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March 20, 2009

Nothing Selfish About Rabbi’s Cancer Plea

Your article singling out Rabbi Michael Lerner for a letter he sent regarding his cancer was baffling (“Tikkun’s Founder: ‘I Have Cancer,’ Give to My Cause,” March 13).

Why would you consider it newsworthy to try to put down a devout and caring rabbi for writing a letter to his own constituents when he has lung cancer, asking for support not for himself but for the charitable, values-based organization we are all committed to?

The answer is likely found in your article’s revealing statement questioning Michael’s using the occasion of an illness to raise money for “his personal cause.” But the Network of Spiritual Progressives is not Michael’s personal cause, but a major life commitment of all of us struggling to bring an open-hearted and loving perspective to public life.

Perhaps your characterization reflects an unconscious belief that a person writing such a letter must be acting out of self-interest instead of concern for all of us working together in a spirit of love and solidarity. But there was nothing self-interested about Michael’s letter, and Michael himself does not stand to gain anything from a positive response to that letter except what we all stand to gain — a better world.

Would it surprise you to know that the biggest obstacle we in the Network of Spiritual Progressives face in making the changes we seek is media cynicism?

Peter Gabel
San Francisco, Calif.

The writer is associate editor of Tikkun magazine.

Quite frankly, I was appalled by Rabbi Michael Lerner’s blatant use of a lung cancer diagnosis to appeal for funds to further his political agenda. That said, I believe Rabbi Lerner has been chosen and has a unique opportunity before him.

I identify myself as a lung cancer advocate, having been awakened to the plight of lung cancer victims and to cancer victims in general when my late mother, a Holocaust survivor as well as a nonsmoker, was diagnosed with this disease in its latter and inoperable stages.

Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of men and women. However, when caught early, as it seems to have been in Rabbi Lerner’s case, it is potentially curable. People do not always realize that.

Lerner has a unique opportunity to address the stigma associated with a lung cancer diagnosis, namely that it is “a smokers’ disease.” He has the opportunity to help direct funds for lung cancer research, which is significantly underfunded in comparison with other site-specific cancers, and to inspire others with his cancer story.

I truly wish him well in this battle with the cancer demon and hope that he realizes the opportunity that has presented itself to him for tikkun olam.

Susan Levin
Lung Cancer Circle of Hope
Lakewood, N.J.

Your recent article about Rabbi Michael Lerner is truly a low blow. The man has cancer, and he tells his followers: I’m sick, I have a life-threatening condition, but you can help me by contributing to keep my work going.

What does your article say? It asks: “When is it appropriate to use a disease to promote a cause other than a cure for that disease?”

Since when is the Forward the arbiter of what causes an ill person wants to support?

Marcia Diaz
Berkeley, Calif.

Huzzahs and Hisses for the ‘Backward’

I loved the Forward’s “Backward” Purim spoof section (March 13).

It was a Jewish Mad Magazine. You should do more of this type of humor.

Bert Nevins
Plantation, Fla.

I think I have a pretty decent sense of humor. I’m not offended by much — especially in the world of politics. But I’m sure I’m not the only reader taken aback by the Purim spoof “Extreme Gaza Makeover.”

Whatever side one falls on in the debate over whether the Gaza war was justified in its length and intensity, is there really anyone so callous as to find amusing the destruction and suffering heaped upon Gaza — hundreds of civilians killed, countless homes destroyed?

In a few weeks we will recount the Exodus from Egypt. As we recite the plagues inflicted on the Egyptians, we will remove drops of wine from our cups to symbolize that our joy cannot be complete, knowing that our liberation came at the suffering of (even) our arch-enemies.

What has happened to us to have hardened our hearts to such an extent that a supposedly progressive newspaper like the Forward can find “humor” in the recent Gaza war? We must be better than this or there really is no hope.

Steve Schiff
Ann Arbor, Mich.

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