Responding To Alarm Bells
Michael Freund’s alarming op-ed of March 12 (“Anti-Semitism Not The Main Threat To Europe’s Jews”) is disturbing because what he describes is readily apparent to anyone who bothers to learn and understand what is happening – the trend and statistics he presents have been ongoing for years. Our rapid downward slide continues in the face of disgraceful apathy and indifference.
Mr. Freund points out that “this is a disastrous situation that should be raising alarm bells throughout the Jewish world.” To me, “alarm bells” are concerned Jewish voices crying out in unison and with fervor to break out of our destructive apathy. We must remind ourselves that we are being tested just as our predecessors were. History teaches us many painful lessons. Anti-Semitism is one of them. We know that anti-Semitism is an overwhelming problem for us and beyond the ability of the Jewish people to control or conquer. Only Hashem can lift that yoke off our necks, but first He wants something from us, and that is why we are being tested. I am certain every Jew knows the answer.
A good start would be an avalanche of letters to the editor of The Jewish Press crying out for Jewish unity. We must raise our voices full strength if we hope to rise above those ominous
“Naaseh v’nishma” - ring a bell?
No ‘Spiritual Leader’
If a gang of murderers began terrorizing one of our towns, we would want our police to do whatever was necessary to ensure our safety. No one would worry about what the gang members thought of us, or whether they would retaliate.
It is, therefore, difficult to understand the reaction of many to the decisive action of the Israeli government which dealt justice to Ahmed Yassin, an arch-terrorist responsible for the murder of hundreds of innocent civilians, including many women and children.
And why is that a mass murderer referred to as a “spiritual leader?” Is that an attempt to cloak him with some semblance of respectability? I know of no other “spiritual leader” who advocates murder and mayhem in this manner
Fair Lawn, NJ
They Loved Yassin
Israel’s elimination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin shows how widespread support for terrorism really is. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians decrying Israel’s execution of a chief terrorist doesn’t say much for people who claim they want peaceful relations with anyone, let alone Israel.
Even here in New York, the Arab-Americans who were interviewed seemed to see no justice in the elimination of a master terrorist; they condemned Israel! Are these the same Arab-Americans who after 9/11 cried “discrimination,” and who claimed they were just a bunch of peace-loving Americans?
People who feel sympathy for a vicious murderer do not belong among civilized human beings.
Too Much Modern, Too Little Orthodox?
Last year I created a firestorm in this section by deriding Modern Orthodoxy, labeling the movement spiritually bankrupt and essentially irrelevant. In light of what I’ve read of late in The Jewish Press, I would like to amend my earlier statements. I am now forced to conclude that Modern Orthodoxy is not Judaism.
As exhibit A we present Marla Rubinstein, who describes herself as a Modern Orthodox supporter of John Kerry (Letters, March 19). Actually, she doesn’t so much support Sen Kerry as she reviles President Bush. Among the charges she levels at the president is that he is anti-gay. Ms. Rubinstein, the last time I checked the Torah calls homosexuality an abomination. But then, you’re Modern Orthodox, so I guess you have a modern, updated version of the Bible which deletes phrases that people like you consider offensive.
Then we have the feminists and their lackeys, such as Rabbi
Yosef Kanefsky of Los Angeles, who advises his congregants to
whisper the bracha ‘Shelo Asani Isha’ when there is a woman
And then there’s the recent to-do over the permissibility of a Lower East Side eruv, which featured a letter from a Lower East Side resident who wrote that he uses the eruv despite the
glares of his neighbors. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, stated – and his sons Rav Dovid and Rav Reuven uphold this – that there is no eruv on the Lower East Side. By flouting this p’sak, one
demonstrates callous disregard of our chachomim – and in many ways this is worse than an act of chillul Shabbos.
I could cite many other examples, but suffice to say that an attitude has crept into Modern Orthodoxy that halacha must be adapted to suit the masses. In the good old days, those who
were non-observant at least owned up to it; now they hide under the guise of Orthodoxy. (I should make it clear that my remarks are not aimed at Jews of any particular locale – the concept that the Torah should not hinder one’s lifestyle can be found across the Jewish spectrum.)
It would be best if we consider the following from Rav Mordechai Gifter, zt”l: ‘Orthodox is a Greek word. I am a Torah Jew.’ Torah Jews abide by the dictates of the Creator as
expounded by our chachomim. They do not capriciously call for changes to suit their needs and desires.
Dr. Yaakov Stern
More Involvement Needed
There are many organizations and individuals providing support, counseling, job training, and various programs to help teens at risk and their families. Those who work in this field are deserving of a hearty yasher koach, to say the least, for their efforts. It is work which requires
much patience and I am sure that they must have to deal with many frustrating and disappointing situations.
These organizations cater basically to families and teens who come to them for help. But there are many teens at risk out in the street who are suspicious of those they see as ‘professionals.’ They do not want to deal with someone whose career is focused on “saving youth.” They do
not perceive these people as truly caring and they do not feel they need salvation.
What is needed is a network of caring individuals who devote their time to maintaining contact and relationships with these youth by reaching out to them. Currently there is a very small group of these “street outreach workers.” But their resources are limited and, therefore, they cannot reach out to all the lost youth.
Volunteers are needed to be trained and strategically placed in areas where teens “hang out” - street corners, kosher eateries, etc. It is no small task and it requires exceptionally caring and gifted people. The rewards, however, are enormous. What mitzvah is greater than saving
This problem not only involves teens at risk. It affects their parents, siblings, and the entire community. We cannot ignore it, for if we do, it constitutes a major chillul Hashem.
UJA-Fed: Not Cutting, Maximizing
We at UJA-Federation of New York recognize the significance of Jewish education to the continuity of the Jewish people, and thus we welcome the opportunity to respond to recent Jewish Press editorials and to concerns about the Fund for Jewish Education.
UJA-Federation has a 24-year-old partnership with Gruss Life Monument Funds through The Fund for Jewish Education. The fund’s distribution of more than $100 million in support of Jewish education throughout the New York area is a major achievement. It should be noted
that this fund represents only a portion of our commitment to and allocations on behalf of Jewish education. We are constantly seeking out ways to advocate for and insure quality day school education for Jewish children and to address the needs and concerns of day school students and professionals.
During the past 24 years, the fund’s distribution system has been formula-driven. We have no intention of cutting the overall level of funding to Jewish day schools, but we have every intention of reevaluating the process to make sure we maximize every dollar committed to this Jewish educational priority.
UJA-Federation recognizes this is a sacred partnership and funding decisions will be made jointly with our partners at Gruss Life Monument Funds. We are grateful to our partners and have every reason to believe that future allocations to the Fund for Jewish Education will be every bit as meaningful as when Joseph Gruss, z”l, began this remarkable undertaking.
Alisa Rubin Kurshan, Ph.D.
Strategic Planning and
UJA-Federation of New York
Lower East Side Eruv: The Conversation Continues
Benefits Of An Eruv
I’ve been following the eruv letters for the past few weeks and feel it’s important to say something publicly. I have lived on the Lower East Side my entire life and daven in the Bialystoker shul. My children are old enough to walk now, so an eruv for me personally is of little consequence. However, I have watched as young people moved into this neighborhood and moved out once their children were born. When I’d ask, they would tell me that the primary reason was that they did not want to feel trapped without an eruv.
Each year we lose families and we’re not getting new replacements. The neighborhood is experiencing a rejuvenation, but one that does not include young Jewish families. This, I believe, is because of our stance on the eruv (and the lack of quality schools.) I am unable to argue halacha, as I am wholly unqualified, but I would just like to see this issue brought up in a public forum. There has to be some reason for the various eruvim throughout Manhattan, but we hear nothing from our rabbinate.
There are many people down here who are interested in discussing the topic – if only it were
open for conversation. The Lower East Side is a great neighborhood to live in, and people are
generally accepted. I believe that there is so much more potential in this area, but by not opening up the conversation, and by taking a hard-line approach, we risk the future of our Jewish community.
New York, NY
Rav Moshe’s P’sak
I was blessed to have known Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l. I can still feel the warmth of his smile, his gentle voice always filling me with care and concern for others. Recognized by the world as
a gadol (in a world that understood the meaning of true gadlus), Rav Moshe’s decision in halachic laws truly ”stood against the secular world.”
There was no one who questioned his word because he was the posek hador. As a posek he proved his love for everyone in Klal Yisrael - indeed, when one speaks about ahavas Yisrael, one immediately remembers the love Rav Moshe had for everyone who came in his daled amos. A posek literally puts his olam habah on the line when he gives his p’sak, because, as we all know, in the olam ha-emes we will say ”We asked and did as we were allowed.” The posek will bear the responsibility and, chas v’shalom, the punishment if his p’sak was not halachically correct – so you must love others to take such a risk.
Rav Moshe was known as a mekel who was easy in his decisions – one who was able to be a
”makil” because he knew halacha so well and because he always tried to make one’s life easier so that one could serve Hashem with a lighter heart. Even if there was no heter or a negative response to a question, Rav Moshe took the time to research (even though he knew the answer) and to explain so that each person knew of the personal involvement and concern the rav had for all.
In view of this, I find it difficult to listen to people discuss Rav Moshe’s decisions as though
they knew more or care more than he did.
Rav Moshe’s decision that an eruv was not permissible on the Lower East Side (a neighborhood I am proud to live in) was not decided on a whim; on the contrary, Rav Moshe
always tried to bring comfort to all. Nothing has changed, no walls have come up, to make Rav Moshe’s decision invalid. I cannot help but wonder whether any of those who disagree with Rav Moshe’s p’sak has the background in learning to ”discuss” his decision. I tend to think they do not.
To state that we on the Lower East Side are more stringent might be considered a compliment
- if it were true. We are in fact only doing what is halachically correct according to the p?sak of the gadol hador. The Lower East Side is a truly beautiful community and to say that people will not move here because there is no eruv is insulting to all of us. We have a lot more to offer than many communities, and if the walk to shul with a carriage on Shabbos, or being able to walk to a friend on Shabbos afternoon, is all someone is interested in, then I can only say: Come and see that we are much more.
New York, NY
During the past few weeks numerous letters to the editor have gone back and forth regarding
the halachic feasibility of erecting an eruv on the Lower East side of Manhattan, and whether or not an acceptable one may already exist.
The prohibition against making any eruv in the borough of Manhattan was signed on the
eighteenth day of Sivan, 1962, by Rabbis Aaron Kotler, Moshe Feinstein, Yaakov Kaminetsky, Chaim Bick and Gedalya Shorr, zt”l. These were the original signers at the first meeting; many other leading rabbonim eventually signed the prohibition which clearly states that one is ‘considered a mechalel Shabbos’ if one carries in Manhattan.
I wish to rest my case by stating that there are two paths an individual can choose. One path is
to follow the Torah by accepting the prohibition against an eruv as signed by Torah leaders. The other path is to follow those rabbis, no matter who they are, who now want to allow an eruv.
I wish everybody a good Shabbos and a chag kasher v’sameach.
New York, NY
In Praise Of The Lower East Side
As a female member (recently arrived) of the Lower East Side community, I am compelled to
write you in response to Richard Katz’s letter of March 19. The baal habayit of our house, my
wonderful husband, Sol Wenig (a lifelong Lower East Sider), is the one who prepares and serves me the hot chulent each week. He also does the laundry while I purchase the flowers for Shabbos. When we were married three years ago this month, he was secure enough with himself to be com- fortable with me keeping my name. I wouldn’t call any of this “old thinking,” would you?
I am sorry to hear that Mr. Katz did not have a pleasant experience upon visiting the Lower East Side, and I invite him and his family to stay in our spacious “tenement” the next time he’s in town. You find what you seek in life, or as my aunt says, “The chulent is only as good as the company.” I am thankful that I am surrounded by warm and loving people in this great community and proudly boast that I have friends from ages three to ninety three.
Janet L. Riesel
New York, NY
Jews And The U.S. Military
I feel compelled to share with your readers some positive experiences I’ve had as an active
duty Orthodox soldier in the U.S. Army. I have been on active duty for over four years, having served the first three and a half at the Third Infantry Division (Mechanized) located at Fort Stewart, just outside of Savannah, Georgia.
My experience has been nothing but positive and inspiring, due largely to the general level of
respect for my Orthodox lifestyle that other soldiers, both enlisted and officers, have
demonstrated. From my initial officer training at Fort Lee in Petersburg, Virginia and the Judge
Advocate General School in Charlottesville, the Army offered ‘reasonable accommodations,’ which is really all it is required to do.
I was excused from one formal activity that occurred on Shabbat (a field trip to a Civil War site that I was disappointed to miss), and walked to a couple of other events where my mere appearance was necessary. We had one training event on a Friday night, but I received permission so that I wouldn’t have to carry anything (being outside an eruv) or take notes. In advance of a social function, the organizers asked me what ingredients they could use for a non-alcoholic ‘grog’ – basically a repulsive punch concoction traditionally imbibed at
Army formal occasions.
I was told by more experienced officers during my training that if my Jewish practices, either for Shabbat or otherwise, would conflict with my responsibilities, I should respectfully approach a supervising officer to discuss what arrangements could be made, in advance of the activity. I have utilized this advice repeatedly, with much success.
Once I arrived at Fort Stewart, my colleagues and superiors were nothing but supportive and
respectful. Whenever I had on-call duty over a weekend, my colleagues agreed to cover Shabbat for me without any resistance or expectation of reciprocation, even though I always offered to cover two days for every day they covered for me.
As well, when I was sent to an emergency response training exercise that I was told would
end on Saturday, a lieutenant colonel responsible for overseeing my participation explained to me that he completely understood the concept of Shabbat because as a devout Roman Catholic he did not work on Sundays. I offered to sleep over at the meeting location and also to walk to the event, but he excused me from activities on Shabbat, adding that if anyone gave me any grief, he would handle it.
On multiple occasions I received generous support from a Protestant chaplain who is a Special Forces-trained colonel with service includes time in Vietnam, among other wars. He in
particular was very supportive in helping me get time off for Jewish holidays.
This colonel tried to encourage me to stay in because he feels the Army needs more Orthodox
Jewish officers, as I have also been told by a high-ranking Orthodox Jew who works in the Pentagon.
On many occasions I have developed instantaneous kinship with other devout, G-d-fearing soldiers and civilians due to our shared values. Various soldiers, civilians, veterans and their families have exuded a welcoming warmth that has reassured me as to the state of tolerance
and respect for Torah-based Judaism as viewed by greater American society.
I believe, therefore, that it is imperative that Orthodox and affiliated Jews become more involved with the U.S. military; in the Active Duty, Reserve, National Guard and Department of Defense civilian contexts. There is a great need for doctors, lawyers, budget planners, social workers, psychologists, nurses, chaplains, administrators, computer programmers and civil and public affairs officers. While Jewish communal employment opportunities, particularly in kiruv, are scarce and job losses due to outsourcing are growing nationally, the military offers great work experience opportunities along with excellent education, health care, housing, travel and retirement benefits.
Torah-based Jews are needed to interact with gentiles as well as other Jewish soldiers who may not have had a formal Jewish education. Many of the Jews I encountered came rom assimilated or intermarried homes, but their thirst for Jewish life and knowledge was inspiring, as they arranged to take time out from their busy training schedules in order to attend Jewish social functions. I have helped them locate Passover kosher food, hosted them for Shabbat and chaggim, counseled them on religious accommodation requests, invited them for Purim megillah readings and even helped build a sukkah on the Army installation. Some eventually
became shomer Shabbat and kashrut-observant.
Consequently, I founded the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists Military
Bar Committee (MBC), which is devoted to facilitating discussions, lectures and field trips in
the process of learning about current and historical military participation by Jewish soldiers.
Moreover, the MBC periodically visits hospitals and assisted living facilities to comfort present and past Jewish military servicemen and women. Finally, the MBC organizes visits to Jewish
schools, community centers and synagogues to educate and inspire the next generation of Jewish military servicemen and women.
I believe that through the patriotic contributions of Torah values by Orthodox and affiliated Jews – and by our willingness to interact with the greater American society in a military community context – American Jews and the nation are strengthened for the better.
Captain Yosefi Seltzer
Silver Spring, MD
Editor’s Note: Captain Seltzer is Active Duty Judge Advocate in the United States Army Legal Services Agency. He and his wife live in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland and are members of the Woodside Synagogue where Rav Yitzchak Breitowitz is the spiritual leader. Captain Seltzer is the founder and president of the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists Military Bar Committee. For more information, visit http://groups.yahoo.com/group/JewishMilitaryBar/ (He can be reached daytime at 703-696-1663 or at night at 301-920-0938.)