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October 31, 2008

Feminists Don’t Speak For All of Us on Palin

Your October 24 article “Sarah Palin Hits a Nerve Among Jewish Women, But It’s a Raw One” includes the opinion of Baila Olidort, editor of, who is quoted as saying that even though Palin’s “views are aligned quite well with traditional Jewish values,” she still has had second thoughts about Palin due to, as your article paraphrases, “Palin’s weak interview performances.”

As a woman in the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, I find that most women I know are concerned more with Palin’s views aligning well with traditional values than they are with what Olidort deems to be weak interview performances.

Palin may be new to her role, but she has proven herself to be a woman who learns quickly. Olidort might be referring to some early interviews, but in the debate with Joe Biden, Palin — under tremendous pressure — was brisk and firm, focused and factual, in addition to being friendly and feminine.

The last adjective is probably what bothers feminists the most. Her entire presentation is contrary to being a feminist. Palin is feminine. She exudes femininity. Palin jokes about “Joe six pack” without hostility because she is comfortable with men — but does not need to vie with men to exercise her integrity. I can see why Sarah Palin would strike a raw nerve in the already angry feminist. Palin is accomplishing what they all dreamed of, without buying into traditional feminist issues.

Palin is similar to Chabad women, and not only because she often wears skirts. Chabad women know what it takes to run a family with five children (plus) and to welcome grandchildren at the same time. The experience is a character-building one involving multi-tasking, peace negotiations and fiscal management — skills that would serve a vice president well.

Aliza Karp
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Your article on Sarah Palin ends by quoting New York University professor Lynne Bermont, who captures the negative sentiments expressed by the women cited in the article. Bermont excoriates Governor Palin as being “antithetical” to a tradition that “valorizes ethical integrity and intellectual activity.”

But what greater show of ethical integrity could one have than to bring a Down’s Syndrome pregnancy to fruition because terminating the birth would have violated one’s moral principles? And what snobbery to criticize a woman who ousted a corrupt governing establishment to become governor of her state by suggesting that she lacks integrity! Perhaps Palin isn’t an intellectual, but neither was Harry Truman.

Kenneth S. Dannett
West Nyack, N.Y.

Thank TV for Tolerance

Your October 24 editorial “Getting Beyond Bias” is valuable and, I think, very accurate. I would, however, like to correct one point in it: You credit increased tolerance among the young to “population shifts and the ubiquity of the Internet.”

While these factors are certainly important, they omit the largest cultural factor: television. According to the most recent data, television watching is still by far the most popular activity in the United States. The average American watches more than four hours per day, which is much more time than is spent on the Internet, or on much of anything else for that matter. Television reflects and alters how we see ourselves and how we are seen. English is the most popular second language in the world, due in no small part to television.

If television programming and advertising had not radically changed their representation of blacks and other minorities from what it had been 40 or 50 years ago, our newfound (although admittedly still inadequate) tolerance would never have happened.

Dave Mollen
Union, N.J.

The Press Won’t Stop

Certainly this is a challenging time for new publications (“New Publications, Launched With Fanfare, Find They Can’t Survive,” October 24). But it is also a season of great innovation and growth among Jewish publications. Faced with industry-wide declines in print readership, editors and publishers in the Jewish press are looking forward and developing new and creative ways to deliver information to our readers.

Collectively, we are devoted to sharing resources and facing, open-eyed, the changing nature of contemporary communication. We are blessed not only with a group of young and creative professionals, but also a solid core of devoted readers who care deeply about the stories we cover.

Elana Kahn-Oren
American Jewish Press Association
The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle
Milwaukee, Wis.

It’s Not ‘Universal,’ Alas

You noted in your editorial that we are about to celebrate “the 60th anniversary of a historic milestone, the signing in December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” which “spelled out for the first time in history an agreed international standard by which governments may be judged for their treatment of their own citizens” (“Return to Durban,” October 17).

Alas! In fact, the Universal Declaration is not universal at all, and the “agreed international standard” is a myth!

On the contrary, the Islamic countries subscribe to the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. The Cairo Declaration asserts that Islam is superior to all other religions and that the only source of human rights is Islamic sacred law, the Sharia. There is just no compatibility between our “Universal Declaration” and the Cairo Declaration.

Former Iranian president Ali Khamenei said: “When we want to find out what is right and what is wrong we do not go to the United Nations; we go to the Holy Koran. For us, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is nothing but a collection of mumbo-jumbo by disciples of Satan.” The creator of the Islamic Republic of Iran and one of the most influential figures in 20th-century Islam, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, said: “What they call human rights is nothing but a collection of corrupt rules worked out by Zionists to destroy all true religions.”

Let us be under no illusions about the universality of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Much of the world will not be celebrating its 60th anniversary.

Carl Goldberg
Tempe, Ariz.

Yes, I Am Jewish

I, too, have been stopped by bearded men in black coats asking me if I’m Jewish (“‘Are You Jewish?’” October 17). If I say that I am, I am asked to put on tefillin and say a bracha *in the Chabad mitzvah-mobile. My Hebrew reading is still passable after so many years from my yeshiva days. What is my response? If I’m not in a hurry, I say yes and do it. Why? Because it makes *them feel good. If I’m in a hurry, I say that I’m not Jewish to avoid being pestered. If a gentile were to ask me if I’m Jewish, I would never deny it.

I love being Jewish, even though I am totally secular and an avowed atheist. So what makes me Jewish, outside of my circumcision, my bar mitzvah, my children’s bar mitzvahs, etc.? I am proud to be a part of a great people that has introduced some of the most humanitarian and beautiful ideas in the world; a people that has resurrected a superb and ancient language; a people that has produced one of the world’s most beautiful pieces of literature (the Torah); and, finally, a people that the Nazis tried to exterminate because the Jewish way of looking at life was in direct contrast to their own (I am a Holocaust survivor).

With all due respect to writer Dani Shapiro, I really do hope that the next time she is asked by a “bearded man in a top hat” if she is Jewish, she will answer yes, say the bracha, go on with her life (no need for a mea culpa article in the Forward) and feel good about having done the right thing.

Henry Stark
Chicago, Ill.

ACLU’s Busy at Home

Your article “U.S. Mounting Effort To Counter Limits on Speech Critical of Islam” (October 10) correctly identifies international “defamation of religion” resolutions as one of the most troublesome developments in human rights. The “defamation” movement does not promote tolerance as advertised but seeks to control speech for political purposes.

The article unfortunately suggests, however, that some “free speech advocacy groups,” and specifically the American Civil Liberties Union, have, for some unstated reason, been reluctant to come on board in opposing international “defamation of religion” efforts.

There is a simple explanation that could have been provided in your article. The ACLU’s mandate simply does not extend to civil liberties issues in foreign countries. This does not mean that those issues are unimportant, and it certainly does not imply indifference to speech-suppressing activities that take place elsewhere. The ACLU’s international activities are principally limited to holding the American government accountable for its own behavior — such as at Guantanamo.

T. Jeremy Gunn
Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief
American Civil Liberties Union
Washington, D.C.

At Survivors’ Service

I would like to clarify some issues raised by your article on the transfer of International Tracing Service records to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (“More Controversy-Plagued Holocaust Records Transferred to Museum,” October 3, 2008).

The museum led the effort to open the archive precisely because Holocaust survivors were for decades unable to obtain information in a timely way, if at all, from ITS. Now, thanks to the museum’s efforts, the material is available, and since January 2008, we have responded to more than 7,000 inquiries. The museum has always responded to requests submitted remotely by survivors and their families. This policy long pre-dates the acquisition of ITS materials. No survivor has ever had to travel to Washington, D.C., to receive information from ITS or the millions of other pages of documentation at the museum.

Concerning online access, the museum is receiving a copy of the ITS archive in a format that does not allow its pages to be searched using an Internet search engine such as Google. The archive was created in the 1950s with no intention of it being accessible outside of ITS headquarters in Bad Arolsen, Germany. The copies being received are digital pictures of documents. Making them searchable online would take years. But survivors do not have years. Getting information to survivors quickly has always been the museum’s top priority. While survivors are welcome to come to Washington to search the records themselves, at this juncture the best way to get them the information they need is for trained researchers to work with them, in person or remotely, and to search the archive on their behalf. Every other institution receiving the material has reached the same conclusion.

The museum will continue to ensure that every survivor who needs information will receive it in the shortest possible time. Survivors can visit or call the museum’s registry of Holocaust survivors at 1-866-912-4385.

Michael Haley Goldman
Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Holocaust Survivors
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Washington, D.C.


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