’Refreshing Counterpoint’

I moved to New York City in January 2002 and have found The Jewish Press to be a refreshing counterpoint to the daily anti-Semitic propaganda being fostered by the mainstream print and TV media. I buy The Jewish Press faithfully every week and have found your religious Zionist perspective to be spiritually and emotionally uplifting. In particular your stories about the Jewish communities in YESHA have been deeply moving and have strengthened my commitment to religious Zionism.

I am deeply gratified to see that The Jewish Press supported a free Iraq. Your editorials and articles during the American liberation of Iraq made me feel incredibly proud to be Jewish. You reminded me that our Jewish vision is one of universal human freedom, that our quest for
freedom is not only for Israel and the Jewish nation but for all of humanity.

Rabbi David B. Hollander eloquently articulated my reasons for supporting a free Iraq in his June 20 Sedra of the Week column. I share his outrage that the German murderers want to see Saddam inflict the same genocide on the Kurds and Shi’ites that they inflicted on the Jewish nation. Similarly, the French, who are inciting violence against their own Jewish community today, have no business talking about morality in their opposition to a free Iraq.

And the opposition of the Democratic Party here in the U.S. to a liberated Iraq has filled me with such outrage that I am thinking of voting for President Bush in 2004 – even though I am a lifelong Democrat who counted chads for Al Gore in 2000 in Palm Beach County. (This decision will depend upon President Bush’s support of Israel’s war on terrorism, of course.)

Rebecca Witonsky
New York, NY

More Rabbinic Voices Needed

The grassroots efforts to petition Sharon regarding the road map are wonderful. The root of the problem, however, is not Sharon. Sharon’s position is simply representative of that of the general Israeli public. The root of the problem is that the leaders and the society at large are afraid to recognize and proclaim fundamental truths.

We are afraid to proclaim that the Bible really means what it says. We are afraid we will be labeled extremists and fundamentalists. There is, however, a fundamental truth stated over and over in the Bible: that the Holy Land is meant for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob exclusively.

The spiritual leaders of Israel need to cry out proclaiming this fundamental truth. In this we share common ground with fundamentalist Christians.

Robin Ticker
(Via E-Mail)

Knesset Follies

The goings-on in the Knesset are akin to a disorienting, hallucinatory bad dream. Whatever it is that shapes Israel’s laws makes little sense. Why would officials ban reporters from Arutz 7 (an Orthodox pro-settlement radio station) from the Knesset, while permitting the Arab network Al Jazeera’s reporters to have the right of entry?

Hagai Seri-Levi, Arutz 7’s reporter, was removed from a meeting of the Knesset on the grounds that Arutz 7 is an illegal station. Arutz 7 operates from international waters and consequently is not an illegal station. Why the selective harassment? For years other radio stations, such as the left-wing Abie Nathan’s “Voice of Peace, ” operated from international waters without being hassled by the Israeli government. Nor has Israel shut down the truly illegal Arab media, which advocates death to innocent Israelis.

The paragons of Israeli politics are committing an outrage which may very well haunt them in the future. Arutz Sheva may represent a minority in Israel. But it is a minority of an estimated half million or more listeners. Labeling Arutz 7 illegitimate can only serve to undermine the very foundation of the Jewish state.

Ben Eliahou
Manalapan, NJ

‘Purim In Summer’

The news from Israel is so incredible that I am beginning to believe this must be a rare “Purim in Summer” – that Israel is in some intoxicated state wherein she cannot discern between Haman and Mordecai.

While homicide bombers are blowing up innocent Israeli civilians, the Israeli government considers Jewish settlers the real and dangerous “enemy” and uproots them from the land, instead of uprooting the real enemy – Palestinians – who have no other goal but to make Israel another Auschwitz in the Middle East, exterminating all of the Jews, G-d forbid. In fact, on the same day that a homicide bomber murdered an innocent Israeli, Jewish settlers were being torn from their land by Israeli soldiers.

So this must be Purim, because today’s Haman, the Palestinian terrorists, are being placated via the “road map” while Jewish people are being brutally ripped from their cherished land – by other Jews.

I wept as I watched Israeli soldiers fighting settlers while suicide bombers murdered innocent Jews. Has Israel gone mad?

Chaya Blitzer
(Via E-mail)

‘Settlers’ Really ‘Returnees’

While the battle rages in Israel over ‘settlements’ as the Arabs and Americans call it, it is a battle of futility. The terminology is totally incorrect, and therefore an agreement cannot be reached. It’s like one side is talking about apples and the other about bananas.

Here is an explanation and a clarification of the misunderstood word ‘settlements.’ The Jewish people have returned to the biblical homeland. They claim nobody’s land but their own, their only homeland. The Hebrew word is mitnachalim – returnees.

The problem is that the Jews are soft-hearted and did not drive out the squatters, the Arabs, which by universal precedent, they should have done.

The Arabs have 22 countries and they are on the verse of swallowing up two or three more European countries…

Even the land knows who its rightful owners are. Where the Jews live the land is verdant, even the land which originally was beach sand. Is green with grass and fruit bearing trees – a land of
abundance, blessed by the G-d of Israel.

Sylvia Mandelbaum
Neve Dekalim, Israel

Defending Passover Getaways

In a letter to the editor in last week’s Jewish Press, Samuel Messinger of Miami Beach deplored the alleged excess manifested by vacationing families at kosher-for-Passover holiday programs in hotels and resorts.

Dear Mr. Messinger: where and when I and my family take our vacation is our own affair. Tens of thousands of Jews now go away for Passover each year, in what has indeed become a significant phenomenon on the American scene.

It is a wonderful time as far-flung family members come together, at the height of the spring season, for eight or more days of fun and fellowship.

Back in ‘the good old days’ your mother or grandmother may have done all the cooking and cleaning, but our family believes in freeing the slaves! No more does mom have to be a slave in the kitchen cooking all day, and we’re able to spend our holidays in wonderful locales that our forebears could only dream about.

Most of the kosher tour operators are quite careful with food preparation, and in most instances the extra food is donated for charitable use. And don’t feel sorry for the kitchen help – they’re very well paid these days.

Art Altman
Brooklyn, NY

More On BTs, FFBs, Shidduchim And Status

Stop Whining, Already

Re the recent letters to the editor from converts and baalei teshuva whining about their difficulties in being fully accepted into the Jewish community: that’s not what I’ve seen. The
congregation I attend in Brooklyn has many geirim and newly-observant of diverse races. They are welcomed with open arms and are afforded complete respect. I am proud of them and consider them my brothers and sisters. And many of them find marriage partners.

I can’t help but wonder whether those who complain that they can’t find a shidduch aren’t using their newly-acquired Jewishness or frumkeit as an excuse. Perhaps there are other reasons for their problems, such as personality flaws. Whatever the reason, the difficulty of finding a shidduch is something one hears from singles throughout the Jewish community, no matter their backgrounds.

Sherine Levine
Brooklyn, NY

Valid Concerns

To the reader who claimed he is unable to get dates with frum-from-birth singles who are
wrongfully rejecting him for merely being a baal teshuvah:

As someone who has had much contact with baalei teshuvah, and who admires their deep
commitment and sacrifice in making the difficult choice to become observant, I’ve seen some who’ve teetered back and forth between being observant and reverting to their original lack of observance. Some need years to find their “comfort level” of frumkeit, which is understandable. Many do become fully observant, but others fall backward.

For a baal teshuvah to say to an FFB, “Take me for who I am now, respect me for making the
commitment to becoming frum, and forget all your fears and concerns,” is just not realistic for many FFB singles. I am of the strong opinion that baalei teshuvah should not begin dating seriously until they have been frum for a number of years, to ensure that they know exactly where they are religiously, and where they will stay.

In any case, good luck to all those seeking their zivugim. It is all in the hands of Shamayim;
you must only do your hishtadlus and trust in Hashem to bring you the right zivug at the right

E.R. Frankel
Brooklyn, NY

Knowing Who We Are

Re the baal teshuvah who’s having great difficulty dating in right-wing frum circles because
many frum-from-birth Jews (FFBs) will not go out with him:

The implication is that since he isn’t being set up with FFBs he can’t get married. I would suggest that he go out with a baalas teshuvah. There are quite a few wonderful, talented, fine, attractive, and frum baalas teshuvah. Why should he feel so dejected when there are so many nice frum girls who have a background similar to his whom he could be dating?

Turning to Chananya Weissman’s letter to the editor on shidduchim which appeared in the issue of June 13 and contained some good points: Rabbi Weissman mentions that some of our great leaders married converts such as Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua. He mentions that Yehoshua married a convert who according to several commentaries was a harlot. I’d like to elaborate on this.

Yehoshua led the children of Israel into the Holy Land. The woman he married was named
Rachav. Obviously, her past was a result of her upbringing. However, when the situation
materialized she risked her life for the benefit of the Jewish people. She put herself in mortal
danger when she hid the spies and helped them escape from the city of Yericho. Furthermore, If Yehoshua married her we can be sure that she was a special righteous woman.

Moshe Rabbeinu married his wife, the daughter of Yisro, before the Torah was given. She
also was a very special and righteous woman as our great rabbis have taught us.

In a similar vein, Rabbi Akiva’s wife must have been a very special, intelligent and righteous
woman. To have the foresight to see that such a person as this simple shepherd Akiva could totally transform himself and become what he became is something most of us don’t have. Furthermore, she acted on this conviction and gave up everything – her money, her social standing, and all the physical comforts the wealthy take for granted.

We have to know who we are and realize we are not on the level of these tzaddikim. However, when we look for a shidduch we should be aware that there is something such as character. Character doesn’t necessarily mean that the shidduch prospect is the most popular in the class. It’s not necessarily reflected by how much money someone is earning, or whether he wears Armani suits or she wears the most expensive and trendy dresses, or even by the degree of status one had achieved in his or her shul or community.

Mordy Wolfson
Brooklyn, NY

‘Coke-Can Ritualism’

The contempt for baalei teshuvah that comes through some of the recent letters you’ve published corresponds with the sentiments I’ve experienced since becoming Torah observant some nineteeen years ago. There’s a caste system in the frum community that rivals anything seen in India, with emphasis placed not on a person’s inner traits, his spirituality, his middot, but on which yeshiva he attended and who his great-grandfather was.

Frankly, I’ve met an alarmingly small number of frum-from-birth Jews who come close to
exhibiting the sincerity, the kavanah, the beauty of soul, that I see in baalei teshuvah. For too many FFBs, Judaism is simply a lifestyle they were born into, and putting on tefillin or going to minyan is simply an ingrained habit done with little reflection and even less sanctification – no different, l’havdil, from putting on one’s shoes in the morning or brushing one’s teeth after a meal.

Years ago I heard a prominent rabbi warn a group of mostly FFB youngsters against being
complacent in their frumkeit, pointing out to them that the only reason they were frum was because their parents were, and that if their parents worshiped a can of Coke, that is exactly what they would be worshiping. I know all too many frum adults whose Judaism is no deeper than the Coke-can ritualism described by the rabbi, yet they wear their FFB status as some badge of honor and are quick to deride and denigrate baalei teshuvah.

Before patting themselves on the back for their great wisdom in choosing to be born into frum
families – thereby confusing an accident of birth with some praiseworthy achievement – FFBs
should ask themselves why it is that one rarely finds a baal teshuvah implicated in any of the
embezzling, stealing, money-laundering and similar such crimes that have given Orthodox Jews
such an ugly image in the outside world. It seems to be very much an FFB phenomenon, this
epidemic of white-collar crime, and I would suggest that one of the reasons for this is the sick, unholy emphasis on externals and material gain that has overtaken large swaths of the Orthodox world.

Frankly, given the obsession with gashmius and status among FFBs, I would prefer that my
children, when they reach marriagable age in a few years (G-d willing), marry baalei teshuvah even though they themselves have been frum from birth. I didn’t become frum in order to have children and in-laws whose frumkeit consists of little more than the rote observance of folk rituals ingrained from birth.

Gershon Holtzman
(Via E-Mail)

What If Gidone Busch Had Been A FFB?

Your June 20 editorial supporting the call by Congressman Nadler for a new investigation into
the death of Gidone Busch appeared on the page immediately facing some letters to the editor
regarding the bias in the frum community against baalei teshuvah when arranging shidduchim.

You will recall that immediately after Gidone Busch was shot to death in Boro Park by New York City police officers, several Jewish community leaders, including Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz (a VP from Agudath Israel) and former councilman Noach Dear, held a news conference, jointly with the NYPD, at which Dear and the others gave the NYPD strong backing.

Would Dear, Lefkowitz, et al, have been so quick to carry the NYPD’s water if Gidone Busch had been frum from birth instead of a child of assimilated Long Island suburbia?

The question is not whether there is bias in the frum community against baalei teshuvah. The
question is whether such discrimination and bias is limited only to the shidduch scene.

Kenneth H. Ryesky (Esq.)
East Northport, NY

What Bush Did And Didn’t Say

I was intrigued by Assemblyman Dov Hikind’s column in last week’s Jewish Press (“Road Map Rage”) in which he savages President Bush for his promotion of the “road map.” While Hikind makes several points I agree with, I think it’s important to point out several problems in his presentation.

First, Hikind writes that “President Bush found it necessary to harshly scold Israel for the
targeted attempt on Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi” (emphasis added) but then incongruously relates what Mr. Bush actually said: “I regret the loss of innocent life… I’m concerned that the attacks will make it more difficult for the Palestinian leadership to fight off terrorist attacks. I also don’t believe the attacks help Israeli security.”

Expressing “regret” for the Palestinian civilians inadvertently hit in the attack on Rantisi and his ilk, “concern” for the effect the attacks will have on the Palestinian Authority, and “belief”
that the attacks will not help Israeli security hardly constitutes a “harsh” presidential rebuke.
Moreover, a couple of days later – and well before Hikind’s article appeared – the president went out of his way to clear the air and give Prime Minister Sharon a “green light” to go after “ticking bombs.” Can anyone now honestly say that America does not accept Israel’s right to defend itself – as Hikind suggests is the case?

In a second example of misleading hyperbole, Hikind goes on to say: “President Bush, asked
recently who his favorite leader is in the Middle East, stunned reporters when he cited Crown
Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.”

Yet here is how the Washington Post reported the incident to which Hikind refers: “Aides [to
President Bush] said the one leader in the region who has earned Bush’s respect is Abdullah, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.”

So, contrary to Hikind’s distorted version, what was reported was someone’s secondhand,
subjective impression of the president’s feelings, not a “stunning” direct statement from the
president himself. Note also the difference between Hikind’s claim that the president cited Abdullah as ‘his favorite leader’ in the Middle East and the actual, far less incendiary observation made by Bush’s aides that Abdullah is ‘the one leader in the region who has earned Bush’s respect.’

One wonders how Hikind would compare Mr. Bush with Bill Clinton as far as the Middle East is concerned. Hikind is silent on this, but keep in mind that he publicly toyed with the idea – almost up to Election Day – of endorsing Hillary Clinton for the U.S. Senate in 2000 despite her public support for her husband’s disastrous Mideast policy and despite her infamous embrace of Suha Arafat just after the latter made several scathingly anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic comments. (In the end Hikind endorsed neither Clinton nor her Republican opponent, Rep. Rick Lazio.)

Perhaps Hikind, being a consummate politician, is taking seriously reports that Hillary
Clinton may soon run for president and Bill Clinton even sooner for mayor of New York.

David Schneiderman
New York, NY

Israeli Haredim And Government Subsidies

This month’s Jewish Observer has an article lamenting the fact that budgetary cuts by the
Israeli government have been heavily weighted against the Torah community. The article
describes the paralyzing sacrifices that Kollel families will now have to shoulder.

This is indeed very sad. In an economy that has been so adversely affected by intolerable acts
of bloodshed, the Israeli government has been forced to make some difficult decisions.

But I must protest the myopia of those who so bitterly decry the present situation. Do they not
see the error of their own ways in all of this? Where was the hakaras hatov during all the “good” years? I never heard any expression of gratitude to the Israeli government for supporting Torah institutions. Huge sums of money were allocated for use by the haredi community with nary a thank you in return – in fact, the response was mostly bitter criticism.

Is it any wonder that these budgetary cuts seem to be geared toward haredim? Whom, after
all, did the electorate choose to be in the government, United Torah Judaism? No, it was
Shinui, a new secular party that was swept into power, and their representatives are merely
following through on their campaign promises.

The great question is, how did the frum olam in Eretz Yisrael get into this mess? Could it be we were too reliant on the government? Could it be that we were too indiscriminate in who and how many people we allowed into the kollel system?

Maybe it’s time to reassess our priorities and re-evaluate our goals. Not every yeshiva student
should seek a lifetime in kollel. There should be programs that encourage some of the yeshivaleit to take simultaneous programs in career training.

To be sure, klal Yisrael needs gedolim as well as other klei kodesh. But we need to insure that the right people are learning full time in order to achieve the great heights in learning necessary to become gedolim. These are the people who should be supported with available government funds.

There are far too many people learning full time who come to realize in their 20s or 30s that
learning full time wasn’t really meant for them. Meanwhile, they’ve received tremendous financial support from the State of Israel. So, after numerous years of being supported, and at a time when they already have large families, they start entering the job market ill equipped for decent employment.

Our rabbinic leadership has been enormously successful in creating the system of learning Torah l’shma, which is so necessary for our continued existence. But in the process, bnei Torah have become a dependency class. Avreichim who might have chosen a path more suitable for themselves have instead been encouraged to follow the singular path of learning full time.

If there are 20,000 people learning full time in Israeli yeshivas, at least 25 percent should
probably be doing something else. If this population were reduced by 5000 people there
would be more than enough government funds available for the rest. And the 15,000 remaining yungeleit would be the ones who deserve the stipends.

I want to make one thing clear: I encourage anyone who desires to do so to continue
unencumbered learning a year or two after marriage. But for some avreichim there should
have been a dual program prior to their marriage where work or professional skills were learned. Training should begin after two or three years of learning full time post-high school and divided between learning Torah and learning a parnassa.

One may ask, what about late bloomers? Wouldn’t they be discouraged by being steered into
a parnassa? No. If one goes to college at night he is still learning quite a bit the rest of the day, and a late bloomer will still blossom.

Learning a parnassa is not an impediment to gadlus.

Following this approach would lessen the burden on society and provide motivated baalei
battim who would be able to provide additional support for those klei kodesh who have the
potential to become leaders and teachers for all of klal Yisrael.

Harry Maryles
Chicago, IL