August 19, 2004
Rebirth in Russia
Marc Ballon's article, "Kazan's Residents: 'Jewish and Proud'" (Aug. 6), while generously covering the important work of Chabad in the former Soviet Union, left out another major influence on Jewish life in that region -- Reform or Progressive Judaism.
Today, the World Union for Progressive Judaism (www.wupj.org) maintains more than 100 congregations and groups in the former Soviet Union. It has also established the Netzer Olami youth movement, considered by many to be the most active Zionist youth movement operating in the former Soviet Union today. In Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states, Progressive Judaism opens its doors to all Jews, with a Jewish response that brings together modernity, democracy and gender equality.
Despite our shoestring staff and budget (which cannot accommodate paying for press junkets to Russia), the Reform movement in the former Soviet Union is providing a popular and meaningful Jewish alternative for the young and old alike, for women and for many Jews in the former Soviet Union who are not considered Jewish, because they are children or grandchildren of intermarriage. In fact, up to 70 percent of Jews in the former Soviet Union come from interfaith families and would therefore not be welcomed by Chabad.
While the work of Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz is impressive ("The Days and Nights of Berkowitz"), you might consider highlighting one of the Progressive rabbis in the former Soviet Union (one of whom will be in the Los Angeles area in October). Each of our six rabbis (who are all native-born) serves dozens of congregations spanning several time zones, despite severe financial limitations and some groups' attempts to undermine the Progressive Jewish movement.
Our rabbis, paraprofessional community workers and lay leaders are facilitating a renaissance of Jewish life that is nothing short of miraculous.
Mandy Eisner, Regional Director
Maurice Cayne, Regional President World Union for Progressive Judaism
I was quoted in Marc Ballon's article, "Federation Faces Underfunded Pension" (July 30), stating that "it appeared The Federation may have acted irresponsibly by lowering [pension] contributions."
AFSCME, Local 800, which I represent in negotiations, has 450 members covered under the pension plan by virtue of working at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and six other Jewish agencies.
In response to this article, AFSCME requested and received numerous documents and financial reports. We had them examined by a pension specialist from our international headquarters in Washington, D.C., who then met with the plan administrator. Our independent review shows that current and future retirees have no cause for concern.
A review of several years' prior actuarial reports revealed The Federation consistently contributed more than the amounts recommended by the actuary.
The Federation's pension plan suffered the same investment losses that virtually all other institutional investors experienced during the market downturn of 2000-2003. Investment earnings pay the majority of the cost of a pension plan, so losses over a period of three years will always create an "underfunding" situation.
The investment markets are now recovering, so the underfunding could correct itself over the next several years without drastic increases in costs to The Federation.
The pension is an important part of The Federation's and agencies' ability to function.
Ballon's article implied that the pension shortfall will result in millions of donor dollars being diverted from needed social services. Employee wages and fringe benefits do not divert donor dollars from needed social service, but rather, are a necessary cost of the business of providing those services.
Jon Lepie, Consultant to Local 800 Culver City
Bar Mitzvah Spoof?
There were a couple of very good articles in your bar/bat mitzvah feature (Aug. 13), particularly "Confessions of a Bar Mitzvah Teacher" and "Random Acts of Bar Mitzvah Kindness." However, the "B'nai Mitzvah Planning Guide" was startling. Was it meant to be a spoof? Otherwise, it was an appalling example of extreme bad taste, glorifying vulgar practices.
Is a family with a modest income supposed to set up a savings account for the bar mitzvah at birth but only start Hebrew lessons one year ahead? You mentioned booking a hall, band and disc jockey even earlier than the lessons. You also suggest hiring tuxedoes prior to a consultation with the rabbi. I hope no readers take this seriously.
Ruth E. Giller, Winnetka
Bush and Israel
Recent Jewish Journal articles and letters have stated and implied that President Bush is more supportive of Israel than Sen. John Kerry. I totally disagree with this premise. Kerry has always stood with the State of Israel, both as a senator and as a presidential candidate.
Bush, meanwhile, has in the near past abstained from two U.N. Security Council votes resulting in the condemnation of Israel. Also, he coerced Ariel Sharon into not removing Yasser Arafat, therefore being indirectly responsible for the murder of Israelis by the Arafat-backed Fatah movement. His administration has also been against the separation fence with Gaza, which will result in the death of more Israelis.
It is time for The Journal to publish a fair and accurate comparison of the candidates' positions, including both their actions, as well as words.
Henry J. Pinczower, Los Angeles
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