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Forward gets new editor
NEW YORK (JTA)—Jane Eisner, the former editorial page editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, has been tapped to be the next editor of the Forward. Eisner was nominated May 12, and was expected to be approved at a May 18 meeting of the Forward Association, the group that oversees the newspaper and its Web site.
She will replace J. J. Goldberg, who served in the post since 2000, before stepping back last year to begin work on a book. The English-language Forward was founded in 1990, a counterpart to the century-old Yiddish Forvertz.
Feds: Drugs made at kosher meat plant
NEW YORK (JTA)—Federal authorities charged that a methamphetamine laboratory was operating at the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse and that employees carried weapons to work. The charges were among the most explosive details to emerge following the massive raid May 12 at Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa. According to the a 60-page search warrant application, a former plant supervisor told investigators that some 80 percent of the workforce was illegal. They included rabbis responsible for kosher supervision, who the source believed entered the United States from Canada without proper immigration documents.
The source did not provide evidence for his suspicion about the rabbis. The source also claimed to have confronted a human resources manager with Social Security cards from three employees that had the same number. The manager laughed when the matter was raised, the source said. At least 300 people were arrested during the raid, for which federal authorities had rented an expansive fairground nearby to serve as a processing center for detainees. The search warrant application said that 697 plant employees were believed to have violated federal laws. Agriprocessors officials did not return calls from JTA seeking comment.
UJC OKs staff cuts
WASHINGTON (JTA)—The national arm of the North American Jewish federation system passed a plan to cut 37 jobs that would save $3.6 million in salary. The Budget and Finance Committee of the United Jewish Communities will cut the UJC’s budget from $40.2 million to $37 million, the organization’s chairman, Joe Kanfer, told JTA.
The decision made May 7 was under a directive from the federations that pay the dues needed to fund the UJC. The majority of the savings will come from staff cuts, which the 29-member budget committee—made up of representatives from local federation lay and professional leadership—passed by a vote of 28 to 1. In total, the UJC slashed $6.7 million worth of programming and staff from its budget, but added another $3 million in services to arrive at the $37 million total that the federations mandated.
Among several other programmatic cuts, the organization will abandon its Limudim program, a 3-year-old national adult Jewish education effort, Kanfer said. It will also cease Blue Knot: The Jewish Tech Initiative, a program to engage donors in Israel’s high-tech industry. Ultimately, Kanfer said, the UJC looked to cut from areas in which other Jewish organizations were already succeeding. But the organization also will add several budget items, including a $750,000 e-philanthropy initiative. The budget still must be approved by the 155 federations when the UJC board of trustees and delegates assembly meet May 27, but Kanfer said the organization would enact the staff cuts before that meeting so as not to string along its employees.
Aid for Myanmar Jews
NEW YORK (JTA)—A Utah man has launched an effort to help repair the lone synagogue in Myanmar, which was damaged in the recent cyclone there. The synagogue in Yangon (Rangoon), which serves the approximately 20 Jews who still live in the country and dozens of tourists who visit, lost its roof and sustained water damage. Scott Klepper, who established a connection with the community during a vacation to Myanmar in March, has partnered with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which with other Jewish groups is raising funds for general disaster relief for the country.
The aim is to purchase water purification tablets and collect cash for a generator for the neighborhood and repairs to the synagogue. The tablets and funds will be sent with Sammy Samuels, the son of the head of the Burmese Jewish community. Samuels is living in New York, where he works for the American Jewish Committee. Donations should be made to the Myanmar relief fund at www.jdc.org. To designate funds for this project, an additional e-mail needs to be sent to Scott Klepper at email@example.com with “Sammy/Moses” in the subject line, stating the donor’s first and last names, city and state.
Einstein: Religion ‘childish’
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Jews are not the chosen people and religious belief is “childish,” Albert Einstein said in a 1954 letter. The letter, written in German to philosopher Eric Gutkind the year before the Nobel Prize-winning scientist’s death, went on sale May 15 at an auction in England. It was expected to sell for up to $15,400, according to the Daily Telegraph. Einstein’s opinion on religion has long been debated. Previous statements attributed to the father of the Theory of Relativity—a Jew who declined an invitation to be Israel’s second president—have been more ambivalent than this letter.
“The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish,” Einstein wrote. Einstein said he started questioning religion at the age of 12. “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions,” the letter said. “And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are no better than other human groups, although they are better protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.”
Pope thanks God for Jewish state
JERUSALEM (JTA)—Pope Benedict XVI described Israel’s 60th Independence Day as a sign of God’s beneficence toward the Jews. “I would like to congratulate the state of Israel on its 60th Independence Day,” Yediot Achronot quoted Benedict as telling Motti Levy, the new Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, on May 12. “The Holy See is united with you, and thanks God for the full realization of the Jewish people’s aspirations to live in its homeland, the land of its forefathers.”
Israel pioneer dies
WASHINGTON (JTA)—Shmuel Katz, a leading Land of Israel advocate and protege of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, died at 93. Katz, a founder of the Herut party—a predecessor to Likud—died May 9 in Tel Aviv. A South Africa native, he immigrated to Palestine in 1936, where he became a protege of Jabotinsky, the revisionist Zionist whose ideas formed the basis for the Greater Israel movement. Katz later became a member of the high command of the Irgun, the pre-state guerrilla organization that hewed to Jabotinsky’s ideology, and a member of the first Knesset. He wrote for a number of newspapers, including the Jerusalem Post, and published a number of tomes defending Land of Israel principles and extolling Jabotinsky. In 1971, he helped found Americans for a Safe Israel, which advocates against land-for-peace formulas, instead promoting peace for peace.
Terror victims sue bank
JERUSALEM (JTA)—American victims of terrorist attacks in Israel are suing a Swiss bank for funding complicity. A lawsuit filed in a New York federal court May 9 alleges that UBS AG, Switzerland’s biggest bank, indirectly bankrolled Hamas and Hezbollah by dealing with their sponsor, Iran. The claimants are seeking more than $500 million in damages. UBS, which in the past has been under U.S. Treasury scrutiny for its ties to Iran, had no immediate comment on the suit.