Letter April 28, 2006

Support Rally Instead Of Predicting Its Size

Frankly, an April 21 article on the national rally called by the Save Darfur Coalition is a new one on me — critiquing the turnout at an event before it happens, deploring the absolutely unknown size of a rally because it is not likely to be as big as others in people’s memory, quoting people already disappointed in the effort before it occurs (“Major Effort To Stir Action on Darfur Lowers Sights”). The Forward’s Monday morning quarterbacking 12 days before the rally has left me almost speechless — but not quite.

On behalf of those Jewish communities from Detroit to Boston that are ordering extra buses as I write; the congregations on the West Coast sending people by plane; the brilliant and passionate rabbinic exhortations being delivered each Sabbath across the United States; the strong multi-faith campus organizers; the commitment from the Catholic bishop of Washington, a bipartisan group of Congress members, and the students at day schools throughout the northeast who will be there to speak against genocide — on behalf of all them, I must protest. They and the Save Darfur Coalition are appropriately proud of the movement they have built and the rally they have planned in just four months.

We don’t know how many people will be on the Mall in Washington on April 30 to stop the genocide in Darfur; and we can hope there will be more than the 20,000 the Forward has pre-announced. What we do know is that each of them will represent many others newly attuned to this outrage that the media has barely covered, that this rally will be only one step in an ongoing mobilization of people, religious institutions, campuses and elected officials determined to learn, educate others and protest about this horror until the violence stops.

The Forward should continue to expend energy appealing to people of conscience to join the rally to save lives in Darfur, rather than trying to predict attendance. We know that movements build because people are prepared to take risks, that the government has already registered how much more concern there is about Darfur than there was six months ago, that Margaret Mead got it right when she observed, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Ruth Messinger

Executive Director

American Jewish World Service

New York, N.Y.

Remember the Heart And Soul of Lost Shul

How thought provoking are the words of Fast Forward columnist Jenna Weissman Joselit describing the destruction of the First Roumanian-American Congregation, Shaarey Shamoyim (“Mourning the Loss of a Lower East Side Jewel”). I feel her sense of loss. I identify with the anguish that surrounds this conclusion of a piece of Judaic history.

We need to remember and revere our past. We need to respect what those who came before us did to create a Jewish life for their children and grandchildren. We have experienced too much destruction, too much heartache, too much pain. And now this.

We need to remember all that has gone before us. We need to write down the history of our people so that future generations don’t just see a new condominium, but realize that on this spot American Jewish history existed, contributing to our future, helping us build our lives.

It will keep this article by Joselit. I will read it time and time again. I will remember the contributions of those who came before us. I will hope that today’s generation of our people will devote themselves to carrying on this tradition. The structure may be gone, but its heart and soul lives within every caring, thinking, feeling Jew.

Rabbi Howard Simon

Temple Emanu-El

Sarasota, Fla.

When Bagels Were Sacramental Food

In her April 21 column (“Feed Me, Seymour”), the East Village Mamele reports, “Besides being nourishing, food tells us who we are and where we came from. We have our ritual foods — our matzo, our challah, our latkes and hamentashen.”

This brings up the whole notion of what is Jewish food. For example, latkes are made from potatoes, which were unknown outside of the Americas until the 16th century. Hanukkah is a much older holiday than that.

Forward readers might like to know that since about 1947, there have been annual latke versus hamentashen debates held at leading colleges and universities. The first one was held at the University of Chicago. Our oldest daughter, a professor of mathematics, was assigned the task of defending hamentashen at her local debate in the five-college area of western Massachusetts.

Oddly enough, it seems that the organizers in the math department didn’t realize that she was Jewish when she was given the debating job. The debate has become a kind of academic cultural phenomenon, not just a Jewish activity.

Finally, there is some practical use for “ritual foods.” When I was on active duty in the Air Force in the early 1970s, we would keep the bagels, cream cheese and lox in a box in a refrigerator, protected against predation from the rest of the squadron by the legend: “Jewish Sacramental Food.”

Steven Sidman

Scarborough, Maine

Communal Efforts To Help Romani Lacking

I was greatly disturbed by an April 21 article on the demise of the reparations fund for Romani Holocaust survivors (“Thousands of Romani Survivors Destitute After Reparations Fund Dries Up”). The Forward describes this as a tragedy and discusses the lack of organizational structure in the Romani community to protest this, but there is no mention of any active efforts inside or outside of the Jewish community to rectify the situation.

Sadly, I can only assume that this reflects reality, rather than an omission in the Forward’s reporting.

An editorial in the same issue rightly invokes the Warsaw Ghetto uprising to call on the Jewish community to rise up against the genocide in Darfur (“Rise Up and Remember”). Similarly, we must not forsake other more marginalized groups who suffered under the Nazi regime, like the Romani. Our community’s significant organizational resources undoubtedly can go a long way toward insuring a decent life for Romani survivors of the Nazi genocide.

Jeffrey Sharlein

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Practice Medicine With Skill and Compassion

Perhaps one of the most enlightening concepts to emerge from the field of sociology during the last half- century is to be found in Howard Becker’s “Outsiders,” which puts forth the proposition that many of life’s experiences are best understood from the perspective of those both inside and outside events.

In his April 14 Fast Forward column (“Springing Into Action”), Zackary Sholem Berger captures the unquestioning introjection of emotional insensitivity into the psyches of our physicians in training. As such, he seems unaware of the recurrent abhorrence to those outside his insider’s narrative: the initial “frown” by the resident whose chat was interrupted by a nurse’s concern over a dying patient; the “workplace banter” while the life of a husband, father, brother, friend… hung in the balance; the incompetent obscene specialist whom Berger feels compelled to shield, and finally, the reassurance of “the attending… that we should not beat ourselves up about the patient’s dying, that everything had been done the right way.”

Perhaps reflecting his own indoctrination, Berger attempts to anesthetize the reader’s pain with a reminder that those outside the code are the “uninitiated,” that the complete absence of any feelings whatsoever over a man’s death is sanctioned by a review and validation of the emergency protocol, as well as by the hollow reassurance of one’s superiors and peers.

My own rotation in a hospital emergency room was marked by a 23-year-old intern pointing to a noisily delirious homeless man and proclaiming for all to hear, “Get that SHPOS out of my E.R.” To the “unitiated,” SHPOS stands for “subhuman piece of s–t.” As in Berger’s experience, the insiders hardly blinked — though one outsider called an administrator, who authorized security to remove the doctor from the unit and subsequently to begin a course of psychotherapy.

I chose my personal physician after observing his expert and compassionate care of my terminally ill father-in-law. Great skill can only be enhanced by a genuine healer.

It seems premature and unfortunately self-serving for Berger to conclude, “For good or ill, this is the only ritual observed in every hospital on the death of a patient: going back to work.” Not so. Many facilities have well-developed thanatology programs, and the pioneering work of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has for decades humanized health care training.

Berger will be more likely to fulfill his “Medicine Mensch” title by replacing the musings of Robert Frost with the inspiration of Hillel (Pirkei Avot 2:6): “In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.”

Dr. Barry Panzer

Brooklyn, N.Y.

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Letter April 28, 2006

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