May 2, 2008


Published April 24, 2008, issue of May 02, 2008.
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‘Peoplehood’ Has Utility As a Descriptive Term

The descriptor “peoplehood,” as a term purporting to collect all Jews under one umbrella, always seemed like a hopeful way of asserting that I have something in common with a Satmar Hasid in Kiryas Joel (“Peoplehood: There’s No There There,” April 25). Now Arts & Culture columnist Jay Michaelson comes along and shows its emptiness, largely on the argument that I, in fact, do not have much in common with that Satmar Hasid. Or, perhaps better, my intermarried, unaffiliated, assimilated brother-in-law has nothing in common with said Hasid.

As an American I have a great deal in common with other Americans. We all speak English. Hmm. Most of us speak English.

We all vote. Hmm. Most of us, no, some of us vote.

We all share a kind of circumscribed political spectrum. Except for those of us who do not.

In fact, we don’t all pay taxes. We don’t all surf. We don’t all eat chitterlings. We don’t all drink Coca Cola.

In fact, in matters serious and trivial, Americans in the aggregate have very little in common, except land — that is, that we all live here.

Yet I would imagine most Americans, at least on their better days, agree that there is something that can be legitimately identified as “the American people.” It’s a useful tool for collecting a vast population and lumping us all together.

It’s in that same vein, as useless as it is when it comes to specifics, that the term “peoplehood” possesses some legitimacy and utility for lumping all Jews together.

Phil Cohen
Prescott, Ariz.

Deep South Jews Ought Not Enable Evangelicals

As members of North Alabama’s Jewish community, we were appalled that some of our local community leaders approved of and were willing to attend a “Christ Our Passover” Seder (“Deep South Christians Take Seat at Seder Table,” April 18).

Our community is indeed, as the Forward reports, a small minority, and we do need friends. But our true friends here are the religious and community groups that have stood with us for decades in defense of civil liberties, religious freedom, social justice and respect for ethnic and religious minorities.

Right-wing evangelical groups that stand diametrically opposed to us on those issues aren’t our friends. Christian Zionists have their own theological reasons for wanting Jews to return to Israel and political reasons for supporting hard-line Israeli positions. That’s their right as American citizens.

But our Jewish communities shouldn’t enable them and offer them legitimacy by attending their events and accepting their money.

Jews have lived in North Alabama for well over 100 years and have been active, committed and respected members of the larger community. Our good name is not for sale.

Philip Kirshtein
Larisa Thomason
New Market, Ala.

A proper Seder is not held in a synagogue or a church; it is held in the home. As a child living in an Orthodox Jewish home, I never experienced a Seder taking place in a synagogue.

If the Jews of North Alabama wish to take back their holiday — which is rightfully theirs — let the 300 families of their local synagogue divide up the 1,300 Christians who wish to participate in Passover, and then they can truly take part in the holiday that Jesus celebrated as a Jew. If I recall correctly, the Last Supper, which was a celebration of Passover, took place in a home, and not in a place of worship.

Otherwise, Christians may hold Passover, however and wherever they like — but if it is not in keeping with tradition, Jews should not attend.

Nathan Adler
Rome, Ga.

Give Carter Credit for His Accomplishments

An April 25 editorial argues that Jimmy Carter “presided over a dismal economy” with “the highest interest rates in American history” (“Diplomacy, Carter-Style”). But as a result of those interest rates, hundreds of thousands of teachers, civil servants, police, firefighters and other middle-class workers found their savings accounts and mutual funds turned into genuine nest-eggs and small estates for their children and grandchildren.

Wall Street definitely hated those interest rates, but for the broad middle class, several years of wealth redistribution and pension fund growth didn’t hurt one bit.

Carter also introduced human rights concerns to American foreign policy after decades of realpolitik brutality on the part of the State Department, Pentagon, CIA and other centers of American power. He established diplomatic relations with China, negotiated the Salt II nuclear arms treaty with the Soviet Union, overcame rightwing fury to achieve the Panama Canal Treaty — and, of course, brokered the first modern peace deal between Israel and an Arab power, the Camp David Accords. To boot, he was the only presidential candidate in history to quote a Yiddish proverb, in his 1980 concession speech.

Carter’s life after the White House has included turning Habitat for Humanity into a household word and serving as an impartial international elections monitor. He is also a cofounder of The Elders, an impressive group of senior statesmen dedicated to bringing moral suasion to bear on our planet’s most stubborn problems.

Carter won the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize as a honest broker of peace who acts consistently out of the belief that dialogue is a cornerstone of peacemaking. He is not alone in calculating that there can be no meaningful Israeli-Palestinian peace established if Hamas is not party to it.

Lawrence Bush
Jewish Currents
Accord, N.Y.

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