March 21, 2003
I am unable to fathom the journalistic justification for the strange way in which the Forward reported the story of my decision to ask the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly to review its position paper on homosexuality (“Foe of Gay Ban Won’t Head Conservative Panel,” March 7).
This action is not new. It was taken several months ago in response to requests by members of the Rabbinical Assembly. The Forward decided not to report this development as such, instead stressing a non-event — the fact that a new chairperson of the committee was not appointed.
The Forward further decided to indulge in speculation and rumor concerning reactions to this decision on the part of the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, and the executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Joel Meyers. Whatever the chancellor’s feelings may be on this matter, he has never attempted to interfere in this decision in any way, respecting the integrity of the Rabbinical Assembly and the law committee. As for Meyers, these steps were decided upon in consultation with him and with his complete agreement. Any implication to the contrary is completely without foundation.
Rabbi Reuven Hammer
I was disappointed to hear that Rabbi Elliott Dorff’s ascent to chair of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has been deferred, especially if it was truly because of his views on the issue of homosexuality and rabbinic law. As one of the founding members of Keshet, along with my classmate Rabbi Noach Shapiro, we made an attempt in 1999 to bring this issue to the forefront of the movement.
Like the current incarnation of Keshet, a student organization at the Jewish Theological Seminary, we too organized a teach-in, with a lecture by Dorff, and gained some press coverage. However, we were not able to raise the level of discussion and debate in the law committee. I was heartened to see that this progress was finally about to occur.
Our movement cannot ignore this issue forever; the pain and suffering which it has already caused will only deepen and widen if the jurists refuse to address the concerns of the people for whom they represent. I strongly encourage Dorff, and other like-minded rabbis, to continue to push forward with halachic research and sustained effort to bring this matter back to the table. They should not allow those who oppose it to hijack the agenda for fear of controversy. The lay people are acting to make rabbinic law meaningful and current in their lives. Let us hope that the rabbis can do the same.
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater
Plight of Romani Women Strikes Chord
Like opinion writer Ruth Weinberger, I, too, was appalled at reports of Romani women in Slovakia being subjected to forced sterilization (“Then They Came for the Romani Women,” March 7).
It reminded me, chillingly, of the Nazi “racial scientists” who recommended sterilization as a form of delayed genocide for “Gypsies” because they considered them racially inferior, criminal, asocial and “primitive.” Sinti and Romani men and women over the age of 12 were sterilized in local hospitals and concentration camps, often after signing consent forms, coerced with threats and false promises.
The genocide of “Gypsies” by the Nazis has been called “the forgotten Holocaust.” These recent reports give us a powerful reason to learn more about the Sinti and Romani, both past and present.
Opinion writer Ruth Weinberger is correct to raise the issue of forced sterilization of Romani women and the Slovakian government’s amateurish reaction to the very serious allegations involved. But while she is correct to fault the government — and many Slovaks, Jewish and non-Jewish alike — for anti-Romani discrimination, nonetheless she is not telling the whole story.
In fact, according to a January 28 report in the widely-respected Slovak newspaper SME, Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky filed a request for criminal charges against those who perpetrated forced sterilization of Romani women.
With regard to Weinberger’s suggestion that the European Union hold Slovakia accountable for its human rights record, I suggest that she look at the last 10 years of E.U.-entry negotiations and reports on Slovakia’s progress. It is largely thank to Brussels and the E.U.’s commissioner for Eastern European expansion, Günther Verheugen, that Slovakia has made significant progress in improving Slovakia’s human rights record not only with respect to the Romani people, but also regarding the Hungarian minority and Slovakia’s small but thriving Jewish community. (For the record, in August 2001 my wife and I were married under Kosice’s first public Orthodox Jewish chuppah in 60 years.)
Moreover, since 1998 Slovakia has been led by two reformist pro-Western governments that have sought to improve Romani living and working conditions, mend relations with the Hungarian minority and compensate the Jewish community for Holocaust-related claims. Recently the Jewish community and the Slovakian government concluded a landmark restitution agreement that will provide, among other forms of payment, desperately-needed cash to support the near-destitute and aging survivor population still living in Slovakia.
Lecturer in Jewish Studies
University of Judaism
Los Angeles, Calif.
Fundraiser Doesn’t See Jewish Shift to GOP
A March 7 article in which I am quoted implies that Democrats are having difficulty raising money because traditional Jewish Democratic donors are taking a “fresh look at the Republicans,” in light of the situation in the Middle East (“In Crowded Democratic Field, Candidates Are Scrambling for Big Donors”). This assertion could not be further from the truth.
During the last 15 years, I have spent a great deal of my time raising money for the Democratic Party and Democratic candidates. I have served as chairman of the Democratic Party’s Business Council , as well as the national finance chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Every day I am on the phone talking to Democratic donors and potential donors. Many of my calls are to Jewish contributors. During the last two years, while many journalists have written about a supposed Jewish shift to the Republican Party, I have yet to encounter a Jewish donor who has indicated that he or she is supporting President Bush in 2004 or is leaving the Democratic Party — not once, among the thousands of calls I have logged. In fact, during the last few months I have been struck by the antipathy expressed over the policies Bush has pushed on the United States. Never have I seen Democratic donors and supporters — both Jewish and non-Jewish — so estranged from a sitting president.
Perhaps there is a political shift in the Jewish community. Perhaps the Forward has uncovered this shift in its research. But if there are Jewish donors who are changing their stripes from Democrat to Republican, they are making a concerted effort to hide from me and the other Jewish Democratic fundraisers.
Yale Alumni Should Cease Contributing
Yale University’s decision to host a speech by firebrand poet Amiri Baraka shows the extreme moral cowardice of their administrators, like their counterparts on campuses across the country (“Ranting Poet’s Visit Makes For a Disturbing Week at Yale,” March 7). They hide under the rubric of free speech, a concept with murky borders.
I suggest we hit them where it hurts: Jewish Yale alumni should cease contributing to the university.
Oak Park, Ill.
Fulani’s Bigoted Words Speak for Themselves
I was taught in elementary school that words mean what they say. There seems to be an intrinsic difficulty with this principle among some Forward readers. A case in point is a February 21 letter to the editor defending the name of Lenora Fulani (“Fulani no Antisemite”).
The letter writer attempts to rebut charges that Fulani is an antisemite by repeating for our edification a scurrilous Fulani quotation which manages in one sentence to accuse Jews of selling their souls, doing the dirtiest work of capitalism and being mass murderers of people of color. Each of these lies would fit perfectly into the vilest Nazi propaganda of the 1930s.
The letter writer then concludes that she “cannot comprehend what can be considered antisemitic about” the Fulani statement. It is hard for me to imagine a more flagrant non sequitur. Is it truly so difficult to perceive that those who defame us with deliberate and rank falsehoods are not simply “provocative,” but have crossed over the line of civilized discourse and into the realm of bigotry?