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April 18, 2008

Both Clinton, Obama Reached Out in Pa.

As one of the rabbis who attended separate meetings in Philadelphia earlier this month with Senator Hillary Clinton’s surrogates and those of Senator Barack Obama, I thought an April 11 article on how the campaigns are engaging the Pennsylvania rabbinical community was incomplete (“Obama Takes Campaign Into Pa. Living Rooms”). While I truly enjoyed meeting virtually one on one with Rep. Jan Schakowsky from Obama’s campaign, I was also duly impressed with the Clinton campaign’s ability to bring together more than 30 rabbis, from Reconstructionist to Orthodox, from the greater Philadelphia area for a high-level conversation on a variety of issues that concern our community.

This meeting was largely left out of the Forward’s reporting. I applaud both the Clinton and Obama campaigns for reaching out to the rabbinic community here in Philadelphia in advance of the April 22 primary. The issues are important to all of us. The more opportunities we have to ask questions and to share our views, the stronger our democracy and nation.

Rabbi Steven Wernick
Adath Israel
Merion Station, Pa.

I Was First Orthodox Student at Film School

An April 4 article states that Oded Turgeman was “the first Orthodox Jew ever to enroll” at the American Film Institute here in Los Angeles (“David’s the Singer, He’s the Rapper”). But that’s simply not the case.

You see, I graduated AFI back in 2004. I have the diploma to prove it. And the student loans.

I’m truly pleased to read about Turgeman’s success at AFI, and with his new film. But the Forward’s error upsets me tremendously, for it overlooks the fact that I helped to pave the way for religious freedom at AFI — as did my friend Oscar, who was a year above me and also wouldn’t work on Shabbat because he is a 7th Day Adventist.

I come from an Orthodox family in Baltimore and attended yeshiva day schools my entire life. In fact, a large part of my admissions essay when I first applied to AFI, back in 2002, centered on the fact that I was (and still am) an Orthodox Jew trying to make it in the film world.

I have spent a lot of time and energy over the past several years proving that religious Jews have just as much skill and talent as other film professionals, and should not have to compromise on things like Shabbat and Kashrut in order to make it in this world. I may not have produced a controversial movie, but I was the first student to introduce Orthodox Judaism to the school while successfully completing the producing program.

I even came back to work at AFI, where I strive to have a positive influence on the culture while maintaining my principles — something that has helped me gain the respect of my colleagues.

Shani Rotkovitz
Los Angeles, Calif.

Pick Alternative Name For ‘Ultra-Orthodox’

I agree with opinion writer Abbott Katz that an alternative term for “ultra-Orthodox” is needed (“Stop Calling Me an ‘Ultra-Orthodox Jew’,” April 11). My reason for so agreeing is that the term is linguistically inaccurate.

“Ultra” means “beyond,” not “extremely” or “very” or “fervently.” Thus, the invisible wavelengths on the spectrum that are beyond violet are called “ultra-violet.” On old maps, unknown areas were designated as “non plus ultra” — “no more beyond.” An act that is beyond the legal authority of a corporation or public body is called “ultra vires,” or beyond the powers.

I doubt that anyone would seriously claim that the “ultra-Orthodox” are not Orthodox; rather, they are viewed as more so, as measured by distinctive dress and other ways of distancing themselves from the rest of society, than those who are “modern Orthodox.” A more accurate term for someone who is acknowledged to be Orthodox but regarded, by the person using the term, as excessively so would be “hyper-Orthodox,” as in “hyperborean” (of or pertaining to the farthest north) or “hypercritical.”

It would be more conducive to mutual understanding, however, to avoid using what Katz refers to as “facile, freighted adjectives.” In response to his call for something else, I would suggest simply using the Hebrew words “Haredi” and “Haredim.” While these words might not be familiar to all English speakers, it was not so long ago that the words “Hasid” and “Hasidim” did not appear in English dictionaries either, but they have now been accepted as English words.

I think it safe to predict that “Haredi” and “Haredim” will also pass that barrier, given frequent enough use.

Michael Ticktin
Roosevelt, N.J.

In a recent post to a Haaretz blog, a South Korean blogger described Haredim as “Quaker Jews.” That got me thinking.

The Society of Friends were pejoratively called Quakers 350 years ago because they “trembled before the Lord.” “Tremble” and “quake” are synonyms. On the other hand, Haredim — literally, in Hebrew, those who tremble — specifically chose their name because they “tremble before the Lord.”

So let the us drop the name Quakers for the Society of Friends. They do not appreciate being called that. Let’s instead adopt the name Quakers — which is, after all, English for “Haredim” — for the ultra-Orthodox.

Voila, we make two religious groups happy.

Menachem Petrushka
Queens, N.Y.

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