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Opinion: Letters
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Shout-out to the Ice House

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I am cheering for the ice skaters representing Israel at the Olympic Games in Sochi (“For Israel’s skaters, Olympic training is New Jersey state of mind,” February 7). Given that I ice skate at the Ice House in Hackensack and love the sport, it was exciting to learn that the Ice House has been home to figure skaters Evgeni Krasnapolsky, 25, a Ukrainian, and Andrea Davidovich, 16, an American, and to Alexei Bychenko, 25, also a Ukrainian, who grew up in Israel. They are representing Israel at the Olympic Games. They have been in training year-round at the Ice House due to a lack of ice rinks and top-notch coaches in Israel. The Ice House is a terrific training ground known internationally.

While in training, most of the skaters live in Hackensack, less than a mile from the Ice House, and Andrea Davidovich lives with her family, a 40-minute drive away.

Good luck to the skaters representing Israel. May they bring home the gold!

 

Grace Jacobs
Cliffside Park
 
 

Someone’s lying

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A news item in the January 31 Jewish Standard (“Terror attacks in West Bank doubled but toll dropped”) reported that according to the Shin Bet, Israel’s general security service, Arab terrorists attacks in the West Bank more than doubled last year to 1,271, up from 578 in 2012. Five Israelis were murdered and dozens injured in last year’s attacks.

The very same week, Secretary of State John Kerry said (in a Munich press conference on February 1) that “last year, not one Israeli was killed by a Palestinian from the West Bank.” And Thomas Friedman (in his February 5 column in the New York Times) claimed that the Palestinian Arabs are now carrying out an intifada “not with stones or suicide bombers, but one propelled by nonviolent resistance and economic boycott.”

Somebody is lying, and it’s not the statistics.

 

Moshe Phillips, president

Benyamin Korn, chairman

Religious Zionists of America — Philadelphia Chapter

 
 

Rabbi Sacks’ dignity

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I learned something quite disappointing from Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s recent column on the chief rabbinate and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (“Why America has no chief rabbi,” February 7). The lesson I intuited was that Rabbi Boteach has an easier time writing about the praises of such personalities as Michael Jackson than he does in addressing the work of a personality as dignified as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The column purported to be a discussion about the chief rabbinate but it was instead a discussion on the failures of Rabbi Sacks.

Having a column read by thousands places a moral burden on the writer. The column requires fairness and balance. Neither appeared in last week’s article.

Surely Rabbi Sacks has his shortcomings. We all do. Perhaps he should have spoken up more often on more issues. I lack the information to judge. But he was a symbol for Jews world-over of dignity, and of the radiance of Torah scholarship. No small feat. His soaring words brought ancient teachings to life. Perhaps his successor will build on his strengths and learn from his mistakes.

Rabbi Boteach convinced me that Rabbi Sacks is fallible, like us all. He neglected to remind me of the inspiration and pride Rabbi Sacks gave to thousands of Jews in the U.K. and elsewhere. That was no small feat. That oversight is what made last week’s column a disappointment. Rabbi Boteach can be very inspirational. A reader would not know that from last week’s column.

 

Martin Rosenfeld
Fair Lawn
 
 

Unpleasant truths about Seeger

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I hate being the skunk at the garden party, but your worshipful editorial/obituary of Pete Seeger (January 31) requires a response.

I too have sung Seeger’s songs. I too recognize his contributions to American folk music and to the civil rights movement. But an intellectually honest and serious review of his life would not ignore his active membership in the U.S. Communist Party during the 1930s and ‘40s. That is when that organization slavishly followed the propaganda line and promoted the policies of the Soviet Union under Stalin, surely one of modern history’s most horrendous tyrants and destroyers of human rights, as well as a major persecutor of Jews.

(For anyone still ignorant or deluded about Stalinism, may I recommend such books as “The Gulag Archipelago” by Solzhenitsyn, and “Gulag” by Washington Post writer Anne Applebaum.)

Pete Seeger willingly put his artistic talents in the service of a mass murderer. That is a grossly immoral act, no matter how much his admirers wish to forget it. He was a party member even after the Hitler-Stalin pact. If an artist or public intellectual had supported Hitler, would we simply forget it?

Ezra Pound is widely considered one of the greatest and most influential poets of the 20th century. He also was a rabid Jew-hater and Nazi sympathizer. That may not negate his art, but it is surely part of his life story. Was Leni Riefenstahl a great documentary filmmaker, or Hitler’s cinematic propagandist — or both?

As a recent article on Seeger by David Graham in the Atlantic magazine notes, “As late as the 1970s, in his column in the left-wing folk magazine Sing Out!, Seeger was giving space to horrifying ideas…. In 1999, he accepted an award from Fidel Castro’s regime. It’s hard to square these actions with the ideas Seeger promoted elsewhere, and they deserve condemnation.”

I don’t wish to condemn the man. But even while I admire his good works, I refuse to forget his bad judgments and hypocrisies, like being what used to be called a “useful idiot” for the Soviet regime. The good may indeed outweigh the bad, but the latter should not simply be airbrushed out of the picture, the way Stalin used to erase evidence of the existence of liquidated opponents.

Chief Justice Earl Warren was the main force behind Brown v. Board of Education, outlawing school segregation. He was also the wartime attorney general of California who ordered Japanese-Americans held in detention camps. Unpleasant facts should be recognized, placed in perspective, but not simplistically ignored.

So it should be with Pete Seeger. I don’t hate him. But I don’t worship him, either.

 

Alan M. Schwartz
Teaneck
 
 

Who you calling fat?

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I take issue with my rabbinic colleague’s opinion in “Are husbands responsible for their wives becoming overweight?” (February 24). Rabbinic ordination does not give someone the right to presume that overweight people are unattractive or unsexy or to mock them in a newspaper column, or even in a private conversation.

Further, I do not agree with what the rabbi suggests — that a person engage in insincere compliments or flattery, and that those compliments would be an effective mode of improving a relationship or of motivating weight loss.

I am a person who has been fat at times during my life and now I am much trimmer. I can tell the rabbi that being trimmer is better for my health. But even when a person is fat he or she can be attractive, sexy, and romantic. And most people can see right through false flattery. It doesn’t work.

 

Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy
Teaneck
 
 

Interdenominational activities

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It is good that Rabbi Goldin reminds us that he and other Orthodox leaders “place a high premium on interdenominational activities” (Letters, January 10). I hope he can elucidate his statement by explaining to us why the Forward reported that the installation of Rabbi Asher Lopatin to succeed Rabbi Avi Weiss at YCT, which featured an interdenominational panel of distinguished (non-Orthodox) leaders, attracted few if any rabbis in the YU-RCA circle.

I suggest that the incident which provoked the reactions by Rabbis Goldin and Zahavy (an Orthodox rabbi pointedly refusing to enter a Conservative service) (“Dear Rabbi, January 3) might be explained further by the following statement by Rav Soloveitchik (z”l): “It would be better not to hear the shofar [on the High Holydays] than to enter a synagogue whose sanctity has been profaned [by mixed seating].”

 

Dan Mosenkis
Fair Lawn
 
 

Arguing with Avi Shavit

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Avi Shavit’s book “My Promised Land” received a positive review from Abraham Bernstein (“Context and consciousness,” January 17). Mr. Shavit does praise some aspects of Israel’s history. However, there are questions concerning his assessment of that history.

He speaks of his great grandfather’s arrival in Palestine in the late nineteenth century. Members of my own family also came earlier in that period. Their descriptions are part of my family memories.

These individuals were motivated with a yearning to “return” to Palestine by a culture that had never abandoned that land, that associated its history and spirituality with the existence of a Jewish people, and kept them from disappearing. The dream of a return kept the nation alive. Shavit’s great grandfather and his generation were not the first to return. There were many who came singly or in small groups in all the years following the Roman conquest.

Shavit’s statement that his great grandfather was motivated “not to see” is very unlikely. What there was to see was a parched , uncultivated, abandoned land with a small population. He and others took on the task of restoring the land with great effort and did not neglect its intellectual or economic growth. They began the advances that Ari Shavit experienced when he grew up.

In those days no one had claimed sovereignty and nationhood in Palestine. It was ruled by a series of colonial powers but not by a Palestinian population. Over time a nationalism evolved that began to manifest itself in violence instigated by some in the land as well as some beyond its borders who vied for leadership. The attitude became similar to the current situation in Iraq, where a Sunni Arab group and a Shiite group seek to eject each other rather than share the territory. This attitude, intensified after World War I and II, often focused on the Jewish population and was responsible for many Jewish deaths.

Eventually this philosophy resulted in the 1948 war. Five Arab nations attacked the new Jewish nation. War inevitably results in tragedies. Lydda’s population expulsion was one. Unfortunately Shavit makes it the centerpiece of his book, his speeches. and the television documentary that framed the incident.

He is fair to describe the choice that was given to the peoplel of Lydda — “leave or we will have to do to you what you would do to us.” They knew the Arab choice would have been slaughter — and their departure was painful but preferable. For the Jewish nation survival was at stake. Survival is still threatened. Ari Shavit should emphasize that, and the need to avoid making Israel face choices brought by war and violence.

 

Mishel Greenberg
Teaneck
 
 

Not enough understanding

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The name of the Chabad movement of Lubavitch is an acronym for chochmah (wisdom, or creative thought), beenah (understanding), and da’as (factual knowledge). Beenah is related to the word “bayn,” which means “between.” Understanding, therefore, means knowing the difference between concepts, situations, etc. My opinion is that in presenting their arguments, three of the letter-writers in your January 17 issue failed to meet the beenah standard.

Shel Haas takes Rabbi Shmuel Goldin to task for not acknowledging the behavior of certain so-called ultra-Orthodox Jews in Rockland County. Rabbi Goldin has been my pulpit rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Torah for almost 30 years, and throughout that time he has gone out of his way to keep open channels of communication with non-Orthodox denominations, including founding an organization called Edah designed specifically for that purpose. While that effort was unsuccessful, it wasn’t for lack of trying. To associate the rabbi, a former president of the RCA, and by extension Modern Orthodoxy, with people who are practically kindred spirits with those xenophobic charedim in Israel who think they are privileged characters exempt from military service is highly inappropriate. There’s a huge and obvious difference between them.

Dan Mosenkis describes several lenient decisions by Orthodox rabbis to be “agenda-driven.” In fact, Orthodoxy has always required the rabbis to seek out the most lenient result in every case of law, in order to keep observance of the religion from becoming too onerous. That’s not an agenda; it’s a fundamental principle. There’s a difference between them too.

Paul Einschlag compares the leaders of the Reform movement’s “rebooting” approach to Ben-Gurion and other secular Israeli leaders. Again, the comparison is invalid. The work of the founders of the state of Israel resulted in a Jewish country with a huge Jewish majority, Hebrew as the primary language, and the study of Tanach in schools. In contrast, Jews comprise less than 2 percent of the population of the United States, and the opportunities and temptations in this country for assimilation and intermarriage are overwhelming. The last 65 years show a massive difference between the results of their respective efforts.

 

Gary M. Rosenberg
Englewood
 
 
 
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