January 31, 2003
Recognize Shefa Fund’s Impact on Social Justice
Within the Jewish funding community there are sharp disagreements regarding the wisdom of particular grants to the Israeli “refusenik” groups Yesh Gvul and Courage to Refuse, but we disagree even more with the style and tenor of those who are attacking one of the organizations making those grants, the Shefa Fund (“Fund Fights Charge of Aiding ‘Deserters,’” January 3).
These assaults do damage to an innovative organization that is doing a great deal to help the Jewish community expand its traditional definitions of tzedakah to meet contemporary needs. We have known Jeffrey Dekro for more than a decade, through his past, and our current, leadership of the Jewish Funders Network. We know him not only as director of the Shefa Fund, but as one of the leaders of a new generation of Jewish philanthropy, and believe he has had an important and positive impact on Jewish life in America.
The Shefa Fund, beyond its work with donor-advised funds, has been at the forefront of innovative ways to involve the Jewish community in social justice, socially responsible grant-making, investment in low-income communities and education toward tzedakah and tikkun olam. To define the sum total of its work only by the very small part of its grant making that is being attacked is misleading.
What also disturbs us greatly is the tenor of the assault on the Shefa Fund reported in the Forward. We believe that the health and resilience of the Jewish people is directly tied to our ability to dialogue, listen to and include the disparate voices within our community. A healthy people dialogues; it does not stamp out opposing voices.
The Shefa Fund deserves to be recognized for the important role it has played in bringing the Jewish values of tzedakah and tikkun olam to a broader Jewish constituency. Vicious attacks do not serve the long-term interests of the Jewish community, which must be working toward civil discourse, especially in areas of conflict.
Jewish Funders Network
New York, N.Y.
Graves’ Decay Burying Ukrainian Heritage
It was worrisome to read about the Ukrainian municipality’s decision to continue constructing an apartment complex on top of what was the remains of an old Jewish cemetery (“Defiant Officials in Ukraine Build Atop Jewish Graves,” January 10).
Two years ago my mother and I returned to her old town in Ukraine near the Polish border. The Nazis liquidated the Jews there next to the 400-year-old Jewish cemetery. When visiting the site, the stones are not visible and the cows and sheep are grazing on this sacred land. The villagers are insistent that nothing — not even one stone — remains on this land.
In searching for gravestones at this site, I found some either deeply embedded in the ground or worn down to rubble due to the elements and neglect. This image remains with me to this very day.
I vowed to return to this site every few years, just to clean away some of the overgrown grass. It is difficult to find ways to save this cemetery and other cemeteries due to the severe economic conditions in Ukraine and current priorities in the Jewish community.
Many American Jews can trace nearly 1,000 years of their ancestry to this part of the world. It is important to find ways to prevent further erosion and construction on top of these cemeteries — so as not to neglect our past, our history and our families.
Irresponsible Spending Caused Center’s Demise
For myself and many others, it has been both sad and painful to see the demise of Metivta, the organization that I founded and directed for many years (“Spirituality Center To Breathe Its Last,” January 17). But now the grief at losing something that was very precious and unique is compounded with shock at reading some of the depictions of the events.
Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Metivta’s president, is quoted as saying that “You don’t go from solvent to insolvent in just over a year without someone ending up with a yacht and that certainly did not happen in the situation.” In fact, it is possible to reach insolvency that quickly, and the recipe is quite simple: Spend more than you earn. During the period described by Shapiro, Metivta had a monthly expenditure of about $45,000, mostly in salaries and rent, and an income of about $15,000. The shortfall was covered by utilizing restricted funds designated for the Spirituality Institute — a guaranteed formula for disaster.
Shapiro and Judy Gordon, Metivta’s executive director, both state in different ways that this was going on before they arrived. I do not know whether that meant running the operation with an enormous deficit, or exhausting restricted funds to cover operational losses, but I can state categorically that neither occurred during the period in which I was active.
Shapiro further stated that “Metivta always relied on [Spirituality Institute] grants.” This is incorrect. First of all, for the first eight of Metivta’s 12 years, there was no Spirituality Institute. Second, during this earlier period our income was derived from major and smaller donations, various foundation grants, fees for service and membership dues. Third, moneys received for the Spirituality Institute were not diverted from their designated purposes.
Finally, on a personal level, I disagree with Gordon’s contention that Metivta “was built to support a man [Omer-Man], and people didn’t want to support the organization without Jonathan.” In fact, the organization was not built to support me; it came into being to realize a vision, and to sustain a body of work, one in which I take great pride and from which I derive much satisfaction.
Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man
Editorialist Should Follow Shift to Right
A January 17 article on a new survey’s findings that Jews may be shifting rightward in their political views makes it sound like the Forward is shocked at these surprises (“Survey Sees Historic Shift to the Right,” January 17).
If only the Forward’s editorials and opinion articles — with the exception of Gil Troy’s The Ivory Tower column — would reflect this historic move to the right, rather than display the Forward’s usual liberalism and contempt for anything conservative, that would truly be historic.
Boldly Going Where No Jew Has Gone Before
The January 17 Newsdesk item, “Jew in Space,” on the first Israeli astronaut and earlier Jewish astronauts left out the two most famous Jewish space travelers: William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, stars of the original Star Trek television series.
NASA took Star Trek seriously enough to name in 1976 a real space shuttle in honor of Shatner’s and Nimoy’s fictional starship, the Enterprise.
Israeli astronaut Colonel Ilan Ramon is the latest in a long line of Jews, in fiction and in reality, who have contemplated what happens far above the earth.
Via e-mail to the Forward
Restore Dynamism To Bay Area Museum
The Judah L. Magnes Museum is one of the jewels in the crown of American Jewry (“Bay Area Museum Chairs Stepping Down,” January 17).
The superlative collections amassed under founder Seymour Fromer and the exciting educational and research programs are only part of what has made the Magnes great. The true greatness of the museum is the sense of mission that Fromer has instilled into the fabric of this important, yet unpretentious, cultural institution.
Throughout its history, the Judah L. Magnes Museum has supported, originated and given a home to Jewish cultural life with a dynamism that is seldom replicated in North America. As an institution builder, Fromer truly created his museum with an entrepreneurial spirit that honors the namesake of the museum, San Franciscan Judah L. Magnes, founder of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The Magnes Museum deserves a greater future than many today imagine for it. In an era when donors and associated bodies with little understanding of Judaism and its sacred texts, arts and history are increasingly determining the futures of our communal institutions, it is time to stand up and support this jewel in our national midst.
Department of Judaic Studies
University of Cincinnati