Thank you, Rabbi Kniaz

We want to thank you for your coverage of Kulanu NNJ (January 15) and the grant that we recently received from the Covenant Foundation. The article omitted the names of the participating congregations. They are Barnert Temple-Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Franklin Lakes; Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel; Gesher Shalom/JCC of Fort Lee; Glen Rock Jewish Center; JCC of Paramus/Congregation Beth Tikvah; Shomrei Torah/ The Wayne Conservative Congregation; Temple Avodat Shalom, River Edge; Temple Beth Or, Washington Township; Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, Woodcliff Lake; and NNJJA (Northern New Jersey Jewish Academy), Ridgewood.

Additionally, we want to thank Rabbi Shelley Kniaz, who was the initiator and a driving force behind the grant. The proposal would not have been written without her hard work and dedication.

Rabbi Paula Feldstein
Temple Avodat Shalom, River Edge

Stephanie Hausner
Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey

Transparency and book lists

There is nothing wrong with questioning the wisdom of proposed legislation or the removal of a particular book from a required reading list (“To strengthen Israel, defend democracy,” January 22). Had Mark Gold and Hiam Simon done simply that, they would have my sympathy. But their opinion piece is laced with so much hyperbole as to be unhinged from reality.

The authors’ first objection is to proposed “transparency legislation” in Israel that would require an allegedly nongovernmental organization to disclose when more than half of its funding comes from a foreign government and how much it receives. That’s it. The proposed legislation does not prohibit any activity whatsoever. Even an organization funded entirely by foreign governments still will be free to do and say whatever it wants in Israel. But while doing whatever it does and saying whatever it says, it will not be free to deceive the public with the claim that it is an independent, nongovernmental organization, when it is in fact funded by, and therefore beholden to, a foreign government. The United States has similar laws, and in contrast with the proposed Israeli law, which is merely civil in nature, a breach of the U.S. is punishable as a crime.

The authors’ second objection is that Israel’s Ministry of Education decided to withdraw a love story between a Jewish woman and a Muslim man from its list of required high school reading. Gold and Simon themselves admit that the book since has enjoyed a spike in sales and that other stories of Jews who marry outside the faith have been and are still taught in Israeli schools. Yet Gold and Simon incredibly declare that “Banning books won’t stop free thought,” even though the book clearly never was banned. Shmuel Rosner, in a New York Times column on January 19, was amazed at the tumult this caused, writing, “Many books are not included in the list of required reading for high school students.”

For Gold and Simon, these two issues amount to no less than a “battle for democracy.” They are “shocked” by the transparency legislation and accuse its sponsors of “suppressing” left-wing NGOs. They evoke images of the worst dictatorships, ranging from Sudan and Syria to North Korea and they compare Israel to China and Russia.

They support these comparisons by attributing the worst motives and conspiracy theories to Israelis with whom they disagree. In their view, the transparency legislation deliberately favors right-wing organizations because right-wing NGOs receive their funding from individual donors, not foreign governments, and therefore they would be exempt from the new law. But no one is stopping left-wing organizations from similarly seeking the majority of their funding from individuals. Individual donors are just that, individuals. There is a vast difference between an organization’s receiving support from individuals and receiving support from a foreign government. It is similar to the difference between receiving campaign support from mega-corporations and from individual citizens. That is why so many, including President Obama, objected so vociferously to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case, which put large corporate donations to election campaigns on an equal footing with campaign donations from individuals.

Unlike Gold and Simon, I will not attribute motives that I cannot prove to them. But I will ask why they are going to such extremes to fight for the right of left-wing purported nongovernmental organizations to hide the fact that they are obtaining a majority of their funds, if not all of them, from foreign governments. I will ask why they compare Israel to the worst tyrannies in the world because Israel removed a book from a high school required reading list. And I will assert, as Professor Alan Dershowitz has done so many times, “No other country with comparable internal and external threats has as good a human rights record as Israel.”

Gold and Simon should take heed of that fact when they publish their wild accusations.

Harry J. Reidler

Coming together for Devorah

This weekend I read your limited account of the events that took place on the weekend of January 16 (“Woman’s body removed from car in Passaic River,” January 22). Devorah Stubin died a tragic death and nothing can ever bring her back to the living. Yet with her death, something beautiful took place. The entire Jewish community of New York and New Jersey came together as one to search for Devorah. Hundreds of Jews gathered in Maywood with a singular purpose. Chasidim from Lakewood, Brooklyn, Monsey, and Passaic joined modern Orthodox from Westchester, North Woodmere, Long Island, Teaneck, Englewood, and other Jersey towns without hesitation. A couple called in from Boston asking for directions to Maywood. CSS, the Community Security Services organization, was represented with a dozen members as well. We, chasidim, modern Orthodox, and secular, searched together, we prayed together, and we ultimately cried together as one Jewish people.

Here was a tragedy that brought about a beautiful response. Bergen County Sheriff Saudino said: “The response given today by the Jewish community was the most incredible response by a community that I have ever witnessed in my 43 years of active service. If something were ever to happen to me, I know who I am calling for help.”

May Devorah’s soul be uplifted by the events that took place that Shabbat.

Michael Seelenfreund

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