Bad Idea

I’ve always been a Bush supporter, but the administration’s plan to give our ports over to a UAE company is unconscionable. The Coast Guard cannot prevent infiltration by bribe. All it takes is 19 people to turn this country upside down. What’s next, hiring Iranians to man our control towers?

Josh Greenberger
Brooklyn, NY

Grim Outlook

Here in Israel, the recent Hamas electoral victory was greeted with complete surprise. For those of us who have a deep connection with the history of the country dating back to the period prior to the advent of the modern state and for a century before that event, it was to be expected.

One can only look on Jewish behavior in utter amazement, even horror. It is time to be honest with ourselves, for if we cannot distinguish evil from good, we shall continue to be inhibited from any real progress. What is the value of an individual without dignity – indeed, what is the value of a nation without dignity? The Arabs have never failed to state their claims to the Land of Israel, while all that Jewish leaders can voice is the desire for security and a vacuous peace. Is it any mystery why we are being diminished while our enemies, despite setbacks, continue to move in the direction of their mandated goals?

With the coming elections and what is being offered, this recent oleh is disinclined to vote. Is there really any purpose? No matter the result, only incompetence and corruption will emerge.

At one end of the spectrum we have haredim whose only interest is extracting funds for their yeshivas, and at the other end we have the New Jews who desire to live a completely secular, Torah-free existence. No wonder Islam’s adherents are confident they will not lose.

Alex Rose
Ramat Bet Shemesh, Israel

Disagrees On Award

Let me belatedly and respectfully disagree with Jason Maoz’s decision to award the Schwarzschild award to Abraham Foxman (Media Monitor, Jan. 27). Not that Foxman’s any better than Maoz says, but by now the ADL national director is regarded as a buffoon in many circles, thus reducing the amount of harm he can do. In my heart of hearts, I cannot think of him as a bad guy. A fool and perhaps a coward, but not really a bad guy.

But there is a bad guy – a very, very bad guy – who can and does do a lot of harm. He is, in his own way, as bad an enemy of the state of Israel and of Jews in general as is the president of Iran. His terrible books influence a lot of people and are constantly quoted by anti-Semites. He is beyond Noam Chomsky, if that’s possible. I refer to professor Norman Finkelstein, my own nominee for the Schwarzschild Award.

Joe Adams
(Via E-Mail)
Factionalism In Der Alter Heim

I read with great interest the Feb. 10 front-page essay, “Reflections On Othodox Factionalism,” by David Mandel. Dr. Mandel is certainly correct in his description of a factionalized Orthodoxy in the U.S. He is also on the button in his description of the importance external factors like hats carry in this new sectarian Orthodoxy.

Contrary to what he writes, however, the last 100 years of Jewish history in Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary, among other countries, were generally marked by deep divisions between various segments of the Orthodox community. Not only were chassidim and mitnagdim fighting, but various chassidic groups battled each other. Mizrachi was fighting with the Aguda and so on.

As a matter of fact, the situation was so marked by machlokes that the largest cities in Poland were unable to agree on communal rabbis and by 1930 cities like Warsaw and Lodz were leaderless. Controversies over the appointment of communal rabbis in the 1930’s in places such as Vilna, Radom and Cracow raged throughout Poland. One major difference between our present-day situation and that of pre-war Poland was that the factionalism in Europe was based on hashkafic and geographical differences, while today they are based on the color of hat and shoes.

Certainly Dr. Mandel’s points on factionalism are well taken, but unfortunately this situation also marked Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe prior to the Holocaust.

Zalman Alpert
(Via E-Mail)

The Center Won’t Hold

David Mandel purports to decry labeling, but he himself engages in that dubious practice. By advocating the

centeras the correct position, he dubs everyone else as extreme. But he does not define his idiosyncratic center. In my opinion, his centeris in the middle of nowhere.

Dr. Mandel suggests embarking upon a study of the different factions in Jewish society. What a waste of time and money. Would it not be better to spend that time and money in order to spread Torah? As Dr. Marvin Schick and others have pointed out in many articles, yeshivas are in a struggle for survival. Instead of wasting money on an outmoded Modern Orthodoxy, why not use it to support yeshivas and authentic Torah study as mandated by the God of Israel? This is a time to champion the cause of the Lord. It is not the time to engage in counterproductive polemics.

I do agree with Dr. Mandel on the hat issue.

Chaim Silver
(Via E-Mail)
Countering Israeli Secularism

Re “Orthodox and Israeli: When the Two Don’t Mix” (front-page essay, Feb. 3):Having just returned from a trip to Israel, I cannot recall any animus toward us on account of our being and looking Orthodox. Several things did, however, strike us as odd in our dealings with ordinary Israelis.

There seemed to be a real disconnect among the non-dati community with respect to things we take for granted as part of the Jewish lexicon. My wife, being lactose intolerant, asked at several eating establishments if the danish or muffin was chalavi or pareve. In each case, the look she got was one of total ignorance. They had never heard of the term “pareve.”

On a far more serious note, as we visited several places we noticed numerous tours being given to groups of young chayalim. For many of them – despite having been born and raised in Israel – this was their first encounter with places like the Kotel. A large number of them are completely unaware of Jewish history in general and our claim to rightful ownership of the land in particular.

Is it any wonder that there are growing Israeli communities in Toronto and Los Angeles and New York and Miami? The moment the sweet-faced soldier cannot find an answer to why he is doing what he is doing, he is no longer protecting something worth protecting.

Right now, the Israeli establishment is trying to marginalize the Orthodox, but it does so at its own peril. Ben-Gurion and his cohort had at least some recognition of the importance of Judaism in a Jewish state. But the message the secular establishment is now sending, by harassing the Orthodox and not teaching their own the Jewishness of their history and heritage, is that having a Jewish state is unimportant, chas v’shalom.

As Orthodox Jews, there is only one way to fight back, and it is not to doff our kippas. It is to bombard our fellow Jews with ahavat chinam in order to disarm the sinat chinam. Sounds pie-in-the-sky, but there are countless opportunities daily, on the buses, in the supermarket, everywhere, that a kind word, a smile or just looking like a mensch and acting like one just might convince another Jew that we are not the enemy.

David Klein
Thornhill, Canada
Remembering Thea

She died just as she lived – alone. Yet she was accustomed to being alone. Widowed at age thirty-five after a fifteen year marriage, Thea Gray never wanted to take another chance. Her husband, fourteen years her senior, was kind, thoughtful, and very Jewish. One of a kind, she thought. And though she would deny it, so was she.

We met one year ago while she berated the moving men pushing the furniture into my new apartment. “What a miserable woman!” the moving man said to me, shaking his head with disproval. I became determined to find the seeds of her misery.

On my first visit to her condo, I noticed the rusted, tiny mezuzah case on her doorpost. When I returned with a larger, definitely kosher mezuzah, she refused to allow me to put it up.

“Sometimes it isn’t good to advertise you are Jewish,” she chided. “It’s better to quietly observe unseen.”

Still, her Jewishness was not unseen. Shabbos candlesticks and a lovely Chanukah menorah were displayed on a living room shelf and when my husband and I invited her for Shabbos lunch, she washed and said the bracha without prompting. Slowly, she revealed the person inside the tall, gaunt, white-haired woman born in 1923, brilliant both in worldly and Jewish knowledge.

Thea’s theory on being secretly Jewish was not without reason. Born in Berlin, Germany, she was only a child when her parents were murdered in the Holocaust. Ultimately, she married and settled in New York. In the mid 1980’s she moved to Boca Raton, Florida, where we met.

Though legally blind – she was plagued with a progressive eye disease – she could still read large print when I first met her, and before the High Holidays in 2005 she asked me to find her a large-print Jewish calendar so she could keep track of the Yom Tovim. Through the year her vision deteriorated until people appeared as shadows. I promised to take her to a bingo game and searched for a large-print bingo card. A few days before her death, she told me to abandon the search. She now lived in a world of never-ending night.

I miss Thea, the sweet lady who spoke kindly of everyone. I miss her cheery “Gut Shabbos” when I delivered her share of our chicken soup. “One matzah ball only so I shouldn’t waste,” she ordered. She delighted in my fresh-baked challah rolls. Her generous spirit demanded she return my favors – a gift of purple African violet sits in my window, and my granddaughter has a lovely white ski cap, exquisitely crocheted by Thea despite her growing blindness.

On the 17th of Shevat, 5766, February 16, 2006, Hashem decided that Thea should no longer be alone and called her home. Unfortunately, there is no one to say Kaddish for Thea Gray. She could not recall being given a Hebrew name and thought her father’s name was Feivel and her mother’s was Bluma.

So we remember Thea bas Avraham, since every Jew is a descendant of Avraham Avinu. The next time you daven or do a mitzvah, please remember Thea bas Avraham. May the memory of her beautiful neshema never be forgotten.

Jocelyn Ruth Krieger
(Via E-Mail)