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The Russians Are Coming

Pity Larry Lowenthal. His job as executive director of the Boston branch of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) includes finding and training leaders from among the 700,000 Russian Jews who have immigrated to the U.S. in the last 30 years. Mr. Lowenthal has fared well: Today there are Russians helping to guide a number of major Jewish organizations, like the one called Boston for Israel. But now these immigrants turn out to be . . . oh no! Republicans!

To judge by his public statements and writings, Mr. Lowenthal's idea of a faithful Jew is someone who opposes the nomination of Judge John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court, supports gay rights, abortion and euthanasia, and demands a strong separation of church and state. After all, as Mr. Lowenthal concluded approvingly in a July op-ed for the Jewish Advocate, Jews are "the most liberal" and "the least religious people in America."

Imagine his consternation when an avalanche of emails from Russian Jews began to pour in to the Web site of the Jewish Russian Telegraph, a daily blog, in response to his article. About 100 people wrote to say that Mr. Lowenthal needed to stop making "outrageous statements" on behalf of people whom he doesn't represent.

Alex Koifman, who arrived in the U.S. from Belarus in 1978, and whom Mr. Lowenthal trained for his position as a board member at the Boston AJC, criticized his old teacher for overstepping his bounds, saying: "Since when are these concerns [abortion, gay rights, and church-state separation] concerns that are specific to the Jewish community? These are the Left's concerns."

This was only the most recent in the Boston area's Russian Jewish population's battles with the so-called Jewish leadership. Last fall, Mr. Lowenthal came down hard on the Hasidic community in Wellesley for putting up a menorah display on public property. The Russian Jews wrote scores of emails to the AJC and Russian-language media in response, suggesting that the display was actually a triumph of religious freedom.

In August, Mr. Lowenthal found himself in hot water again. During an interview with the Boston public radio station, he showered praise on the leaders of the Islamic Society of Boston. When Russian Jews learned that the society was distributing Arabic-language pamphlets with the words of Dr. Yusuf Abdullah al-Qaradawi, a cleric who condones suicide bombings, they were outraged. The Telegraph editor wrote an article contrasting Mr. Lowenthal's intolerance toward their community with his embrace of the local Muslims.

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