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Crossing the Line
Marlene Adler Marks' column on the aftermath of the Alarcon-Katz state Senate race (" Crossing the Line ," July 3) illustrates how identical facts are interpreted differently and therefore the importance of dialogue.
While I agree with Marks' analysis of the Polanco letter on behalf of Alarcon, many political observers do not believe it "crossed the line." Marks criticizes Alarcon's apology to Katz. I believe Alarcon's apology was genuine and share the indignation by the rejection of this olive branch.
Yet I am troubled most by the inability of so many to acknowledge both sides. It is difficult to share Marks' outrage when the use of race against Latinos is ignored.
Many observers found that elements of the Katz campaign also used race to motivate voters. One campaign mailer began with a photograph of soiled hands, reading "It's more than Alarcon's hands that are dirty..." The mailer suggests financial improprieties by Alarcon and juxtaposes a photograph of fellow City Councilmember Richard Alatorre, who is being investigated for alleged financial improprieties.
To many, the "dirty hands" mailer was an overt use of ethnic imagery, subtly invoking the historic slur "dirty Mexican." The mailer's message is that all Mexican American politicians are crooks. Why else associate Alarcon with Alatorre? The only useful link is that they are both Mexican Americans on the city council.
A debate about where "the line" lies, who crossed it first or further, gets us nowhere, but an ongoing dialogue can get us somewhere. That is why NALEO and the American Jewish Committee arranged six Latino-Jewish dialogues this year. Had Marks attended at least one, she would have realized that there are many others -- not only Jews -- who take these issues seriously.
A Smile and a Tear
The Aug. 7 obituary and especially the cartoon of Lamb Chop crying was a wonderful tribute to the late entertainer Shari Lewis. It brought a smile and a tear to me, too.
Ernest W. Fybel
Many thanks for Ruth Mason's quite accurate cover story, " The Israeli Underclass " (Aug. 7).
One important fact was not mentioned. Americans are helping effectively with the education problems of Ethiopian olim . The North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry operates highly successful elementary school enrichment programs. We feed the children a nutritious lunch and place them in small, highly concentrated classes in basics: Hebrew, English, math, computers, etc. The kids explode out of failure into grade level and beyond. These kids will pass matriculation and go on to the best academic universities.
We also operate the Vidal Sassoon Adopt-a-Student program for Ethiopian college students. Our graduates include an aeronautical engineer, surgical nurses, social workers, a member of the Knesset, a director of an absorption center, etc. There are three of our students in the tough diplomatic college, with one graduate now the deputy consul general in Chicago.
As your article indicated, with education, Ethiopian olim will be integrated into every level of Israeli society. We call upon the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency to give this matter the highest priority, and in so doing avoid the tragedy of an Ethiopian Israeli underclass.
Richard A Giesberg
North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry (NACOEJ)
Over the past 20 years Israel under great difficulties has saved 60,000 Ethiopian Jews from murder, rape, slavery, and starvation and brought them over the span of years to Israel. These fellow Jews come from a very backward province in Ethiopia; they were mostly agrarian in culture with low literacy rates and low technical knowledge.
Were these people to become rocket scientists or brain surgeons or computer programmers overnight? No! Doesn't it take time to educate a people and integrate an agrarian closed culture into one of the world's most modern societies?
When Eastern European Jews came to the U.S. early this century did they settle in Beverly Hills and Scarsdale or was it the Lower East Side of New York? And what jobs did they have? Garment workers, porters, peddlers, etc. How long did it take to integrate into American mainstream societies?
Betzalel "Bitzy" N. Eichenbaum
Sad to see, in the articles on Ethiopian Jews in Israel, a reference to Jewish blood.
It's amazing how many times this ignorant and emotive term is used by Jews and in Jewish publications. There is, of course, no such classification, and any-type blood from a Nazi is the same as the same-type blood from a Jew or a black. Nor is there such a thing as English blood, French blood, American blood or any other kind of blood but plain, bloody prosaic blood.
It's not enough to explain that the phrase is used loosely to denote someone of Jewish origin. The associations, going back at least to Bismarck's "Blood and Iron" and certainly to the Hitlerite mystical references, are too clear and dangerous.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie argues that Orthodox student resistance to Yale's mandatory dorm residence policy reflects a "ghetto Judaism" that constitutes a "betrayal of America" ("Ghetto Judaism in America," Aug. 7).
Rabbi Yoffie seems unaware that the United States has historically guaranteed religious freedom to a broad spectrum of faiths, from the insular to the universalistic. In this country, we even protect religions that are themselves intolerant, and Orthodox Judaism is no exception. Yale University's attempt to force a diverse student body to curtail its ritual expressions in order to conform to the traditions of Yale is at odds with our American tradition of religious tolerance. Rabbi Yoffie's depiction of one group -- the easily identifiable Orthodox students -- as "betrayers" merely exposes his ignorance of, or indifference to, this country's history and values.
Professor Peter L. Reich
Whittier Law School
Why was Yoffie so bothered by the students who dared complain about being coerced by Yale into giving up their own traditional laws of modesty in order to participate in a secular university?
Yoffie cannot tolerate Jews doing anything that does not obviously conform and instantly harmonize with modern, secular norms.
No wonder that Yoffie can so effusively celebrate American Jewry's "unprecedented success in the 20th century" amidst the unprecedented assimilation rate of American Jewry. If assimilation is Yoffie's objective, then his "very different vision" of Torah should do the trick. But, I would hardly call this "a far grander, far more ambitious" Torah!
Rabbi Yoffie's references to Orthodox Jews living in a "ghetto" isolated from the "real world" reeks of ignorance. The minority of religiously observant Jews who wish to remain "isolated" from the "outside world" do not attend Yale or any college for that matter. There are many frum Jews who are successful professionals, businesspeople and students who have maintained a Torah-observant lifestyle without compromising standards of halacha . These people perform their civic and professional responsibilities with distinction and have not forsaken G-d and His commandments.
In this context, "liberal Jews" do not have an exclusive franchise for determining the parameters for how a Jew should properly interact with the world at large. Furthermore, the Reform movement does not have an exclusive franchise on the appropriate expression by Jews of American values or traditions.