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May 2, 2003

Understanding of Poles Includes Remembering

I was surprised to read opinion writer Wladyslaw Bartoszewski calling for a new understanding between Jews and Poles (“On Warsaw Ghetto Anniversary, A Pole Calls for Understanding,” April 18).

My mother told me she hid in a neighbor’s cellar with her family during the pogroms in Poland. She was a little girl. Poles came to destroy their homes. She told me how Jews came home from Nazi camps after the war and were killed by Poles.

She came to the United States when she was 4 years old. She died at 94 about six years ago.

As long as the children tell their children the stories will live. What understanding is there among a people who hated us for generations?

Beth Gopman

Miami, Fla.

Composer’s Rich Career Defies Simplification

Although I greatly appreciated arts writer Raphael Mostel’s coverage of the year-long celebration of Stephen Wolpe, two corrections are in order (“Plunging From Ecstasy to Ecstasy: Centenary Celebrates the Life and Work of Controversial Composer,” April 11).

Although I suspect that Forward readers would be most concerned about Wolpe’s complicated relationship to Zionism and the construction of a Jewish nationalist music, this aspect of his life and work is but one of many complicated and engaging episodes in his rich career.

As an émigré central European Jewish composer whose work and legacy continue to inform the ongoing production of new music around the world, Wolpe has all kinds of things to say to Jews about the ongoing relationship between Jewishness and music, even in the present.

It is also unfortunate that Forward readers were not informed that the Wolpe festival continued after the events mentioned in the article. In early April Temple University hosted two remarkable days of concerts, dance performances and a panel discussion. The events, which were also part of the year-long Wolpe celebration, were co-sponsored by the university’s music college and Jewish studies program.

At Temple, we are quite clear about the broader significance of Wolpe’s work, especially in terms of Jewish cultural production.

Laura Levitt

Director of Jewish Studies

Temple University

Philadelphia, Pa.

Lieberman Off Track On Communal Issues

The April 25 “Campaign Confidential” column aptly covered the Jewish community’s lukewarm response to Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman’s presidential campaign.

On issues ranging from school vouchers to media censorship, Lieberman has expressed opinions vastly out of the American Jewish mainstream.

As I survey the field of Democratic hopefuls, I find only one candidate with the chutzpah to secure Jewish votes. Howard Dean, the straight-talking former governor of Vermont, has the strongest of records on economic growth and healthcare reform. Steve Grossman, a prominent Jewish activist and fundraiser, has already signed-on to Dean’s campaign. Soon others will as well.

We in the Jewish community joke that every Jewish mother wants her son to be a doctor. A more timely adage for 2004, however, is that every Jewish mother will ask her son to vote for one.

Yoni Cohen

Lexington, Mass.

‘Love for Israel’ Should Not Be Issue Driven

Opinion writer Jo-Ann Mort’s disingenuous piece about a class of Jewish teens and their lack of interest in Israel actually promotes the very alienation that she laments (“What is the Jewish State to the Children of Israel?”, April 25).

Where is the simple love of Israel as the great homecoming of the Jewish people after a Diaspora that ended in unspeakable genocide? Apparently these particular Reform Jewish kids are not feeling much love of Israel from their Reform parents and teachers.

So Mort gives them a report card of liberal causes and grades Israel issue by issue. She predicts that the more Israel supports these causes the more the kids will love Israel. If Israel doesn’t make “the hard political choices” — the choices Mort just happens to favor — they will grow “more distant.” That sounds like a very conditional love indeed.

Edwin Rosenberger

White Plains, N.Y.

Kudos to Jo-Ann Mort for her opinion article on why young Jews don’t feel close to Israel. Her finely honed satire savages the idea that making Israel more like liberal Berkeley, Calif., is the only thing keeping drives of Jewish youth from bonding with the Jewish state.

Nowhere are her satirical skills better demonstrated than in her account of speaking to children about Israel. It seems just a bit disingenuous that with all the beauty in the Jewish state, a gay parade was the only thing that she and her co-speaker could find that “could make young Jews proud of Israel.”

Mort’s satire is especially deft when she uses a second group of students who are knowledgeable and observant ostensibly as a foil, but really to make her point.

If Mort really wants to make young Jews love Israel, she should spend a bit more time making them like the other group she derides in her opinion article: committed to tradition and “fluent in Hebrew, in Bible stories and in the contemporary reality of Israel.”

David Abramowitz

Miami Beach, Fla.

Learning Texts at Heart Of Renewal Movement

We should be clear that Jewish Renewal is not the same as “neo-chasidism” (“Can New Agers Channel the Old Rebbes’ Spirit?,” April 18).

Neo-chasidism is one of several contributing streams to Jewish Renewal. Aleph: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal, does not see itself as a “neo-chasidic” organization. And yet we appropriately draw strength and inspiration from our studies of traditional chasidic texts and contemporary interpreters of those texts, such as Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, Arthur Green and others. So do many Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and even unaffiliated Jews.

Arts writer Allan Nadler notes that while teachers seemed to be knowledgeable — as we should expect — many of the other participants did not seem to be conversant with Hebrew, Yiddish or texts. Should we have expected that? Participants came to learn, teachers to teach.

The implication seems to be that, therefore, Renewalists are ignorant and don’t care. I welcome Nadler’s further exploration of Jewish Renewal to see whether that’s really the case. I am a member of the Vaad, or “Graduate Rabbinics Committee,” and I get to see students who have spent 5-10 years in study in our “Yeshivah-without-walls.” Rabbinic students are required to daven daily, know Hebrew and Aramaic, and study the Tanakh and halakhic, philosophical and mystical texts. It’s very demanding.

Rabbi Shaya Isenberg

Chair, Department of Religion

University of Florida

Gainesville, Fla.

Committee Working For Fitting Belzec Memorial

The American Jewish Committee has assumed the role previously played by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as partner with the Polish government in developing a fitting memorial at the Belzec killing center in southeastern Poland (“A Monumental Failure at Belzec,” April 11).

Because this sadly neglected and exposed site contains the remains of hundreds of thousands of Jewish victims of the Nazis — in essence a vast cemetery — a fitting memorial must also serve to preserve, protect and sanctify these mass graves. For this reason the design that has been selected by an international panel of judges is not only a moving artistic expression, but it also provides this necessary protection.

As such it has received the written approval of Rabbi E. Schlesinger of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, and of Chief Rabbi Meir Lau of Israel for its strict adherence to halachic standards governing cemeteries.

Rabbi Andrew Baker

Director, International Jewish Affairs

American Jewish Committee

Washington, D.C.

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