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Letters To The Editor

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

The Futility Of Sanctions

If anyone still harbors any thought that President Obama’s plan to coerce Iran through economic sanctions to abandon its nuclear weapons program might work, he or she should read the front page news story in last week’s Jewish Press (“Iran: No Retreat On Nuclear Program”).

Mr. Ahmadinejad – who after all is in a position to know – said it straight out: “We are not a people to retreat on the nuclear issue…. If somebody thinks they can pressure Iran, they are certainly wrong. And they must correct their behavior.”

We ought not follow the lead of those who wishfully see a link between the worsening of the Iranian economy, which is obvious, and some future political decision to abandon nuclear weapons.

Mindy Abrams
(Via E-Mail)

Abbas’s ‘Scholarship’

I enjoyed Dr. Richard L. Cravatts’s “A Monumental Distortion of History” (front page essay, Oct. 5). I think however, that whenever Mahmoud Abbas’s “scholarship” is evaluated by serious people, he wins just by having been taken seriously.

The truth is, anyone who denies the existence or import of the evidence of the Holocaust is not a scholar by definition – and by the same token, not a partner for peace with Jews anywhere. Israel and the world should just move on past this slick extremist in moderate clothing.

Howard Miller
Los Angeles, CA

The Mullahs And Obama

I was intrigued by last week’s “An Iranian November Surprise” editorial. It is not so far-fetched that the mullahs would think they could play our president – a man who does seems obsessed with currying favor with the Arabs/Muslim world. What do they lose if they string us along and stretch things out past the election?

Rose Wilk
(Via E-Mail)

Depressing Prayers?

It was troubling to read the essay by a Stern College student about the tefillot for the Yamim Noraim not being “upbeat” enough (“God, Are You Threatening Me?” Personal Perspectives, Sept. 28).

Actually, Jews are not a morose people and we are taught to be joyful in our celebrations. In fact, our holidays are filled with warmth and festive worship. Therefore, to “snort with laughter” during the Unesaneh Tokef tefillah on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, when the book of life is open before our Creator, seems like the ultimate chutzpah.

Writer Hannah Dreyfus is upset that God is threatening her and explains that is why her generation, like her charges in summer camp, has a problem with obeying authority. Well, Ms. Dreyfus, life is not summer camp. Hashem does not promise us a prize if we behave. Perhaps you need to take a careful look around your shul, or read the newspaper, or listen to the news and notice how many people around you are affected by disease and war and the many natural disasters mentioned in the prayer written so many years ago but still applicable today.

We are supposed to look carefully at our deeds and ourselves and to pray for the benevolence of a caring and loving God who gives us so many opportunities to change our ways and become better people. This in itself is our reward, to be a shining example to the rest of the world.

Estelle Glass
Teaneck, NJ

A Working Mother Responds

I am a frum working mother of three, and while I am not judging Ziona Greenwald’s decision to be a stay-at-home mother (“Revaluing Motherhood,” op-ed, Sept. 28), I do take issue with some of her comments.

To give you some background about myself, I went to a Bais Yaakov school and then continued on to higher education. I pursued a career in the finance field where I am still active in today. But I am by no means a feminist. My mother never worked outside the home. She was there to wake us up in the morning, give us breakfast, put us on the bus and wave goodbye. Her time at home allowed her to be fully involved in all of her children’s schoolwork and extracurricular activities. The house was clean, the meals were prepared and the laundry was done. We had everything we needed and more. She was there to greet us when we came home and spent her nights tidying up and getting us ready for bed.

Mendelevich: ‘Educating Young Jews Is at the Core of my Being’

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

In Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story of Faith, Courage and Survival (Gefen Publishing), the newly released English translation of his memoir, internationally renowned former Soviet refusenik Rabbi Yosef Mendelevich tells a compelling story of struggle and victory. He spoke to The Jewish Press during his recent U.S. book tour.

The Jewish Press: You’d already published your memoir in Hebrew years ago. Why an English version at this particular time?

Rabbi Mendelevich: A group of American Jews who were involved in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry came up with this idea about a year ago. Pamela Cohen, the president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews from 1986 through 1996, called and asked me why I never published my book in English. She and others like her saw my life as more than a simple story. It is the story of a young boy struggling to find his Jewish identity in a spiritual wasteland and of a young man challenging the draconian dictates of the Communist monolith in a struggle for freedom.

She came to the conclusion that my story published in English would inspire young and often alienated Jews searching for their own identity.

Describe your life as a young child in Stalinist Russia.

I grew up as an atheist. My parents were not interested in me having a Jewish education. My father was involved in the Communist underground in Riga, but both my parents spoke Yiddish and I was taught Jewish history. Back then in the Soviet Union Jewish tradition did not exist but Riga was the center of the renaissance of the Jewish movement. Before World War II, books were published in Russian about the great Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

In the 1960s an underground movement of Jews supporting Israel began to take hold. One could tell the difference between life under Stalin and life under Khrushchev. You could sit in jail forever under the Stalin government for learning about Jewish culture, language and thought. In 1963, the first book on Jewish vocabulary was printed and many books on Hebrew poetry served as a catalyst for Jews to become closer to their identity. It was like a miracle.

When did you take an interest in activism on behalf of Israel and Jews?

While still a teenager, I gravitated toward activism in 1964. I attended a technical college for four years and studied electronics and computers. I worked as an engineer in a big plant in Riga, and in terms of technology it was advanced. The moment I became an engineer, I wanted to leave the Soviet Union and go to Israel. I had a big decision to make. If I obtained my degree I would have to stay in the Soviet Union forever, so I sacrificed my career by not getting the degree. It boiled down to either staying in the Soviet Union or living as a free man whose destiny is in his hands.

Where was your life heading after you finished your studies?

In 1968 I was fired from my job as an engineer for inquiring about emigrating to Israel. At that juncture I was also heavily involved in various Zionist organizations and in 1969 I assumed the position of editor of a national journal on Jewish issues. Everything had to be top secret so we met clandestinely in forests or perhaps in someone’s apartment. I was in charge of deciding what to write and what articles to publicize, and it was sent all over the Soviet Union. We had only published two issues before my arrest.

Why did you hijack a plane in 1970?

Soviet antipathy toward Israel continued to increase in the years following the 1967 Six-Day War. Israeli soldiers were called hooligans in the Soviet press but we in the Jewish underground only yearned for the freedom to go to Israel, study in yeshiva and be part of the Zionist dream. We decided to hijack a plane to the West to spotlight our plight, even though we knew how risky it was. While undertaking this action, we dreamed about fighting in the Golani Brigade in Israel. We also wanted to counter the incessant Soviet propaganda that told the world there was no Jewish issue in Russia and that Jews were very happy to be proud Soviet citizens. We wanted the world to know there was a growing number of Jews who wanted to connect to their Jewish heritage, to study Hebrew and dedicate themselves to studying Torah.

The Miracle Of Trying

Wednesday, December 19th, 2007

         Chanukah has come and gone, and so have the donuts, the latkes and the celebration of the two amazing miracles that took place at that time. The first, of course, was the successful revolt of a ragtag group of religious Jews against the physical and spiritual presence of the Hellenist Greeks in the land of Israel. The second was the lasting of one day’s supply of oil in the Temple for eight days.


 


         These miracles are not something to think about for just one week during the year. They should be on our minds daily, for they offer a life-enhancing lesson that we should take to heart.

 

         This lesson is simple. Do not let the facts on the ground ever deter you from trying to reach a goal.

 

         It might be amusing for some to discover (like I did) that this message of trying, despite the “facts” staring at you, was often brought forth in the popular science-fiction series, “Star Trek.” It would seem that in just about every episode, the chief engineer of the spaceship exploring the galaxy would be ordered by the captain “to get us out of here.” The spaceship would be in imminent danger of being destroyed by an exploding asteroid, swallowed up by a space monster the size of a planet or trapped forever in another dimension – unless it quickly went to warp speed and zoomed away.

 

         Often the captain would tell the chief engineer that he had about three minutes to repair the warp drive. And the chief engineer, in a reproachful voice, would tell the captain that he needed at least 30 minutes and that he “couldn’t change the laws of physics.” But he would always try, and he always succeeded.

 

         Of course this was television, and a happy ending was necessary for the show to continue. But the lesson here is the one we can glean by examining the Chanukah miracles that describe two situations that, on paper, seemed hopeless and thus not worth trying to do something about.

 

         The first revolved around a group of outnumbered Jews fighting to oust their enemy. The Greek army had a large, well-oiled fighting machine. It’s likely Matityahu, the leader of the Jewish freedom fighters, must have repeatedly been warned not to even think about fighting the Greeks.

 

         Similarly when it came time to light the menorah in the Holy Temple and there was only enough oil for one day, the opinion of most might have been, “don’t bother, the flame is not going to last – so why waste what you have?”

 

         However, like the fictional chief engineer on the spaceship, Matityahu did not let logic or the laws of nature stop him from trying. He did not let the extreme odds against success hold him back from “going for it.”

 

         And neither should we. The road of life is full of potholes and seeming dead-ends. Faced with these damaging bumps in the road, or barriers and obstacles indicating that the journey is over – and that any attempt to continue is futile – there is the temptation to just accept the yoke of the status quo. The lesson of Chanukah, however, is clear. Do not give up; do not let the “facts” stop you from trying to change what seems to be cut in stone.

 

         Many years ago, while flipping through a newspaper looking for the comics, I came across the obit page. Most were a few lines, so when I saw a rather lengthy piece, I glanced at it out of curiosity. It started with the words, “eighteen years after being given six months to live, the family sadly announces the passing of…” It went on to say how this man in his upper 40′s, having far exceeded medical expectations, had outlived some of his doctors. Obviously, this man did not allow the “experts” dictate to him what his future would be. Despite the “facts on the ground” he fought – just like the Maccabees.

 

         So, too, must we not let “reality” stop us from trying to attain our heartfelt goals. There are many individuals who have been told that they are terminally ill, will never have children, will never walk again, or that their child will never be functional. Yet they or their loved one are alive and well, having achieved the supposedly impossible.

 

         The act of trying is itself a kiddush Hashem – an act of extreme faith. When attempting the seemingly impossible, you are expressing your belief that there is a Master of the Universe, who is above the laws of physics, nature, biology, etc. Hence, He can execute miracles. All He requires is that you take the first step.

 

         At the end of the day, since all is in Hashem’s wise hands, the true measure of your success will not be in the attaining, but in the trying. 

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/the-miracle-of-trying/2007/12/19/

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