Letters Week of Nov. 29, 2007


Activists Worked for 20 Years to Change History
Jonathan Tobin's column regarding the romanticism of the Soviet Jewry movement made some interesting points (A Matter of Opinion: "Recalling Our Greatest Triumph," Nov. 21).

However, I think he did a disservice to many of us who worked for Soviet Jewry and were not part of the Jewish Defense League. I also resent the term "troublemakers." That is what the Soviets called us.

The Greater Philadelphia community merged its activist group with its establishment group in 1975 to form the Soviet Jewry Council of JCRC, with the support of Federation.

The Council sponsored an annual Simchat Torah rally on the Parkway that was attended by thousands. Each time a Soviet troupe visited here — for a ballet, hockey, even the circus — we held a dignified, informational demonstration. Our signs were even seen on Soviet TV.

We helped many Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrants twin with refusenik children. Most synagogues in Philadelphia adopted a refusenik family.

We worked with our congressional delegation, with Pennsylvania leaders like Sens. Arlen Spector and the late John Heinz, and Reps. Bill Gray and the late Josh Eilberg, to urge that Congress support our movement.

We sent hundreds of Jews and non-Jews from all walks of life to visit refuseniks behind the Iron Curtain to help sustain their strength and courage. In 1987, we took 15,000 Philadelphians to Washington for the famous March on Washington.

We worked for nearly 20 years to help change history. Sure, it wasn't the majority of Philadelphia Jewry, but it wasn't an insignificant number.

The real lesson of the Soviet Jewry movement is that a relatively small number of activists can make a difference.
Bernie Dishler


Editor's Note: In this instance, unlike the Soviet point of view, calling activists "troublemakers" was clearly used as a term of honor, not abuse.

Soviet Jewry Movement: A Touchstone for Identity
Thanks to Jonathan Tobin on his column urging us to recall, but not to "romanticize," the efforts of those Americans who worked for freedom for Soviet Jewry (A Matter of Opinion: "Recalling Our Greatest Triumph," Nov. 22). It seemed pretty lonely at times in the first decade of our work.

His note of Rabbi Meir Kahane's remark that it wasn't so much that American Jews were going to save Soviet Jewry, but that Soviet Jews could save American Jewry, is correct.

I can't begin to say how many hundreds of people I meet who recall the movement, and say that it was the touchstone for their subsequent Jewish involvement.
Glenn Richter
New York, N.Y.

The writer was one of the founders of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry in 1964.

Educational 'Big Ideas' Come With Big Price Tags
We at the Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education are in total agreement with the Jewish Exponent that "Education's Our Only 'Next Big Idea' " (Editorial, Nov. 8).

The Philadelphia community should be extremely proud that we have developed, implemented and tested one of the best new "big ideas" in Jewish education — NESS: Nurturing Excellence in Synagogue Schools. Twelve area religious schools have had the benefit of this program.

NESS has been recognized locally and nationally. The new national organization PELIE (Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education) has selected it as one of two programs that they have funded for national replication.

But big ideas come with big price tags; ACAJE has raised $3 million — $1.5 million to conduct each of two cohorts of six schools. The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has been a primary donor.

Our vision is to take this program and apply it to our entire educational system. Significant and generous financial support is required to extend NESS to other synagogue schools, as well as to expand it to early-childhood, high school and day-school programs.

We in Philadelphia have inspired this "big idea."
Helene Z. Tigay
Executive Director
Janet Schwartz
Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education
Melrose Park

Punting on Iran Nukes Means Abandoning Israel
The question of whether we should "surrender," as John Bolton states in his memoir (A Matter of Opinion: "Is 'Surrender' Not an Option?" Nov. 15) is related to the question of whether the American-Israel alliance will persist.

I believe that no matter where you go, you will always have to fight harder if you are an ardent supporter of the Israeli-American alliance. Unfortunately, there is no other way but to go on.

The "miasma of cynicism, corruption and anti-Semitism" — as Jonathan Tobin described the United Nations — is not going anywhere. Until there is a change in administration, all issues regarding Iran, North Korea and the Arab-Israeli discord will not shift to any notable degree. In this climate, it is almost impossible to effect change.

I have no real knowledge about how much Iran's nuclear capability has grown, but for the administration to place this matter in Europe's hands, as Bolton says they have, is almost tantamount to dissolving the U.S.-Israel alliance.
Seena Elbaum
Bala Cynwyd

The Path to Annapolis: It's Bush's March of Folly
Concerning John Bolton's analysis of the Bush-administration's policy (A Matter of Opinion: "Is 'Surrender' Not an Option?" Nov. 15), we can expect nothing good to come out of the Annapolis conference. For that reason, "failure" — in diplomatic terms — would be better than "success."

For Israel, the Oslo peace process brought blood, death and tears. Hamas now rules Gaza, thanks in part to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's pressure to allow the undemocratic, openly genocidal Hamas to stand for election.

Yet Fatah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are not moderates; they are simply more hypocritical.

"Failure" is the best outcome for Annapolis.
Elliot Green



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