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.

Adina Kutnicki
Elmwood Park, NJ

Extra-Shameful Edgar

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.

Norman Shine
Brooklyn, NY

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

Torah-Observant Liberal

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
Brooklyn, NY

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
Brooklyn, NY

‘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.

Yael Mosberg
(Via E-Mail)


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