Plus One?

According to USA Today:

The end-of-the-year list season is upon us: Most this/biggest that, etc.

But for 2008, The Forward, the weekly magazine which keeps an eye on Jewish American life, has bumped up its annual FORWARD 50 list of the names behind the Jewish stories of the year to a “symbolic” #51 by adding Postville, Iowa, Catholic Priest Paul Ouderkirk, for his tireless efforts to “feed, clothe and house dozens of immigrant detainees fired from the Agriprocessors Kosher slaughterhouse.”

Forward editor Jane Eisner explains:
Father Ouderkirk displayed unusual leadership and compassion by helping displaced workers and their families survive. At times it has seemed as if Father Ouderkirk and the good members of St. Bridget’s were among the few in this sad story willing to do the right thing.

I had two thoughts when reading this article: “yay Iowa” (hey, you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the girl) and do we really need the plus one? Why can’t a priest—or anyone else for that matter—be part of the regular 50 contributors to American Jewish Life? Do you have to be Jewish to make a difference to Jews? Clearly not, as our Gallery points out in its current Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in WWII exhibition…or this year’s Morris Cafritz Center for the Arts Benefit performer Rita Moreno, who—though not Jewish—put on a spectacularly energetic, highly successful show in support of a “Jewish” Center for the Arts.

And I know, FORWARD’s list is meant to highlight American Jews after all, but it’s still worth a few thoughts about “our” community vs. “our community”.

All debates aside…who’s on this year’s list? Sarah Silverman is in the top five; and former 16th Street J guests Ilan Stavans and Ilana Trachtman made the list too. Also high five to DC’s own Esther Safran Foer, executive director of 6th & I.

Who would you add?

Opening Tuesday: Albanian Muslim Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust

The faces that confront you in Norman Gershman’s photographs have seen suffering, experienced suffering. They are faces you look at and know, life has not been easy for them. At the same time, these portraits do not communicate bitterness, but rather extraodrinary warmth and pride etched in the lines of their faces. These are rescuers and their families from Albania, the only European country to have more Jews following the Holocaust than it did beforehand. In part that is because the pre-war Jewish population was comparitively small. But it makes it all the more remarkable that over 2,000 Jews, many fleeing from Austria, Greece and Italy were hidden in the homes of Albanian Muslims during the Nazi occupation that followed the Italian surrender to the Allies.

Tuesday, September 2 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm, join photographer Norman Gershman for the opening of his exhibit, “Albanian Muslim Rescuers during the Holocaust” which is on-display in the Ina & Jack Kay Community Hall and the Harold and Barbara Berman JCC Cafe. The photographs are accompanied by oral history from the rescuers or their descendants of the incredible, individual acts of courage in a corner of the world where it might not have been expected. Central to their actions was the Albanian concept of “Besa” which very loosely translates to “faith and honor.” As the members of the Kazazi family put it, explaining the actions of their parents, “Our parents were not very religious, but they believed in the Koran and Besa. Without the Koran there is no Besa. Without Besa there is no Koran. For the heart there is no color of skin. No man or woman can forget God.”

The exhibit runs through November 30 in partnership with Theater J’s production of Honey Brown Eyes, which begins performances October 22.

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