Teaching About Israel
Frankly, I've read other articles in The Journal that I haven't agreed with before, but this one, written by Daniel Sokatch, takes the cake ("We Must Teach About Israel -- Warts and All," Sept. 14). It's nothing but a pure leftist propaganda piece disguised as a thoughtful solution to the disaffection that so many American Jewish youths have toward Israel.
In reality, the author had no real solution other than to attack and make claims about the Israelis living in Judea-Samaria (Yesha) which, for the most part, are entirely unfounded. Further, he attacks the State of Israel unjustifiably for the conditions in which the 2 1/2 million Arabs, also in Judea-Samaria, live.
I am not sure Daniel Sokatch is aware of the pervasive contradictions in the article he wrote. Let me help clarify the many "complications" he alludes to.
When he says that "Israel has for almost 40 years engaged in an occupation of the West Bank," it shows he hasn't got a clue of the historical and legal realities of the region. Otherwise, he would have realized that: a) by calling Judea and Samaria the "West Bank," he already engages in a semantic distortion of reality; b) that Israel could not possibly "occupy" a territory that has been legally attributed to the Jewish people by the international community 85 years ago and which did not belong to any sovereign power before or since.
Sokatch may call his alliance "progressive," but I shiver at the thought of an organization harboring his confused sense of reality trying to spread its sheer ignorance of the facts to young American Jews.
Amy Klein's fascinating article about happiness elides one great truth about happiness: It is not actually the principle end of life ("Can Happiness Be Taught," Sept. 14). Rousseau observed that "even in our keenest pleasures, there is scarcely a single moment of which the heart could truthfully say: Would that this moment could last forever!" He was making clear that we want more than pleasure, more indeed than happiness.
Philosopher Robert Nozick proposed an experiment years ago, the "experience machine." It would give a virtual experience of everything the person wanted, so that it would all seem real and be perfect.
Most people would reject such a life. Why? Because although we all want to be happy, happiness is not all we want. We want something deeper, richer, harder than happiness alone.
This is hardly a new observation. It is ancient and survives through Greek tragedy and modern literature. As the years have passed, Aldous Huxley's novel, "Brave New World," has grown in relevance. Remember the words of "The Savage" in his book, rejecting the SOMA drug that made everyone happy: "I don't want comfort. I want God. I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
The Torah teaches us to "serve God with joy" but to get there, we will have to make our way through disappointment, sorrow and struggle. In the Midrash, Rabbi Johanan reminds us that the eye has a dark part and a light part, but one can only see through the dark part. Darkness grants insight and vision. Seek happiness alone, and you will never find joy, which is deeper; for the road to joy is not always through the level ground of happiness.
Rabbi David Wolpe
H. Eric Schockman surely means well by telling us that eating for $3 a day is a "near impossibility" ("Food Stamp Diet Underscores Need to Aid Poor," Sept. 14). Actually, it's really easy to do. All it requires is eating a plant-based diet, shopping in the right places and bypassing prepared foods.
Doubt the appeal of a plant-based diet? I have been cooking delicious, well-balanced, infinitely varied meals for my wife and myself for years with common, inexpensive ingredients. We're healthy and well-nourished and neither of us has ever fainted from protein deficiency.
If he only knew what to buy, where to shop and how to cook, skills which are easily learned by even a non-Ph.D., Schockman would have more energy and enthusiasm and wouldn't have to dread his next Food Stamp Challenge meal. He may find it ironic that some of the most nutritious foods in his local market cost the least.
If I took him shopping, I'd point out the aisles with whole grains, nuts and legumes and would show him how easy they are to prepare. We'd add a few well-chosen spices, some leafy greens and an assortment of other vegetables and fruits to round out the week.
Then, I'd show him where I regularly buy avocados for 50 cents each, red peppers for $1 a pound and a wide variety of exotic greens for $1 a bunch. His cooking would no longer be a joke among family and friends, and some of that $21 expenditure for a week's food could be used to feed them, too.
I want to thank David Suissa for a beautiful story on my life and challenges as a cancer survivor ("Selma's Sermon," Sept. 14). I also want to make clear that my cancer was successfully treated. I am healthy and well and happy that my work with Vital Options International allows me to help others.
I also wish to thank The Jewish Journal for supporting Vital Options' goals and mission to facilitate a global cancer dialogue.
Selma R. Schimmel
Founder and CEO
Vital Options International
How ironic that book reviewer Michael Feuer, whose main objection to Tova Reich's "My Holocaust" is her use of mean-spirited satire, chooses to illustrate his point with his own brand of mean-spiritedness ("Shoah Satire Crosses Line Into Nasty Territory," Sept. 7).
Apparently, he found it necessary to demonstrate an example of bad tourist behavior in Israel by recalling an incident from his childhood, when he witnessed a busload of loudmouth, obnoxious tourists unloading for a trip up Masada. Without any evidence, he determines that they are "probably from Hadassah" and henceforth ridicules them relentlessly by name as though his assigning that identity makes it true.
Through your publication, we are pleased to extend Feuer an invitation to join us on one of our upcoming missions to Israel. We are sure it would be a real eye-opener for him. Last summer, several missions spent the majority of their time in shelters in the north giving comfort to residents who were besieged for weeks by bombs raining from Lebanon.
Hadassah has a full schedule of missions coming up for this year that suit every level of interest and background. We promise there will be no mean-spirited anecdotes to report later -- just lots of good memories and wealth of knowledge about the land and people of Israel.
Annette Meskin and Gail Lieb
National Missions Co-Chairs
Hadassah -- The Women's Zionist Organization of America
I received my jury notice for the week of Sept. 10. I knew Rosh Hashanah was on Thursday of that week and took my chances, hoping I wouldn't be called in or be given the day off if I was. I wasn't called until Thursday.
I called in and talked with someone to get an excuse and was told I should have postponed my service until after the holiday. If I had done this, and anyone else going to services did this, then there would be no observant Jews on any jury that week.
I was given an excuse not to appear, but it's really just postponing jury service altogether. No credit was given for the three days I was on call.
What really irks me is that when court is in session on a High Holy Day, there really is not a "jury of your peers," as no observant Jew would be represented on the jury, so is someone really getting a fair trial?
I'll live with repeating being on call, but it's hard to live with knowing the outcome of a trial isn't really the result of input from a true representation of the community at large.
Julie Friedman Kagon
In his speech before the Islamic Society of North America, reprinted in your Sept. 7 issue, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie laments: "There is no shortage of voices prepared to tell us that fanaticism and intolerance are fundamental to Islamic religion, and that violence and even suicide bombing have deep Quranic roots" ("Time Has Come to Stress Islam's Positive Side," Sept. 7).
Yoffie's concern about one-sided, negative portrayals of Islam may be justified, but he goes too far in the direction of a whitewash by claiming that "Anti-Semitism is not native to Islamic tradition...."
One hadith, or saying of the prophet, reads: "The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews, and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree, and a stone or a tree would say: 'Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him,' but the tree, Gharqad, would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews" (Sahih Muslim 41:6985).
The haditha are not part of the Quran and therefore not viewed as divinely inspired, yet are accorded much more authoritative weight by all the schools of mainstream Islam than traditional Jews ever gave to rabbinic pronouncements in the Talmud.
Unfortunately, the hadith inciting genocide against the Jews is a favorite in the sermons of popular Egyptian preacher Sheik Yusef al-Qaradawi; it's incorporated in official Saudi ninth-grade textbooks, and it's enshrined in Hamas' charter and spouted regularly by clerics on Palestinian television.
Yoffie is right that Judaism and Christianity also have their own problematic traditions. The difference is that in Western society, these are subject to scholarly criticism -- see Peter Schäfer's recent book, "Jesus in the Talmud" -- and public debate.
In the Muslim world, this genocidal hadith is either passed over in silence or enthusiastically embraced. That's the real barrier to serious interfaith dialogue between Islam and the other Abrahamic faiths.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie's speech, portraying the haters as the victims before the Islamic Society of North America, is reminiscent of the German Jews who defended Nazi Germany. Since it is impossible to refute this outrage in a letter, it would only be fair if The Journal would allot equal space to one of the critics of Islam who Yoffie attacks.
Better yet, sponsor a three- or four-page written debate between this rabbi and Emerson, Pipes or Spencer. However, people like Yoffie are seldom willing to enter a fair debate.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie has evidently not read the Quran, or he would know that this is a book filled with hate, especially directed toward Jews. If he is interested, I would be happy to send him numerous quotes from the Quran to that effect.
The immense hate in the Quran directed toward Jews in itself should be sufficient for any normal person to be discouraged from thoughts of appeasing the Muslims, but having contemporary mass killings occur weekly throughout the world, with the Muslim instigators openly citing the Quran as their inspiration, is still not sufficient for the leader of the Reform Jews. Incredible!
And then to compare the hate in the Quran to that expressed by other religions -- including Judaism -- is doubly incredible. It shows that Yoffie is more moved by leftist political ideology than he is by his religious affiliation with Judaism or reality.
That Yoffie alleges abuses of the civil rights of American Muslims, and even implies including the civil rights of those caught on the battlefield or involved with terror incidents against Americans, without citing a single case suggests strongly that this rabbi is more inclined to group suicide for the Western world than to common sense.
He says that the Muslims "will need to accept the reality of Israeli vulnerability." Is the rabbi from Mars? The Muslims insist on it.
And they, with the active complicity of political figures past and present in Europe and the United States -- and even with the complicity of Jews -- have created this very vulnerability. Israel's ever-threatened borders are not threatened by the Eskimos but by Muslims.
And even greater involvement of President Bush-Condoleeza Rice in peace efforts with those who do not wish any peace will only make Israel more vulnerable than it already is under the immensely corrupt and incompetent Israeli administration now in place.
"Land for peace," unfortunately, is tiny Israel relinquishing land she won in wars started by the Arabs and making herself more vulnerable militarily.
The rabbi says that this should not be seen as a religious conflict, but the Arabs will never see the conflict as other than directed by the Quran as a religious struggle. Making Israel even more physically and geographically vulnerable will not solve the problem for the Arabs; they will not be satisfied until there are no more Jews anywhere.
An airy-fairy notion of a "democratic Palestine state" is absurd and, along with other views, exposes Yoffie as not worthy of respect in these matters.
In "Who Shall Die" (Sept. 14), Marcy Asher's mother should have been listed as Barbara Shulman and not Marcia Shulman.