October 20, 2005
Mark Pelavin of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is exactly right in worrying that "the stepped-up faith-based push is an effort to push an ideological agenda, not disaster recovery" ("Faith-Based Hurricane Relief," Oct. 7).
If it were only about giving religious organizations an equal footing to provide social services. The real crime is that in serving his obsessive goal to bring religion into all things American, Bush shows an ever more brazen hostility toward secular organizations.
At the height of the Katrina crisis, the Bush administration went so far as to use this historic disaster to advance his anti-secular agenda -- the very nature of which has been what has allowed the minority Jewish community to thrive in America. Where is our indignation? Where is our voice?
FEMA widely disseminated a list of charitable groups collecting contributions for Katrina relief. It was published in major newspapers, posted on its Web site, promoted on television and radio and provided to secondary sources, such as Network for Good, which in turn is tied to large and small businesses who actively encourage their employees to donate.
This list, so powerful in fundraising terms, excluded all but two of dozens of the most respected and proven relief organizations that happened to be secular, many of whom had already set up operations for Katrina. At the same time, at the top of the list, just below the Red Cross, was Pat Robertson's Operation Blessing, the dubious nonprofit that, in addition to well-documented questionable practices that continue today, was found guilty in the late 1990s of taking donations promised to help the poor of Africa and using them instead for Robertson's African diamond mine business.
I ask: Where is our indignation? Where is our voice?
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League is quoted by The Journal as saying of the whole religious bent in handling this disaster, "These are extraordinary circumstances ... so it's something we won't oppose."
This intractable complacency among us may be what has emboldened Bush, despite a clause in the Constitution explicitly stating that no religious test shall ever be required as a "qualification to any office or public trust," to bring up religion among the qualifications of his Supreme Court nominee -- and to mention it first in his defense of her troubled nomination, no less.
These are ominous signs for the Jewish community. I repeat: Where is our indignation -- and where is our voice?
Joan H. Leonard
I enjoyed reading Amy Klein's article describing the challenges facing Jewish Theological Seminary and the Conservative movement ("In Search of a Leader," Oct. 7).
Many of the challenges mentioned in the article are not new. It is worth noting that in its past, both the seminary and the movement have faced and successfully weathered numerous crises.
Strong charismatic leadership by an incoming JTS chancellor has often gone a long way toward strengthening both the seminary and the movement in the face of daunting challenges. The terms of Solomon Schechter and Gerson Cohen are two important cases in point.
Still, the prevailing culture in contemporary America poses new challenges that Conservative Judaism has yet to fully meet. Historically, the Conservative synagogue has had special appeal for Jews with a strong ethnic identity, who appreciated this type of communal umbrella organization. Today, however, individualism and 'bowling alone' are in -- at least for now -- along with directed philanthropic giving, spirituality and the search for personal meaning.
Ethnic attachments, as shown in the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01, are on the wane. For further evidence, look at B'nai B'rith or the general federation campaign, for example. Like the Conservative movement, they are examples of the "ethnic church" or umbrella undertakings that have much less appeal for younger Jews than for older ones.
I read with interest your editorial in The Journal about Jews feeling secure ("A Smile Can Be Key to Temple Security," Sept. 30). As we begin the New Year, I thought your readers might be interested to know that for this year's High Holidays, The Jewish Federation made grants available to small congregations in the area to help provide security. More than 70 synagogues took us up on our offer to use the funds for security guards.
The good work of the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and others in providing annual security briefings to Jewish institutions at the New Year clearly has heightened awareness to best practices. Regrettably, exposure to our dangerous world is more pervasive today among Jews, even in Los Angeles -- a pity.
John R. Fishel
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles
Another Hero Honor
The veterans of the 11th Armored Division Association are proud of the part our Division played in liberating KZ Mauthausen and KZ Gusen, Camps I, II, and III in Austria during the closing days of World War II in 1945.
It has come to our attention that Tibor Rubin, a then 15-year-old inmate of KZ Mauthausen, has recently and belatedly been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush (War Hero's Medal Wait Finally Ends," Sept. 16). We are pleased that his exceptional acts of bravery while serving as a U.S. soldier in the Korean War have finally been recognized.
Our association wishes to propose honorary membership in the 11th Armored Division Association for Tibor Rubin, and to invite his participation in our association activities.
Daniel W. O'Brien
11th Armored Division Association
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