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June 29, 2012

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PAGE 12A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 29, 2012 By Michele All ,rin Even as Germany has edged closer to being the icon of high culture it once was, echoes of the Holocaust still affect its foreign and domestic policy. Now one of Israel's staunch- est supporters, Germany in the 1990s opened its arms to Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. For Nate Lam, cantor at the Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles, this change has almost religious overtones. "Germany has done teshuva to try to atone for the sins of their society and their government during the Second World War," he tells Germany's efforts to move beyond its past are being recognized by the Cantors Assembly (the world's largest body of professional cantors) in its second cultural mission, "A Musical Journey of Heritage to Germany," began June 27. "We thinkwe can be ambassadors of goodwill, of acknowledgement and gratitude," says Lam. The group's first mission to Poland in 2009, documented in the film "100 Voices: A Journey Home," had a similar impetus. "The one in Poland was to thank many of the righteous gentiles not given credit and not acknowledged and to look at the realities of the 20th century and say, 'We can be messengers of music,"' says Lam. That mission was the begin- ning of a global initiative by the Cantors Assembly, based on a very simple idea--"that through our cultural heritage and our singing and what we bring to these different places, we can affect and be very effec- tive inbuildingbridges between the Jewish community and the non-Jewish communities that support Israel and want to help Jewish life in their countries," he says. This summer's mission, whose planning has brought together Jewish organizations in Germany and government representatives of the Ger- man, American, and Israeli governments, will visit Berlin, Potsdam, Munich, and Dachau, from June 27 to July 5, and afterward in Israel. Although the many concerts offered by cantors during the mission will draw both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences, the venues themselves are fraught with symbolism and emotion for Jews. The Oranienburgerstrasse New synagogue, for example, was where the famous Jewish composer Louis Lewandowski (responsible for the Kiddush that most of us sing today and other familiar prayers) served as choirmaster and where the first, privately ordained female rabbi, Regina Jonas, attended services with her family. At the Befliner Cathedral Dome, the largest Protestant church in Europe, the one wall remaining after the war held the organ, and above it the 1905 giftfromthe Berlin Jewish community when the church was dedicated by Bismarck in honor of Kaiser Wilhelm--a golden statue of King David with his harp. The concert there will feature musicbyJewishand non-Jewish composers based on shared religious texts. At Hercules Hall in Munich, the city of the putsch, Nazism, and Hitler, will be an uncanny Fourth of July mix of the Ger- man Jewish musical tradition of Lewandowsky and Solomon Sulzer and of 20th-century American composers. "We will be celebrating the idea that democracy and freedom breeds creativity and creates culture," says Lain. "Oppression and suppression create nothing but hate." The mission is also creating a program to mark the 40th anniversary of the murders of 11 Israeli team members by Pal- estinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Mark Spitz, a swimmer for the U.S. who won seven gold medals there, will be part of the mission, and his presence will make the program "a living memorial," says Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Commit- tee's Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations and consultant to the mission. Another German-Jewish Currently, says Berger, over tentanti-Semitism, expressed immigrant consulting for the 100 Jewish communities exist, not only through hostility to mission, who himself embod- although she is not certain Israel but also in attempts to ies the renewal of Jewish lifein how long they will endure, negate the Holocaust. "This Germany, isJaschaNemtsov-- becausetheylackresourcesfor was quite shocking for a lot of pianist, scholar of Jewish art learning about their Judaism. Germans," says Berger, adding music, and academic director Among the Jewish children that there is also a problem ofthesmallbutgrowingcanto- born in Germany, many lack with the Muslim community rial school atAbraham Geiger any Jewish communal context and the schools. "But that College. and hence have no interest in said, "these numbers are After arriving with his faro- Judaism. Even though their average in Europe, with some ily in 1992 at age 29, Nemtsov parents, who suffered from countries lower and some started his career as a concert Soviet anti-Semitism, have a higher." pianist and also became a very strong Jewish identity, But the trip emphasizes musicologistwhosespecialtyis says Nemtsov, "many are not the positives. For one thing, RussianJewishartsongsofthe able to pass these feelings on it explores the history of Ger- earlytwentiethcentury.Hewas to their children." man Jewish life in terms ofthe part of the influx of Jews from Yet at the same time, says culture of German Jews, says the former Soviet Union after Berger, "it feels like a dif- Berger. From her experience the Berlin Wall came down in ferent quality of Jewish life reaching out to members of 1989.According to Berger, the than 20 years ago. It is more the German Christian com- Jewishcommunitywentfothe pluralistic; children are in munity in interfaith efforts, German government to ask synagogues again; and there she says, "There is tremendous for help dealing with the large are a multitude of educational interest in having a chance to influxofrefugees.Sheexplains, institutions, schools, andcom- experience a part of history "Helmut Kohl recognized the munitycentersthatdidn'texist thatisalsobeingbroughthere opportunity for Germany to 20 years ago." with the notion of fostering in some small measure create Sadly thereisstillanti-Sem- dialogue today." a new form of Jewish life on itism in Germany, as is true Berger believes the mission German soil, so the gates to throughout Europe, although is very gratifying for the Ger- immigration opened to some there has been considerable mangovernmentbecausethey degree." progress since after World understanditasrecognitionof The resulting immigration War II. Nemtsov explains, "It theireffortstoreachouttothe has dramatically changed does exist but it is not openly Jewish world and establish an the Jewish community in expressed. It is expressed in ongoingdialoguewiththeJew- Germany that the mission is other forms, like hate against ish world and Israel as a state. celebrating. What had been a Israel; nobody would dare to "It's a mission of historic small community of 25,000, openlyexpresshishateagainst dimensions, and it captures mostly Holocaust survivors, the Jews." everyone's imagination. It's a has quadrupled to 100,000, A recent blue ribbon corn- sign of faith and affirmation with estimates suggesting the mission shocked Germansin modern Germany today number may be as large as with the news that 15 to 20 by a large American Jewish 200,000. percentofGermansdisplayla- delegation." owner rejec By Debra Rubin WASHINGTON (JTA)--He- brew National boasts of "an- swering to a higher authority," but several class-action lawyers are hoping to take one of the country's largest kosher meat producers to an earthly court. A class-action lawsuit filed recently alleges that Hebrew National's iconic hot dogs and other meats do not comport with the brand's claim to be kosher "as defined by the most stringent Jews who follow Orthodox Jewish law" The suit filedMay 18inaMinnesotastate court accuses ConAgra Foods, Inc which owns the Hebrew National brand, of consumer fraud. ConAgra, which has rejected the claims unequivocally, asked on June 6 that the suit be moved to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota. The company has until July 13 to respond to the complaint. Lawyers from firms in Scott- sdale, Ariz.; Long Beach, Calif.; and Minneapolis, Minn sub- mired the complaint on behalf of 11 named plaintiffs. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Hart L. Robinovitch of Zimmerman Reed, is based in Scottsdale but his firm has of- rices in Minnesota. Robinovitch would not say how the suit was initiated. Zimmerman Reed, however, solicited consumers through its website, where a page until recently announced a Hebrew National investigation. "Our firm has received troubling reports that some slaughterhouse plants supply- ing Hebrew National with its beef may not be upholding the strict kosher standards Hebrew National promises," the page stated. "Workers are threatened with losing their job, or demo- tion, if they speak up and try to point outviolations of the kosher food laws." The firm advertised a free case review for anyone who purchased Hebrew National hot dogs in the past two years or had information about the prepara- tion of the products. "The lawsuit contends that ConAgra marketed, labeled and sold Hebrew National accord- ing to the strictest standards defined by Orthodox Jews. We allege that it does not meet those standards," Robinovitch said. "We're certainly not al- leging that they're using pork products, or anything as blatant as that." The lawsuit's 11 named plaintiffs live in various states, including California, Minne- sota, New York and Arizona. JTA was unable to reach any of the individuals. The suit, which was reported originally by the American Jewish World newspaper, is seeking monetary damages equal to the total amount of monies that consumers in the class paid for Hebrew National meat products. Triangle-K, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based supervising agency that certifies Hebrew National products as kosher and the company that processes the kosher meat, also unequivo- cally rejected the allegations and contended that disgruntled former employees might be behind them. Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag, who owns Triangle-K, said in a statement that the claims in the lawsuitwere"outrageously false and defamatory." He added, "Those who make the false allegations know full well that because their identi- ties are concealed and their false statements are made in a court pleading, Triangle-K and its principals cannot sue them for defamation." AER, which provides the kosher slaughtering services at Hebrew National facilities in the Midwest, including in Minne- sota, rejectedthe chargesaswell. "The company intends to defend its reputation and good name," AER's president, Shlomo Ben-David, said in a statement. Teresa Pauison, a ConAgra spokesperson, saidshecouldnot comment on pending litigation, but that the company stood by Hebrew Nationars kosher status. NeitherAERnorTriangle-Kis namedasa defendant in thesuit. Triangle-Khasbeensupervis- ing Hebrew National products since 2004. The Conservative movementaccepts the Triangle- K kashrut certification. Kosher consumers choose among hundreds of companies nationwide as to which certifica- tions they trust. Thereareabout750Orthodox kosher certifying organizations in the United States, according to Rabbi Yosef Wikler, editor of Kashrus magazine, which also maintains a website for non- Orthodox certifiers. "Almost no kosher organiza- tion accepts 100 percent of any other kosher organization 100 percentofthe time,"Wiklersaid. The suit, which does not attri- bute the allegations to anyone by name, alleges that the Hebrew National brand was not, as the company advertises, kosher "as defined by the most stringent Jews who follow Orthodox law." As result, plaintiffs, who paid a premium price "believing the kosher title and certification made them a higher qual- ity product than other meat products on the market" were "deprived of the value of the goods they purchased," the complaint states. The home page of the Hebrew National website. Among the suit's allegations: Knives used in the slaugh- tering process were nicked, preventing a clean cut mandated by kosher law; Organ meatwas not consis- tently inspected after slaughter, as required for kashrut; The blood of slaughtered animals was not consistently removed within 72 hours, as required by kosher law; Managers took certificates that had been issued to trained slaughterers and replaced their nameswith individuals who had not been trained; Kosher meat was not con- sistently kept separate from non-kosher meat. In his statement, RabbiAryeh Ralbag said, point by point, that all the allegations are false. The suit also alleges that workers at some AER facilities, including in St. Paul, Minn kept kosher, but would not eat the Hebrew National products. Those workers, according to the complaint, were allowed to purchase meats from "specifi- cally selected cows [that] would be slaughtered and checked in strict accordance with all kosher laws, unlike the cows that routinely slaughtered for sale to Defendant and use in Hebrew National Products." AER said the allegation is misleading. According to AER, employees who eat only glatt kosher were provided meat to comply with their personal preferences. Glatt is a higher standard of kosher and means that the lungs of the slaughtered animal are free of any blemishes. If the lungs are blemished, the meat is still considered kosher, but not glatt. Triangle-K does not claim that the products it certifies are glatt kosher. Additionally, the suit alleges that employees involved in the kosher slaughtering process complained to AER supervi- sor Rabbi Moshe Fyzakov and Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag, but those officials "did little or nothing to correct the transgressions. Rather, the persons making the complaints were termi- nated or otherwise threat- ened with adverse retaliation, such as job transfers to other facilities or states. In turn, non-kosher meatwas delivered to ConAgra and packaged, labeled and sold to the public [including the plaintiffs in the lawsuit] as strictly 100 percent kosher." A Triangle-K spokesman said, "Every complaint was followed up on, and no one was disciplined for making a complaint." The spokesman also said it is "totally false" that non-kosher meat was delivered to ConAgra to be sold as kosher and that "We have clear distinctions in place to prevent such happenings."