy