The JC

Letters to the editor, September 22 2023

Leeds synagogues, multiple holocausts and AJEX

September 22, 2023 12:41

Holocausts, plural

We strongly object to the recent open letter from fifty rabbis of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe criticising use of “Holocaust terminology” to describe the humanitarian crisis inflicted by Azerbaijan on ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh.

The Jewish people have no monopoly on the terms “genocide” or “holocaust.” The Encyclopaedia of Genocide notes that “genocide” was coined in 1942 by the Polish Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin to describe the crime against the Armenian people by Turkey, as well as ongoing atrocities by Nazi Germany against the Jews, and can refer to “all people’s suffering”. Rejecting use of these terms to describe contemporary suffering is itself a desecration of the Holocaust, whose memory should be allowed to help prevent another genocide.

These rabbis do not deny that 120,000 Armenian residents of Nagorno-Karabakh are in danger of mass starvation because of the blockade imposed last December by Azerbaijan, which hopes to compel their flight.

Shamefully, another Jewish group, the Conference of European Rabbis, plans a conference in Baku to be “graciously hosted by the President”— the dictator Ilham Aliyev, who will use their stamp of approval to drown out the cries of the victims.

This is the last thing rabbis should do. Judaism teaches us that the moral significance of our own suffering in Egypt is a moral charge to ensure that others do not suffer similarly. Raising one’s voice on the side of the oppressor is a desecration of Jewish values.

Prof Israel W. Charny

Jerusalem, Director, Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide, past President International Association of Genocide Scholars

Rabbi Avidan Freedman

What about Israelites?

Ruth Anderson, while focusing on a misguided local initiative in Tennessee, seems to suggest that any attempt at restricting children from accessing Shoah-related literature is “an effort to delete our Jewish history” and “undermine[s] our efforts to push back against anti-Jewish hate” (To support freedom of expression, read Maus, 7 September).

As a parent of pre-teens with a strong Jewish identity, I think it is entirely reasonable for us to heavily restrict and curate their access to Shoah-related literature (particularly given the volume of misguided publications on this topic, like the notorious The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas).

“Our Jewish history” is not limited to the Shoah and there is a much more damaging, pervasive and pernicious form of censorship happening on this front closer to home. Among the significant number of children’s books published in the UK (particularly those focused on history, the ancient world, mythology, inspiring real-world characters, etc). it is noticeable how almost all Jewish characters or stories have been excised or obscured (other than the ever-present, token, reference to Anne Frank).

The Jewish people were sovereign in the Land of Israel for over 1,300 years (from 1258 BCE to 70 CE), each of the Temples stood for centuries, and our history (both in the Holy Land and elsewhere) is fascinating and complex. But I challenge anyone to find current mainstream children’s books focusing on any of these topics. There are countless books about the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and other peoples, but none I am aware of about Ancient Israel.

There are scores of books about ancient travellers and explorers, but barely a mention of Benjamin of Tudela and numerous other Jewish travellers. There is a strong focus on women pioneers, but no current mainstream books about Doña Gracia Mendes Nasi or Glückel von Hameln (or even Golda Meir, for that matter).

The reason is pretty obvious: if you accept and celebrate the historical truth that Jews have lived in the Land of Israel for millennia (and done much else besides), this undermines the prevailing antisemitic slander that the founding of the State of Israel was a settler colonial enterprise.

For anyone truly worried about censorship and combating antisemitism in children’s libraries and literature, this is by far the greater threat. Unfortunately I don’t see anybody making an effort to push back.

Yitzchak Vitale
Borehamwood WD6

Not just two

Your report about Leeds commences “Leaders of the two major synagogues in Leeds” (Leeds shuls to come under just one roof, 15 September).

The word “the” is incorrect.

Neither of the two shuls mentioned— Etz Chaim and Beth Hamidrash Hagadol (BHH) — would deny that there are three major orthodox synagogues in Leeds . The third, but by no means least, is the United Hebrew Congregation (UHC). As to which is the most prominent, each would argue its own case.

As a UHC member since 1966 – a four generation member - I simply point out that under the dynamic leadership of Rabbi Albi Chait MBE UHC’s membership increases, often at the expense of Etz Chaim and BHH.

In the interests of fairness and accuracy it would be churlish not to point out there is a fourth major synagogue in Leeds — Sinai Reform.

Russell Graham

Sickening behaviour

As a Holocaust Studies PhD graduate student who is shomer shabbat and shomer mitzvot,  I feel sick to the core when I read that some Charedim in Israel say that they would rather experience a Holocaust or be shot than be drafted into the IDF.

Whatever their halachic objections are to being drafted, what kind of perverted people possess these types of views, within living memory of the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis?

There are many ways in which yeshiva students in Israel can make a contribution to the wellbeing of their fellow citizens, both orthodox and not, through a variety of sherut leumi activities as an alternative to serving in the IDF. Yet to equate IDF service with the Holocaust is perverse, beneath contempt, and a hillul Hashem, whatever is drilled into these people by their rabbis.

Eighty years ago, the Jewish people did not have the State of Israel and the IDF to protect them. Fortunately today in Israel, all types of Jews, whether religious or secular, can rely on the security forces to look after their safety. Yet despite this, as well as our tragic history,  some ignorant people feel that they can denigrate the security forces with impunity, not to mention their  appalling disregard for the memory of the six million.   

Richard Kafton
London N3

AJEX parade

At the AJEX Remembrance Parade and Ceremony at Whitehall on Sunday 19 November we will be commemorating three events that reshaped history: the remarkable Dambusters Raid (617 Squadron) in 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, an enduring symbol of courage against oppression, and the 70th Anniversary of the end of the Korean War, a victorious defence again unbridled antagonism.

AJEX extends a warm invitation to the relatives of those who participated in any of these historic events to be our guests at the Parade.

To confirm your attendance and for more information please contact our office at or 0208 202 2323.

Ron Shelley MBE
AJEX JMA Parade Commander

September 22, 2023 12:41

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