Letters to the editor January 7

Letters to the editor January 7

Story needed better headline
In the Dec. 17 article “Have Pittsburgh donors failed Hillel JUC?” The Chronicle notes that, while free Friday night dinners at the Hillel JUC drew 150 to 225 students, attendance fell to 40 students after a charge of $6 was instituted.
This implies that the only reason the majority attended was because it was free. I therefore suggest that a more appropriate headline would have been “Have Pittsburgh students failed Hillel JUC?”
I am well aware of the need to engage Jews at a young age, but the students seem to have voted with their feet. The good news is that 40 students put enough of a value on the program that they are willing to pay a nominal fee for the experience.

Henry Posner III
Rabbis are human, too
Regarding your Dec. 3 column, “What do we owe our intermarried congregants?” and the ensuing letter by Ray Naar (Dec. 17) complaining about his mother’s need to engage a Greek Orthodox priest to bury young Ray’s father because of the family’s inability to find a local rabbi familiar with Sephardi rites: It is true that some rabbis sometimes fall short of the qualities of understanding and compassion that are rightly expected of them.  We must keep in mind that nobody is perfect.  But when a rabbi fails to produce, the person who was hurt might well feel disillusioned by the rabbi — and by the synagogue and even by the Jewish religion.  
But Ray Naar’s letter reads like a shaggy dog story. Is the rabbinate to take even more of a black eye than necessary, because in 1954 there was allegedly no rabbi in Richmond who would bury a Jewish man accompanied by Sephardic ritual? It’s difficult for me to believe that a rabbi, however Ashkenazi-centric he may have been, would refuse to conduct such a funeral.
Moreover, even if a Greek Orthodox priest had trained in Salonica (where indeed there was a thriving Jewish population until the Nazis destroyed it), I find it hard to believe that his seminary training gave him the remotest preparation in conducting a Jewish funeral of any denomination or ethnic orientation. 
Finally, is it not extremely odd that a grieving Jewish family would favor a Greek Orthodox priest over a rabbi, by virtue of the fact (so we are led to believe) that the priest had better pronunciation of Sephardic Hebrew?  
Rabbis are sometimes insensitive. Rabbis are sometimes sensitive, but not as much as they might be.  Rabbis are sometimes perfectly sensitive, but their motive or manner is misunderstood.  But it appears that now we are adding to the criticism of rabbis by dredging up not-very-credible funeral stories from 55 years ago.  Why, even the Greek Orthodox priests do better by the Jewish community than our rabbis do. I for one am not yet persuaded of this.

Rabbi Stephen Listfield
Beth Israel participated
I read with interest and dismay your article on Mitzvah Day 2009, “Jewish volunteers pitch in on Christmas Day,” (Dec. 31). Once again, The Chronicle staff refuses recognition or inclusion of any Jewish organization outside of Squirrel Hill. This parochial attitude is harmful not only to the Jewish community in the suburbs, but to The Chronicle itself.
Obviously, there was no attempt by The Chronicle to communicate with any of the South Hills synagogues to check with their participation in this project.
For your information, Beth Israel Center of Pleasant Hills sent people to a nursing home, including Dr. Mark Mendlowitz, a veterinarian, and his dog.  
We have participated in Mitzvah Day for years without any recognition from your paper. This indicates not an oversight, but a concerted thought for exclusion.

Richard M. Green
Beth Israel Center

(Editor’s note: The story in question was specifically about Mitzvah Day — a United Jewish Federation program — and not the Christmas day activities of any particular congregation. As such, no congregation — in or out of the city — was contacted for the story. Volunteers from the city and suburbs participated in Mitzvah Day.)