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July 4, 2008

Not All Prisoners Are ‘Underbelly of Society’

Rabbi Lon Moskowitz is quoted in a June 13 article as saying, “We work with the underbelly of society, the spiritually void, the morally empty” (“Demand for Kosher Cuisine Swells Ranks of Jewish Prison Chaplains”).

I am a 64-year-old inmate in the federal penal system, and I don’t feel that I am the underbelly of society. I am well educated, have worked to try to improve the society I live in, have been an activist in community causes, supported efforts to stop oppression and end discrimination against both my own people and other peoples, contributed generously to charities and Jewish causes with money I earned working 60 hours a week for decades.

I don’t feel I live in a spiritual void. I have been a member of an Orthodox congregation for nearly 50 years, have taken many adult education classes, recognize the intricate relationship between Jewish identity, affiliates, spirituality, religion and mankind. I fight with God regularly, but would support with all my being those would interfere with a relationship between a mortal and God.

As for morally empty, I suppose you may have me here — if morality were not a fluid process being regularly influenced and redefined by society’s changing mores, self-interest and reinterpretations of God, good and evil. How nice it would be to live in a world of absolutes.

Monty Schwartz
I.D.# 90921-038
Federal Correctional Institution Butner Low
Butner, N.C.

Culinary Tour of Shavout Is a Treat

Aaron Kagan’s June 6 Fast Forward article on Shavuot foods was delightful and delicious (“Beyond Blintzes: A Culinary Tour of Shavuot”).

Kagan gave me an insight into the many cultural differences in the way the holiday is celebrated in other parts of the world, and in the many fabulous foods used to symbolize the numerical value for the Hebrew words for “ladder” and “Sinai.”

For those of us who have no knowledge of the way Jews in other lands enjoy this feast, the article was most enlightening. Adding all those marvelous recipes at the end of the article only helped to enhance my desire to try my hand at what those of other nations do so well.

Ellie Cohen
Coral Springs, Fla.

Motivation of Kennedy Assassin Overstated

Opinion writer Jeffrey Salkin overstates the case that Sirhan Sirhan killed Robert F. Kennedy because Kennedy was pro-Israel (“Remember What Bobby Kennedy Died For,” June 13). Sirhan was a disturbed individual who was, indeed, a non-religious Arab nationalist, anti-Israel and saw himself as Jordanian. (The word “Palestinian” had not yet come into vogue among Arab-Americans.)

However, Sirhan’s statements and conduct immediately after the shooting don’t quite fit the case that Sirhan was primarily motivated to assassinate Kennedy for those reasons. For example, Sirhan’s diary entries had revealed he wanted to kill Kennedy before he read or saw anything specific about Kennedy’s views on Israel.

In the definitive book on the assassination, “The Killing of Robert F. Kennedy,” Dan Moldea notes that Sirhan had spoken with a pro-Arab person after the assassination, who likely inadvertently connected some dots for Sirhan. Sirhan claimed after the assassination that he felt betrayed by Kennedy for saying, if elected president, he would send jets to Israel. However, Kennedy did not say that publicly until May 23, and Sirhan’s diaries again reveal he wanted to kill Kennedy before that date.

And if Sirhan was really trying to strike a blow for Arab nationalism, then why did he not say something favoring Arab nationalism or against Israel as he was shooting Kennedy? Nor did Sirhan say anything about those subjects as he was being apprehended and arrested. Instead, he was essentially emotionless, which makes some believe Sirhan was acting under hypnosis, self-induced or otherwise.

Therefore, while it remains reasonable to say Sirhan was at least partly motivated to kill Kennedy based upon Sirhan’s Arab nationalist positions, the evidence is murkier than Salkin implies.

Mitchell Freedman
Poway, Calif.

Take Syria Speculation With a Grain of Salt

On this page last year, I took exception to an opinion article by Martin van Creveld in which he spelled out what I thought was a preposterous scenario for an imminent and potentially successful war by Syria against Israel in the summer of 2007 (“War Clouds Gather Over the Golan,” March 9). Now van Creveld is back with quite a different scenario, blaming last year’s false speculation about war on an Israeli media “buzzing with gloomy predictions” (“Peace Is Worth the Risk Of Withdrawing From the Golan,” June 6).

Judging by the earlier opinion article, van Creveld was part of the rampant sensationalism last year. So while I agree with him now when he writes that “another Syrian attempt to overrun the Golan Heights would be tantamount to suicide,” why should I believe any of his continued speculation?

Paul Golin
New York, N.Y.


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