Schindler's List

New Jersey Jewish News - Editorial - November 23, 2000

In a letter to President Bill Clinton written just weeks before his death, Rabbi Alexander Schindler pleaded for an end to Jonathan Pollard's imprisonment.

"I prayerfully hope that you will come to share my conviction that Jonathan Pollard's continued incarceration, now spanning 15 years, has long since crossed the line where justice ends and vindictiveness begins," Schindler wrote.

The moral and political capital Schindler brought to this task, as to every Jewish task he undertook, was based on the fusion of his impeccable Jewish and liberal credentials, underscored by the letter's opening paragraph thanking the president for his continued commitment to securing a Middle East peace "despite the political risks which it entails."

When Schindler died last week at the age of 73, American Jews lost a giant religious leader. His impact was enormous even those who stridently oppose his principal reform, accepting children of mixed marriages as Jewish regardless of which parent is Jewish praise his leadership and broad vision. As chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in 1977, for example, we recall how he helped introduce the newly elected prime minister of Israel, Menachem Begin to an American Jewry stunned by the shift of power from Israel's dominant Labor party to the rightist Likud. There was never any question about Schindler's own preference for Labor over Likud (or, for that matter, Democrats over Republicans). But his commitment was to klal yisrael, the total Jewish people, whom he argued would be best served by the liberal values his Reform Judaism espoused.

Decades later, American Reform joined only by the Reconstructionist movement, stand alone. Conservative Judaism, and Reform (Progressive) Judaism outside the United States, reject patrilineal descent. Orthodox leaders warn of dangerous splits in the Jewish people.

Time will tell whether Schindler's radical departure from the halachic norm sticks or fails. It appears to reflect more closely the de facto way American Jews are, even as it remains isolated as a de jure doctrine.

In the meanwhile, children in the Reform movement are being raised as Jews according to the new standard. They've made Schindler's list, joining, rather than being lost to the Jewish people.

Justice4JP Note

J4JP presents this editorial for educational purposes only and not as an endorsement of any of the viewpoints it reflects. Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, of blessed memory, was a model advocate of truth and justice, a strong friend of the Pollard case, and a close personal friend of Esther and Jonathan Pollard. Justice4JP mourns his passing. He will be sorely missed.
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