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Letter February 10, 2006

Fighting the Good Fight

Arts and culture writer Paul Buhle’s January 27 review of Douglas Century’s biography of my uncle, boxing champion Barney Ross, noted that Barney “supported the Irgun and reportedly served indirectly as a gunrunner in Israel’s War of Independence” (“Elegy for a Fighter”).

I am not sure of Uncle Barney’s role in the Israeli War of Independence, although I would certainly be proud if he had been helpful in some way. What we do know, thanks to research by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, is that he was active in the Emergency Committee To Save the Jewish People of Europe, also known as the Bergson group.

The Emergency Committee used full-page newspaper ads, public rallies and Capitol Hill lobbying to pressure Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration to rescue Jews from Hitler. In one instance, Barney — who had just returned from his army service, where he earned a Silver Star for rescuing wounded comrades under fire — personally paid for the tickets of 150 soldiers to attend a fund-raising dinner for the Bergson group’s rescue campaign.

Uncle Barney was also active in another of the Bergson committees, the American League for a Free Palestine, which sought to rally American support for the creation of a Jewish state. He spoke at its rallies and chaired its George Washington Legion, which recruited American volunteers to aid the Irgun in its fight against the British in Mandatory Palestine.

The legion was patterned on the famous Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which had recruited Americans to fight against General Franco in the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s. One of the Bergson group’s newspaper ads featured a photo of Uncle Barney with this message from the boxing champ: “There is no such thing as a former fighter. We must all continue the fight.”

Barney Ross fought the good fight, inside and outside the ring. His efforts on behalf of Holocaust rescue and Jewish statehood offer a powerful and inspiring example that today’s Jewish athletes would do well to follow.

Audrey Cantor

Northbrook, Ill.

Reviewer Misreads Book

Arts and culture writer Tessa Brown’s January 27 review of my memoir, “The Book of Trouble: A Romance,” is a clumsy hatchet job that strings together a series of out-of-context quotes to contradict my expressed opinions (“A Little Too Intimate”). I never say that I think my romance with Islam is a “backdoor approach” to my Jewish background; that interpretation is a quote from a character in the book, and I comment after hearing it that “I am not convinced.”

At the end of my book, which to judge by Brown’s review she perhaps never reached, I correct my friend’s view: “My love affair with the Islamic world was a back door approach not to Judaism but to family.”

Brown complains that less than half my book revolves around the affair itself, despite the subtitle “A Romance”; she apparently feels cheated of the full quota of excitement she anticipated. But as more attentive critics have noticed, my romance is as much with Afghanistan, and with the traditional family life I found there, as with one man. Even the jacket copy makes that clear.

Nor do I know why Brown believes my connection with Judaism to be “tenuous.” I don’t think ran an excerpt from “The Book of Trouble” because of my tenuous link with Judaism, nor did I go back to study Hebrew and religious texts in two semesters of adult education because Judaism was meaningless to me.

The larger question is why the Forward deemed it appropriate to have a book dealing with and aimed at readers of middle years reviewed by someone who hasn’t reached 20.

I could understand, perhaps, asking a college student to review a book about being in college. But a book about coming to terms with middle age? It’s an insult to all the fine book reviewers out there, whose years of reading, writing, living and learning have allowed them to hone their craft.

Some of these writers have not liked my books, but all of them have been more qualified to judge them than Brown.

Ann Marlowe

New York, N.Y.

Onus Is Now on Hamas

A February 3 editorial on Hamas’s election victory rushes to expose the blind spots and failures in the Bush administration’s Middle East policy (“What You Wouldn’t Know”). But what readers outside of Israel wouldn’t know if they read only the editorial is that here in Israel, things sometimes look rather different.

American pressure on the Palestinians to hold elections is being widely cited here as positive. The election places the onus of governance squarely on Hamas, which up until now has called the shots in Gaza and the West Bank without being subject to any mechanism of accountability to its own people.

From now on, Hamas is on notice that it will have to produce livelihoods and quality of life for its people, or else. While there is no imminent promise here of peace breaking out, neither is there an imminent threat of renewed war.

The alternative to peaceful elections, should the editorialist wish to search the Forward’s archives, is the kind of civil war that doomed the Lebanese to decades of bloodshed, and even now threatens to break out again.

Is that what the Forward, the United States or any sane Israeli would have wished to happen over here? Can anyone doubt that turning Gaza into a mini-Lebanon would have a disastrous effect on the daily security of Israeli citizens?

As for Iraq, no one here in Israel would take seriously the editorialist’s argument that only Saddam Hussein stood between Iran and its nuclear ambitions. Has India’s strategic power deterred Pakistan from pursuing its own bomb? Wasn’t it Russia, not to mention a few other Western powers, that has had much more to do with Iran’s current megalomania?

Iraq was the most serious regional threat to Israel in Saddam’s day, and over here we are all rather grateful that he’s gone. We all want the Iraqi chapter to come to an eventual closure, for everyone’s good, but we are not naive enough to believe that it would have been better for all concerned to have left Saddam in place.

Eli Lederhendler

Professor of American Jewish History and Institutions

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel

Desist Demonizing Gays

Opinion columnist Ami Eden must have been trying to show the severity of the Catholic ban of homosexuals from priesthood by contrasting the relatively compassionate words of Rabbi Joel Roth in 1992, words that identify backsliding Jews — who fail to keep kosher or to observe the Sabbath — with homosexual transgressors (“The Clothed Demonization of Gays,” December 9).

He skirts the fact that interfaith competitions demand the one-upmanship statements every 15 years or so in order to keep the respective flocks in line. Two thousand years ago, Judaism lost its claim to a loving God by default. By clothing their Deity in love, Christians can come down hard on gays “for their own good.” Jews have only our text and the terrible ramifications for those who are gay “for the good of the community.”

If Jews are to meet the Catholic challenge of compassion, we must not equivocate with intellectual and theological muscle, as Roth did. The killing of gays or those perceived to be gay in the name of our book and that of the church proves that the clergy of both faiths are unaware that their decisions about gays are matters of life and death.

Jewish demonizing in 1992 gave the church permission to demonize in 2005. And those crazies on the street will see the institutional demonizing as permission to continue their own personal spiritual vendettas.

Bernard Goldberg

Sacramento, Calif.

Market Deed Sold Short

The January 20 article on the marketplace in Hebron omitted certain essential background aspects of the story (“Hebron Declared Closed Area as Settlers Clash With Troops”).

In 1807 Haim Bajaio purchased a 5-dunam plot adjacent to the five-century-old Jewish quarter. This property eventually became the home and synagogue of Hebron’s chief rabbi. In 1948, the Jordanians completely razed the Jewish quarter and the Avraham Avinu Synagogue. An Arab market was later constructed on the Jewish-owned property. After 1967, the structures in the market, which are not located in the Arab neighborhood, were leased to the Arab tenants until their contracts expired in the 1990s. These contracts were not renewed, due to security precautions.

Although the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the expulsion of the eight families living in the marketplace, the court recognized that the property is rightfully owned by the Hebron Jewish community. The community appealed the court’s original decision.

In the second ruling, two out of the three judges ruled that the buildings could be leased to Hebron’s Jewish community. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who ordered the expulsion of the families again despite the second ruling, seems to have the wrong impression of the court’s opinion.

Hebron is the second holiest city to Jews, who have had a presence in the city for more than 2,000 years. Palestinians, who have been responsible for so much violence and destruction to Hebron’s Jewish inhabitants in the past, will become more emboldened when they see an Israeli government so willing to give up sacred land for presumed peace and security.

When our religious connection to the land is eliminated, then everything in Israel — including Tel Aviv — can be traded.

Sean Lille

Scottsdale, Ariz.

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