As a member of the board of the Material Claims Conference and as a Holocaust survivor, I was extremely troubled to read “Films expose the problem of impoverished Holocaust survivors in Israel” (CJN, Oct. 16).
I have been on the board for two years, and in that time I have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars distributed to impoverished survivors around the world. I have seen directors of the board, all survivors themselves, devote thousands of volunteer hours to better the lives of our needy brothers and sisters. I would never serve an organization like the one that is so wrongly depicted in this film.
Sadly, the article fails to examine the marked biases and distortions made in the film. This information is readily available on the Claims Conference website at www.claimscon.org in the form of a detailed, 28-page rebuttal. Most importantly, omitted in the article is the fact that the Claims Conference has filed a defamation action against Orly Vilnai-Federbush, Guy Meroz and Shamayim Hafakot, the creators and producers of the movie.
The article also omits the fact that key Holocaust survivor groups around the world have condemned these films. They have asserted that the filmmakers go beyond distortion of the truth, presenting claims that may be considered libelous and could prove inflammatory, and may even result in anti-Semitism.
I ascribe to the same view and urge CJN readers to read the proof on the website for themselves. Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors, along with Canadian Jewish Congress, has urged the Toronto Jewish Film Festival not to show the film. We have yet to receive a response from the festival.
We are extremely disappointed that our concerns about the damage this film could inflict on survivors, who may wrongly believe they were duped by an organization that was established to assist them, have been ignored. The fact that the article also ignores the controversy and concerns surrounding these films adds insult to injury for Holocaust survivors around the world.
Canadian Jewish Holocaust Survivors
Discrimination against Sephardim
Rabbi Yehiel Ben Ayon claims that “virtually all top-notch Ashkenazi yeshivot maintain quotas on how many boys of Sephardi origin they are prepared to accept” (“Rooting out an ugly prejudice,” CJN, Sept. 25).
I went to the overseas program of Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikva. There were more than 150 students. About 60 were in the army, and within the group of the other 90 students, I am positive that there was no “quota” – firstly, because about 40 per cent were not Ashkenazi, and secondly, because of what the Rosh Yeshiva HaRav Yuval Cherlow said when he spoke about the differences between Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews. He spoke about the traditional differences in mindset and religious practice, and about the different historical manner of Jewish learning and teaching and the results in today’s reality. He also spoke about the different effects of the Enlightenment on the different communities and the different ways in which they treated those that strayed from the tradition.
Rabbi Cherlow also mentioned that he had an affinity for many aspects of the Sephardi tradition, and he recounted a story about a study group, mostly of Sephardim, that he would go to late at night to study the teachings of Rabbi Nachman of Breslow. It was clear that the teachings of this spiritual leader arose from the Ashkenazim and had managed to “cross over” and be studied by Sephardim. However, Rabbi Cherlow did not state that, because the fact that Sephardim also study Ashkenazi texts was obvious to the group he was speaking to, of which many were Sephardi. Rather, he used the story to describe some of the differences in the traditional mindset of Sephardim and how it affected Halachah.
I am sure that Yeshivat Hesder Petach Tikva is not a radical exception. There are many fine yeshivot that I am confident do not discriminate against Sephardim. I ask Rabbi Ben Ayon to ask himself if his information about the yeshivot is correct.
Staying married through thick and thin
I would just like to say to your columnist Sandie Benitah, that there are many people who marry for love and stay married for many years through thick and thin (“Marrying for love,” CJN, Sept. 11). And the marriage strengthens as the years go by.
They learn to live with their spouse’s meshugasin, raise loving, well-brought-up and happy families and are not cynical at the end of their lives. And if one partner dies, the loneliness is terrible to the surviving spouse, however he or she shows themselves to the world as getting along in life.
So, Sandie, marry for love and stay that way for many, many years.
War creates discrimination in Israel
Bernard Avishai proposes that Israel should became an “Hebrew republic” (CJN, Oct. 16). But Israel has been an Hebrew republic from its founding. The terms “Hebrew people” and “Jewish people” are synonymous. In Russian, Bulgarian and other languages, Jews are called “Hebrews.” Israel (or the Hebrew republic) is the nation-state of the Jewish (Hebrew) people. Its Law of Return, which grants immediate citizenship to any Jew immigrating to Israel, is in accord with democratic norms. Many democratic nation-states have similarly laws, including Ireland, Greece, Iceland, Austria, Bulgaria and Germany. The Council of Europe has stated that relationships between a homeland and its diaspora do not contravene international law.
In any nation-state, the character of the public square is determined by the majority. That is why the flag of Switzerland shows the cross and not the crescent. Or the flag of Turkey shows the crescent and not the cross. By the same token, the flag of Israel shows the Star of David.
Like many other nation-states, Israel has minorities. And just like in many other states, there is discrimination against those minorities. However, in Israel, one can explain that discrimination by the state of war in which Israel has found itself since its founding. Every effort should be made to abolish this discrimination, but it’s very important to stress that there is no contradiction between a “Jewish state” and a state that grants equal rights to all of its citizens, just as there is no contradiction between a “French state” and a state that grants equal rights to all of its citizens.
Holiday services at JGH
When a Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashanah melody lingers in your head long after the gates of heaven have closed, well, that says something about the kind of davening one has experienced. My thanks to cantors Dr. Eugene Edelstein and Dr. Michael Resnick, who led the services at the Jewish General Hospital with such compassion and kavanah.
As David Lazarus’ recent story in The CJN pointed out, High Holiday services are a long-standing tradition at the hospital (“Holiday services have special resonance in hospital,” CJN, Sept. 25). They give patients and families the opportunity to pray for as little or as long as they wish, to ask for a blessing for the sick, or just to sit and know they are not missing out on yom tov. And for neighbourhood residents, the calm, quiet atmosphere in which to seek forgiveness and a good year is all the more special in the bright, spacious auditorium ringed with greenery and infused with hope.
My thanks to Dr. Joseph Portnoy, the hospital’s director of professional services, for organizing the yom tov services all these years and for great shofar blowing, and to hospital director of pastoral services Rabbi Raphael Afilalo for his words of wisdom.