Letters to the Editor

The truth behind the lagging latkes

To the Editor:

It is no wonder that faculty members did not want to participate in the Latke-Hamantash Debate as long as it continued to be sponsored by Hillel. The shabby way in which the Chicago Jewish Federation (Hillel’s corporate owner, as they made very clear last spring) summarily fired Hillel’s board — made up of many University of Chicago faculty members and Hyde Park community leaders —has led many in our community to want nothing further to do with Hillel until its local governance is restored.

In the meantime, why should the faculty and this community leave one of its beloved traditions in the hands of outsiders who have shown nothing but disdain for them? The Latke-Hamantash Debate was not canceled; rather, it’s been postponed in order to give time for students and faculty to reorganize it under local sponsorship. This will only strengthen the event.

I’ve been involved with the UChicago Hillel since 1980, including nine years (1999-2008) as a non-faculty member of its governing board and several as treasurer. Although I “timed out” as a board member some four years ago, I remain close to many who were on that board when it was unceremoniously fired by the Federation this spring.

The Hillel board had a long history of concern for the well-being of Jewish life on the University of Chicago campus; for connecting students to Jewish role models, mentors and activities in Hyde Park and beyond; and of effective organizational governance and leadership. The board does not have the reputation of a “rubber stamp” for any executive of the organization, let alone Dan Libenson. When the Federation fired both Libenson and the entire board, it came as a shock to all, especially with its bizarre claims of poor financial management, as those of us who have served on the Hillel board know how hard we have been fighting for so many years to address the Federation’s abysmal financial reporting and poor financial management in the form of cost-allocation, accounting and building management policies that made no sense for Hillel.

The board, which included University of Chicago professors and lay leaders with expertise in all the financial matters at hand, made a reasonable proposal to Federation that it “spin off” Hillel in order to restore its previous status as an independent self-governing organization that could manage its finances appropriately with no future Federation risk of unanticipated financial loss.

So, it is no shock if faculty involved with Hillel at the time felt broadly and deeply insulted when the board was precipitously dismissed by Federation, along with Hillel’s executive director. In my (informed!) view, it is much more likely to be reasonable response to insult, not any “blackmail by Libenson and his cronies” (as speculatively alleged by Dennis Miller in his Letter to the Editor on Dec. 5) that led to the widespread unwillingness among the faculty to participate in this year’s Latke-Hamantash debate. Since most faculty who have participated in the debate in recent decades have no prior history of Hillel involvement, and in fact many have not even been Jewish, it seems clear to me that “blackmail” on this topic, extending comprehensively throughout the faculty, would not be possible and thus cannot explain why Hillel was not able to find the three willing participants necessary to let the show go on.

But, all this focuses on one late detail — the absence of this year’s Latke-Hamantash debate — and leaves aside the more important issue for Hyde Park and the campus Jewish community. The real story is that our Hillel, formerly a local Hyde Park organization, this spring became, essentially, the victim of a hostile takeover by the Chicago Jewish Federation, which is now in control of Hillel’s assets and building (which were given to them a decade ago with the expectation — now breached — that the Federation would allow them to be locally governed through the local board) but lacks any connection to our community. In response, Dan Libenson along with the former (fired) members of the Hillel board, formed jU Chicago, a new, local, student-oriented Jewish organization. It should come as no surprise to anyone informed of the facts and in tune with Hyde Park’s general positive orientation toward locally determined priorities and locally run community organizations that many (faculty and others) find the new organization to have a greater claim to local legitimacy.

Matthew Klionsky, MD, MBA (Booth ’82)

Point letter misguided

To the Editor:

A recent letter to the editor calls for the replacement of the Point’s unique limestone buttresses with ugly poured cement revetments, “beautiful for a stroll” “look(s) quite nice”…yech! The already installed cement is unnatural, already crumbling, cracking & breaking in several places.

Meanwhile, our Promontory retains its rustic charm. If there is broken glass and trash, that is the fault of the visitors, not the site. I have loved, visited, picnicked, swam off and walked on the Point for a half century with nary an incident.


Bonnie Brende

It’s time to use concrete at the Point

To the Editor:

Hyde Park is a remarkable mix of liberal and conservative. Liberal in most things political but remarkably conservative when it comes time for any local changes. Consider the Point. In 2001 a vocal group protested the lakefront renovation and successfully blocked the Point’s renewal. Ten years later we have a Point that is the disgrace of Chicago’s lakefront. While almost the entire lakefront has been restored with concrete walkways and new landscaping, beautiful for a stroll, our Point continues to deteriorate, with broken old poured concrete, limestone, vines and broken glass. Walking on it is not only disheartening, but also unsafe. It is a disgrace. It is time for others to speak out and recognize that the rest of the lakefront in fact looks quite nice and we should allow the Point to follow suit. It is time for a local referendum so that the view of the majority are heard.

Scott Stern, MD

Purrington piece on Harold very moving

To the Editor:

I was really touched by Sue Purrington’s reminiscent piece, “Memories from a Friend of Harold,” in the Nov. 4, 2012, Hyde Park Herald. It brought tears to my eyes because she captured a time and place and particularly a vivid picture of Harold as she described her own interaction with him. I remember when he shopped in the old Walgreens smiling and speaking when necessary but mostly just trying to blend in.

My husband, Bob Mann, former State Representative from Hyde Park, was an early supporter of Harold in his bid for Congress like some others in Hyde Park. Rebecca Janowitz in the interview in the same edition of the Hyde Park Herald as above, so wisely cited Alan and Lois Dobry who worked endlessly for Harold, using all their incredible political acumen to get the job done.

Harold once sent me a lovely letter apologizing for not attending my birthday party and thanking me for being on his transition team. The letter was really for Bob, he was such a good pol. He also kept in touch with Bob when he was ill, a few others did too, but not many. Harold was one special man, very kind, compassionate, brilliant, a lover of life and Chicago.

Sylvia A. Mann

The story behind the Latke debate delay

To the Editor:

I read with interest your piece about the Latke Hamantash debate being postponed. I was surprised that your reporters didn’t get any information as to why this had been postponed, a little poking around would have revealed some startling facts.

The Latke-Hamantash debate has been held each year for the past 60 years, one can only imagine that with the recent firing of Mr. Daniel Libenson and his starting a new Jewish group on campus, there may be some connection.

Indeed this is the case. I have been informed from very reliable sources that faculty were blackmailed by Libenson and his cronies, that they would be siding with the wrong group if they agreed to participate. In fact it was Libenson himself who had booked Mandel Hall for the February date, knowing that they would be unable to get faculty participation for a November debate, in the hopes of usurping the event from Hillel.

There’s more nastiness from Mr. Libenson to this story, but I’ll leave it at that.

I hope that Mr. Libenson can recover from the fact that he was fired from Hillel, without destroying the institutions the community holds dear.

Dennis Miller

Thanks for help on Thanksgiving

To the Editor:

I am a member of the Hyde Park community, and I take a lot of pride in my neighborhood. As a resident of Hyde Park, I have received the blessing of being employed with my cleaning company, Carney Cleaning Service, for both the Hyde Park Produce store and McHugh Construction.

With those blessings, it is very important to me to give back to those who are in need. Hyde Park is a community that shows great unity not just for our neighborhood but the surrounding areas as well. I want to responsibly step up and be a leader in preserving the integrity of our community as well as building up others to be able to humbly show that no matter the issues, we are all able to give a helping hand in some way.

Carney Cleaning Service partnered with Boston Market Restaurant and General Manager Tim Robertson on Thanksgiving to feed the homeless. It was my way of giving back to those who are in need and to a community that has given so much to me. I would like to thank the volunteers from McHugh Construction, Hyde Park residents and the staff from Provident Hospital who served alongside me on Thanksgiving.

Sharon Carney

Tours to highlight faith spaces

To the Editor:

Thank you for the piece in the Oct. 24 issue entitled “Interfaith Council hosts lecture series.” I would like to point out that it is not so much a lecture series as a series of open houses at various houses of worship. While the tours include commentary about each venue’s art and architecture, they will also offer a sense of the particular manner or style of worship and historical context for each religious tradition. The idea is to foster appreciation, understanding and respect for various religious traditions and communities.

Peggy Sanders
Ellis Avenue Church

Harper halloween a success again

To the Editor:

Not booo! But, hurrah! I would like to express my appreciation and gratitude to the many people on Harper Avenue between 57th and 59th streets who put so much imagination and effort and money into creating an exciting and unusual “Halloween Center” for Hyde Park. Year after year I send newcomers and visitors there — and they always return full of smiles and cheer and with loads of great pictures.

Thanks to all of you!

Vreni Naess

A fond farewell — and thanks — to Village Foods

To the Editor:

Farewell to longstanding 4th Ward business and community partner, Village Foods.
Thank you for the generous food and general merchandise donation. It will serve a great cause and be used for our upcoming 4th Ward holiday community events: The Annual Thanksgiving Feed the Needy and The Annual Christmas Food Basket Donations.

Throughout the year but especially during the holidays, we strive to make sure that the seniors, disabled and less fortunate members of our community are able to enjoy a hearty holiday meal. Your donation truly supports our efforts and we are appreciative.

We wish you all the best in future endeavors. You will be missed by the community.

William D. Burns
Alderman, 4th Ward