Angry In The Heartland

I realize this will be offensive to some of your readers. As a Christian, I must say it for those Jews who refuse to believe. (This is for bonehead Christians as well.)

Islam is the ‘religion of peace’ – and its followers will kill you to prove it. I must admit I’ve never thought of the Palestinians as being a religious people. However, the religious extremists in that part of the world seem to always use Palestinian “suffering” as an excuse to attack America and Israel. Well, I don’t think we should disappoint them any longer. Americans need to admit that we love and encourage Israel. Why hide from the truth?

The more the Palestinians and Arabs interfere with Israel, the angrier we become in the Heartland of America. President Bush better pay attention to his political base. We may decide not to show up when he needs us most.

One more thing: Prime Minister Sharon, please tell my beloved President Bush to throw the road map in the trash heap. Mr. Bush is a great man, but he really needs a reality check.
G-d Bless America and Israel. I support moving the Palestinian people back to Jordan.

Carolina Young
(Via E-Mail)

Funny, You Don’t Look…

Now that the Supreme Court has decided to “kasher” Affirmative Action, I would like to suggest sabotaging this insidious form of racism by using guerilla tactics. On affirmative action forms, all Jews should record themselves as ‘Asian Americans.’ After all, we Jews do come from Asia, if one goes back far enough. Many of us can read and speak an Asian language (Hebrew).

Let us watch the apartheid apparatchiks try to prove that Asia ends at the Himalayas and does not include the Fertile Crescent. So what if many of us look Occidental? What are they going to do, define ‘Asian’ based on measuring noses and skulls like in Germany in the 40’s?

Many of you can also properly list yourself as Hispanic, because of some Sephardic ancestors on any side of the family. It does not matter if you go to an Ashkenazi synagogue. It does not matter if you do not speak Spanish; many other Hispanics do not. One-eighth Sephardic
sounds to me more than sufficient to count oneself legitimately as Hispanic. Jews from North Africa or South Africa should of course always list themselves as African-Americans.

Let us then watch the politically correct fascists try to sort that out.

Stephanie Perlauter
New York, NY

Holy Day Or Family Reunion?

Two weeks ago, reader Samuel Messinger argued quite convincingly against the practice of Jews traveling the ends of the earth for the ultimate Exodus excursion (Letters, June 20). Reading Art Altman’s response to Mr. Messinger in last week’s Letters section, I would have to conclude that “what we have heah is a failure to communicate.”

Mr. Altman begins by saying, “Where and when I and my family take our vacation is our own affair.” This may sound naive, but the last time I checked, Pesach was a Yom Tov. Apparently, however, in Mr. Altman’s view it’s simply an opportunity to join thousands of
other individuals starved for entertainment and (literally) hell-bent on sampling the best that gashmius has to offer.

He continues, “It’s a wonderful time, as far-flung family members come together for eight days of fun and fellowship.” How far have the mighty fallen! Pesach, which commemorates the birth of our nation, reduced to nothing more than a family reunion (and a chance to surreptitiously check out the bikini-clad beach bimbos).

Mr. Altman should have quit while he was behind, but he added the coup de grace: “Back in the ‘good old days’ your mother and grandmother may have done all the cooking and cleaning, but our family believes in freeing the slaves.”

You may not be aware of this, Mr. Altman, but our rabbis teach us that freedom for a Jew is serving Hashem. When we extend ourselves to perform His mitzvot it is the purest expression of bechirat chofshi.

No, Mr. Altman, those who eschew the Passover Pleasure Palaces are by no means slaves and are certainly none the worse for it. But you, sir, are a slave – a slave to your desires. Your letter made me ill.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

‘A Sefer Torah, Dummy’

Much has been written about the Israeli government’s destruction of the outpost of Mitzpe Yitzhar. News stories are of varying accuracy. This story is a direct account from someone very close to me.

The outpost consisted of two shacks and four tents. One of the tents was being used as a shul containing a sefer Torah. The Jewish residents of the outpost davened and learned there. The army had orders to avoid violence to people, and we settlers obviously hoped that they would not hurt us. That we would avoid hurting soldiers, our own holy Jews, ought to go without saying, but many rabbis and spokesmen said it anyway. Many people walked through the Arab village of Hawara on foot and climbed the mountain to get there. The outpost site itself was manned by males and the road was full of females blocking the army vehicles. Women (mostly girls actually) bodily blocked the vehicles and had to be dragged off before the soldiers could drive a few feet, only to encounter the next human obstacle.

When the soldiers started destroying the tent used as a shul, my eyewitness figured he’d better take the Torah scroll to a safe place before it got damaged, G-d forbid. He took the sefer Torah and carried it out through the crowd of soldiers. Many of them, when they saw what he held, stood silently at attention. In the midst of the silence, as he walked carefully over the rocks, he heard a soldier ask his buddy “Hey, what does he have there?” His friend responded, “A sefer Torah, dummy!”

Yes, there are IDF soldiers who don’t know a sefer Torah when they see one.

Many times over the past decade of the Oslo War, I have asked myself what sins we Jews had committed to deserve this. Now I have my answer. We have allowed this Jewish boy and many others to grow up without having ever seen a sefer Torah, much less learned from one.

We Jews must stick together and help one other. Each and every one of us, “religious” or “secular,” has to look at our own deeds and ask ourselves – and G-d – how we can improve. Can we pray more, or with better intention? Can we do more or better acts of kindness?
Can we learn more Torah or help others do so? Can we clean up our speech so that more words of truth and holiness are on our lips? Can we better educate our children or our neighbors’ children? Perhaps we can even give birth to more children, in itself a mitzvah sorely
neglected by most Jews?

Our Sages have taught us that mitzvot have a ripple effect – that when a person does a mitzvah in one place it helps all Jews everywhere.

Please help.

Janet Kasten Friedman
(Via E-Mail)

Sand Trap As Metaphor

Our AFSI (Americans For a Safe Israel) group of 30 Americans and Canadians had traveled to Netzarim in the Gaza Strip in order to visit our friends there and give and get encouragement. After an inspiring visit and a delightful kindergarten song presentation prepared especially for us, we boarded our bus only to discover that two of the wheels of the bus were stuck in the sand.

This was Monday, May 26 – the day that Prime Minister Sharon and the Israeli Cabinet were busy committing Israel to the road map. Our group, strongly opposed to the plan, saw this situation as a symbol of where Israel is today. Many of us are on solid ground, with the biblical road map to follow – the one that has preserved Israel since King David declared his kingdom over 3,000 years ago, first in Hebron and then in Jerusalem. Prime Minister Sharon is following the wrong road map. It leaves Israel easy prey to its enemies as it is mired down in agreements that will be disastrous for the people, the Land and the State.

Our bus was pulled out of the trap when an IDF tank was hooked up to it and pulled it out, accompanied by our cheers of encouragement. If our experience is a metaphor for Israel today, the message is clear. Israel must stay on the biblical path, forget the ‘road trap’ and let the Israeli army do its job to defeat the enemy. Only then can the terms of peace be negotiated.

President Bush said it clearly last year: “No nation can negotiate with terrorists. There is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death.” Sharon told the world on Oct. 4, 2001: “Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia.”

We pray that our leaders will remember their words of wisdom and reverse the course of the road map before the inevitable, irreversible collision occurs.

Helen Freedman
Executive Director
Americans For a Safe Israel

Stretching The Argument

Reader Kenneth H. Ryesky’s suggestion that Jewish communal leaders were quick to take the NYPD’s side and downplay the killing of Gidone Busch in part because he was a baal teshuvah and not frum from birth (Letters, June 27) is, I think, taking the “oppressed minority of an oppressed minority” argument a little too far.

It seems to me that Mr. Ryesky is playing the race card much the same way Al Sharpton did after the Amadou Diallo shooting (“This wouldn’t have happened if Diallo had been white!”)

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Gidone Busch was mentally unstable. According to published reports at the time, he was supposed to be taking psychotropic medications, and he may have stopped doing so. He may have been under the influence of illegal drugs, according to some witnesses. When he charged a group of policemen, waving a hammer, they sprayed him with pepper spray. When this failed to incapacitate him – in other words, he was still threatening them with a hammer – they opened fire.

Should they have wounded him instead of killing him? Perhaps. But we cannot judge the actions of NYPD officers who put their lives on the line every day unless we join them in patrolling city streets each night. When a person who may be a danger to himself and others
seems to be attacking, you don’t have the time or luxury to determine his motives before taking action.

I think The Jewish Press is equally wrong-headed to keep dredging up this tragic accident and pointing to it as indicative of a deeper problem in the police department. I think it behooves every law-abiding New Yorker to commend the men and women of the NYPD for the heroic efforts they expend daily on our behalf.

Gidone Busch’s death was a tragedy, no doubt, but it had nothing to do with his Jewishness, his level of frumkeit, or the kind of tallis he was wearing. Let’s let him rest in peace.

Michael Steinhart
(Via E-Mail)

Kosher Conundrum

We all have to make decisions about which kosher supervision we rely upon and which we will not use. For example, some people may be comfortable with organizational supervision, but are reluctant to rely on products that are under the supervision of only one rabbi. They feel that since the rabbi is often paid directly by the company, he is not as independent as a rabbi who is employed by a supervising agency and paid by the organization.

On the other hand, some feel that they know Rabbi So-and-So and are much more comfortable using a product under his supervision than one under organizational supervision. After all, one does not generally know which rabbi from an organization is actually giving the supervision on a particular product.

There are those who go so far as to rely only upon what have come to be known as “heimishe” products. These are products that bear the name of this or that rav or rebbe on the label. Such consumers feel that in some way these products adhere to higher standards, and in many cases they do. For example, the vast majority of heimishe products often have such specifications as cholov Yisroel and pas Yisroel displayed on their labels where appropriate.

Today, however, many products have multiple supervision. Indeed, some products have three,
four and sometimes even five different supervision on the label. The question that arises is, “Are each of these organizations and individuals actually involved in the supervision of the product?”

To put it another way, when a product displays several supervision and a consumer uses
this product due to the fact that ‘organization X’ or ‘Rabbi A’ is on the label, is it indeed true that organization X or Rabbi A is really giving the supervision?

The answer to this question: Not always. Pesach products are the best example of this. There
are a variety of Pesach products with more than one supervision indicated on their labels, but only one of the supervision may actually indicate that the product is Kosher for Passover. Thus the consumer who uses a given product for Pesach because it is under a particular supervision may not realize that while that supervision is valid for the entire year, it is not valid for Pesach.

The situation can be even more complicated. A few months ago I had occasion to call a certain rabbi about a particular product on which his name appears. In addition to his name, there is the name of another rabbi as well as the symbol of a national kashrus organization. When I asked this rabbi if he had his own mashgichim present when the product was being manufactured, he responded, “Do you really think that when a product has more than one supervision on its label there is a mashgiach present representing each of the listed supervising
organizations or rabbis when that product is being made?”

It was clear to me from what he said that the answer is No. Therefore, one may think that one is relying on a particular supervision when in fact it is another supervision that actually supplies the mashgiach and perhaps even sets the guidelines upon which this supervision is based.

Now, it may well be that each of the supervising organizations and persons indicated on the label of a given product has checked out the product and is satisfied that it meets all standards.
But the fact remains that, simply from what is printed on a label, one cannot really be sure which of the multiple hashgochos is the “definitive” one.

This leads to a final question: Whose Supervision Are You Really Relying On? Without
actually investigating a particular product in detail, can you really know? It seems not.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ

Troubles In The ‘Hood

Cold Neighbors

I am writing this letter with the hope that at least some of my neighbors will recognize themselves in it and hopefully realize the error of their ways. My family and I moved into our current apartment on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn approximately two years ago, and I am sad to say that the treatment we have received from our frum neighbors has shocked us no end. Not only don’t our own next-door neighbors say hello to us, they do not even look in our direction so that we can smile at them or extend our own greetings.

When we first moved in, we thought these neighbors would approach us when we passed each other outside and at the very least say hello if not introduce themselves and welcome us. How wrong we were! For this very reason we have made no friends at all on our block, and feel like we no longer even want to get to know any of these inconsiderate people who have shunned us from day one.

The shocking thing is that some of these neighbors are Israeli, and when other Israelis come
by they are friendly as can be to them. As frum Jews, we are horrified that our fellow frum Jews could treat their next-door neighbors, whom they run into practically every day in the front yard, in such a cold manner.

I would like to address these people directly for a moment and say, You, who arrange Tehillim groups in your home exclusively for your Israeli friends and neighbors; you, who never even considered saying hello to us, smiling at us, and most importantly, introducing yourselves to us and welcoming us to your block – you should be ashamed of yourselves. You have caused us to become so disillusioned with this so-called frum neighborhood that we have begun to seek a new place to live just to get away from neighbors who have made us feel so isolated and alone in this community.

Take a look inward the next time you are getting ready for your Tehillim group and remember, Hashem will judge you by the way you have treated us. Sinat chinam is what caused the destruction of the holy Beit Hamikdash; surely it is what is causing the delay in Moshiach’s arrival as well.

To the rest of you, don’t just disregard this message as if it doesn’t pertain to you. Instead, why not think about whether you could be guilty of the same transgression against your neighbor. You have no idea how much it would mean to a new neighbor (or even an old one) for you to say hello, introduce yourself, or merely smile.

Rochel Frankel
Brooklyn, NY

Silent Streets

Recently we were invited to eat Yom Tov lunch in Boro Park. We live in the Kings Highway
section of Flatbush and wanted to make the walk interesting for the kids, so we took a very
circuitous route to reach our destination. We walked up Coney Island Avenue over to Ocean
Parkway, then over to McDonald and up 47th Street. As you can imagine, we passed quite a few frum people making their way to and from shul. As is our family’s custom, we greeted each person we met with a hearty Good Yom Tov. I have to say that as we reached 15th Avenue it occurred to me that I could count on one hand the number of people who responded to our greeting – and that not one person had greeted us first.

As we passed the corner of 15th Avenue and 47th Street, we found ourselves walking next to a nice young man. My son greeted him with a Good Yom Tov. He responded to the greeting and then commented, “You must not be from around here.” I asked him why he thought that and he answered, “Most people in this neighborhood don’t greet me; they must not think I’m one of them.”

As he passed us I noticed the knitted yarmulke on his head.

We continued on our way up toward Fort Hamilton Parkway. I was at this point completely
disillusioned in my brothers and sisters. And then it happened – a woman walked by us and before I had a chance to open my mouth, she said Good Yom Tov.

What is the point of my letter? Two weeks ago we walked to a kiddush in the section of Flatbush known as “the thirties.” Every frum person we passed in this predominantly Modern Orthodox neighborhood either greeted us with a Good Shabbos or responded to our greeting.

Can I say that the difference is in the neighborhood? I don’t know. Maybe it is. All I know
is that it was very disheartening to have people not even respond to a greeting of Good Yom Tov and even more distressing to hear my nine year old ask, ‘How many times do you have to say Good Yom Tov if the person doesn’t answer?’

Hindy Leibowitz
Brooklyn, NY

Machberes Column ‘Inaccurate, Inappropriate’

As president of Congregation Tifereth Israel since 1995, I feel compelled to set the record
straight concerning the inaccuracies and blatant falsehoods contained in Rabbi Gershon
Tannenbaum’s ‘Machberes’ column of June 6 (‘Heartache in Williamsburg’).

Contrary to the assertions in the article, ‘Rabbi’ Yehuda Avrohom Stein has never been the
rabbi, spiritual leader, an officer, or even a member of Congregation Tifereth Israel. Rabbi Stein was retained by the congregation about nine years ago on a non-contractual, at-will basis, to perform various tasks at the synagogue in the nature of sexton, sharing these duties with several other individuals. He has never been elected or even been nominated to serve as rabbi of the congregation. Not once in nine years has Rabbi Stein ever participated, expected to participate, or requested to participate in any official, executive decision-making on behalf of the congregation. That was simply not the basis of his engagement.

A group of people have unlawfully misappropriated the congregation’s name by falsely advertising that the synagogue operates at 477 Bedford Avenue, which it does not. In fact,
pursuant to the court-approved contract of sale, the new owner has provided the congregation with comfortable, interim places of worship at 505 Bedford Avenue for Shabbos and Yom Tov, and 40 Heyward Street for weekday services, pending the construction of the new building at the original 491 Bedford Avenue site.

The plain and simple fact is that the congregation’s sale of its building and premises was not only approved by the State Supreme Court and the New York State Attorney General in October 2000, but was also re-confirmed by court order in February 2003 following evidentiary hearings in late January. At those hearings, the judge asked for the ‘anti-sale faction’s’ evidence, and found that they had none. The lawyer for the ‘anti-sale faction’ cold not articulate a basis for the scurrilous claim that there was any improper connection between the congregation’s officers and the buyer. Further, their lawyer conceded that the ‘anti-sale faction’ is comprised primarily of individuals who were not even members of Congregation Tifereth Israel at the time of the sale. Yet these people misled your columnist by repeating the same falsehoods.

In March 2003, the Appellate Division, Second Department, denied the ‘anti-sale faction’s’
application for a stay pending appeal, specifically noting that the building may be demolished. While the appeal is technically still pending – although the ‘anti-sale faction’ has yet to file its legal brief – a stay is generally denied when the proponents, as here, fail to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. All of this took place when Rabbi Stein’s ‘anti-sale faction’ repeatedly hauled us into secular court.

Finally, columnist Tannenbaum indicated that donations may be sent to Congregation Tifereth Israel at 477 Bedford Avenue. That address is not the legitimate address of the congregation, which is located at 491 Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, and any individuals purporting to collect funds on behalf of the congregation at the 477 Bedford Avenue address are doing so fraudulently and illegally.

Moreover, I believe it is inappropriate for a columnist to use his column as a forum for soliciting donations under any circumstance.

George Stern
Cong. Tifereth Israel