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December 20, 2014 / 28 Kislev, 5775
 
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Letters To The Editor

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Reason For Concern

Based on previous discussions between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the obvious dislike of the president for the prime minister, those concerned about the security of Israel should greet the news of Obama’s upcoming visit to Israel with trepidation.

Certainly the additional trips to the Palestinian territories and Jordan do not bode well for the message the president will be delivering to the prime minister of Israel, probably repeating what has already been said by his surrogates, Vice President Biden and former secretary of state Clinton, about Israel being more forthcoming to Mahmoud Abbas and ceasing any building past the temporary pre-1967 armistice lines.

Nelson Marans
Silver Spring, MD

Brooklyn College Controversy (I)

I received my B.A. and M.A. in psychology from Brooklyn College and taught it at my alma mater in the early seventies.

As a student, I studied with renowned teachers who taught their respective courses in an unbiased way. As a lecturer, my goal was to give my students an overview of the field. I presented them with a wide range of theories, perspectives, and ideas. I encouraged them to think logically, creatively, and freely. My personal beliefs and favorite theories were irrelevant.

I am deeply saddened by the decision by the Brooklyn College political science department to endorse the BDS movement and by the position of Brooklyn College’s president that “departments have the right to sponsor one-sided partisan events.”

I agree with Alan Dershowitz (“Brooklyn College and the ‘Shoe on the Other Foot’ Test,” op-ed, Feb. 8) that “there are only two reasonable approaches to what departments should be entitled to do: either they should sponsor and endorse events on all sides of controversial issues or they should get out of the business of selectively sponsoring and endorsing only one side of such issues.”

I share Mr. Dershowitz’s concern about “turning academic departments into biased, partisan and one-sided propaganda centers, reminiscent of ‘political science’ departments in the former Soviet Union that ‘encouraged’ students to follow the official party line.”

Dr. Mel Waldman
Brooklyn, NY

Brooklyn College Controversy (II)

The controversy over the appearance of BDS activists Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti at Brooklyn College is a textbook case of why we in the Jewish community need to choose our battles carefully and fight them wisely, rather than approach every little problem by dropping an anvil on it.

The BDS movement, even now, is a fringe movement, albeit a shrill fringe movement. Its political positions have no mainstream support, and few concrete victories. Thus, our approach to BDS on campus should generally be to ignore it, lest we dignify and glorify it. Like most fringe movements trying to break into the mainstream, the BDS movement lives for the publicity our community brings it every time our response goes over the top.

The notion, promoted by Alan Dershowitz in his Feb. 8 op-ed column, that college academic departments and academic institutions in general do not normally sponsor one-sided events is simply disingenuous, and everyone who has ever been a college student knows it. They do indeed sponsor such events, regularly, and Dershowitz himself has spoken at such events. One particularly telling example was Dershowitz’s lecture on Israel at the University of Pennsylvania last year. That event, arranged in response to several days of pro-Palestinian events on campus, was sponsored by Penn’s political science department.

And in 2008, Dershowitz gave a CUNY-sponsored lecture at Brooklyn College on the controversial topic of the First Amendment in the age of terrorism.

For these reasons, and given Dershowitz’s long record as a staunch defender of First Amendment values and as a frequent college lecturer, it baffles me that he would take the position he did in this case.

Michael Brenner
Woodmere, NY

Satmar Rebbe In Israel

The Feb.8 My Machberes column led with an account of Williamsburg Satmar Rebbe Zalman Leib Teitelbaum’s recent trip to Israel, particularly Rav Zalman Leib’s meetings with gedolim, including Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Hopefully Rav Chaim used the opportunity to urge Rav Zalman Leib to cease his quarreling with his brother, Rav Aaron, over the leadership of Satmar. This fight has resulted in a chillul Hashem, with the two taking their dispute to secular court instead of to a beis din.

It is a fitting quirk of history that the saintly Rav Yoel of Satmar was saved from the ashes of the Holocaust on the Kastner train, a rescue devised by the Aid and Rescue Committee, an organization of committed Zionists. How sad that Satmar has never found room in its collective heart to acknowledge the Zionist role in the Rebbe’s rescue.

Avi Goldstein
Far Rockaway, NY

Stan The Man’s Torah Lesson

The recent death of Stan “the Man” Musial, one of the greatest baseball players ever, reminded me of the following story I was told by a fellow high school student of Musial’s in Donora, Pennsylvania.

There were three Elefant brothers in Donora in the 1930s. Their father served as the rabbi of the town’s only synagogue. These boys and other Jewish teenagers studied in their father’s “yeshiva” three hours a day, four afternoons a week.

Their friend in high school, Stan Musial, inquired as to why they never stayed after school to play ball with the other boys. They explained to him the importance of the religious studies that occupied their afternoons.

Musial was doubtful and asked if one afternoon he could tag along to confirm their tale.

With their father’s permission, Musial sat for three hours that day “absorbing” the ways of the Jews.

Who’s to say that the Almighty didn’t reward Musial for those three hours of Torah with the many records he set as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals?

More than that, to his dying day Musial was acknowledged by all as a true gentleman. I’d like to think that he was a mensch because of the mussar he learned that afternoon.

Rabbi Simcha A. Green
Berkeley, CA

The Day Mayor Koch Spent At YU

It was in the spring of 1983 that the bullets began to rain down on Yeshiva University’s Washington Heights campus. I had just walked by Furst Hall, the main classroom and administrative building, when a drive-by shooter pierced its wide glass door entrance with the first volley of bullets. Other incidents were to follow in and around our urban campus, putting Yeshiva on high alert.

The response by the NYPD was swift and pervasive. Lookout sites were set up and Yeshiva quickly became an armed camp. With calm restored over the ensuing months, the YU community in due course held a special program to thank New York’s finest, and above all its caring and engaged mayor.

As Mayor Koch entered Belfer Commons he was greeted by the senior RIETS rosh yeshiva, Rav Dovid Lifshitz, who in his inimitable way took and held the mayor’s hand and said to him, “I am very proud of you.”

Obviously moved by this rabbinic approbation from a sage who was a last vestige of the great European Jewish communities of the prewar years, Mayor Koch opened his comments to the appreciative audience by first acknowledging the great compliment and honor paid him by this “great rabbi.”

Here was one of many “take charge” situations that became the trademark of Ed Koch’s mayoralty. He didn’t vacillate, waffle or procrastinate. He restored peace to YU’s torn terrain. It was vintage Koch; he was the kind of leader who never hesitated to express his disgust and concern at a societal ill.

Those of us who accompanied Rav Lifshitzback to the bet midrash were a bit surprised to notice that clutched to his side was not the usual sefer he was wont to carry but rather a copy of Ed Koch’s Mayor. No doubt the mayor’s aides carried a few around with them to share with deserving dignitaries and citizens.

We will never know what was inscribed inside or the rosh yeshiva’s thoughts upon reading the spirited chronicle of this politician’s personal and public life. We do know that Rav Dovid read The New York Times from cover to cover each day. I imagine, however, that he more than perused the pages of the mayor’s autobiography in appreciation of Ed Koch’s steadfast efforts not only to protect the YU community but the citizenry of the city in general.

Moreover, we were taught an important lesson from the otherwise unlikely interaction of these two very different leaders who on that occasion, in that shared space, saw their minds meet and meld in a nexus of mutual regard and concern.

Rabbi Lawrence S. Zierler
Teaneck, NJ

Editor’s Note: The writer is the rabbi of the Jewish Center of Teaneck.

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