Our Shameful ‘Leaders’
A wave of nausea overcame me as I read that ‘more than 70 prominent Jewish religious and communal leaders, with direct ties to leading organizations … have sent a letter to Secretary of State-designate and current National Security Adviser Rice effectively urging her to pressure Israel into concessions’ (‘The Pressure to Pressure,’ editorial, Dec. 3).
As if that weren’t sickening enough, these ‘leaders’ have now joined the growing anti-Semitic chorus by linking U.S. pressure on Israel with greater international support for U.S. Mideast policy. ‘There are many challenging paths to achieving our country’s objectives in Baghdad and, we believe, one of them runs through Jerusalem,’ they stated to Dr. Rice.
There is nothing inherently wrong with Jewish leaders differing on how to best solve the seemingly intractable problem between Israel and the Arab Palestinians. However, it is reprehensible to read proposals from leading members of the Jewish community that could easily have been written by the most virulent anti-Semites.
We must all finally admit that there is a serious mental illness infecting our community, even though this illness is not manifested by traditional symptoms. When communal leaders are willing to serve themselves up on the altar of appeasement, and do not deem themselves worthy of claiming their biblical/ historical inheritance, it really is time to take a serious collective accounting.
Christian Zionists have absolutely no hesitation in loudly proclaiming the rightful claims of Jews to their homeland. Jewish communal ‘leaders,’ on the other hand, are ready to throw their inheritance to the wolves. They should hang their heads in shame.
Elmwood Park, NJ
In his Dec. 3 Sedra of the Week column, Rabbi David Hollander referred to Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress (impressive-sounding credentials). When Mr. Bronfman publicly expresses an opinion concerning Jewish issues, even one that is harmful and wrong, that opinion carries unwarranted weight and exerts unfortunate influence owing to his self-appointed position of prominence.
In the commercial world, there are copyright laws that are rigidly enforced, and for good reason. For example, if Mr. Bronfman started printing a newspaper for the World Jewish Congress bearing the name The Jewish Press, I am certain he would receive a rapid court-ordered infringement notice.
According to my understanding, the only accurate definition of the word ‘Jewish’ refers to people who identify with and follow the teachings of the Torah – because Torah is the essence of Judaism. Unfortunately, the word ‘Jewish’ is not registered and protected by copyright, and that is why it is so widely misused, abused, and misunderstood.
I believe The Jewish Press and Rabbi Hollander understand the desperate need to restore the proper distinctions necessary to promote the accurate use of the term ‘Jewish’ in the world today. Rabbi Hollander’s use of humorous sarcasm was a most effective double dose of preventive medicine. Like pride, the rebuke may be a bitter pill to swallow, but Mr. Bronfman would gain in wisdom and under-standing if he could bring himself to take it.
Fighting Academic Treachery
As a New York City elected official, I would like to answer the question posed in your editorial “Columbia University Scandal: Where Are Our Friends?” (November 26, 2004). Fortunately, the Jewish community has friends at the New York City Council.
When the initial reports in the media exposed the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic environment at Columbia, I joined with Council members Michael Nelson and Lewis Fidler to visit Columbia University’s campus to hear first-hand accounts by students who had suffered intimidation and reproach from professors for expressing pro-Israel views. As a former professor at Queens College, I was outraged that such academic treachery could exist on this or any campus, and stated so publicly in the Daily News.
Subsequent to our visit, I arranged for Council members to view at City Hall the revealing documentary “Columbia Unbecoming” by Rachel Fish of the David Project. This film documents the anti-Israel bias and climate of academic intimidation that has been reported in the media.
My Council colleagues and I have investigated this problem – and Columbia’s response to it – and are formulating an appropriate response from the Council to this abhorrent situation. Council member Nelson and I are currently drafting a resolution denouncing the climate of academic intimidation and harassment, and calling for the termination of professors Joseph Massad and Hamid Dabashi.
Although this endeavor may seem to some to be far afield from our usual legislative duties, we cannot in good conscience remain silent in this shameful episode. I thank The Jewish Press for calling upon other elected officials to speak out as well.
James F. Gennaro
NYC Council Member
24th District, Queens
Rabbi Yaakov Rosenblatt’s Dec. 3 op-ed article, “Confessions of a Republican Rabbi” (December 3), was well-written and articulate. Yet some of its arguments point out weaknesses in the conservative political position.
Rabbi Rosenblatt writes: ‘Goodness is when you tell an inner city or immigrant child that things may be tough for her but that she can overcome the challenges by working harder than other kids and producing better results. Goodness is a government that provides loan applications, not grants.’
The problem with this position is that it severely restricts the number of people you can help. Say you tell a large population of inner city students that by working harder than other kids they can overcome the challenges. Some will respond, but most probably won’t. If you stop there, you won’t be able to help them.
The same problem is with loans versus grants. Loans are fine for people for whom there is a realistic expectation that they will repay the loan, but they make no sense for all the others. If you restrict government assistance to loans, you are restricting yourself to creditworthy people, just a small portion of the population who need help. Direct cash grants, on the other hand, have their own problems, like fostering dependence.
Other forms of assistance may be more useful, but they still will need to be funded by taxpayers.
While I respect Rabbi Rosenblatt’s position and have strong differences with the social policies of secular liberals, my insistence that government come to the aid of all in severe distress keeps me a Torah-observant liberal.
Michael H. Klein
What Really Matters
I picked up The Jewish Press last week as I do every Friday night after candle lighting. I noticed the front-page essay ‘To Repair An Unhinged Heart’ and started to read. I knew it was Shabbos and that one is supposed to be happy and not cry, but the tears did not stop.
I put the paper down for a little while to gain some strength to continue. I can only imagine how much strength it takes for someone who loses a child to go on each day. I finished reading the article and was amazed at how Mr. and Mrs. Avrech created something so wonderful and special after losing their child. We all should appreciate what we have and take nothing for granted.
Life is too short for silly disagreements or pettiness, and I specifically address this to the person who at a recent parent-teachers conference refused to allow another person back on line after she stepped away for a few minutes and I allowed her to go in front of me. Your only remark was, ‘It’s not fair.’
No; what’s not fair is seeing so many people with such terrible tragedies and realizing that so many of us refuse to learn any lessons from this. What really matters in life – being first or being kind and considerate to others’ I hope and pray that most of us can learn a very important lesson from Mr. Avrech’s article and from the actions of Mr. and Mrs. Avrech – obviously two very special people.
Shanie R. Stern
‘Insubordination Cannot Be Countenanced’
Recent calls for insubordination, in the event that the Israel Defense Forces be employed to implement a planned withdrawal from the Gush Katif area, are deeply disturbing and dismaying. If heeded, such calls may potentially undermine Israel’s basic interests. They would erode morale and discipline, endanger purposive unity, engender internecine strife, and embolden our enemies.
Moreover, the calls are objectionable on principle. Regardless of one’s view of the proposed withdrawal itself, selective insubordination cannot in this case be countenanced on either moral or halachic grounds. Policies initiated in the hope of enhancing long-term national security can clearly be sanctioned as pikuach nefesh, saving lives. The right and the duty of judgment as to the likelihood that this prospect will indeed be realized is vested in properly constituted governmental authority.
May the spirit of comity and mutual responsibility prevail so that, with God’s help, Israel will be safe and realize its dream of peace both internally and with its neighbors.
Rabbi Norman Lamm
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein
Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron
A Teacher Learns A Life Lesson
December 1, 2004, might have been a birthday for some, a regular day for others. For me, it was the day that inaugurated a new outlook on life.
It all began with a visit to Luke, a 3-year-old boy in my pre-school class, who is in the midst of his battle with stomach cancer. I had never seen a young child with this disease, and when I asked to go visit with him I was anxious and overwhelmed with fear.
The elevator door opened and I found myself looking at young children plagued with this awful disease. Suddenly, I couldn’t catch my breath. To my left was a young boy connected to a machine, watching cartoons. I would never have known this was Luke had his uncle not told me so. I excused myself for a moment so that I could compose myself. While I withdrew to catch my breath, I was able to see all of the sick children, and that’s where it happened – like a bolt of lightening, my mind was racing with so many new feelings and emotions.
How do I have the right to be reluctant to visit a child who is sick and looks different, when I am staring at young brave children with bald heads, connected to various machines, playing and laughing?
Before going back in to see Luke I knew I had overcome my fear, and by the time my visit was over that fear had been replaced with a sense of utter gratitude for the life I experience. Too many moments are filled with thoughts of what isn’t ok in my life or what isn’t ok about me, and while those thoughts help promote growth and change, after visiting with Luke I recognized how much I need to appreciate the many blessings in my life.
People get angry and question God when they confront the horror of a child with cancer. While these questions and frustrations lie within us all, I can honestly say that observing the consequences of cancer upon both the patient and the family has brought me greater understanding and compassion. It opened my mind and heart to something I have never been exposed to before and it created within me the desire to do good.
I left the hospital with an odd feeling – a feeling of greater motivation. Instead of moping my way out of that hospital, I actually felt invigorated. I plan to donate toys in honor of Chanukah to every child in that center. I went home and I looked in the mirror and uttered a silent prayer of thanksgiving.
During this festive time, we celebrate eight days filled with presents and festive foods. After my experience on December 1, I plan on celebrating each day with an immense appreciation and the purest thankfulness for being so blessed to be me – and for all that means.
Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Hollander’
Our Shameful ‘Leaders’
Out Of The Ashes
A firefighter found a sefer Tehillim at ground zero. The name inside is Avraham Binyamin Shapiro (it may be Spira). If anyone knows whom this may belong to, please contact me
by either sending a letter to 9 Dorset Road, Spring Valley, NY 10977; by calling me at work (908-582-5384); or by e-mailing me at email@example.com.
Mordechai Dovid Levine
In the December 26 issue of The Jewish Press, the opening sentence to Rabbi Hollander’s weekly Sedra of the Week column states, “A psychology student was given an assignment
to find out how different groups in society would react to a sudden warning that an earthquake was about to explode and bury the world.?
BAM! The next day, Iran is jolted with an earthquake that killed 40,000 people, with an estimated 30,000 more injured. Rabbi Hollander’s timely introduction preceded the cataclysm
by one day. It will be interesting to observe the reaction.
President Bush has labeled Iran a member of the “Axis of Evil.” Let us examine the accuracy of that label. The president offered to send the suffering Iranians food, medicine, and clothing relief as did many other countries including Israel. This morning’s newspaper reported that Israel’s humanitarian offer of assistance was rejected. Rejected! Who can comprehend this intensity of mindless hatred? President Bush was correct. We are witnessing a regime so blind in its wickedness that it is stumbling around in the realm of pure evil.
Rabbi Hollander was also right when he reminded us in a previous article that “we should be proud that our enemies hate us.”
Thank you, Rabbi Hollander, for sharing your keen insight. With enemies like this, you could not be more correct. Happy birthday.
Re ‘Bizarre Doings at The Jewish Week’ (editorial, Dec. 26):
Jewish Week publisher Gary Rosenblatt seems troubled that “… every Jewish child knows about the heroism of Judah Maccabee and his brothers, though the saga is of marginal
importance today. But so few are familiar with the courage and accomplishments of Herzl, Ben-Gurion, Begin and Sharansky…”
This shows a serious lack of understanding of his own religion and a total disregard for its age-old established values.
The Battle of Jericho, for example, was fraught with miracles, courage and accomplishments, and culminated with the Jews entering the land of Israel as a nation for the first time. Yet, although most yeshiva students learn of this historic event, there are no holidays or widespread celebrations commemorating the battle.
Apparently, physical prowess absent redeeming spiritual values is not much cause for Jewish celebration. Whereas the Jews’ entrance into the land of Israel for the first time had great potential, the battle itself was basically a means to an end.
The courage and heroism behind the story of Chanukah, on the other hand, were directly responsible for the salvaging of the Temple ruins and allowing the Temple-related services to
continue. It was a case of courage and heroism for the sake of spiritual values, and such a message is as relevant today as it was then.
I’m a strong supporter of Israel. But bereft of any spiritual values or aspirations, our repossession of the land of Israel in 1948 would have had little more significance than conquering Teaneck, New Jersey. (And while we have, in fact, just about conquered Teaneck, we don’t have a holiday called Teanukah.)
The Jewish nation was never about flaunting military might or conquering land. As for Chanukah being an “ugly story,” as Mr. Rosenblatt puts it, that would be the case only if we were celebrating our having had the might, the courage, and the willpower to sacrifice our people for a conquest that represented no loftier objective than acquiring a piece of land.
Mr. Rosenblatt must remember that we are not Jews because we have Israel; we became Jews first and then we were given Israel. The fact that there are many Jews today who rant and rave about Israel, yet display no other tell-tale signs of being Jewish, is about as ugly as a story gets.
A Quick Acceptance Of Our Invitation
In the interest of the final line of your response “we would look forward to a continued exchange of ideas,” I feel constrained to respond to your response. You charge me with giving the appearance that “Yaakov Avinu was being slighted since his father was portrayed as leaning toward choosing the militaristic Esau over the Torah student Yaakov.” You righteously ask, “How could anyone have taken this as anything other than a statement of Yaakov’s unreliability and the correlative denigration of Torah as the fount of the Jewish people?”
First of all, I would send you to the Malbim who says that Yitzchak did choose Esau because he believed that Yaakov was not aggressive enough; it was because of this that Yitzchak wanted to distinguish between the more spiritual birthright (to go to Yaakov) and the more materialistic blessing (to go to Esau). And this is only a “hava amina,” in yeshiva terminology. Rivka proves that Yitzchak’s fears were not grounded. So how does my commentary, which merely attempted to explain the motivation of Yitzchak, prove Yaakov’s unreliability and denigrate Torah as the fount of the Jewish people? Much the opposite. My purpose is to show
the greatness of Yaakov who combined the voice of Torah with the hands of aggression if it were to be necessary.
Second, you mention your concern about “the extraordinary notion that Yitzchak Avinu was prepared to define Klal Yisrael as a militaristic nation for eternity.” Militaristic is your word, not mine. I portray Yitzchak as loving the land of Israel and having been humiliated at the hands of Abimelech - who acted as the arch anti-Semite who exiled the Jews from their rightful homes. How is this to be identified with describing Yitzchak as wishing a militaristic nation for all eternity? From his own experience, he understood the suffering of the Jews, the exile of the Jews and the humiliation of the Jews. From this perspective, he realized the importance of a stronger and more aggressive “first born.” I truly believe that I was only strengthening the position of the Malbim with the peshutu shel mikra of the incident with Abimelech coming as it does in the midst of the story of the blessings.
Finally, it is told that Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook cried inconsolably during the week of mourning for his mother. When visitors commented on the fact that she had lived such a long and fruitful life, insinuating that there was little cause for such anguished sorrow, Rav Kook responded, “I am not crying for her. I am crying for me. There is now no one in the world who will call me Avramele with such love in her voice.” It was in this context that I used the loving language of Yankele - I did not want to give the impression that Yitzchak had rejected this studious son out of any feelings other than love.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
Editor’s Response: In Rabbi Riskin’s first comment questioning our point about Yaakov being slighted, he unfortunately quotes only part of the paragraph wherein we made the point - and, in addition, takes the point out of context. While we do not question Rabbi Riskin’s word, we are constrained to note that when the full text of the paragraph is read together with the paragraph that preceded it, it is not possible to understand Rabbi Riskin’s characterization of Yaakov as “Yankele, the naive dweller of tents,” as anything other than a slight.
According to Rabbi Riskin, Yitzchak’s desire to choose Eisav over Yaakov was rooted in a sense of powerlessness arising out of “humiliations” at the hands of Abimelech and his anxiety over his descendants being able to conquer Canaan. What else but a negative comparison could we have understood from Rabbi Riskin’s commentary as he went on to say that when Yitzchak “looks at his twin sons - Yankele, the naive dweller in tents, and Esau, the aggressive hunter – he concludes that only an Esau will have the wherewithal to stand up to our enemies and fight for the patrimony.” [Emphasis added.]
Plainly, the use of the diminutive “Yankele” when referring to Yaakov Avinu and the description of Yaakov as an other-worldly “benk kvetcher” is surely a less-than-
positive evaluation of both the reliability of one of the Patriarchs to deal with the
challenges to come and also of the utility of the Torah to prepare him for that task.
Nor does Rabbi Riskin’s claim to “strengthen” the Malbim compute. To be sure,
according to the Malbim the blessings of material success were intended for Eisav
because of his non-spiritual, material pursuits. But this was to enable Eisav to
assist the spiritual Yaakov in attaining a particular world mix of the spiritual and
mundane and also because of Yitzchak’s belief that that mix could not otherwise be
achieved. This is hardly an analysis that is nurtured by the idea that Yitzchak preferred Eisav’s militaristic bent over Yaakov’s spirituality out of his own supposed sense of powerlessness.
Finally, we too are taken with Rav Kook’s well-known anecdote, even as we question its applicability.
Tzedakah, Tikkun Olam And Jewish Values
Responding to my placement in the Forward’s top 50 list for the third year in a row, The Jewish Press worries that my work sets a bad example for the Jewish community because it, or I, or both are not sufficiently Jewish. The question at heart seems to be whether or not working in a non-Jewish community to better the world is Jewish work.
I assure you that the work I do as president of American Jewish World Service to fight poverty, disease and oppression and to intervene to save lives, regardless of religion, is as fundamental a Jewish value as any. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask any reputable rabbi or scholar.
We are exhorted to care for the “stranger,” to leave food for the poor and to not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. We are told that “these are the ways of peace.” Such deeds are as important as any other act of tzedakah we might and should perform on behalf of the Jewish community.
I have never stated that providing such service is all one needs to do to be Jewish, nor, by the way, is it all that I do. To imply that this is my intention is to degrade me and to attempt to make illegitimate my organization’s good work.
What The Jewish Press ran in response to a letter that disputed its editorial seemed not to get
the point. You might have called me or checked our website which lists Jewish text sources to explain why we do what we do. You might have inquired and been told that each and every one of our 178 project partners throughout the developing world knows that their help comes from the American Jewish community and has opportunities, which they take advantage of, to ask about Jews and Judaism. You might have learned that this interaction helps break down preconceived ideas and deters the spread of anti-Semitism.
Or you might have inquired and learned that the 200-plus college students, teens and young
adults (some of whom are Orthodox) whom we take to work in the developing world go with a Jewish educator. They participate in informal text study and discussion once or twice a day in between the work they are doing building homes, planting seeds or plowing fields.
I would be happy to provide you with contact information for a number of Orthodox alumni who have participated in our service trips who would be delighted to share with you why they have participated and why this was a Jewish experience for them. In fact, in January, four rabbinical students from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah are joining 20 other rabbinical students from all of Judaism’s movements on a work, service and study trip to El Salvador. I welcome the Jewish Press’s coverage of this trip.
Jewish ritual is important and I would never deny its value, but fulfilling tikkun olam and providing support to the majority of the world’s population who are poverty stricken is a very Jewish thing to do and complements our different and various levels of observance.
President and Executive Director
American Jewish World Service
Editor’s Response: If Ms. Messinger had read our editorials more carefully, she would not have come to the conclusion that “The Jewish Press worries that my work sets a bad example for the Jewish community because it, or I, or both are not sufficiently Jewish.” She could also not say that we accused her of stating that the service to the poor she and her agency provide “is all one needs to do to be Jewish.”
The problem we addressed in our editorials on the “Forward 50″ is its context -
the palpable sense that making a positive impact is all that Judaism requires. As we
noted here several weeks ago, the working assumption on the part of those who put
together the Forward list is that if one contributes positively to the common good, it
matters not whether one even thinks about the observance of the Sabbath, the laws of kashruth, family purity, etc. As we said then, we think it does matter ? a great deal, in fact – whether one commits to the observance of mitzvot as mitzvot.
We did not - and do not – in any way denigrate the value of efforts to better the world. To the contrary, we applaud such efforts. Our continuing point, however, is that these efforts - in and of themselves – do not define one as a Jew, even though the efforts could be identified with mitzvot and may qualify one as a good person. Our view is
that Judaism by any meaningful definition implies responsibility to perform the mitzvot, however many Jews there are who either observe very few or none at all.