December 16, 2005

Oldest Bat Mitzvah Girl In History Was 101

While Esther Eisner sounds absolutely wonderful and should be lauded for becoming bat mitzvah at the age of 99 (“Oldest Bat Mitzvah Girl in History! [Or So We Think]”, December 2), my co-author, Paula Wolfson, and I interviewed and photographed an older woman on her bat mitzvah day for our book, “Jewish Mothers: Strength, Wisdom, Compassion.”

Sydell Laskowitz was 101 when she became an adult bat mitzvah in 1998, at the Hebrew Home in Rockville, Md.

In 1920 she was among the first women to vote. A retired hospital administrator, Laskowitz was a volunteer for the Jewish Council on Aging and for the Prevention of Blindness Society. In 1996 she helped carry the Olympic torch as it passed through Annapolis, Md.

Laskowitz died in 2000 at the age of 103. She is survived by two daughters, three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Lloyd Wolf

Arlington, Va.

Roe Addresses Rights In Personal Decisions

Opinion writer Richard Epstein’s case against the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade strikes me as peculiar (“Rule Roe v. Wade Inadmissable in Alito’s Confirmation Hearings,” December 9). He argues that the 7-2 decision was “intellectually wrong,” and cites Lochner v. New York as intellectually correct and good law.

In Lochner v. New York the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, ruled unconstitutional a New York State law designed to protect public health and safety. The court proclaimed that the state law interfered with “the freedom of master and employee to contract with one another,” as if individuals or even unions had the same economic and political clout as corporations. Two esteemed Supreme Court justices, Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Marshall Harlan, wrote famous dissents that became the basis for the partial reversal of Lochner v. New York in the 1908 case Muller v. Oregon.

It seems strange to me that Epstein is ready to criticize model state legislation, promoted by progressives and labor leaders, because the law “interferes” with the rights of individuals in commercial transactions. But he never mentions the right of privacy for more intimate relationships between consenting adults, or between a woman and her body.

Many students of the law — including the current chief justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts — recognize such a privacy right as implicit in constitutional amendments one, three, four and nine. Roe v. Wade has less to do with Epstein’s strawman of the state legislatures vs. courts, and more to do with individual rights in personal decision-making.

Gerald Sorin

Distinguished Professor of History and Jewish Studies

State University of New York, New Paltz

New Paltz, N.Y.

No Right To Forgive

In describing his book tour though Germany (“A Tale of Two Trains,” November 25), arts and culture writer Lev Raphael notes that when asked at a book reading whether there would ever be forgiveness, he responded, “Of course, why else would I be here?”

I would like to paraphrase Elie Wiesel when a German asked him the same question: “It is not up to me to forgive you. Those, whom you must ask forgiveness, are no longer among the living.”

So, while the majority of Germans today are innocent, it is not up to Raphael to grant forgiveness to those who aren’t.

Gregory Roer

Seattle, Wash.

Get Real About Peace

Opinion writer Debra DeLee assumes that the occupation is preventing peace between Israel and the Palestinians (“Measuring the Seismic Political Shifts in Jerusalem,” December 9).

But this assumption truly never has been tested, and it is unlikely that even if Israel should withdraw from all of the West Bank, peace would ensue. Despite full withdrawal from Gaza, rocket fire and other hostilities against Israeli civilians continue.

One of the more admirable aspects of the majority of Israelis is their realism vis-à-vis the Palestinians. Yes, they yearn for peace, but not the kind the Peace Now-niks would envision, the kind of peace in which security issues and measures are relaxed and take a secondary place in their national priorities.

Israelis are not blind to the chaos and corruption within Palestinian society, which, for the foreseeable future, will prevent meaningful negotiations toward peace. Nor are they deaf to the enmity of the Muslim nations around them that will continue to pose an existential threat and promote extremist hatred toward Israel within Palestinian society.

Seymour Kessler

Berkeley, Calif.

Off Target on Lawyer

I find it hard to see how the December 9 article on New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, which essentially reports the story of a disgruntled former employee, serves a public purpose (“Probe of Shul Group Had N.Y. Crimebuster’s Office in Tangles”).

Hardest to justify are the many paragraphs devoted to personal mudslinging. For example, while the article does not identify a role for Avi Schick in the investigation, it devotes many paragraphs to justifying former employee William Josephson’s gripe that Schick should have been removed from Young Israel matters — because of his brother’s employment by a law firm representing the National Council of Young Israel on unrelated matters.

It is outrageous to draw Schick, an upstanding and public-spirited man, into a protracted story of “he said-she said.”

Yossi Prager

Teaneck, N.J.

Minority Districts Still Needed in Some States

The December 9 editorial on congressional races and racial gerrymandering should serve as a wake-up call to Jewish leaders across the nation to be wary of redistricting plans that eliminate Jewish legislators from Congress and the state legislatures (“Congressional Races”).

After the 2000 census, Jewish legislators, both in Congress and the statehouses, were targeted for elimination in Massachusetts, New York, Texas, Utah and Florida. While many defied the odds and were re-elected, others, such as Martin Frost and Ben Gilman, were not.

As traditional Jewish voting bloc communities get smaller, more and more Jewish candidates get elected based on their credentials and record as good candidates. They get elected with support from all racial groups and voters, with the Jewish community often serving as an important base, but not a population majority.

Supreme Court decisions have held that it is unconstitutional to maximize the creation of effective minority districts. But this does not mean that there are not instances in which they must be created. Racially polarized voting still exists, and minority districts are still necessary in many states.

We are now at the halfway point to the 2010 census and next redistricting cycle. Jewish agencies and community activists should begin working now to avoid the threats and problems highlighted by Frost more than a decade ago. There is too much mutual history and cooperation behind us to permit any political group to split Jews, African Americans, Latino and Asian voters against each other again.

Jeffrey Wice


National Association of Jewish Legislators

Washington, D.C.

The writer is a former national redistricting counsel to the Democratic National Committee.

Player Not Part of Team

I can assure Forward readers that, contrary to a November 4 letter writer’s assertion, Hall of Fame hockey player Sid Abel is not Jewish (“Red Wings’ Sid Abel Skated to Hall of Fame”). His name may have some Semitic overtones, but Old Testament names, although sometimes a clue, do not necessarily mean that a player was Jewish.

Surnames like Moses and Ruth are a case in point — and we all know that the Babe was not a member of the tribe.

Irv Osterer

Ottawa, Ontario

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 16, 2005

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