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

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A Grandmother’s Footsteps

Kudos to Shandee Fuchs for the lovely tribute to her grandmother Mrs. Irene Klass (“Following in My Grandmother’s Footsteps,” Nov. 15).

Aside from being well written and heartwarming, it was a beautiful and loving appreciation of a genuinely special grandmother, and by extension a wonderful grandfather, as seen through the eyes of an extremely fortunate and grateful granddaughter. The divrei Torah and illustrative examples all served to enhance the piece and make it relevant and inspiring.

May this illustrious grandmother’s dorei doros continue to tread proudly along their journey, following in the magnificent footprints she left behind.

Naomi Gross
Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel

Striking A Balance

In last week’s front page essay (“The World’s Greatest Outdoor Museum”), William B. Helmreich summed up one of his captivating encounters with Jews in New York City this way: “The sense you get here is that of a person who wants to be more open and friendly, but whose husband is resistant because he fears it will threaten their identity as Jews.”

But when looking at Helmreich’s own account, one does not get this sense. The husband objected to inviting over the Italian American neighbors only because “he feels we can’t return the invitation and come to them, because we’re kosher.”

Instead of someone who fears the outsider, the husband, like the wife, seems to be neighborly and kind – worrying only that the couple would appear to be rude by not accepting a return invitation.

This point of dispute is not merely academic. I don’t know the couple in question and I feel no need to defend their actions. It’s just that Helmreich’s characterization is symbolic of how many view Orthodox Jews.

Living in an American city in the 21st century is not easy for any ethnic group trying to strike a balance between its cultural and religious norms and assimilating into society. But many of New York City’s Orthodox Jews, consistently aware of themselves, strike this balance well. They should be praised, not disparaged.

Shlomo Weinberg
(Via E-Mail)

 

Israel And France

Israel and France are embracing each other, literally and figuratively. The French are actually taking a hard line against Iran and making friendly overtures to Israel. In the meantime, Obama has disregarded his red lies on a nuclear Iran and is easing sanctions in exchange for talks that are going nowhere.

Wouldn’t you be suspicious of a terrorist country that wants nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes,” even though it’s oil-rich?

Howard Jay Meyer
Brooklyn, NY

  No Honest Broker

As crucial as the Iranian nuclear issue is for Israel, more serious still is the Obama administration’s oft-denied but incontrovertible intention to pressure only Israel for concessions with no quid pro quo from the Palestinians.

Secretary of State John Kerry’s blatantly biased tirade threatening Israel that its refusal to accede to Palestinian demands would lead to Israel’s isolation in a hostile world and an inevitable third intifada is a clear indication that the U.S. has abrogated its role of honest broker in the current negotiations.

There is little doubt that Israel’s valid security imperatives will be given scant consideration by an administration in dire need of a diplomatic victory in the aftermath of the Obamacare fiasco.

Fay Dicker
Lakewood, NJ

 

Judging Candidates On The Merits

Another political election season has come and gone, accompanied by the usual mailings and advertisements in support of one candidate or another stating the candidate in question is supported by various purported community “leaders.”

As someone who was once very politically active, I wonder how many of the endorsers/signatories of flyers and advertisements deserve any credence.

How many of them have ever invested the time and effort needed to build any community organization?

How many of them have ever gotten up early in the morning to accompany a political candidate greeting voters at a subway station?

How many of them have invested endless hours at meetings required to set the agenda, discuss strategy, etc., that are the necessary building blocks of political or other community organizations?

How many of them have ever stuffed an envelope or gone door to door with literature informing the public of various charity or other community functions?

How many of them have ever donated money, if not time, to any community group?

Since I imagine that the answer to these questions is “not many,” I respectfully suggest that the voting public ignore how many “names” are affixed to flyers and advertisements, and instead judge candidates on their own merits.

Moishe Mark Halberstam, Esq.
(Via E-Mail)

Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss Responds To Reader Harold Marks

Dear Harold,

Thank you for your probing letter in the Nov. 8 issue regarding my Nov. 1 column “Thou Shalt Not Be Different.” As you correctly pointed out, there are some subtle – and some not so subtle – distinctions concerning when being different is called for and when it should be avoided.

As you illustrate in your story about Rav Pam, we certainly are advised by the Torah to be different from many of the gentile norms. As the pasuk teaches, We are a nation that dwells apart.

I am certainly not advocating wearing a miniskirt if everyone else does, nor am I recommending using foul language in a vulgar office environment where such language is used. You ask (tongue in cheek, I hope) whether I would advocate using a tongue ring if everyone around me does so. Certainly not, but I would consider relocating from such an environment. As the Rambam says, a person is greatly influenced by the environment in which he lives.

You raise another delicate issue. Avraham Avinu was the essence of being different. That’s why he was called Avraham HaIvri, for the whole world was on one side while he was on the other. And the Chazon Ish certainly towered above other men – and in many regards was quite different from the mainstream.

However, it is important to distinguish why a person is doing something. Is he doing it in order to be different or in order to be better? Therein lies the key. The former is screaming for attention and can get himself into trouble by separating from the community, not blending in with his fellows, etc., as I discussed in the article. The latter, however, is the objective of life, as you point out: to strive to improve and to excel.

Finally, you raise an interesting question. Should a chassid who finds himself in a Modern Orthodox environment remove his chassidishe garb? Rav Singer, zt”l, of the Sefardishe Shul of Boro Park would wear a regular hat in his shul but when he attended the tisch of the Bluzhever Rebbe, ztl, he would wear a shtreimel. To answer your question, a difference that does not grate on people is not a problem. It is when the difference can be seen as aggravating or condescending or haughty that we must be very vigilant.

The Torah recommends that we try to achieve uniformity in one place even if more than one practice is 100 percent halachically acceptable. It is for this reason that in my shul on Chol HaMoed Pesach and Sukkos we have separate minyanim for those who wear tefillin and those who do not. As the Torah says, “Lo sisgodedu,” which the Gemara interprets to mean “Lo saasu agudos agudos – Do not make different factions in the same place.”

Once again, I thank you for helping me crystallize and clarify these subtle distinctions and may we all merit to know when to be different and when to blend in.

Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
Staten Island, NY

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