Letters Week of June 25, 2009


JCCs Get a Bum Rap in Recent Cover Story

I was dismayed by Bryan Schwartzman's front-page article in the June 18 issue of the Jewish Exponent concerning the demise of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Philadelphia ("JCC Branches Go Separate Ways").

For 17 years, I served as the public-relations director there, and during my tenure, it was the largest and most vibrant local Jewish agency in the Philadelphia area. This was accomplished under the leadership of Samuel I. Sorin, the executive vice president who retired in the mid-1990s.

It's a shame that the article may be how some people remember the agency. They will have no idea that at one time, the JCCs received the largest allocation from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia of any of its local constituents.

That was because the organization played a leadership role in implementing the priorities of the community as set by Federation, whether it was regarding continuity or education.

I understand that it was time for the branches to disband. But a comment was made in the article that the JCCs was a "failing model," and I think that's incorrect.

For more than 30 years, the model worked quite well. There are reasons the organization got to its present impasse, but I'm not of the opinion that the model failed. It worked quite well when properly administrated, as it was under Sorin.

Finally, I hope that at some future date the Exponent tells the entire history of the JCCs in detail, and not in a three-paragraph sidebar to an article concerned with its demise.

The community should be made aware of the organization's long and rich heritage.
David C. Friedman
Lafayette Hill, Pa.

A Bit of Clarification's Needed on Rabbi's Ideas

I appreciate being interviewed and quoted in Bryan Schwartzman's cover story "Maverick Rabbi: Don't Resist Intermarriage" (June 18), but want to clarify several points.

I do not think that Rabbi Irwin Kula's idea of Judaism as a technology that can help anyone become better, or his view that the value of any mitzvah or ritual is how it helps a person, is a "new-age fad."

I greatly respect him and his view that the wider population can benefit from Judaism, and the importance he places on helping people live well and better, and reducing violence between people.

It is not clear to me what Rabbi Kula's view is about the role of Jewish identity, peoplehood and community. For example, can someone who has no connection to Jewish community use the "technology" of Judaism? These are questions that merit much further discussion.

But I most certainly applaud the rabbi's desire to eliminate barriers to Jewish engagement by the intermarried.
Edmund C. Case
CEO, InterfaithFamily.com
Newton, Mass.

There's a Better Title to Honor Women 'Rabbis'

A piece written by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency found in the June 11 Jewish Exponent contained the headline "Orthodox Woman's Given a New Title — Not Rabbi, but 'Leader.' "

The title bestowed by the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale was the awkward Maharat, an artificial Hebrew acronym.

I have a much better suggestion.

The Hebrew letter bet (the letter "b") is the first letter of the first word of the first chapter of the first book of the Torah, Bereshit. It is, of course, about beginnings — the creation of something brand-new.

Many midrashim comment on this, and on the significance of the bet.

So why not take this "b" and affix it to the word rabbi, forming the neologism "brabbi"? It's a perfect fit!

Moreover, when considered against the backdrop of the overwhelmingly patriarchal and, indeed, androcentric nature of rabbinic/Orthodox Judaism, can one even remotely conceive of a more pointed, symbolic representation of an individual's commitment to nourish, support, shape and uplift the system?

For further research, naturally enough, the place to start is the Torah, in the portion called Tetzaveh (Exodus: 28:20-30:10).
S.R. Cohen


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