I write in response to Robin Katz’s letter on April 18.
First, I write as an artist. For the last 45 years I have worked for Latin American Day Workers and the NAACP and I have a permanent exhibit at the Kupferberg Holocaust Center in Queens, N.Y.
And I write as an employee of the Palisades Park Public Library, where I have worked for 26 years and am responsible for the Santa Claus mural.
I have worked with victims of forced sexual slavery since 2007 — they are known as the Comfort Women. I was one of the driving forces behind the memorial, and I designed it.
Whenever I speak at a public event, I begin with a quote from Bob Dylan from his powerful poem “Hard rains are gonna fall.” It goes like this: “I will know my song well, before I start singing.” I study any project before I attach my name to it. I did this with the Comfort Women Project. Apparently, neither Ms. Katz nor the Jewish Standard has done much research about it.
Ms. Katz says that the library “seemed to put the plight of the comfort women to be the most significant event in all of WWII.” This has never been the case. There are approximately 40 public memorials dedicated to the Holocaust, and until we dedicated our memorial, there was no mention of Comfort Women in our text books, or on any plaque in America or anywhere else in the world. We were the first.
After I worked on the memorial, I traveled to Korea, at my own expense and I have grown to know these victims as friends.
I have exhibited at the YWHA Hebrew Center in Washington Township three times over the past 20 years, once with a Holocaust survivor. I was instrumental in securing a grant for the Holocaust Center in Queens, which is now applying for a second grant to build a Comfort Women wing to house an interactive room for people to learn about this atrocity. I have exhibited paintings on immigration from Italian, to Jewish, to Korean, to Latin American. The very thought that I believe that Comfort Women are the most important fact of WWII shows how little she knows about me or my art work.
Now to the ongoing saga of Santa Claus and his infamous mural. In fact, there are 25 murals in the library, including the Pied Piper, Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan, and the Snow Queen. Santa was just one painting, a character as fictional as the rest, painted in fun, for the kids to enjoy. No disrespect was meant, and no one else ever has complained about it.
As for the Jewish community being unhappy with rabbis’ participation in memorializing the Comfort Women — in 2010, I sitting with Dr. Arthur Flug, Holocaust survivor Ethel Katz, and former Comfort Woman Ok Sun Yi, when Ms. Katz stunned us all by saying to Ms. Yi, “I don’t know how you endured that torture for all those years.” Ms. Katz had watched her family shot and killed before she was taken away to a concentration camp, and yet she expressed sympathy for Ms. Yi.
As the son of a St. Louis survivor, my eyes pick up any mention of the “Voyage of the Damned” (“Not quite the spirit of St. Louis,” April 25).
I am in full agreement with you, and I hope that no one will take that trip.
Out of respect and in memory of those who did not survive, particularly on the eve of Yom Hashoah, a correction is called for.
You mention that 200 people died in the concentration camps. It was actually 256 who perished — 84 each from Belgium and Holland and 86 from France.
“Latest salvo in circumcision war” (April 18), a story about its health benefits, may well have made a case for regular circumcision for newborn babies but missed the point of bris milah.
The reason for bris milah today is not hygiene. Whatever its origin may be, hygiene or divine commandment, its purpose as a tradition thousand of years old is to provide a link for the newborn male baby with the entirety of the Jewish people, past, present, and future. Such rituals provide a sense of continuity. Ceremonies such as bris shalom, made out of whole cloth with no basis within Jewish history, do not.
The notion that parents do not have the right to have a child go through bris milah is clearly mistaken. Parents have an intrinsic right to make such religious and educational decisions regarding a child’s upbringing absent abuse and neglect. Both constitutional law and international law recognize that fact. Indeed, any attempt to ban bris milah anywhere brings the odor of Stalinism.
The opposition expressed in Europe is not related to medical considerations but is hostile to religious tradition in general. In referring to kosher slaughter, a head of a veterinarian association said how irrelevant religious traditions were. Similar statements were made about bris milah in the circumcision debate in the European Parliament. You add that to a fear of Muslims, who have practices similar to kosher slaughter and bris milah, and you have the reason for this effort.
Jews are the collateral damage caused by anti-religious and anti-Islamic feeling.
Although Joshua Einstein raises some valid points, his recent opinion piece does not accurately portray the history or current state of the United Jewish Appeal presence in Hoboken.
For many years, Hoboken has been a part of JFNA’s Network of Independent Communities, the umbrella group for Jewish communities not served by local federations. As a part of the Network, we have run an all-volunteer annual campaign and allocation process for several decades. In addition, we have sponsored many successful events, brought in engaging and informative speakers, and sent participants to regional and national conferences, including the Jewish Federation of North America’s Tribefest conference for national young leadership.
Contrary to Mr. Einstein’s contention, Hoboken has been attracting post-college Jewish young adults for at least the past 20 years. In fact, before the existence of Moishe House and other Jewish young adult groups, we had a very active and thriving UJA young leadership division.
During these years, Hoboken and the rest of the Hudson County community have partnered successfully with our neighboring federations in various ways, including those listed by Mr. Einstein. These initiatives have been undertaken with the input and participation of many local professional and lay leaders, and in my opinion they have been to the benefit of both the Hudson County Jewish community and the federation communities to which many of our young leaders eventually move.
Throughout all of these efforts, we have been supported by Ed Finkel and his predecessors at the Network. We owe them a big thank you for shepherding a small community through a period of enormous growth. If we are now ready for a more established federation presence — and I believe we are — it is in no small part due to their efforts and guidance.
As we move forward in determining the best way to bring such a presence to Hudson County, we need to learn from the lessons of our recent past and we need to involve a broad cross–section of professional and lay leaders locally and from our neighboring federations. In the meantime, I invite Mr. Einstein and the rest of the young Jewish adults in Hudson County to support our local UJA campaign and to join us as we continue to strengthen our vibrant and growing community.
In his op-ed, Josh Einstein makes a strong case for an increased Jewish federation presence in lower Hudson County (“Hudson County needs a federation,” April 11). However, one would get the erroneous impression from his piece that lower Hudson County is not part of the federation system whatsoever.
The communities of Bayonne, Hoboken, and Jersey City are part of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Network of Independent Communities. This is the arrangement that JFNA has with more than 300 small Jewish communities that are not part of North America’s 153 Jewish federations with professional leadership. As fully independent communities, Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bayonne each conduct their own fully independent volunteer-run UJA campaign and conduct a fully independent allocations process.
Our community has greatly benefited from the dedication of Ed Finkel, Network’s northeast regional director, who provides professional support to Bayonne, Hoboken, and Jersey City, together with all other Network communities from Maine to Maryland, plus South Florida and Puerto Rico. Especially when our community in Hoboken was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, we greatly appreciated Ed’s devotion to our community’s needs and his assistance at marshaling regional and national support in our hour of crisis. As Josh Einstein noted in his piece, we also have benefited from the generosity of our neighboring federations, who have shared some federation services with us even though we are outside of their catchment area.
Many of us in lower Hudson County long have noted that our communities are quite anomalous in the Network of Independent Communities. Most other Network communities nationwide are small and isolated Jewish communities with minimal Jewish infrastructure. Other than Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bayonne, no other Network communities are at the center of a major metropolitan area with a large Jewish population. Few if any have a quickly growing Jewish population, including many young adults and young families, as Hoboken and Jersey City do. For all the reasons that Josh Einstein cites in his piece, reaching out to the Jews of lower Hudson County should be not only a local priority, but a regional priority. The Jewish residents and institutions of lower Hudson County ought to receive a level of Jewish communal services that are typical of the investment that Jewish federations make in areas with quickly growing Jewish populations. I think we would be most likely to achieve that level of Jewish communal services by becoming part of one of our neighboring federations, though I believe our local leaders would consider any option to bring this level of Jewish communal services realistically to lower Hudson County in the short and long term. We look forward to continuing our discussions with our neighboring Jewish federations, with the JFNA Network, and with the JFNA central leadership to ensure that the lower Hudson County Jewish population is most effectively connected to Jewish communal life.
United Synagogue of Hoboken
Trustee, United Jewish Appeal of Hoboken
I was pleased to see your admirable concern for the plight of agunot — women unable to remarry according to Jewish law due to a recalcitrant spouse — in your April 10 editorial, “Seeking the Promise of Passover’s Freedom for Agunot.” Your conclusion, however, that Orthodox Jewish leaders are apathetic and timid regarding these women’s struggle stems from a lack of familiarity and communication with Orthodox rabbinic judges, called dayanim.
As one who has served for more than 20 years as a rabbinic judge administering gittin — Jewish divorces — I, together with my colleagues, have diligently endeavored to resolve situations of igun for both women and men. From visits to maximum security prisons, spending entire days in civil court, to devoting long hours seeking the cooperation of recalcitrant spouses, no stone is left unturned in our efforts to secure a get for those caught in a predicament of igun.
My colleagues and I have championed the Rabbinical Council of America’s prenuptial agreement, introduced in 1992, that has made long–term igun relatively rare in Bergen County’s Orthodox Jewish community and many other Orthodox Jewish communities.
Most important, we make every effort to insure that all divorcing Jewish couples, regardless of affiliation and/or level of observance, feel comfortable with the Orthodox get procedure.
The fact that Orthodox Jewish leaders are unable to resolve every situation of igun does not stem from either apathy or timidity but rather is due to our understanding of the halacha — Jewish law. An English language explanation of the acceptable and unacceptable solutions (such as hafka’at kidddushin, or annulments) to igun problems according to the Orthodox standards appears in the first volume of my work, “Gray Matter.”
While the editors may not agree with mainstream Orthodox interpretation of halacha, I hope you take the time to study these writings to enable you to understand the Orthodox approach.
I again applaud your concern for agunot and I welcome further dialogue and discussion to help avoid future misunderstanding of Orthodox Jewish law and the efforts of Orthodox rabbinic judges.
Last week the Supreme Court passed a ruling on how large a donation can be contributed for an election. I guess the lobbyists’ situation that we have in the United States probably had not been doing enough in corrupting our elected and appointed officials. Now donors can spend millions of dollars to win an election. They can spend millions in the 2014 elections.
What chance do 85 percent of our American voters have when a Mr. Adelson and his wife, plus the Koch brothers of Texas, can spend $98,000,000 on the elections, as they did in last year’s election?
I cannot compare our election to Mr. Putin’s elections in Russia, but five members of our Supreme Court can bury their heads in shame.
The only way our Republican democracy can survive is for the Tea Party to be defeated in November 2014. It is up to the people to take our country back.
One of the challenges Jews face is being tolerant and respectful of other Jews who practice religion differently than they do (page 3, April 11). Whether I agree with what you wrote regarding the rabbinate of Rishon Letzion endorsing kosher enemas or Rabbi Friedlander choosing not to eat matzah other than at the seder is irrelevant. My point is that it is not for a newspaper to deride other peoples choices but to present news in an unbiased fashion!