Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Forward Fetes a Goy

In its annual list of the year's top 50 newsmakers, the publication of record for the nation's Jewish community added a notable "Plus One" alongside such luminaries as Bill Kristol, "Rahmbo" and Sarah Silverman: the Iowa priest who returned from retirement to support his parish's undocumented immigrants after their workplace -- the nation's largest Kosher slaughterhouse -- was raided by Federal agents in May.

"[T]he job of cleaning up the humanitarian mess that followed that raid was taken up not by the local Jewish community but by Postville's Catholic church and its leader, Father Paul Ouderkirk," the Forward said in its praise of the 75 year-old cleric.

"After the raid, Ouderkirk gave up what leisure time he had to take on the full-time job of helping the hundreds of immigrants affected.... [St Bridget's] has been the only source of food and shelter for dozens of workers who were arrested and released. Ouderkirk and his team showed that in the face of disaster, religion can provide the surest relief."

And out in the heartland, the nod was echoed by Ouderkirk's hometown paper:
Ouderkirk, 75, had retired from the priesthood. But he came back last spring to serve at St. Bridget's Catholic Church in Postville, where hundreds of immigrants from Guatemala and Mexico sought refuge after the raid.

The priest, who speaks fluent Spanish, has been a nearly constant presence at the church ever since. He has helped feed and house the former workers and their families. And he has spoken to countless reporters from around the world, who have quoted his sharp criticisms of the federal government and of Agriprocessors executives who hired and allegedly exploited the immigrants.

Forward editors named the Agriprocessors controversy as one of the biggest stories in Judaism in 2008....

Sister Mary McCauley, who retired this fall as administrator of St. Bridget's, said the honor for Ouderkirk showed that many Jews disapproved of the way Agriprocessors' workers were treated. She noted that Jews from around the country have donated tens of thousands of dollars to the church's humanitarian fund, which helps the former workers.

Ouderkirk could not be reached for comment. He was in New York on Thursday, picking up an award from - get this - a Korean civil-rights organization.
Also just in from the "We Are All Semites" desk, the latest Catholic-Jewish dialogue ended on a high note in Budapest this week.

On a personal note, in June the Forward broke its "glass stelya" with the elevation of the first woman to hold its editorship... who just so happened to be one of your narrator's college profs, to boot.

Ergo, Go Jane. And tip to Cathy Lynn.

PHOTO: Rodney White/Des Moines Register