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Shammai Engelmayer
 
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Take my kidney. Please…

A case of conflicting commandments

Published: 07 March 2014
Saving a life is paramount in Judaism, but at what price?

“Whoever saves a single life, it is as if he has saved an entire world.”

So the Talmud tells us, and so Chazan Eric Wasser did two weeks ago Wednesday, when he gave up one of his kidneys so that a congregant in his shul could live. (See the accompanying article.)

A healthy person can donate a kidney; a part of the liver, lung, or intestine, or bone marrow. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, which maintains a running count on its website, as of the moment I write these words, 99,357 people in the United States are awaiting a kidney to save their lives; 15,715 people are waiting for a liver; another 1,621 are in need of a lung. Eighteen people die each day because no transplant is available in time.

 
 

Saul Kagan, architect of Holocaust Restitution

WorldPublished: 15 November 2013

Saul Kagan, longtime executive director and then executive vice president of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, died on Friday, November 8. He was 91 years old. Ironically, his death came only hours before the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the “night of broken glass” that signaled the beginning of the Holocaust, the aftermath of which occupied Mr. Kagan’s life for the last 65 years.

Mr. Kagan made it his life’s work to gain as much money in reparations as possible for the survivors of the Shoah, and to see cultural and real property returned to the families of its victims. In these efforts, he once explained, he was guided by words spoken by the prophet Elijah to King Ahab, when he benefitted materially from the execution of a man falsely convicted of treason. Said Elijah to Ahab, “Would you murder and also inherit?”

 
 

The scandal that never was

Truth seems to have no place when accusing the Claims Conference

Local | WorldPublished: 26 July 2013

There is a truth that keeps getting shunted aside in the ongoing cover-up scandal involving the Conference of Material Jewish Claims Against Germany. That truth is simply stated: There is no cover-up scandal.

There never was. There were mistakes made in 2001, to be sure, but they only became mistakes with the gift of hindsight. Several Claims Conference employees developed a complicated scheme to siphon off $57 million over 17 years. A just-completed and highly critical report by the organization’s ombudsman described the scheme as a “sophisticated and large-scale fraud committed by criminal elements who had expertly forged documents to fraudulently receive money from the German government.”

 
 

Berman on offense

Claims Conference chair’s memo raises questions about critics’ motives

Local | WorldPublished: 07 June 2013

Attorney Julius Berman, embattled chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, struck back at his and the organization’s critics on Thursday, May 30, in a lengthy memorandum to his board of directors. (The Jewish Standard obtained a copy of the memorandum later that day. It is posted on our website, http://www.jstandard.com.)

In recent weeks, the Claims Conference has been under heavy fire for allegedly ignoring for nearly a decade warnings that the organization was being defrauded from within. During a 17-year span, employees and their outside collaborators managed to redirect $57 million to their own pockets. Berman’s memorandum does not ascribe motives to his critics, but the totality of the evidence he presents suggests that self-promotion, rather than genuine concern, was at the heart of their criticisms. The suggestion was only heightened over last weekend as those whom he singled out in his memorandum offered their own responses. Perhaps, however, these should be more accurately described as non-responsive responses.

 
 

Claims Conference chair’s memo raises questions about critics’ motives

Local | WorldPublished: 31 May 2013

Attorney Julius Berman, embattled chairman of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, struck back at his and the organization’s critics on Thursday in a lengthy memorandum to his board of directors. The Jewish Standard received a copy of Berman’s memo late Thursday. It is posted below the story.

In recent weeks, the Claims Conference has been under heavy fire for allegedly ignoring nearly a decade of warnings that the organization was being defrauded from within. During a 17-year span, employees and their outside collaborators managed to redirect $57 million to their own pockets. Berman’s memorandum does not ascribe motives to his critics, but the totality of the evidence he presents does suggest that self-promotion, rather than genuine concern, was at the heart of their criticism.

 
 

New aid agreement for Shoah survivors

Claims Conference, Germany reach ‘historic’ accord in Jerusalem

WorldPublished: 31 May 2013

Even as it defended itself from attacks over its handling of a major internal scandal, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany last week scored another major victory in its efforts to bring a measure of justice to survivors of the Shoah, many of whom have been ineligible for compensation until now.

The victory came last Thursday, May 23, in Jerusalem, in what is being referred to as yet another historic agreement between the Claims Conference and the Federal Republic of Germany. It marked the first time in the 60 years of negotiations between the two that talks were held in Israel.

Among other things, Germany agreed to provide “approximately $1 billion over the four-year-period, 2014- 2017, for homecare for Jewish Nazi victims, with the annual amount increasing every year through 2017,” according to a letter prepared for Claims Conference board members by former United States Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, the organization’s special negotiator. The letter was made available to the Jewish Standard this week.

 
 

Jonathan Pollard: What the CIA said

From the start, innuendo and veiled threats clouded the truth

Cover Story Published: 21 December 2012

The date was Nov. 21, 1985.

A 31-year-old civilian U.S. Navy intelligence analyst specializing in counterterrorism and his wife were inside the gates of the Israel embassy in Washington, D.C., seeking asylum. The embassy guards refused them entry into the building, instead ordering them to leave. No sooner did they exit the gates than agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation descended on them and arrested the analyst, Jonathan Jay Pollard. Soon thereafter, he was charged with passing on sensitive intelligence data to a foreign government — the State of Israel.

 
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Celebrating Simchat Torah

The day that isn’t really a day…

Cover Story Published: 04 October 2012
And why it is a day to celebrate, not ignore

Simchat Torah is almost here.

Perhaps, though, because of the frivolity associated with it (vigorous dancing, singing, some horsing around, and in some shuls, even some drinking), most people who celebrate the day will know only in a vague way what it is they are celebrating. Or how the various parts of what they are doing on that day came about.

Sadly, though, most Jews will not be celebrating and probably will not even know that it is Simchat Torah, much less realize that there is a very important reason for it not to be ignored. That is a Jewish tragedy of epic proportions that, in a sense, Simchat Torah was meant to avoid.

 
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Naturally relevant

Published: 28 September 2012

Of all the “antiquated” customs in Judaism, the ones related to Sukkot probably are the most embarrassing for modern Jews.

Imagine, goes the reasoning, having to participate in such “ludicrous rituals” as waving palm branches decorated with willows and myrtle, and connected, no less, to the world’s most expensive “lemon,” the citron. Leviticus 23:40 states, “And you shall take on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.” Yet, say the naysayers, not only does the way this law is observed smack of some pagan tree-hugging, but the Torah probably never meant for its words to be taken in this way.

 
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Better living through Judaism

Healthy halachah

Cover Story Published: 17 August 2012

One of the things a rabbi hears all too often is that Judaism is a 3,500-year-old religion with rules and regulations that were designed for another time and another place. Traditional Judaism has little or nothing to say to the Jews of the 21st century.

That is what we hear — and, as I said, we hear it all too often.

It is not true, of course. Judaism has a lot to say that is relevant and even necessary in our day. You just have to be willing to listen — and to understand.

Part of the problem is that much of what Judaism has to say is found in the Torah, and to a lesser extent in the remainder of the Tanach, the Bible. Those texts are from another age, and too many of us tend to think of them as having been written for their time only.

 
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