An April 7 article describes the hundreds of letters that were submitted on behalf of Jack Abramoff to U.S. District Judge Paul Huck, many from prominent rabbinic and lay leaders in the Orthodox community (“‘Dear Judge’: Religion-tinged Letters Praise Good Deeds of Felon Lobbyist”). Assuming that Abramoff is truly repentant and prepared in good faith to repay the millions of dollars that he has admitted to illegally obtaining and distributing, I agree that it is religiously appropriate to issue calls for mercy that would advance his rehabilitation and lighten the difficulties faced by his family as a result of his impending incarceration.
However, I am concerned that Abramoff’s regrettable behavior in the political realm, and the media coverage of communal support for him, contributes to a perception that observant Jews are not fit for public service.
As the rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue in the Washington area for close to two decades, I am familiar with the key roles that many of my congregants play in some federal government agencies, the military and diverse political organizations. I am literally amazed and quite proud of the level of exceptional loyalty, patriotism, idealism, sacrifice and outstanding service by which many of these individuals distinguish themselves. They make their substantial contributions to the welfare and security of the United States despite the fact that Jews, like other minorities, have suffered profoundly over the centuries as a result of cruel stereotyping and accusations of disloyalty on the part of some of the very citizens that they serve.
I believe it is important to note that the greater Washington Jewish community is made up of innumerable examples of proud Jewish public servants whose accomplishments are impressive and even inspiring. I hope that responsible journalists, particularly those writing in the Jewish press, highlight the stories of some of these outstanding individuals — who comprise the overwhelming majority of our community — in order to counterbalance the egregious behavior and errors in judgment on the part of a tiny minority.
Rabbi Jack Bieler
Kemp Mill Synagogue
Silver Spring, Md.
I was disconcerted to learn that so many Jews urged Jack Abramoff’s judge to be lenient. Their reasons include his charitable works and his intense religiosity — and, of course, his all around good-guyness.
His charitable works were minuscule compared to his extraordinary fiscal resources, almost mindlessly so. A restaurant here, a school (perhaps a front) there, giving $40,000 to some needy family, throwing a bar mitzvah party — it all seems trivial considering his vast financial means.
Abramoff is now being forced to pay $21.7 million in restitution; surely this good man could have afforded to provide a few more crumbs.
Even worse, it is bizarre to argue that his religious intensity is a mitigating factor. Is it not the case that a major argument for religious practice is that it teaches morality, that religious individuals should exhibit greater rectitude than the rest of us? The answer is, of course, yes, yet we see none of that in Abramoff’s behavior.
Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz is quoted by the Forward as arguing that Abramoff’s contrition “is a fundamental expression of his deep-seated religious faith.” Is it fair to ask the rabbi how he could possibly know that?
Had Abramoff not been caught, he still would be engaged in his nefarious enter- prises. No sign of contrition appeared until he had to make a deal. That hardly exemplifies a fundamental expression of contrition.
I hope that U.S. District Judge Paul Huck found other reasons to give Abramoff the most lenient sentence allowed by law. If the judge was swayed by Abramoff’s apologists, then shame on him.
An April 7 article on how the town of Kfar Chabad voted in the recent elections in Israel is a bit puzzling (“A Kahane Disciple Wins Big Vote in Israeli Lubavitch Stronghold”).
As the article notes, support in the town for National Jewish Front candidate Baruch Marzel dropped to about 30% last month from 73% in the last Knesset elections. In other words, the real journalistic theme was, contrary to the article’s headline, that he lost big among his potentially most enthusiastic advocates.
Opinion writer Michael Cook rightly urges us Jews to engage the New Testament (“Time To Teach Jews Gospel Dynamics,” April 14). He asks, “How many Jews can answer knowledgeably when Christians, whether out of curiosity or out of less benevolent motives, pose theological questions?” and then goes on to offer several examples.
This Jew, for one, is ready with answers to the questions Cook raises.
“Why won’t Jews accept Jesus as the messiah?” Define “messiah,” and justify your response.
“Isn’t Jesus predicted in the Jewish Bible?” Where? Not in Isaiah.
“Didn’t Jesus die for all of our sins, Jews included?” What does that mean? Does it apply to all people at all times? Are all humans forgiven for our sins, be the sins scarlet or white as snow? I honestly don’t understand the scapegoat belief.
“Won’t Jews go to hell for their sins?” First, where is hell and how do you get there? Second, if Jews are forgiven their sins by Jesus’ death, how does hell come into the infernal picture?
“Why hasn’t Jesus’ resurrection convinced Jews that he is the messiah?” I won’t quarrel with your belief. But I can’t accept the unproven notion of bodily resurrection. For me, dead is dead.
“Why don’t Jews just accept Jesus and remain Jewish?” Accept him as a religious Jew who said he came to bring not peace but to bring a sword; who showed his human fallibility by cursing the barren fruit tree; who said that if your eye offended you, pluck it out? That imperfect Jewish man I accept as a fellow imperfect human being.
But the belief in his perfection, divinity, messiah-ship and resurrection? That cannot be held by this ordinary, uncredentialed, Jewish, intellectually agnostic theist.
In an April 14 book review, Arts & Culture writer Ethan Kanfer offers the following critique of my play, “The Action Against Sol Schumann”: “Unfortunately the ending feels far too convenient: Aaron, an inner-city schoolteacher, is killed when he tries to break up a knife fight. Thus Sweet lets his protagonist, and the audience, off the hook too easily” (“Nine Contemporary Jewish Plays”).
Maybe it’s not clear reading it, but Aaron doesn’t happen to get killed. He willingly walks into a dangerous situation and behaves in a way he knows he shouldn’t.
I don’t like to explain things too overtly in my texts, but Aaron’s death is a half-inch away from being suicide. He wouldn’t take his own life, but he didn’t care enough to protect himself from danger.
New York, N.Y.
The recent attack on the Chadian capital of N’Djamena by Chadian rebels, likely supported by the Sudanese government, only underlines the fact that Darfurian refugees are extremely vulnerable as this crisis enters a new phase (“We Who Were Once Strangers in Egypt,” April 14). During the rebels’ march toward N’Djamena, armed groups reportedly entered several refugee camps where they harassed and terrorized the already traumatized refugees.
It is also alarming that one of Chadian President Idriss Déby’s first acts following the quelling of the rebel incursion was to use the refugees as bargaining chips by threatening their expulsion unless the United Nations and other powers come to his aid. While Déby apparently has backed away from this threat, these incidents serve as reminders — should any be needed — that the refugees are still in grave danger.
These refugees’ security, as well as any hope that they may one day return to their homes, depends on the ongoing intervention of the international community, which in turn depends on individuals in the United States and around the world putting their values into action by writing and marching and raising a cry against oppression and genocide.
As opinion writers Ruth Messinger and Or Rose point out, the Passover story teaches that we must raise this issue with the White House and Congress, attend the Save Darfur Rally in Washington on April 30, and maintain our focus on this unfolding tragedy until these vulnerable human beings can regain control of their lives and live in freedom.
President and CEO
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
New York, N.Y.