December 8, 2006

Published December 08, 2006, issue of December 08, 2006.
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Embrace Ethics Reform

Has our communal leadership lost its collective mind (“Jewish Groups To Challenge Ethics Reform,” December 1)? Congressional trips to Israel and worthy community projects do not have to be endangered by ethics reform; they should continue under the basic operations of Congress — not as payoffs for lobbyists whose raison d’etre is the “pay to play” political culture which has poisoned our democratic process for far too long.

Obviously, one person’s educational mission is another person’s junket. But no matter what we call it, why shouldn’t congressional trips to Israel be underwritten by the congressional budget, rather than by lobbying organizations? After all, Israel is a leading recipient of American foreign aid, so every member of Congress who votes on the foreign aid budget should see firsthand exactly what that aid is buying and talk to Israeli leaders from varied backgrounds to determine how the American government can best play an effective role in the search for peace with the Palestinians and Israel’s other neighbors.

As for earmarks, the Jewish community should be especially sensitive to the connection between earmarks and payoffs, given the recent revelations about Jack Abramoff, king of the earmarks. Worthy projects, like Naturally Occurring Recurring Communities cited in your story, should be funded by direct congressional appropriations for the Department of Health and Human Services, not by the anonymous insertion of a windfall into unrelated legislation.

The editorial in the same issue was far too meek in addressing lobbying abuses (“Waiting for the Democrats”). While I agree with your contention that “we can start thinking about our values as well as our interests,” we need to be crystal clear that our values are the foundation of our interests — not just some high-minded rhetoric we invoke when it is ethically convenient.

Debra Weiner Quakertown, Pa.

Of Science and Religion

In an October 20 review of Rabbi Michael Lerner’s new book, “The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right,” Michelle Goldberg seems to imply that one must be either spiritual or scientific (“What’s the Right Course for the Religious Left?”). I believe one can be both. However, keeping the disciplines of science and spirituality separate means that each discipline is respected and is free to function in the most effective way. It does not mean that they cannot interact and seek to influence each other.

The worldview that claims everything capable of being known or worthy of our attention can be fully described in scientific terms elevates rationalism to the level of a pseudo-religion unto itself — and we believe such a view is mistaken. It is a mistake because it provides an inadequate basis to fully address and enhance our human experience together on the planet.

The scientific method has been quite sound. For many or most scientists, this method, in order to be effective, implies a degree of humility and open-mindedness, as well as a willingness to seek past one’s present degree of understanding. There is no intrinsic conflict between science and religion, or between science and spirituality. History has shown that one need not trump the other, and that at their best both realms of endeavor can collaborate to serve humanity.

Bob Riley Facilitator, Issues/Actions Group 10 Albuquerque Chapter, Network of Spiritual Progressives Albuquerque, N.M.

Recognize Rio Mayor

Jorge Telerman of Buenos Aires as the first Jewish mayor of a major city south of the Rio Grande (“Dapper New Jewish Mayor Takes Buenos Aires by Storm,” December 1)?

How about Israel Klabin, elected mayor of Rio de Janeiro in 1979?

Larry Pomerance New York, N.Y.

UJC Aiding Falash Mura

I wish to correct a misimpression conveyed by a December 1 letter to the editor (“Agency’s Inaction on Falash Mura Appalling”).

The letter writer, a former chief operating officer of the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry, has not been connected to us for more than 18 months. As a result, she may have perhaps been unaware that the United Jewish Communities has been providing assistance to the Beta Israel community in Ethiopia by monthly grants from Operation Promise funds to the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry.

The funds assist with the cost of feeding programs, education and religious facilities, funded by the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry and administered by the Beta Israel community organization. We are very grateful to the UJC, under the leadership of Howard Rieger, for this assistance on behalf of the Jews still waiting in Ethiopia for permission to enter Israel.

Barbara Ribakove Gordon Executive Director North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry New York, N.Y.

Write on Modern Bubbes

Opinion writer Aurora Mendelsohn echoes what we discussed at a recent conference for Jewish children’s-book writers at the 92nd Street Y: Too many of the manuscripts submitted to us (and I suspect to other Jewish book publishers) are about bubbe escaping pogroms, bubbe baking challah in a 4th floor walk-up, and zaide manning a pushcart on Orchard Street (“But Bubbe and Zaide Were Hippies,” December 1).

But as Mendelsohn points out, today’s bubbe — the name my fiercely American mother shunned has a new cachet with many of my peers — runs marathons, argues cases in the Supreme Court and is more likely to roll sushi than chop gefilte fish. May Mendelsohn’s article inspire new writers and new books that tell the stories of today’s grandparents and stories that reflect the cultural diversity of today’s Jewish community. My mailbox is waiting.

Judye Groner Editorial Director Kar-Ben Publishing Rockville, Md.

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