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October 13, 2004

Scholar No Amateur In a September 22 arts article, Gal Beckerman pays lip service to my book, “Roosevelt and the Holocaust: A Rooseveltian Examines the Policies and Remembers the Times,” casually mentioning it in a few sentences and essentially quoting an article from Publishers Weekly (“Reassessing FDR’s Legacy”). At least the reviewer at Publishers Weekly had the diligence and professionalism to read my book.

Contrary to Beckerman’s assertion, I’m not an amateur on the subject of Roosevelt. I’ve spent the better part of 25 years researching Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I’ve built an extensive private library. I’ve taught Roosevelt in high school and college for more than 15 years.

I’ve spoken publicly on Roosevelt for 20 years. I’ve been a board member of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute for nearly as long. There is a Robert L. Beir Education Center at Hyde Park, which ultimately will have close to 5,000 books from my personal library.

A who’s who of Roosevelt scholars — including Doris Kearns Goodwin, Alan Brinkley, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., James MacGregor Burns and William vanden Heuvel — did not take my book as lightly as Beckerman. These scholars offered their insights and are listed on the back of my book.

Beckerman has every right to critique my book as he sees fit, but at least he should have acknowledged the rigorous research that went into the project.

Robert Beir New York, N.Y.

On Being United Statesian

“Jewish” may look like an adjective, and therefore bears less freight than the noun-form “Jew,” which has many historical connotations, but then there are many other groups who share with the Jews an “adjectival” form of identification, especially in English.

For the most part, these are derivatives of the name of their country: for example, the Irish, the Danish, the Polish, the British, the Swedish (who are also Swedes), the Dutch (who hail from the Netherlands), and the Chinese, not to mention people who are Indian, French, Russian, Canadian, Israeli and so forth.

Even “American,” of course, is an adjectival form derived from “America,” though as Michael Walzer once pointed out, there is no country actually called that, only a United States of America.

But who would want to be called “United Statesish” or a “United Statesian”?

Eli Lederhendler Jerusalem, Israel

Reading Berel Lang’s October 6 opinion article reminded me that the old derogatory terms for Jews that were so common in an earlier era are now almost never heard (“You Can Take the Jew Out of Jewish… But You Probably Wouldn’t”).

Is this because the very word “Jew,” if said in a certain tone, is itself a “bad” word? And might newer euphemisms for “Jew” — “Zionist,” “neocon,” etc. — have replaced those earlier crude words?

Henry Srebrnik Department of Political Studies University of Prince Edward Island Charlottetown, Canada

A Service To Kvell About

After reading about the Yom Kippur soiree cum service at the Edgar Bronfman residence, I could only wonder whether God was also kvelling (“Bronfman ‘Kvells,’ Debuts New Holiday Services,” October 6).

If those in attendance at the Bronfman service are indeed serious about wanting to understand the themes of the High Holidays, I invite them to join me next year where I conduct services — in a nursing home, where most of the people are frail, vulnerable and in varying conditions of brokenness, and where the words “who will live and who will die” resonate every year with a unique immediacy.

Rabbi Cary Kozberg Director of Spiritual Life Wexner Heritage Village Columbus, Ohio

Dr. Yang Misdiagnosed

As the mother of a Japanese Jewish boy named Moses Nakamura, I thought I would step up to tell Forward readers that the Asian character in the television series “Grey’s Anatomy” is supposed to be Chinese, not Japanese (“Mourning In America,” September 29). I was happy to catch the episode in which shiva is described, particularly because non-Jewish relatives and friends have asked me about shiva, something that non-Jews might find mysterious.

The character of Dr. Cristina Yang, ambitious and self-involved, doesn’t extol the virtues of sitting shiva, she just describes it, and other, non-Jewish, characters realize its value and adapt it to the circumstances. In this way, she is like many Jews who may be slow to recognize the value of their own traditions.

But she’s definitely Chinese. Her name is Yang, a Chinese name. Japanese names end in vowels, and they’re often polysyllabic — Nakamura, Kawakami, Kurosawa, Taneguchi and, of course, Honda, Toyota, Subaru, Mitsubishi. Nissan, I’m not too sure about. It’s a month on the Hebrew calendar, so maybe it’s a Jewish Japanese car company?

Myra Leysorek Philadelphia, Pa.

Land for Lox And Herring

An October 6 article reports that in a recent debate at New York’s Cooper Union, Dennis Ross demanded of John Mearsheimer, “Do you blame global warming on the Jewish lobby?” (“Scholars Debate ‘Israel Lobby’ Article,” October 6).

Curses, the secret is out! As an Elder of Zion, I can report that our plan to melt Antarctica in order to live there is proceeding apace. We shall turn it into a temperate zone, which will support agriculture and which contains natural resources and plenty of water.

No inhabitants to object, except for the penguins, who have organized their own PLO, the Penguin Liberation Organization. We have negotiated with their emissaries, however, and for generous compensation of gefilte fish, herring and lox, they are willing to cooperate with the endeavor.

Arthur Victor Turners Falls, Mass.

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