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May 23, 2003

Organizations Stand Up To President’s Proposals

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring joins the Jewish Labor Committee in opposing the “Family Time Flexibility Act” before Congress and in calling on the Orthodox Union to reconsider its support for the legislation (“Orthodox Union Blasted by Labor Group,” May 16).

This bill is another example of the Bush administration’s use of Orwellian double-speak — other examples include “religious freedom,” “school choice,” “Medicare reform” and “Patriot Act” — to put progressive-sounding names on legislation designed to erode civil liberties and workers’ rights that are enshrined in the Constitution and have been achieved through the struggles of the last century.

The “flexibility’’ that is provided in this legislation goes to the business owners and is taken away from the workers’ ability to earn overtime pay. The endorsement from the O.U. neither represents the sense of the Jewish community nor of Jewish values.

Robert Kestenbaum

Executive Director

Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring

New York, N.Y.

Kudos to the Forward for exposing and opposing the Bush administration’s cynical efforts to stack the federal judiciary with extreme right-wing ideologues who are likely to engage in ultra-conservative judicial activism (“Groups Aim to Torpedo President’s Judge Pick,” May 16).

Though it is disappointing that many national groups within the organized Jewish community have elected to stay out of the pivotal judicial confirmation debates, on the grassroots level many Jews are actively fighting the more egregious nominations.

Here in Los Angeles, the Justice For All Project — a coalition of civil rights and civil liberties organizations that support a fair and balanced judicial nominating process — is opposing the nomination of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In addition to a hostile record on the rights of workers and consumers, access to justice, reproductive choice and privacy, Kuhl also has demonstrated hostility toward equal rights for racial minorities and women.

Daniel Sokatch

Executive Director

Progressive Jewish Alliance

Los Angeles, Calif.

Mamele Misuses Phrase In Attempt at Humor

I read the May 9 East Village Mamele column until I came across that ugly phrase “pushy goyim” and found it so disgusting that I stopped reading to write this letter (“Mother’s Day: A Contrarian View”).

Such crude language is offensive, even when meant to be humorous — which I hope was columnist Marjorie Ingall’s intent. If she was serious, her phrase is even more disgusting.

David Sucher

Seattle, Wash.

Assassins’ Descendants Now Helping Humanity

In the May 16 column on a 12th-century Ismaili sect, Philologos writes that the Aga Khans are “known mostly for their fabulous wealth and the sybaritic lives lived by them in the fashionable capitals of Europe” (“The Assassins Part II”).

I would recommend that Forward readers visit “” to get a more correct picture about the Aga Khan family’s contribution to the welfare and uplifting of millions of people around the world.

The respect that the current Aga Khan commands among his followers, world leaders and international institutions is not due to his wealth but the manner in which his organizations work on ameliorating the lives of millions in Asia and Africa. The multi-faceted organizations under the aegis of the Aga Khan Development Network and Focus Humanitarian cover every possible area that one can imagine — from art and architecture, education and health to economic and social well-being.

The Aga Khan family has been notable in serving humanitarian causes as well as the preservation of the environment and major monuments in the Islamic world. Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, who passed away earlier this month, was the uncle of the current Aga Khan, Prince Karim, and was the former United Nations high commissioner for refugees.

Malik Merchant

Ottawa, Ontario

Rereading the Texts

In her reviews of recent books of biblical and rabbinic literature by Tikva Frymer-Kensky and Judith Baskin, Judith Hauptman calls attention to some long-standing dilemmas regarding the perspective on the position of women that these ancient texts provide (“Must Women Wear Perfume?”, May 9).

At one point in her discussion of Frymer-Kensky’s book, Hauptman relates that the author argues that the Bible “was not written to construct patriarchy but rather inherited it.”

My own preference in discussions of this sort is to eschew terms like patriarchy, matriarchy and even feminism, since they tend to limit and color one’s exploration of the material with more contemporary associations. What I find more useful is employing the concepts coined by cultural anthropologist and futurist Riane Eisler — dominator and partnership — in describing the modes of societal, political and familial interaction, as she has brilliantly done in “The Chalice and the Blade” as well as “Sacred Pleasure.”

If we study Jewish literature of both the biblical and rabbinic eras in this light, and literature of other religious traditions as well, we may find that the timeless, spiritual values with which we associate the divine nature and purpose of the human endeavor are at the core of these traditional texts.

We may also perceive that the repressive, violent and misogynistic elements that have accrued over the ages and have flowed from some of these texts originate from another society and realm that had conquered or infiltrated many of the indigenous peoples in that part of the world, because Eisler’s research shows us that cultures that more closely modeled partnership and egalitarian ways of living in the Mediterranean area predated that more brutal and hierarchical form that has come to dominate most of the world.

Tom Herz

San Francisco, Calif.

Young Israel Eviction Scapegoats Synagogue

The National Council of Young Israel’s unilateral decision to evict the Young Israel of Fifth Avenue Synagogue and a Sephardic minyan from a building in Manhattan is both shocking and revolting (“Young Israel’s Eviction Plans Draw Criticism,” May 9).

The Young Israel of Fifth Avenue Synagogue has been an institution in Greenwich Village for more than 50 years, and its rabbi, Israel Wohlgelernter, for nearly 40. Thousands of students, singles, Village residents, young couples and travelers have prayed at the synagogue over the years.

Where exactly is the synagogue supposed to relocate? Should its daily minyans, which are held 365 days a year, take place under the arch in Washington Square Park?

Economic times are difficult for everyone. If the National Council of Young Israel needs money, it should allocate its financial burden equitably among the organization’s 150 Orthodox congregations and 25,000 member families. It is simply unfair to make one synagogue the scapegoat for the national organization’s financial woes.

Mitchel Herstic

Bronx, N.Y.

Madrid Group Offers Ashkenazic Welcome

I, like the caterer profiled in the May 16 “Letter From Madrid,” am an Ashkenazi Jew from a very secular Yiddishist family (“Ashkenazim Storm Sepharad”). But for a long time I did not feel “at home” with the traditional Sephardic Orthodox community that I found here in Madrid, where I have lived for the last 35 years.

In 1992, a group of Argentine Jews started an organization called “Hebraica Madrid,” loosely inspired by a group with the same name in Argentina. It is a secular Jewish organization best described as a small-scale Jewish community center.

We have cultural, social and sports activities and secular celebrations of Rosh Hashana and Passover. The annual Jewish book fair and weekly theater group mentioned in the Forward are examples of our activities.

We also have Kabbala, Hebrew and folk-dancing classes for adults, a monthly “movie night,” round-table discussions on subjects of interest, music classes and a Saturday activity program for children. We are at present preparing our third biannual art fair, called “Arthebraica,” an exhibit of original art with a Jewish theme to be held in June.

Although the majority of our membership is Ashkenazic, we have come to fulfill a need for Jewish cultural activities that the traditional Orthodox synagogue doesn’t provide, so many of their members participate in our activities. Of course, many Ashkenazim who attend services at Bet El also belong to Hebraica.

I invite any Jews who plan to come to Madrid to contact us, as one of our most important objectives is to welcome newcomers and visitors and help them feel at home.

Linda Jiménez

Madrid, Spain

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