The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, better known as the Claims Conference, has been responding to calls for more openness and transparency of late in exactly the wrong way. As the organization believed to be the wealthiest in the Jewish world, and with the sacred responsibility of using the billions of dollars at its disposal to care for survivors of the Holocaust, the Claims Conference should be operating in a manner beyond reproach. But the recent scandal related to more than $57 million stolen by a number of employees over a period of 16 years has gone from bad to worse in recent days.
For many years advocates on behalf of agunot (observant Jewish women trapped in unwanted marriages) have sought to resolve the problem through their rabbis. And while many rabbinic authorities have expressed personal empathy and anguish for the plight of these women, the rabbis collectively have insisted that they are powerless in the face of halacha, or Jewish law, which says the husband has the absolute right to determine if and when to end a marriage.
Shimon Peres celebrated his birthday in grand style last week in Jerusalem with an estimated 5,000 of his closest friends, though he doesn’t turn 90 until August. (He clearly does not believe in “the evil eye,” or tempting fate.)
The recent start of the busy season for Birthright Israel, the program that has brought hundreds of thousands of young Jews closer to the Jewish community by bringing them to Israel for 10 free days of tours and lectures, also marked the end of another cultural program that has attracted the same age group.
For pop singer Alicia Keys, who will soon visit Israel in defiance of a personal appeal to boycott from noted author Alice Walker, the decision to visit Israel, while worthy of our gratitude and applause, was made from a position of strength. After all, Keys is successful, confident and wealthy enough to do as she pleases. On the other end of the spectrum is a Syrian doctor and his patient, 28, in the throes of a civil war whose decision to go to Israel was made in the ultimate weakness, with a bullet in his gut and life slipping away.
At first glance, the “Special Report on Poverty,” the third and final part of the 2011 population study of the Greater New York Jewish community that was commissioned by UJA-Federation in consultation with the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, holds no surprises.