Jewish Journal


May 10, 2011

Letters to the Editor: Why Israel matters, Rudolph Kastner, Rabbi Jacobs, Osama bin Laden


Jacobs’ Appointment Garners Rabbis’ Support

We are past presidents and leaders of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the largest and oldest rabbinical organization in the world. We are ardent Zionists, deeply committed to a Jewish democratic State of Israel in secure and recognized borders. Some of us identify ourselves with J Street, others with AIPAC and others with neither. However, one should not doubt the firm commitment of each of us to the welfare of the Jewish state and Jewish people. In that respect, we are typical of the broad spectrum of pro-Israel involvements that characterize the Reform movement.

We enthusiastically support the choice of Rabbi Richard Jacobs to succeed Rabbi Eric Yoffie as president of the Union for Reform Judaism and are deeply dismayed at the unwarranted attacks that have been leveled against him. Like Rabbis Yoffie and Schindler before him, Rabbi Jacobs has made the welfare, security and democratic character of Israel a prime focus of his rabbinate. He is an ohev Yisrael (a lover of Israel) of the first order.

What we need today are Jewish leaders in Israel and North America who will not hesitate to struggle with the difficult questions of peacemaking and human rights, while firmly committed to the security of Israel. Rick Jacobs is such a leader. Rabbi Jacobs speaks his mind independently and with unswerving integrity.

Rabbi Jacobs has had an incredibly successful career as a congregational rabbi, national leader and innovator. At this challenging moment in Jewish history, we look forward to his transformational leadership. We fully support him and congratulate the leadership of the Union for Reform Judaism who selected him.

Rabbi Steven A. Fox, CCAR Chief Executive
Rabbi Jonathan Stein, CCAR President, 2011-2013
Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, CCAR President, 2009-2011
Rabbi Peter Knobel, CCAR President, 2007-2009
Rabbi Harry Danzinger, CCAR, President, 2005-2007
Rabbi Janet Marder, CCAR President, 2003-2005
Rabbi Martin Weiner, CCAR President, 2001-2003
Rabbi Charles A. Kroloff, CCAR President, 1999-2001
Rabbi Richard N. Levy, CCAR President, 1997-1999
Rabbi Simeon J. Maslin, CCAR President, 1995-1997
Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, CCAR President, 1993-1995
Rabbi Walter Jacob, CCAR President, 1991-1993
Rabbi Samuel E. Karff, CCAR President, 1989-1991
Rabbi Herman E. Schaalman, CCAR President, 1981-1983
Rabbi Donald Berlin, Past Chair, CCAR/URJ/HUC Joint Commission on Rabbinical Placement
Rabbi Deborah Prinz, CCAR Director of Program and Member Services
Rabbi Hara Person, CCAR Publisher and Director of Press
Rabbi Lennard R. Thal, CCAR Interim Director of Rabbinic Placement

How fortunate we are to have rabbis like Kelman, Marmur and Ellenson speaking out on situations such as the proper and respectable appointment of Rabbi Richard Jacobs as president-designate of the Union for Reform Judaism. Their obligation is to speak out when injustice occurs, and they have clearly spoken on behalf of lack of civility and irresponsibility on the part of certain critics.

The meaning of passionate Zionism is not the need to give up one’s moral thinking and action. Blind loyalty is unhealthy in any relationship, and loyalty and love for Israel does not require that one relinquish his or her moral compass. Rabbi Jacobs’ dedication is expressed through his public support of J Street; his ability and skills to perform well in this job are not based on his political choices. 

The appointment of Rabbi Jacobs should be applauded and the strength of the HUC-JIR rabbis proclaiming their support for him should be a paradigm for young rabbis as to their future commitments.

Sally Shafton
Manhattan Beach

Kudos for Cover, Content

I very much appreciated two special elements in the May 6 issue focusing on the topic of “Why Israel Matters”:

1. The well-written, reflective and broad piece by Stuart Schoffman, who knows how to talk to Americans about Israel;

2. The original art on the cover by Durar Bacri, along with the helpful bio.

Along with other readers, I imagine, I’d love to find Schoffman appearing more often in The Journal and also to encounter future covers using original art.

Rabbi Susan Laemmle
Los Angeles

The People vs. Kastner

Susan Freudenheim’s report on “The People vs. Kastner” performed on Yom HaShoah at Temple Israel of Hollywood is excellent (“Rudolph Kastner: Traitor or Savior?” May 6). Nevertheless, there are some misunderstandings.

Kasztner was not “shipped to the camps.” He traveled with Kurt Becher up to the very end of the war through Germany, Austria and Bohemia (then parts of Germany) visiting concentration camps and remnants of Jewish communities (in Vienna, Slovakia, etc.), trying to improve the lot of detainees. They contributed to two transports (in addition to the one to Bergen-Belsen and then Switzerland) of Jews from camps to Sweden and another to Switzerland. The lot of detained and hiding Jews in Vienna and Bratislava was improved. Kasztner achieved this, with the support of Kurt Becher and later, indirectly, of Himmler.

After the occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944, Himmler’s representatives in Hungary were: Adolf Eichmann and Kurt Becher. Eichmann organized the transport of Jews to Auschwitz with a small staff. Most of the job was done, per his instructions, by Hungarian authorities, mainly the Gendarmerie, whose actions were so savage that the Germans occasionally interfered because torture of individuals was not part of the routine deportation process. Kurt Becher was the other member of Himmler’s team. Both were SS officers with rank “Obersturmbannfuehrer” (lieutenant-colonel). Later, Becher was promoted to “Standartenfuehrer” (full colonel); Eichmann was not promoted, indicative of Himmler’s change of direction. Becher’s job was not to deport Jews but to extract money and major properties from the richest Jews in Hungary for the benefit of the SS. Thus Becher extorted from the Baron Weiss family (Hungary’s richest industrial clan, creators/owners of a vast industrial empire) their properties to the SS. In exchange, the Baron Weiss family was flown to Lisbon: None saw Auschwitz. In other words: Eichmann was the chief murderer, Becher the chief extortioner. Another difference: Eichmann hated Jews and tried to exterminate all of us. Becher, also a Nazi (member of the “Totenkopfverbaende” the SS units trained to mass murder Jews in the USSR in 1941), a cool opportunist. By mid-/late 1944 he knew that Germany was losing the war: He decided to work with and protect Kasztner. Toward the end of 1944, Himmler himself became convinced that Germany was losing … he protected Becher and, in October 1944, stopped mass killing Jews. His aim: separate peace with the Western Powers. This was against Hitler’s wishes. Himmler’s closest associates, Mueller and Kaltenbrunner, continued to agitate for killing Jews.

Kasztner, with Becher’s aid, saved more than just 1,684 members of the “Kasztner transport.” He succeeded in changing the deportation of about 18,000 Jews (from Debrecen and Szeged, big cities in Hungary) to Strasshof, Austria, instead of Auschwitz. Via Becher and Himmler, he contributed to freeing 1,200 Jews from Theresienstadt to Switzerland (the “Musy transport”) and of over 1,000 to Sweden. He, via Becher, improved the lot of the few Jews left in Vienna and Bratislava, etc. Nobody knows the number of Jews saved by Kasztner. An estimate of 25,000 cannot be far from the truth.

Surprisingly, only few authors quote his “Report of the Jewish Rescue Committee of Budapest” (“Der Bericht des Juedischen Rettungkommittees aus Budapest”), typewritten in 1946 (my copy of the original from Yale University). The report includes a letter by R. D. McClelland, representative of the U.S. War Refugee Board, praising Kasztner’s actions. Nor is R.L. Braham’s monumental “The Politics of Genocide” quoted widely in connection with Kasztner.

My father, Leo Stern was a director (one of seven) of the Orthodox community of Budapest (not a rabbi!) in charge of economic affairs and, from 1941, for support of refugees who came in large numbers from Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Poland, USSR and even Romania. He worked closely with Kasztner, who had similar responsibility in the Zionist Organization of Hungary. They became friends: Kasztner visited our home frequently. A young man (19 years old in 1944), I admired him greatly. He was, in several instances, very kind to me.

The performance at Temple Israel of Hollywood was outstanding. I decided with great apprehension to attend because I am used to so many distorted reports about Kasztner. Until the advent of the documentary film “Killing Kasztner” by Gaylen Ross, most representations of Kasztner were far from the truth. Therefore, I was prepared to make some scathing comments about the play but promised my wife, Edith, to do this in a civilized manner. Great was my surprise to see such excellent acting and set-up. Rabbi Rosove, Cantor Maseng and his son, and the actors (particularly Carmen Trutanich, Bert Deixler and Alan Rosenberg) deserve compliments for a memorable performance.

The above is long. Nevertheless, I hope that it can be published.

Arthur P. Stern
Beverly Hills

Point / Counterpoint

Anyone notice the big difference between the two articles on the Rabbi Jacobs ad? The defense cited facts (“I support ... J Street”; opposing stronger sanctions against Iran; supporting Goldstone’s Gaza report; opposing U.S. veto of Security Council resolution condemning Israel; took part in demonstrations by Sheik Jarrah Solidarity Movement; screaming at Jewish family; evicted because they refused to pay rent to Jewish landlord).

But the condemnation of the ad by three rabbis was all name-calling (distorted caricature; plague of separation; appeal to the specter; right-leaning; wrapped themselves in the flag of Zionist purity; self-appointed purists; self-righteous certainty; disregard for nuance; allergy to reason; witch-hunt; demagoguery) and irrelevancies and generalizations (cares deeply; strong relationships; bilateral encounters; studies in Israel; owns property in Jerusalem; spends every summer; passionate Zionist; part of the solution; immense charm; mature; wise; mensch; striving for balance; leadership). They didn’t try to rebut the specific accusations made in the ad.

Ergo: The accusations are justified.

Louis Richter

After Bin Laden

It is now several days after we killed Osama bin Laden and barely one word, nada, about the response in the Arab/Muslim “street” and of the government of those “streets.”

This is so obviously completely contrary to past journalistic practices; it should lead one to wonder.

Leon Perlsweig


The article “Rhea Kohan: No One Spits in Her Kids’ Kasha” (May 6), incorrectly described Buz Kohan’s profession. He is a writer for television variety shows and specials.

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