December 18, 2009

Talk to Me Before You Label Me, Says Chelsea Clinton’s Future Uncle

Your December 11 article “Chelsea Clinton Will Join Diverse Mezvinsky Clan” briefly discussed me (an uncle of Clinton’s new fiancé) and my views regarding Israel.

You could easily have contacted me and asked me directly about my views but chose not to do so. Instead, you sought for comment a former academic colleague of mine and a second, extremely negative and biased source, affiliated with the group Campus Watch.

Calling me “anti-Israel,” as your article did, because I have criticized some specific Israeli policies and am opposed to political Zionism is misleading and inaccurate. Calling me “the left of left among intellectual scholars,” as Campus Watch’s Asaf Romirowsky did, is vague and also misleading. Moreover, his charge that I use my Jewish background to attack Israel is untrue.

I would have at least had an opportunity to explain all of this had I been contacted regarding the article.

Service Serves Us, Too

We applaud the Forward’s recent editorial about the importance of high-quality, effective service that also educates volunteers about the root causes of domestic and global issues (“Not Only for Ourselves,” December 4).

We agree about the dangers posed by poor-quality service and service learning programs. At the same time, we believe that effective service programs have a range of positive impacts. These include tangible benefits to communities served, volunteers’ lifelong commitments to civic engagement and social justice, and a deepened Jewish framework for understanding and actualizing those commitments.

The fact that the Jewish community or Jewish identity is strengthened by such service should not be the primary goal of service programs, but is a welcome and important outcome.

The Forward editorial “Not Only for Ourselves” raised important issues about the community’s increasing investment in Jewish frameworks for service. These endeavors can’t be viewed as just another effective vehicle for Jewish identity building. They must first and foremost be about the Jewish community making real contributions to repairing the world.

Having said that, it’s simply wrong to think that people who engage in something as challenging and profound as authentic service will not come away shaped by their experience, and I regret that the editorial may have left some readers with the mistaken impression that I believe service shouldn’t be about shaping who we are as individuals and as a people. Quite the opposite.

Jewish frameworks for service are important precisely because they reject the idea that service is exclusively to the benefit of any one group of people. A commitment to serve, especially on a communal level, ought to make a difference not only in the world, but also in the community that undertakes it. For how can we ever sustain the efforts required to achieve justice if we do not learn how to see seeking justice as a part of who we are?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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December 18, 2009

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