Shoah survivors are not ‘victims’

Thank you for Dan Pine’s sensitive and enlightening article on the hardships that many aging Holocaust survivors in our community are facing (“Hardship after the Holocaust: Having endured the worst, many survivors now face poverty, isolation,” Oct. 2).

Helping to meet the unmet needs of this population should be among our community’s highest priorities. In the article, Pine quotes Greg Schneider, vice president of the Claims Conference, who reportedly prefers the term “Nazi victim” to “Holocaust survivor,” presumably to emphasize the ongoing suffering of so many of these individuals. While Schneider is entitled to his views, I would hope that j., as a matter of editorial policy, continues to refer to these individuals as “survivors” rather than “victims.”

Words matter, especially in relation to the Shoah. No one wants to be labeled a “victim”; the word itself is stigmatizing and implies passivity. “Survivor,” by contrast, is an empowering, dignifying word. My father endured the horrors of Auschwitz and lived to tell the tale, and as far as I am concerned, every day that he gets up in the morning and continues to live his life represents a new act of courage. Our survivors have suffered enough; let’s not perpetuate their victimization.

Michael Sarid   |   San Francisco


Fighting for justice

As you noted in last week’s cover story, 25 percent of America’s Holocaust survivors live below the federal poverty line, which should be a source of real shame within our community.

One group dedicated to providing free legal help to those survivors is Los Angeles–based Bet Tzedek Legal Services, which has joined with the Manatt Phelps law firm to lead the Holocaust Survivors Justice Network — a cadre of over 4,000 volunteers working nationwide to obtain benefits recently offered by the German government to a class of survivors.

The HSJN recently received the prestigious American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award; the ABA’s video depicting that inspirational effort is at http://www.abanet.org/legalservices/probono/pbp_current_recipients.html#holocaust.

Some 50 million Americans live below the poverty line, and 80 percent of them never get the critical legal help that they need to access the social safety net, and other rights, that our community works so hard to obtain.

We cannot ignore that poverty exists within the Jewish community, especially among our vulnerable aging population. Jewish lawyers form the backbone of pro bono legal services in many poverty communities beyond our own; we should do a better job filling that void in our own back yard.

Mark Schickman   |   San Francisco


Tzedakah lesson

I appreciated your recent article “Hardship after the Holocaust.”

I think one of the morals of the story is that it is far more important for people to donate in ways to help the most vulnerable in our community instead of insisting on donations that self-promote by putting someone’s name in big letters.

It’s great to have nice buildings, but not at the expense of social justice. The mitzvah of tzedakah is best realized when the gift is anonymous and the donator gives selflessly without seeking praise from others.

Mordechai Pelta   |   San Francisco


Finally some good news about Israel

Lately, the news for Israelis has been depressing.

First, a Swedish tabloid falsely accused Israeli soldiers of harvesting the organs of Palestinians.

Then, just before Rosh Hashanah, the U.N. Human Rights Council vilified Israel in a report on the Gaza War. The report largely ignored the eight years preceding the war, during which Hamas fired 10,000 rockets and mortars at purely civilian targets in Israel, including homes, schools and hospitals. It ignored the context that Israel acted in self-defense; reduced to a footnote the testimony of Israeli victims like Dr. Mirela Siderer, who was badly disfigured by a May 14, 2008 Hamas missile strike on her medical clinic in Ashkelon; falsely accused Israel of deliberately targeting Palestinian civilians; and equated Israel’s actions with Hamas’ as war crimes.

Then Iran’s president again denied the Holocaust; Iran acknowledged a second uranium-enrichment facility; and an IAEA report suggested Iran can now make atomic weapons.

But finally, there’s good news: Ada Yonath, of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for her research related to ribosomes, the “factories” inside cells that make life possible.

Am Yisrael chai!

Stephen A. Silver   |   San Francisco


Roadblock to peace

I read the Oct. 2 letter from Vladimir Kaplan, who said that Israel wants nothing but peace. That is absolutely right.

But peace isn’t possible because of Hamas. Hamas is holding the keys to the peace. Hamas doesn’t want peace. Hamas says that this group will never recognize Israel. Hamas says it will continue to fight against Israel.

Hamas doesn’t want any negotiation with Israel. And Hamas is using its own people to kill the Jews everywhere, not only in Israel.

Vladimir Kaplan made a right and a good point. But peace isn’t easy until Hamas is destroyed. And, in my opinion, Benjamin Netanyahu made a big mistake for Israel by releasing 19 Palestinian prisoners. Prisoners are guilty. They have to be behind bars, because what will happen is this: They will join Hamas and go against Israel.

Paul Shkuratov   |   San Francisco


Israel’s desolation

Vladimir Kaplan claims Israelis want “peace and tranquility.” I think they really just want tranquility, the quiet of the grave.

Their “peace” requires the Palestinians to abandon their resistance to the continued expropriation of their land and creation of noncontiguous bantustans with Israeli control of their economy.

All resistance, whether nonviolent or violent, is terrorism. The villagers of Bilin who peacefully resist the loss of their land from the separation barrier are met with force and nighttime invasion of homes and arrests. The open Judaization of Jerusalem continues apace. No concessions to Abbas, from whose West Bank no rockets are launched.

Rather than sign on to another cease-fire in Gaza, a massive attack is launched, with war crimes documented by international and Israeli human rights groups alike.

Tacitus, who could be speaking of Israel, said “They create desolation and call it peace.”

Alfred Lerner   |   San Carlos


Hire the denier?

I suggest that the S.F.-based federation invite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to San Francisco. It has recently come to light that his parents were Jews.

He hates Israel and denies the Holocaust. He would be just right for the board of the S.F. Jewish Film Festival, whose remaining members have exactly the same qualifications he does.

Jack Kessler   |   El Cerrito


In support of ‘Rachel’ showing

My husband, Victor, and I have been attending the S.F. Jewish Film Festival since it started 29 years ago. We have also contributed to it and will continue to do so. The festival has been a source of pleasure and enlightenment to so many people who see it as their connection to a Jewish community.

I am deeply offended by the letter writers who felt that that film “Rachel” should not have been shown and who seem to want censorship and to only show Israel in a positive light.

Some of the most interesting films have been made by Israeli filmmakers and have been critical of Israeli government policy. I am worried that it becomes more difficult for American Jews to reexamine their relationship to Israel and to feel that we can support Israel and be critical of its policies at the same time.

Yes, let’s have more civility in our discussions and dialogues. But let’s give credit to the Jewish Film Festival for providing us opportunities to meet and explore dissenting views.

Lorraine Honig   |   San Francisco


Onus is on the JCF’s board

The Israel Action Group asked the JCF to support the JCF mission statement by stating the JCF will not support groups that demonize Israel and/or demonize Jews. So far, the response of the JCF board has been no response.

Each week that goes by, without this statement forthcoming from the JCF board, leads to an inescapable conclusion: the SF-based JCF board is so left-wing that it tacitly supports the conduct of the self-hating Jews who happen to be on the board of the SFJFF.

The SFJCF does many wonderful things. But the choice as to what to do about Stein’s conduct and the SFJFF board’s conduct is up to the JCF board — and no one else.

Hopefully, the JCF board will publicly live up to its own mission statement. Otherwise, no one but the JCF board will be responsible for the resulting negative response from the wider Jewish community.

David Mullens   |   Palo Alto