Jewish Apathy (I)

The vehement, sometimes violent, reaction Mr. Ishmael Khaldi experienced in response to his support for Israel (“Israeli Bedouin: American Jewish Apathy Shocks Me,” op-ed, Oct. 15) is, unfortunately, not limited to college campuses.

Articles I had put up on my website, which did nothing more than support Israel, received an avalanche of condemnations and threats from Arabs in the Middle East and England to Neo-Nazis in Germany. (Of course, I was not at all apathetic about all this. Aside from the many e-mails I wrote in response, giving them a peace of my mind, in one case I had Yahoo shut down an entire newsgroup of hate-mongers and anti-Semites.)

Can you imagine what the reaction would be if Mr. Khaldi or my articles actually criticized Arab states?

The Jewish apathy that Mr. Khaldi refers to is evident at a far earlier stage than the campus level. The single, biggest root cause of anti-Israel sentiment and anti- Semitism today is, in my opinion, the UN. One UN condemnation of Israel is the equivalent of a multi-billion dollar ad campaign – its twisted message reach the entire world.

If we were to react in proportion to how Arabs react to the feeling of being slighted, Jews would have to hold 24-hour protests in front of the UN every time it condemned Israel for defending itself. No, I take that back – we’d have to go around blowing up hotels and beheading people.

Josh Greenberger
Brooklyn, NY

Jewish Apathy (II)

Phyllis Chesler is to be heartily commended for her tireless battle against the forces of anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism that have commandeered so much of the intellectual and ideological terrain in both the media and academia. Her Jewish Press op-eds on the subject – particularly her most recent efforts dealing with the disgraceful behavior of Duke University in hosting a Palestinian Solidarity Movement hatefest – are a clarion call to American Jews to snap out of their apathy.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of American Jews – utterly secular, thoroughly liberal, abysmally ignorant of their heritage and history – are beyond redemption. And believe me, after nearly 30 years of working as a community services professional in several cities, I know this tribe. Not only are large numbers of American Jews unaware or apathetic about the inroads made by Palestinian propaganda – many are actually in agreement, at least to some degree, with Palestinian claims.

We are a people with little self-respect, a perverted sense of priorities, and no clue as to who our friends are. Think I’m being too harsh? Remember this letter on Nov. 2 as American Jews march to the polls on Nov. 2 to vote en masse for John Kerry.

Isadore Frank
(Via E-Mail)

Children’s Yom Tov Drinking

I heartily agree with Dr. Ariel Fischer’s comments (Letters, Oct. 15): Alcohol abuse is a serious problem on the yomim tovim, especially Simchas Torah and Purim. I would add, however, that the unsupervised drinking going on in shuls during hakafos has a more immediate danger: children succumbing to alcohol poisoning. A l’chaim or two on occasion is generally not problematic for adults, but children have lower body mass and are far more susceptible to alcohol’s harmful effects. I had to take a shot of 80-proof Scotch away from a 12-year-old boy in shul this yom tov. “What’s the problem?” he asked. “My father lets me drink!”

When I tried to tell this boy that drinking hard liquor is not the best way to celebrate Simchas Torah, several other men accosted me. “What, you never drank when you were underage? What’s your problem? Are you a cop?”

This kind of purposeful ignorance of health, science and safety is, I fear, prevalent among some segments of the Orthodox community. If you tell children not to drink, you’re just a killjoy and obviously not interested in maintaining tradition. As long as these attitudes are being expressed, we have a long way to go until our shuls become proper models of simchas yom tov. I think rabbonim of every stripe and teachers from grades 6 and up in yeshivas must emphasize the importance of safe and wholesome fun on yom tov and throughout the year.

Yaakov Levine
(Via E-Mail)

Help Requested

I am president of Action to Cure Kidney Cancer, a grassroots advocacy organization, which is seeking Ashkenazi Jewish individuals who have or have had kidney cancer for participation in a genetic study conducted by the National Cancer Institute to determine if there is a gene that causes kidney cancer. If so, the NCI plans to develop a diagnostic test that would identify those people at greater risk for the disease.

To learn more about participating in the study, please e-mail me at  or phone 212-615-6404.

Jay Bitkower
(Via E-Mail)

Presidential Polemics

Wrong Choice

As the Republican challenger against John Kerry in his 1990 Senate reelection campaign, I know Kerry well and harbor doubts about his ability to lead our country and keep us safe. As a Jew, my doubts extend to Kerry’s willingness to act to keep Israel secure. With President Bush, I have no such doubts.

Throughout his political career, Kerry has worked to gut our military aid and intelligence capabilities. He worked consistently to prevent the modernization of our armed forces and, whenever given the opportunity, almost always voted to cut or cancel the weapons systems that won the first Persian Gulf war and that are currently fighting and winning the War on Terror. Likewise, his record on sponsoring and promoting pro-Israel legislation is lukewarm.

To this day, it seems that the terror attacks of 9/11 changed little for John Kerry. Last January, he explained that the ”war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement operation.” This belief, along with his declaration at the Democratic National Convention that ”[a]ny attack [on the U.S.] will be met with a swift and certain response,” indicates that for him, the terrorist strikes on Washington and New York were isolated events. This is the failed pre-9/11 approach to fighting terrorism.

When it comes to Israel, Kerry has been equivocal. Last October, in a speech before an Arab American audience, he criticized Israel’s security fence as ”another barrier to peace.” Today, however, he says he is in favor of the fence as a way to prevent terror attacks. In a September 12 interview with Time magazine, Kerry complained that the Bush administration has not ”even engaged in a legitimate effort to try to really transform the ability of Israel to find a legitimate entity to negotiate with.” Whatever this highly nuanced statement means, a President Kerry would presumably tap former ambassador Martin Indyk (Kerry’s point man on Israel) to be the one to transform Israel’s ability to find an entity. This is troubling to many Jews and friends of Israel because Indyk has been an inveterate apologist for Yasir Arafat.

In contrast, President Bush understands that America’s and Israel’s ongoing fights against terror are linked. He has repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to defend herself against terror and stated that a Palestinian state ”will never be created by terror. It will be build through reform.” Unlike Kerry and Indyk, President Bush refuses to deal with Arafat.

The marginalization of Israel and Jews by the Democrats was clearly evident during the Democratic National Convention, where the topic of Israel was barely broached. Of the major convention speakers, only John Edwards mentioned ”a safe and secure Israel,” and when he did, he did not pause for applause. Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman speculated to the Jerusalem Post, ”I think they rushed over it because they did not want to show divisiveness in the audience. There may have been some people there who are not receptive.”

What does it say when the Democratic leadership has to tiptoe past the issue of Israel when speaking to its most loyal party members?

At the Republican National Convention, on the other hand, the major speakers, from Mayor Giuliani to Vice President Cheney to President Bush, all mentioned Israel and acknowledged the need for the U.S. to stand by her. These statements were met with standing ovations by the Republican party faithful. This explains why a number of high profile Democrats, such as Ed Koch and Zell Miller, have broken ranks with their party to support President Bush. It also explains why many Jews who have never before voted Republican are going to vote for George W. Bush on November 2.

James W. Rappaport
Boston, MA

Selective Morality

In his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention on the night of July 29, John Kerry said: “We believe in the family value expressed in one of the oldest Commandments: “Honor thy father and thy mother.”

In the October 8 debate between Kerry and President Bush, a young woman asked Kerry the following: “Senator Kerry, suppose you are speaking with a voter who believed abortion is murder and the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person?”

Kerry replied, “I would say to that person exactly what I will say to you right now. First of all, I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I’m a Catholic, raised a Catholic. I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war, leads me today.”

But then he went on to say, “I can’t take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith, whether they be agnostic, atheist, Jew, Protestant, whatever. I can’t do that.”

Does Kerry believe that you can pick and choose among the Commandments, disregarding the ones you don’t like – or did he just change his mind between July 29 and October 8? He seems to have forgotten about the Commandment “Thou shalt not murder.”

To add insult to injury, when Kerry said he “can’t take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn’t share that article of faith,” he included Jews. Perhaps Kerry doesn’t realize that the Commandments, including the one he quoted at the convention, was first given to the Jewish nation.

Moshe Resnick
Brooklyn, NY

Hateful Campaigning

With Election Day approaching, the presidential campaigns are intensifying, not only on the part of the candidates themselves, but among over-zealous supporters. Sometimes these supporters cross the line from disagreement to hatred.

A local example of this is in Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, where an anonymous vandal has been posting anti-Bush stickers all over subway stations, phone booths, street lamps, and mail boxes. None of them displayed awareness of issues, preferring childish insults such as “Bush is a satan,” “Vote the Cowboy out of Office,” and “Bush lies, who dies?” Most pedestrians, regardless of political affiliation, have dismissed the stickers as the ravings of a lunatic.

However, last week, on the corner of Union Turnpike and Markwood Drive, a much larger sticker in the same handwriting had a “Bush is a Fascist” slogan written on it. What made the sticker offensive was that the S in Bush’s name was shaped like a swastika. In my opinion, this crossed the line from reasonable disagreement to hate speech.

My family has experienced fascism and survived the Holocaust, and we find the “Bush is fascist” slogan to be disgusting and hateful. This is especially disturbing because the swastika-bearing stickers are located in a largely Jewish neighborhood, where the community seems split between the two candidates.

I ask the anti-Bush crowd to show some decency, and to stop comparing the president to Hitler. I ask for unity after the election, whoever gets elected. Like many Americans, I am tired of the negative campaigning. If anything, the hateful anti-Bush stickers are strengthening my support for President Bush, and I’m a Democrat.

Sergio Kadinsky
Forest Hills, NY

Still Making The Case For Kerry

I want to thank you for twice providing me with an opportunity to present the case for Jews supporting John Kerry for president and for providing me this additional space to respond to critics of my position.

At this stage, I do not think it would be helpful to use my limited space to adequately argue that Bush has misled us into a disastrous quagmire in Iraq; that his actions have alienated our allies and increased the prospects for terrorism; that his spending of $120 billion in Iraq and his major tax cuts for the wealthy and corporate contributors diverted money from hiring additional police and other security forces and from protecting our harbors, transportation systems, nuclear, chemical, and biological systems, and thus made us more vulnerable to terrorism; that his ill-conceived domestic policies are and will increasingly have severe negative effects for Jews and others; and that Kerry has the potential to help Israel greatly improve her security and prosperity.

Instead, I think it best to seek common ground and consider areas I believe Jews should be increasingly involved in, no matter who we support or who is elected. Certainly, we must remain strong and actively combat terrorism, and work to keep Israel strong and secure. But I believe that we must also actively apply Jewish values to the many other problems that threaten humanity as perhaps never before.

* Since Judaism teaches that Jews are to be partners with God in protecting the environment, shouldn’t we be involved when species are disappearing at the fastest rate in history, tropical rain forests are being rapidly destroyed, at least half the world’s people are projected to be living in areas chronically short of adequate clean water by the middle of this century, our air and water are being badly polluted by many toxic chemicals, and our soil is being eroded and depleted by inefficient agricultural methods, including the raising of 50 billion farmed animals annually worldwide?

* Since Judaism stresses that wise people consider the effects of their actions on future generations, shouldn’t we concerned that an average increase in the world’s temperature in the last century is already causing the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps, record heat waves, and increasingly severe floods, storms, droughts, and forest fires, and if even the most conservative of temperature increases projected by the world’s leading climate scientists occur, it would have catastrophic effects for humanity.

Shouldn’t we protest against policies that reward the wealthiest among us and selfish corporate interests, and have resulted in a shift from record budget surpluses to record deficits, a major loss of jobs, and cutbacks in educational and health programs and social services that Jews and others depend on.

Of course, there are no simple answers to these and other problems that need to be addressed, but I believe The Jewish Press and its readers would perform a kiddush Hashem, a sanctification of God’s name, by helping to get them onto the Jewish agenda.

Richard H. Schwartz
(Via E-Mail)

Criticism Of Boro Park Leaders Justified

Reader Shifra Bronstein notes (Letters, Oct. 8) that Rabbi Yackov Saacks’s “Open Letter to the Boro Park Jewish Community” two weeks earlier contained ‘harsh language.’ Such harshness was quite appropriate.

As Rabbi Saacks’s letter poignantly stated, Gidone Busch was murdered “[f]irst by the police, then again by a smear campaign, and lastly by the Jewish community of Boro Park which let him and his family hang out to dry.” While the first of these might be attributed to some unfortunate dysfunction within the New York City Police Department, the Boro Park Jewish Community must collectively account for its complicity in the latter two.

It is, of course, quite true that not all members of the community are or were complacent in this matter. But many among the community leadership, eager to do whatever it took to make this thing go away, opted for the path of least resistance with their unquestioning sycophancy to the city administration and the NYPD. Gidone, after all, was quite convenient to sweep under the rug; he had no family or established support in Boro Park, his immediate family had no active ties (other than nostalgia) with the Orthodox religious establishment, and the family’s elected officials from Long Island held no political sway in Brooklyn.

The stage was thus set for a smear campaign against Gidone Busch that continues to this day. The newspapers used exaggerations and innuendo to denigrate and degrade Gidone, and painted a picture of a monster who in no way resembled the real Gidone Busch who had, in his lifetime, been a frequent visitor to my own shul and community.

Certain frum newspapers were complicit in this crusade to sully Gidone’s reputation; Yated Ne’eman described him as “mentally deranged” and Hamodia, with wishful thinking, reported the November 2003 verdict against the Busch family in their suit against the City of New York as “the final chapter in the tragic saga surrounding the killing of Gidone Busch.”

It may well have been appropriate policy for the Boro Park Jewish community to stand by the NYPD when the story first broke. But once the ambiguities, gaps and discrepancies in the story became apparent (as they did relatively early on), it should then have been obvious that the City administration needed the Boro Park community’s backing even more than the community needed the administration’s smiles and kind words.

At that juncture, the obsequious public stance of certain members of the Boro Park leadership only served to encourage further abuses by the NYPD, the City of New York, and the news media. And there obviously was something wrong with the picture when the anti-Jewish demagogue Al Sharpton showed greater support for Gidone Busch’s family than many of the Boro Park Jewish leadership. The abandonment by the Jewish community of its own vulnerable members does not, cannot and never has inspired the world to respect us.

Had the Boro Park community leadership demanded answers instead of kowtowing to the City administration’s party line, it is very likely that the NYPD would not have gone as far as it did in manipulating the evidence or concocting stories found incredible by Judge Johnson (himself a former NYPD officer).

Had the Boro Park community leadership cried out on behalf of the blood of Gidone Busch that was spilled upon their neighborhood’s sidewalks, then the New York City Corporation Counsel’s office might have acted a bit more scrupulously in its conduct of the ensuing litigation.

And the utter contempt accorded to the memory of Gidone Busch no doubt gave the green light to certain physicians at New York Presbyterian Hospital and certain New York Times reporters who totally disregarded and disrespected Gidone Busch’s dignity by leaking and publishing his medical history in the press.

Gidone was viewed by the Boro Park Jewish leadership as an expendable and unwanted outsider, and was shunned accordingly in death as in life. There is little doubt that the matter would have been handled quite differently had Gidone Busch been the son of a prominent Boro Park rabbi or politician.

Kenneth H. Ryesky, Esq.
East Northport, NY

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