October 28, 2005

Fund Ethiopian Efforts

After years of stonewalling and foot-dragging by the government of Israel and the Jewish Agency, it will take deeds, not more words, in order for success and not “the sad reality” to be the hallmark of Ethiopian Jewish aliyah (“Poverty and Crime Rates Reveal Israel’s Failure To Absorb Ethiopian Immigrants,” October 21).

We do not need studies to tell us that “unlike Russian immigrants, many of whom came to Israel with high-level job skills, the Ethiopians came from a subsistence economy and were ill prepared to work in a modern, industrialized country.” We know that. What we also need to know, and act on, is that this population has the capacity and ambition to be a great strength for Israel and the entire Jewish people. But, tempus fugits. We know what we need to do, we just need to do it, now.

Success is more than just wishful thinking: In less than a generation, more than 3,000 Ethiopian Israelis have become university graduates. When young Ethiopian Israelis go into an academic or academic/technical track from an early age, with intensive support through high school, they succeed. It costs approximately $30,000 to provide one student with intensive academic support from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. That’s 14 years of education for the cost of one year of incarceration — a bargain.

Olim from Ethiopia arrive in Israel at a vast disadvantage: in poor health, often malnourished, poorly educated, with little or no Hebrew and generally unprepared for life in a stressful modern society. Even today, in Addis Ababa, Jewish children beg for food and faint in the streets. And even with the Israeli embassy close to the hovels of the Jewish families, not a single Israeli Hebrew speaker teaches Hebrew to children or adults. Months and years pass. Where are the pragmatists among the policymakers and funders?

It costs an average of $300 per person per year, less than a dollar a day, to fund humanitarian aide and Israel-ready programs in Ethiopia — a bargain.

There is no need to re-invent wheels. There already is an existing infrastructure of services and advocacy groups. We know what works — we just need to do it, now.

Ricki Lieberman

Former Chief Operating Officer

North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry

New York, N.Y.

Mount Calvary Hasidim

Kudos to On Language columnist Philologos for debunking the myth that Satmar means “St. Mary” (“The St. Mary Hasidim?,” October 14). Kudos, too, for pointing out how absurd it is to sanctify the word “God” by spelling it “G-d,” as if the English language were sacred.

As it happens, the name of Ger — Gora Kalwarja — really is a Christian reference, so Ger Hasidim are “Mount Calvary Hasidim.” Fortunately, nobody cares.

Paul Glasser

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Superpower Hubris

One of the things that makes Americans disliked throughout the free world is their hubris — as exemplified in David Klinghoffer’s October 21 opinion column — in believing their country and system is the best of all possible ones, instead of one among many (“So Help Us God”). The ascendancy of George W. Bush has made this even more blatant.

Canadians and citizens of other democracies choose to immigrate to the United States for many reasons, mostly economic. Jews went down to Egypt not because Egypt was better, but because it was richer. Jews left Judea to emigrate Babylon, not because Babylon was better, but because it was richer. Jews emigrated from the blackness of the shtetl to Vienna not because Vienna was morally superior, but because it was richer.

Confusing wealth and superpower status with having a better system characterized Egypt, Babylon, Rome, London and Austro-Hungary. Surely America can avoid the same error as these other superpowers — or perhaps, as Klinghoffer has demonstrated, it can’t.

Eric Mendelsohn

Toronto, Ontario

The Scientific Method

Stem-cell research, because of the ongoing argument on the beginning of life, is certainly of concern to rigorous observers of certain religions, but these observers are not the only ones who are concerned with this ethical problem (“Beware of Stem-cell Foes Putting Scientific Method Under Microscope,” October 21). I find it a partisan manipulation by opinion writers Arthur Caplan and David Magnus to tag this opposition as “religious zealots” and to guess how they will respond to further investigation and attempts at resolution of beliefs.

Caplan and Magnus are obviously attempting to bring into the equation creationists, painting all who question orthodox Darwinian evolution as zealots. There are members of the scientific community who question the wholesale acceptance of Darwinism — and interestingly, one of the main objectors of the system would have been Charles Darwin himself.

Darwin said that if his theory could be disproved in one single instance then the whole theory collapses. There are scientists who have discovered that Darwinism does not hold true in microbiology as it does in gross anatomy. There are those who see Darwinism as having incongruity, as in the case of the Cambrian explosion of species.

Though professionally of the scientific community, through the years I have been astonished that some scientists are of a closed mind and start their investigations to prove something that exists within the orthodox parameters of their discipline and not as independent, disinterested thinkers.

And how much more discouraging it is when the narrow mindedness comes from members of the indispensable bioethics staffs of prestigious universities. This is something that truly saddens me, as it places ideologues in the driver’s seat of rovers designed for open exploration.

In this respect, I confess to being Socratic. Though not an ideologue or religious fanatic, Socrates questioned and deflated the current popular balloons of professors of wisdom and celebrated savants. Through the years, I found that we scientists are prone to dismiss leaning from the past as being archaic, invalid in today’s times.

There is no better time than now to use unemotional understanding to solve our differences. The truth so often lies in that no-man’s land between the trenches of contending partisans. It is hubristic to brand all contrary opinion as intolerant, just as considering all advancing science as Frankensteinian. This is an exercise of hubris that insures irresolution.

Perhaps worst of all is the reduction of all opposition to the level of contempt, making it easy to despise and to hate. In the name of fairness and in the search for truth, we must reason with both sides of the aisle — else we are condemned to preach only to the choir.

Dr. Spero Katsivelos

New York, N.Y.

Shedding Our Vanities

For many traditional Jews whose yiches come from the poor and relatively uneducated Jews of Eastern Europe, Kol Nidre preparation meant finishing the day’s work early, coming home to a family meal and getting to shul on time to hear Kol Nidre (“The Yom Kippur Pedicure,” October 7). In shul, we try to shed the year’s vanities, make ourselves more humble and reflect on the relationship between man and man, and God and man.

Each year our family receives a letter from Fast Forward writer Daphne Merkin’s mother requesting help for a worthwhile charity. Giving such charity — instead of spending money for an expensive pedicure — would, I feel, satisfy Merkin’s soul, lessen her confusion and raise her self-esteem.

Bernard Kabakow

New York, N.Y.

The Wrong Answer

The Jewish groups that recently sided with Answer are as disgraceful an exhibition of Jewish self-hate as I have seen in many years (“Jewish Protesters Counter Anti-Israel Groups at D.C. Anti-war Rally,” September 30).

I am a Methodist minister, and a 1940 graduate of Union Theological Seminary. During my time at the seminary I was an officer in the National Council of Methodist Youth, and I represented that organization in several United Front initiatives, including the American Youth Congress, World Youth Congress and United Student Peace Committee. I was present at the United Student Peace Committee meeting when “comrades” knifed Joe Lash, who had made the mistake of publicly criticizing the Soviet invasion of Finland.

Some of us came out of those days of struggle in the United Front with a lesson to be engraved in granite: You do not play games with a tiger; his business is vivisection, and he’ll get you first.

It is a lesson the coordinator of United for Peace and Justice would do well to heed. I find myself suffering from an acute case of déjà vu as I watch this game about support for Israel.

Franklin Littell

Merion Station, Pa.

Anti-war Double Talk

Cindy Sheehan may say that she does not blame the death of her son on Israel, but you are judged by the friends you keep (“Anti-war Activist Addresses Congregation,” October 14). She is a close associate of Roy McGovern, a former CIA analyst and frequent supporter of Gold Star Families for Peace whose agenda is to blame the war in Iraq on three things: oil, Israel and logistics. She supports him and travels with him, and should therefore be judged by the company she keeps with him.

Sheehan is disingenuous and is speaking out of both sides of her mouth.

Allyson Rowen Taylor

Associate Director

American Jewish Congress, Western Region

Santa Monica, Calif.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.
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October 28, 2005

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