October 21, 2005

Don’t Turn Communal Back on Jewish Felons

I am very disappointed that no one in the Jewish community seems willing to help Barry Gibbs (“Out of Jail, Mob Fall Guy Pines for a Shul and Some Shellfish,” October 7). After all, we help Israel, Holocaust victims, Jewish arts and culture, Jewish education, hurricane and tsunami victims, and the people of Darfur. Why can’t we help one needy ex-con who never should have been a convict in the first place?

I’m concerned by our inability as a community to help individuals, and in particular fellow Jews, who are in or recently have been released from prison. I, too, am incarcerated — although unlike Gibbs, I am guilty of my crime — and for the past four years I have been ignored by almost all the individuals, organizations, synagogues and rabbis I have contacted. Not even a “sorry, we can’t help you” response. Just ignored.

The only real exceptions are the Aleph Institute and two wonderful rabbis I have met since my incarceration began: Rabbi Yaakov Zirkind of Morristown, N.J., and Rabbi Tom Gutherz, formerly of Lynchburg, Va.

Where is the forgiveness and acceptance, the outreach and the plain human compassion for people who have erred but who truly are baalei teshuvah — for people who, with a little help and encouragement, once again will be contributing and upstanding citizens of both the American and Jewish community?

The Christian organizations do this so well, mining prisons for lost souls. Why don’t we do the same?

Where, at least, is a response to our letters and cries for help? The most difficult aspect of incarceration — whether the inmate is a Soviet refusenik or an American felon — is the isolation.

In this season of forgiveness, why can’t we forgive?

Douglas Smith

Inmate #FN0167

State Correction Institution Camp Hill

Camp Hill, Pa.

Cantor’s Backing of Big Tobacco Taints Record

Although I am generally proud to see Jewish politicians succeed, I am troubled that Rep. Eric Cantor’s legislative career is marked by his tireless advocacy on behalf of the tobacco industry (“Jewish Representative Rises in House’s Republican Ranks,” October 7). Cantor has boasted of his role in recruiting Philip Morris to move its headquarters to Virginia, and as both a state legislator and congressman he has gone out of his way to help shield the tobacco industry — and Philip Morris, in particular — from legal responsibility for its actions.

As the ongoing lawsuit by the Justice Department against the major cigarette manufacturers has revealed, the tobacco industry engaged in a decades-long campaign to hide the harms of smoking and secondhand smoke, to manipulate nicotine levels in cigarettes, to market to youth and to suppress the production of potentially safer cigarettes. During those decades, cigarettes killed millions of Americans. Smoking still kills more than 400,000 Americans each year. It’s disturbing to have a front person for this lethal industry as the most powerful Jewish voice in Congress.

Micah Berman

Executive Director, Tobacco Public Policy Center

Capital University Law School

Columbus, Ohio

Divine Etymology

In the October 14 On Language column, Philologos ridicules the Orthodox custom of spelling the divine moniker as “G-d” in English (“The St. Mary Hasidim?”). But it makes total sense to me.

Orthodox Judaism is deaf to about a third of Torah — truths that have been “revealed” since 1564, when the Shulchan Aruch was first published. Embracing only two-thirds of God’s truth, they write only two-thirds of the English word representing God.

Rabbi Jonathan Gerard

Temple Covenant of Peace

Easton, Pa.

Israel’s Survival Reason For Faith in Covenant

Literary critic Harold Bloom claims that he does not trust in the covenant (“I Will Be Absent Whenever and Wherever I Choose,” October 7). As the major basis for that argument, he uses the statistics that there are 14 million Jews and about 1.5 billion Muslims and an equal number of Christians. He makes reference to fact that the State of Israel is in a bad neighborhood and that “whether there will be more than a handful of self-identified Jews a century from now seems to be very problematic.”

It seems to me that Jews always have lived in a bad neighborhood — whether now, thousands of years ago or at any time in between — yet we have survived and today we are more secure than at any time in history. Empires more powerful than ancient Israel have long since disappeared, while we still can boast of a thriving and powerful democratic state of our own that our grandparents would not have believed possible.

Today, Jews are well represented in the arts, sciences, economics and medicine. We have won Nobel Prizes out of proportion to our numbers. And we have influence in the most powerful nation in the world.

Considering that so many people would like to see the Jewish state destroyed, wouldn’t it be fair to ascribe the survival — no less the thriving — of the Jewish state and the Jewish people to an act of God and His holding up His end of the covenant?

Why the future of the Jewish people and the State of Israel is so bleak to Bloom is beyond me, as is his opinion of the covenant. Has Bloom seen any Romans around lately?

Morris Altschuler

Rockville, Md.

How To Best Improve Jerusalem’s Image

Israel 21c head Larry Weinberg’s comments, as quoted in an October 14 article (“Israel Aims To Improve Its Public Image”), are a poor attempt to paint The Israel Project’s work in one broad brush under “crisis management.”

In fact, The Israel Project’s work is much broader than Weinberg would have Forward readers believe. Our goal is to help to strengthen Israel’s image in the world. In addition to providing reporters with factual information about Israel, The Israel Project crafts positive messages about Israel. This is based on focus groups and national polls conducted by respected pollsters.

We also believe that, while the long-term branding of Israel is important, one cannot ignore the current facts on the ground — namely, the conflict. However, branding is a very long-term project that will grow legs only when the conflict in the Middle East is in the past.

It is clear from Weinberg’s comments about The Israel Project’s work that he just doesn’t understand what we do.

Michael Gelman


The Israel Project

Washington, D.C.

The Forward reports that “some pro-Israel activists and officials argue it is better to avoid any discussion of the conflict with the Palestinians.” We are not among those activists.

Israel 21c believes that issues related to the conflict should and must be addressed by the government of Israel and by those it asks to help in that effort. Crisis communications is necessary; the conflict must be “spun.” The media’s automatic focus on things that explode makes it critical to respond; the 800-pound gorilla cannot be ignored.

Yet we believe that the old paradigm of watchdogging the media and conflict crisis communications will lead Israel to a point where it is completely defined by the conflict. The new paradigm that we espouse adds the use of positive messages and imaging to define Israel as it is: a multidimensional society that each day adds value to the world.

Virtually all Americans know about the conflict. Shouldn’t they also know how their personal lives are enriched and made safer, more efficient and healthier by other facets of Israel?

We think it’s fair to say that the difference between the old and new paradigms is crystallized by the differing approaches taken by Israel 21c and The Israel Project. But it is incorrect to suggest that there is “a competition” between the two organizations. The Israel Project is a crisis communications group that has done some excellent work.

However, the comments of The Israel Proj- ect’s president, Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, offer useful insight into the difference. She is quoted as saying that the permanently assigned media “didn’t come to Israel to do a story about Israel beyond the conflict,” and she implies that they are there for the opposite reason. We, on the other hand, believe that those 400 reporters are in Israel to cover Israel. Period.

That the conflict often commands their attention is true, and that means the conflict needs to be spun. But after that, Israel’s best chance to improve its image is to proactively show the world all the other things Israel does that add value to life around the world.

The more than 2,700 stories with positive messages about Israel that Israel21c has placed in mainstream American media in the past three years shows that when you find stories relevant and compelling enough to American audiences, the media will indeed go beyond the conflict and cover them.

Simply put, we won’t change how Israel is perceived in the world until we change the way Israel is presented to the world.

Larry Weinberg

Executive Vice President


Sherman Oaks, Calif.

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October 21, 2005

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