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Opinion: Letters
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Don’t raise minimum wage

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In response to the op ed by Rita Friedman and Arieh Lebowitz in support of increasing the minimum wage (“The time is now,” August 23): While it may seem compassionate to mandate that the minimum wage should increase from $7.25 to $8.25, there is a denial of freedom that will have unanticipated repercussions that are potentially harmful.

At its most basic level, a wage is an agreement between an employee and employer about how the employee will be paid for his services. There may be two people willing to do a job, one for 8.25/hour and one for 7.25/hour. The person willing to do the job for the lower wage has an advantage in that he is willing to work for less. By the government establishing a minimum wage, the third party has deprived the person willing to work for the lower wage of his best advantage in the competition for that job. Also, by imposing its authority, the third party has deprived the employer of her money, which she may have used to pay other employees. Some employers may be struggling to stay in business and may not be able to afford the extra wages. While some employers may be wealthy corporations, that wealthy employer’s ability to hire more workers may be affected, negatively affecting other potential employees’ livelihoods.

The attempt at justice and fairness has unintended negative effects on the lives of those whom the arbiters of justice are trying to protect. Because of these unintended consequences, I will be voting against the proposition to raise the minimum wage.

Warren Slaten

Remembering Sid Bernstein

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James Janoff wrote the most beautiful article about my father, Sid Bernstein (“Remembering my friend Sid Bernstein,” August 30). He captured the essence of my father so poignantly. I would like to thank him on behalf of my family for sharing such touching memories.

Etienne Bernstein

Intermarriage is a problem

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There are issues in Eric Weis’ letter that require a response (“Intermarriage and welcoming,” August 30).

First of all, in my letter (“Rethinking intermarriage again,” August 16) I never said it was my intention or any one else’s to keep anyone away from my synagogue. The problem is that the type of welcoming or inclusion that Mr. Weis is talking about would bring in couples where the non-Jewish spouse is practicing another religion. It is true that few Jews live an exclusive Jewish lifestyle. But is also true that few identifying Jews celebrate Christmas or Easter. If you bring in couples who celebrate both Christmas and Hanukah or Easter and Passover, you will radically change Jewish identity in the non-Orthodox Jewish communities over several generations.

Secondly, a policy of unqualified welcoming or inclusion discourages the type of conversation that should occur either before marriage or before the birth of the first child; namely, to which religious community do you want to commit; Jewish or Christian. The failure to do so bars any real commitment to either faith and may create a religious fault line in the marriage. In addition, whatever commitment the non-Jewish spouse may have to his or her faith is ignored.

Thirdly, it ignores what is to be done with the children of such a relationship. Do you raise them as belonging to both religious faiths or do you raise one as Jewish and one as Christian? Such ideas do not lead to any strong commitment, and can only lead to confusion. In addition, what happens when the synagogue is Conservative and the Jewish partner is the father? Does the Conservative movement adopt patrilineal descent or pro-forma conversion for those children?

Mr. Weis’s ideas sound good on paper. They may even bring people to synagogues who adopt such policies. It also may provide some comfort to the parents of the Jewish partner of the intermarriage, who may believe their child has not abandoned his or her Jewish heritage. But in the long term, these ideas are not very sound.


Alan Mark Levin
Fair Lawn

13 is not the problem

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My wife and I are the parents of five boys ages 3 to 17, so we have bar mitzvah on the brain.

Understandably, we read Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin’s “Another modest proposal” (August 30) with some interest. Rabbi Salkin laments that “[A]pproximately 50 percent of our postpubescent Jewish kids drop out after bar/bat mitzvah and so do their families. You can practically hear the synagogue doors slamming right after Ein Keloheinu at the last child’s ceremony.” To help remedy this problem, Rabbi Salkin suggests moving bar/bat mitzvah age to 17 so it coincides with “the real moment of passage” into intellectual maturity.

Respectfully, with his suggestion that the bar/bat mitzvah age be changed to 17, Rabbi Salkin confuses appreciation of mitzvot with a mythical “moment” of passage, and thus misconstrues the significance of a bar/bat mitzvah. The reason so many of the constituents to which Rabbi Salkin refers leave Judaism in the pews after bar/bat mitzvah is not because 13 (12 for girls) is too young, but rather because of what happened (or did not happen) in the preceding 12 or 13 years. Sam Horowitz did not have dancing girls at his bar mitzvah extravaganza because he was too young to appreciate Judaism. That was a result of priorities his parents set out for him from the beginning of his life. Parents’ decisions whether and how to prioritize Jewish education and observances are the strongest determinants of a child’s future commitment to Judaism.

Without a formal Jewish education, grounded in a real understanding of traditional Jewish texts, observances, and values, Jewish teens will drift away, whether their parents throw them a big party with a DJ at 13, 17, or 27. With such an education, coupled with age-appropriate emphasis on appreciating the positives of, for example, Shabbat, Torah learning, Israel and performing chesed (and maybe even pidyon haben), as children grow from toddlers to teens to adults the odds of keeping them committed to Judaism rise exponentially (although there is no guarantee). Even without statistical confirmation this is common sense. Who will be the better swimmer at 13: a child who takes lessons in the pool from the time they learn to walk or a child who only dips a toe in the water before he or she is asked to swim in the deep end?

And even though a bar/bat mitzvah might not be able to make it all the way across the “deep end” of Judaism at 12 or 13, that is not the expectation and does not mean that their entry into Jewish adulthood has been a failure at some momentary “passage.” Indeed, it has been our experience personally, and communally, that a properly prepared bar or bat mitzvah is ready — each to their own level — to better appreciate the significance of mitzvot and take more personal responsibility for incorporating them into their lives at age 13. But that “moment” is only the beginning of passage to Jewish adulthood; from that point on their formal Jewish education must continue if there is to be realistic hope that they stay committed to the Torah and mitzvot. Without that continuing traditional education and concomitant parental commitment, eventually there will be no one, of any age, left to even say Ein Keloheinu before everyone leaves the synagogue for good.


Richard I. Scharlat

On the Kotel’s sanctity

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Shammai Engelmayer’s column, “It’s like talking to a wall,” reminded me of similar statements I heard about the Western Wall, the Kotel Ha’Ma’aravi, in May 1995.

The speaker, an Israeli, was talking about his recent tour of the newly opened Western Wall tunnels, far below the existing Kotel plaza. His eyes widened as he sought to find the right words in English to convey the immense size of the stones that form the foundation of the Western Wall. He was attempting to convey his thoughts about the engineering wonders that existed more than 2,000 years ago, that would allow such stones to be carved and moved into place and still stand today holding up the Temple Mount located above.

Those words were spoken to me by the late Yitzhak Rabin during a visit to my home in West Orange to express his condolences about the murder of my daughter Alisa in an April terror attack. What struck me about his words was that they lacked any sense of appreciation for what the Kotel represents to Judaism, his inability to recognize the kedusha, sanctity, inherent in the Kotel as a part of the Temple Mount. In Rabin’s view, one apparently shared by Engelmayer, the underpinnings of the Temple Mount are nothing more than stones. It was totally devoid of any recognition that a few feet above stood the site of the First and Second Beit Hamikdosh. And I understood right then that anyone capable of ignoring the connection of the foundation stones to what stood on top was also capable of ignoring the connection of Judaism’s traditions to the rest of the land of Israel.

If, in Engelmayer’s view, the Kotel is divorced from sanctity and is nothing “but a man-made pile of stones heaped on top of each other,” then the same goes for the rest of Israel — including its other holy sites — and is certainly not worth the sacrifices and blood that has been shed creating the country, building it up, and holding onto it.

On the other hand, I believe that if the modern state of Israel represents a return to the birthplace and the symbols of the Jewish people as expressed in the country’s Declaration of Independence, then the price paid by Jews of different backgrounds to make the dream of Zion into a reality makes sense. Much more is to be gained from understanding that the “pile of stones” not only holds up the Temple Mount but us as Jews, too.

Shammai Engelmayer replies:

Stephen Flatow and I are in complete agreement about the sacredness of the land. And I do not disagree with him about the place the Western Wall should have in our hearts and our thoughts, or why it should. Where we disagree is on whether it is proper to pray before the Wall. The Torah forbids piling up stones in order to pray before them. In that regard alone, the Wall is such a pile of stones. It is a matzevah. Dance before it. Celebrate before it. Congregate before it for special events. Do not, however, pray before it.

Stephen M. Flatow
West Orange

Santa doesn’t belong in library!

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In response to Robin Katz’s letter (“Year-round Santa in the library?”, August 23), I must say I find the issue most distressing. While it can often seem, particularly in Teaneck, that Jews are a majority population, we know that really we are a minority — admittedly a strong and heard one. It can often feel that the blanketing by the majority creates a feeling of being smothered. I experience a gut reaction when I see Christian-themed symbols in public places. I also find it oppressive when young children, with whom parents are working hard to establish group identification, are being bombarded by symbols of the other when doing typical and wonderful things like going to the library.

Perhaps there are others like me, who grew up going to New York City public schools in the 1950s and enduring assemblies when Christian prayers, including references were made to a “god” we Jewish children did not believe in, were read aloud. Ironically, although the teaching staff was mostly Christian, the overwhelming majority of the students were Jewish.

I don’t even understand the relevance of Santa Claus to a reading room in the first place. I think a painting of a classic character from literature — Peter Pan, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland — would make much more sense and be appropriate for any child. For any non-Christian parents who visit that reading room for some moments of pleasure and wonder with their child, to have not only to explain what Santa is doing there, but then have to explain “why we don’t believe in Santa,” that adds an unwelcome and unpleasant burden that sadly diminishes the experience.


Nancy Silberman Zwiebach

Another view of the Kotel

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My husband and I are in Israel for family weddings; we went to the Kotel for Selichot. We went with a neighborhood group that goes every year for dinner in Jerusalem, a walking tour, and then the Kotel. We were there for an hour, but it’s an all-night happening that continues until Yom Kippur.

The Kotel was totally lit up, filled with minyanim chanting the High Holiday prayers and blowing shofar as tourists walked among them. Small minyanim prayed outside the large sections filled with men and women praying at the Kotel. The weather was perfect, Jerusalem’s ancient skyline capped with a full moon.

Amazing how the Middle East is churning, while in Jerusalem thousands of people walk the city day and night, perfectly peaceful and prayerful.


Diana Yacobi

Intermarriage and welcoming

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Over the past three weeks, the issue of intermarriage has reverberated in the pages of the Standard. One writer went so far as to define an open partial door as one available only to couples “who adopt an exclusive Jewish identity.”

That’s not an open door. It’s a barred gate with a sign that says to both partners “Stay Out.” The only result of that policy will be the loss of one Jewish soul, and the subsequent loss of future generations.

From our earliest Beresheit history, through Torah injunctions regarding the ger (the stranger), to the biblical story of Ruth, we cannot escape the conclusion that Judaism was a welcoming and inclusive religion at its outset. Now, 3000 years later, in a post-Shoah era of assimilation and population decline, it is time for the Jewish people to be welcoming again.

Thankfully, outreach initiatives are blossoming in many parts of the Jewish world. Conservative synagogues of all persuasions are increasingly engaged in keruv, literally “drawing in.” They have been sparked by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, which started pushing an inclusive approach to interfaith families over 15 years ago.

To anyone who believes that welcoming will only water down the purity of Am Yisrael, I challenge you to study the history of Ashkenazic populations. Unless you are Sephardi, the chances are astoundingly high that intermarriage existed in your own family in the past.

Very few of us have an exclusive Jewish identity. To ask that of interfaith couples who express an interest in our synagogues is to sound the death knell of these institutions. Without them, it is hard to see how the silent Shoah of assimilation can be reversed. It won’t happen on the golf course, in the gym, or at the deli counter.

Let’s support our synagogues and make them welcoming to all who seek Jewish identity.


Eric Weis
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