Letters for Dec. 25, 2014


Lay leaders to blame
Gerard Leval’s thoughtful and well-written piece (“Flaws in our clergy,” WJW, Nov. 20) advocates tossing out the baby with bath water. It is the job of congregational rabbis to be more thoughtful, giving and spiritual than their congregants. And despite living in glass houses to a far greater degree than other community leaders, rabbis generally succeed in this high endeavor and, in doing so, they inspire us.

The root cause of the problem is not the profession of congregational rabbi but the inconstant, revolving nature of congregational leadership. It is their difficult job to supervise the rabbi.
Scandalous headlines are not the result of due deference but blind deference.

Perhaps we can strengthen the hand of lay leadership by instituting changes in congregations that require a more comprehensive evaluation of the rabbi and all rabbinic functions periodically. This is not a solution but neither is abolishing the role of spiritual leader.
from Washingtonjewishweek.com

More friend than enemy
Nat Lewin’s op-ed (“Marion Barry was no friend of the Jews,” WJW, Dec. 4) painted a very one-sided picture. During Nat’s tenure as president of the Washington Jewish Community Council, I was a vice president and later president. Like Nat, I was troubled by Barry’s refusal to denounce Louis Farrakhan but saw it as a result of political calculation, not antagonism. In other ways, he was helpful and responsive to our concerns. He spoke at council functions and, with the JCC and Federation, hosted an annual Yom Hashoah commemoration. Moreover, his office on religious affairs was usually responsive to council requests.


In one crisis, he did the Jewish community an enormous favor. The mayor was planning a trip to Israel for himself and several D.C. Councilmembers organized by the JNF. It was a city-to-city event involving Mayor Teddy Kollek of Jerusalem at which the highlight of the trip was the dedication of a new park. Barry was informed by the State Department that the new park was on the wrong side of the Green Line and his involvement would cause an international incident. Its assumption, and his, was that the JNF was using him to provide legitimacy to Israel’s claim to territory that the United States had not recognized as part of the Jewish state. He could have gone to the press and embarrassed us. Instead, he simply cited scheduling problems as the reason for canceling the trip.

I investigated and informed him that the Washington office of JNF did not realize the park was in disputed territory, and the Israelis had long since treated the area as part of Israel. He expressed some misgivings but accepted my explanation.

During a time of great hostility to Jewish interests from some quarters of the city, he never spoke disparagingly of the Jewish community and worked to quell the flames of resentment. At his passing, we should regard him as more a friend than an enemy.

Jews and Marion Barry:  A response
Following his release from the USSR, prisoner of conscience Natan Sharansky was permitted to join his wife Avital in Israel. His first visit to the United States was in May 1986 when he was honored at several events in Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry graciously welcomed and praised his heroism on May 13, 1986, where, in the mayor’s office, Mr. Sharansky was given the key to the city.

Mayor Barry proclaimed that day as Natan Sharansky Day. The event was well attended by members of the Jewish community and representatives of the D.C. government. As president of the Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry, I was involved in the planning of this memorable tribute and was honored to be present at Mayor Barry’s homage to a true Jewish hero.

At the Dec. 6, 1987, rally for Soviet Jewry on the National Mall, Mayor Barry joined those of us carrying the Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry banner as we marched down Constitution Avenue. We did exchange a few words about the Sharansky event held in his office the previous year. However, he was more interested in talking to my husband, Oscar Dodek, who was wearing earphones and reporting the progress of the radio broadcast of the Super Bowl-bound Washington football team as they were defeating the then-St. Louis Cardinals.

No Picasso-designed label
There is an error in the article about the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild (“Remembering ‘the Baroness,’ ” L’Chaim, WJW, Nov. 13). At the bottom of the third paragraph it says that her father “commissioned notable artists every year since 1945 to create his wine labels, including Picasso.”

I visited Chateau Mouton Rothschild in the spring of 1973, when I was a college student in Paris. At that time, a handwritten sign at the side of the road invited visitors to tour the vineyard, so my traveling companion and I turned off the road to see it. We were taken around the vineyard by one of the workers. We ended up in a shed where they bottled the wine, and they gave us a taste of the new vintage, which as you can guess, was very good. Examples of the labels for past years were up on the wall and the vineyard worker explained to us that the Baron hired a different famous artist every year to design his labels.

Picasso had just died weeks before, and I noticed that there was no label by him, so I asked about it. The worker launched into a long diatribe about how very upset the Baron was because Picasso had died before the Baron had a chance to ask him to design a label. Everyone thought it was very funny, and we should all have troubles like that!

The tour finished with a visit to a mini-museum displaying antique Jewish ritual objects owned by the family. It was a magical visit I will never forget.

So, although someone else may have later designed a label incorporating Picasso’s work, I know that Picasso himself never designed one of the labels. It was a minor error in an otherwise fabulous story.
Washington, D.C.

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