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September 16, 2005

Majority Back Outreach

Our organization is attacked — or complimented — as “the most pro-outreach organization on the communal map” in a September 9 opinion article by two members of the Jewish In-Marriage Initiative, Jack Wertheimer and Steven Bayme (“Real Realism on Intermarriage”).

We who are working on the ground, outside the ivory towers, would like to know: What is an “in-marriage initiative”? Is it a series of programs causing actual change in people’s lives, the way outreach is? Or is it simply a “Just Say No” campaign by a small group of leaders whose people have long since passed them by?

Like a TV newscast giving “equal time” to 20 protesters even though the parade is 100,000 marchers strong, this debate gives unequal time to notions that are woefully outdated. The American Jewish Committee illustrated this gap in a survey, which found that only 39% of Jewish adults agreed with the statement “It would pain me if my child married a gentile,” and fully half thought “It is racist to oppose Jewish-gentile marriages.” More importantly, a whopping 81% said, “The Jewish community has an obligation to reach out to intermarried couples,” and according to 80%, “Intermarriage is inevitable in an open society.”

Jews are smart people, and smart Jewish leaders should listen to them. Instead, a small group of insiders looked at this data and decided that, no, the overwhelming majority of American Jews were simply wrong and needed “re-education.”

We support in-marriage, but recognize that intermarriage is inevitable in an open society. Trying to “change the Jews” in order to stop intermarriage is a strategy that ignores the most powerful factor behind the phenomenon: 97% of Americans. Triage and withdrawal are unacceptable solutions.

Outreach is about creating many more doorways into Jewish life for those who would join us. Take day schools, for example. Wertheimer and Bayme say that fewer than 3% of intermarried families have children in day school, but how many actually have been invited? The day schools in their movements won’t allow patrilineal children, yet they still unfairly beat them with this statistic.

Luckily theirs is not the majority response. We have the honor of working with amazing Jewish leaders all across North America who are looking to create those additional doorways into the Jewish community. We’re adding families to the community by welcoming rather than turning away, and by sharing what we love about Judaism — not what we fear about demographic trends.

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky

Executive Director

Paul Golin

Associate Executive Director

Jewish Outreach Institute

New York, N.Y.

Gaza Letter Misleading

A September 9 letter writer (“Peace Now Means Now”) presents absolutely nothing to back up the assertion that I was somehow misleading, in my September 2 opinion article in this paper, in stating that no one is suggesting that Israel should immediately be asked to make the same kind of sweeping territorial concessions in the West Bank that it just made in Gaza. The old and new Israeli Peace Now slogans that he cites are calls for a pursuit of peace that obviously will take time, not a plea for another unilateral pullout to take place tomorrow. Both sides are heading into election seasons and still need time to adjust to the new realities that disengagement has created for each of them. Expecting any bold new initiatives at this point is unrealistic. But it’s equally unrealistic to expect major reforms to take place in Gaza without taking into account the broader political, security and economic realities of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, which was my main point.

For more than 25 years, Peace Now, in Israel, and Americans for Peace Now have consistently called for an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, preferably through negotiations. We believe that at the end of the day, the most secure border for Israel will be one based on the Green Line with minor, mutually agreed on adjustments. This is the only way to preserve Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state.

Mark Rosenblum

Founder and Policy Director

Americans for Peace Now

New York, N.Y.

Assess 9/11 Commission

After reading opinion writers Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton’s September 9 opinion article, my first thought was, “Who’s assessing the 9/11 Commission?” (“Reviewing Our Defenses, Four Years After 9/11”).

First they failed to deal with the issue of accountability, the end result of which can be clearly seen in the bureaucratic bungling of the federal, state and local response to Hurricane Katrina. Then they failed to report on “Able Danger” and significant aviation security information that was provided to them, especially with regard to Boston’s Logan International Airport. The smokescreen they used to cover their lapse was to label the information as “historically insignificant” because it didn’t fit their predetermined thought process — exactly the mindset they criticize. It’s a perfect example of failed imagination and failure to follow through on information provided.

Before the 9/11 commissioners attempt to assess anyone else, they ought to get their own act together. After they revise their report to incorporate “Able Danger” and the rest of the aviation security story, perhaps they can offer their assessment of others.

Brian Sullivan

Special Agent (Retired), New England Region

Federal Aviation Administration

Plymouth, Mass.

Second Opinions on Brith

Arts and culture writer Jay Michaelson’s September 2 review of Leonard Glick’s book “Marked in Your Flesh” was an interesting read, but I was surprised to learn that it is “well established” that circumcision reduces sexual pleasure (“A Little Off the Top”).

Only two studies of adult men ever have investigated this issue. The most recent study, the results of which were published in July in Urologia Internationalis, found reduced sexual pleasure in 18% of adult circumcision patients but improved sensation in 38%, with the remainder unchanged.

Michaelson also states that “without the foreskin’s protection, the glans of the penis is chafed and toughened, reducing sensitivity still more.” This is an old myth, with no basis in scientific evidence. The only study to directly address the toughening (keratinization) of the glans, which was published in the British Medical Journal in 2000, found no differences. The published studies of the sensitivity of the glans penis have all reported no differences.

Anti-circumcision activists are keen to promote these myths, but an objective look at the evidence does not support the idea of sexual harm from circumcision. From my own observations, however, many men are harmed psychologically by these very myths.

Jake Waskett

Manchester, England

Jay Michaelson states that the most important information in Leonard Glick’s book is that it “brings together the scientific consensus that, despite the claims of some, circumcision does diminish sexual pleasure.”

Being one of the few who had sex for 20-plus years with foreskin, and then, following my conversion to Judaism, had sex for 20 years without it, I must differ with the findings of science. Circumcision not only did not diminish pleasure, but enhanced and intensified it, as well.

While it may be true, as the reviewer observes, that “the foreskin is itself full of sensitive nerve endings, which never can be replaced,” sexual pleasure is not only, or even primarily, a matter of “nerve endings.” The pleasure derives from the love and delight in the other, which is being expressed sexually. If the love and delight are not present, whether a man has a foreskin or not doesn’t matter.

Julius Lester

Professor Emeritus, Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies

University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Belchertown, Mass.

As a pediatrician who has performed literally thousands of circumcisions, both “medical” and religious, during a 30-year period, it’s most distressing to read Jay Michaelson’s descriptions of a procedure that he wrongly tells us “every new parent knows is a brutal, bloody operation.” With skill and proper training and, most importantly, appropriate local analgesia, this simply doesn’t depict the current state of the art.

As with any surgical procedure, administration of anesthesia prior to operating should be mandatory. And this doesn’t mean a topical cream applied externally a half-hour prior, which may provide some numbness to the external skin only. Instead, a local so-called ring block, using 1% lidocaine, is infused through a tiny needle and provides for excellent numbing of the entire field.

Doctors and mohels can quickly learn this simple technique. The local adds no more than 30 to 60 seconds to the procedure and is fully acceptable by halachic authorities. With proper and effective anesthesia, I’ve had two or three boys yawn at me. Some actually sleep entirely through the procedure — no piercing screams, no helpless crying.

Indeed, the ideal in a brith milah, as with any surgery, is to produce as little pain as possible for the infant (and for his doting parents, grandparents, family and friends). Hence, the age-old emphasis on speed. But as I teach my residents when performing nonritual circumcisions, speed isn’t nearly as important as accuracy. If it takes an extra 30 to 60 seconds, that’s fine. The patient’s going to have to live with the results for the rest of his life.

Dr. Harry Romanowitz

Directory of Ambulatory Pediatrics

Stamford Hospital

Stamford, Conn.


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