I was born in the Bergen-Belsen DP (Displaced Persons) camp just after the end of World War II. Most people think that after the concentration camps were liberated, things were fine. To the contrary, at Bergen-Belsen approximately 15,000 people died after liberation, and I was almost one of them. It was a place of hopelessness. People had lost entire families and had nowhere to go. My father, of blessed memory, one of 13 children, was his sole family survivor. My mother, of blessed memory, one of seven children, thought she was the sole survivor, but several years later found a surviving sister. My parents, brothers and I languished in that DP camp for almost five years until it closed and we came to the United States, through the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS).
While things seemed hopeless, at the same time there was hope. What sustained us, as they have for our people for thousands of years, were our Jewish values. These values followed us to America, as they did with so many others who relocated all around the world.
One of these values, which is a hallmark of our Jewish identity, is kashrut. The Hebrew word kosher means “fit.” The kosher laws define the foods that are fit for consumption for a Jew. The basics are contained in the Torah in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14; the details and particulars, eventually written down in the Mishnah and Talmud, have been handed down through 4,000 years of history. To quote Chabad.org, “kosher laws emphasize that Judaism is much more than a ‘religion’ in the conventional sense of the word. To a Jew, holiness is not confined to holy places and times outside the everyday; rather, life in its totality is a sacred endeavor. Even the seemingly mundane activity of eating is a G-dly act and a uniquely Jewish experience.” I think these words are well-spoken for any Jew, whether observant or not.
It is for the above reasons that I read with dismay “Campus kosher policy clarified” (Jewish News, Jan. 1).
For those of you who don’t know it, we live in an extraordinary and wonderful community comprising amazing people. I particularly applaud those who give their time, whether it be in service of our Federation, our synagogues, and the many other organizations that exist. We also have many wonderful rabbis who extend themselves beyond their own congregational communities to help the Jewish community as a whole.
The article indicates that the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix policy is to allow outside organizations or individuals who rent space from the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center or the Federation to use nonkosher catering.
It is not the job of the Federation to set Jewish values for the community. Jewish values must always come first.
Rabbi David Rebibo, who has been here for over 50 years and started the Phoenix Vaad, says in the article that the policy for allowing nonkosher rentals represents a change. I believe him. When Rabbi Rebibo says that he would think an organization that endeavors to represent the entire Jewish community would make a different consideration, I don’t presuppose to speak for Rabbi Rebibo, but I believe he is telling the Federation that Jewish values are more important than money, and, further, that such a policy would exclude the entire Orthodox community in the Greater Phoenix area.
Instead, the article clearly demonstrates that money is more important to Federation leadership than Jewish values. I quote from the article, in which Stuart Wachs, the Federation’s president and CEO, speaks about the policy: “[Wachs] added that having a strict kosher policy for outside rentals could be a competitive disadvantage that could drive rental revenue elsewhere.” Later, he is quoted as saying, “We are very proud of our inclusive values and the very broad spectrum of the Jewish community we are able to serve because of these inclusive values and practices.”
Mr. Wachs, you are supposed to be a professional fundraiser, and if you can only raise funds by compromising the values that make Jews who we are, you are not doing your job. You have the wrong values and those values you profess to be proud of are not true Jewish values.
We need a change in our Federation leadership who support Jewish values for all Jews in the Greater Phoenix area.
Alan Jablin lives in Scottsdale, where he is a supporter of many local, national and international Jewish organizations and causes.