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October 20, 2006

In the Beginning… BOOM!

Howard Smith’s interesting article “In the Beginning, 13.73 Billion Years Ago” (Forward, October 13) argues that science and religion should be partners rather than adversaries. Some decades ago, I heard of a group of professionals who put this into ritual practice. At the Simchat Torah readings of the Creation, after the completion of each day, they called out “BOOM!” in honor of the Big Bang. I would be curious to know if this custom has spread.

Jacob Birnbaum
New York, N.Y.

Going Cuckoo From Jerusalem to Bridgeport

On the topic of keepsake clocks (“Time Keeps on Ticking,” October 13), my friend Chaim, an American physician living in Israel, told me that his grandfather, a seventh-generation Jerusalemite, left Palestine in the 1930s and landed in Bridgeport, Conn. Prior to emigrating, his grandfather went to the shouk in Jerusalem and bought a mantel cuckoo clock that chimed every hour on the hour to remind him of the Holy City. The clock sat on his grandfather’s mantle in Bridgeport for 50 years, and Chaim would often listen to the cuckoo and reminiscences about Jerusalem during visits. In the 1970s the clock finally stopped cuckooing, so his grandfather asked Chaim to get it fixed. Chaim took the clock — purchased decades earlier in the ancient Jerusalem market and that had sat so long on the Bridgeport mantle — to the watchmaker only to see, in bold letters stamped inside the clock, “Made in Bridgeport, Connecticut”!

Avrom Jacobs
Newton Center, Mass.

On Islamic Extremism, Shooting the Messenger

Columnist Eric Frey admonishes critics who claim that Europeans are still in denial about radical Islam (“Who Says Europe Hasn’t Woken Up to Radical Islam?” October 6). Europeans have woken up to the threat, he claims, but are engaging in deep thought about it, unlike their critics, whom he sweepingly dismisses with the epithet “neoconservative.” And what, according to Frey, has this deep thought yielded? Why, the causes of radical Islamism are Europe’s “failures on the integration of immigrants” and “the persistent Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Frey leaves no victim unblamed.

The fact is that increasing numbers of European centrists and even leftists have joined conservatives in waking up to the danger, and their analysis is not Frey’s. The fact that Danish leftist parliamentarian Naser Khader, founder of the organization Democratic Muslims in Denmark, has round-the-clock police protection because of death threats from his radical co-religionists has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict nor with Danish immigration policies and everything to do with a clash of cultures that Frey contemptuously dismisses — a clash in which democratic Muslims are the allies of Western civilization. Further, Frey’s claim that “most European leaders condemned Israel’s operation in southern Lebanon” either ignorantly or disingenuously conflates Western Europe with all of Europe. Eastern Europeans evinced a great deal of sympathy for and support of Israel — perhaps because they too have been the victims of Western European denial about the dangers of totalitarianism.

And despite Frey’s attempt at guilt by association, those Europeans — Eastern and Western — who have woken up are not necessarily supporters of Bush’s disastrous Iraq adventure. Nor are those who supported Israel’s defensive war against Hizbollah necessarily supporters of the Iraq offensive.

Finally, Frey reveals what deep European thought has yielded thus far as a strategy for dealing with the Islamist threat: “hyper-activity may be more dangerous than inertia.” Happily, many Europeans seem to have had enough of inertia as a prescription for combating radical Islam.

Jeffry Mallow
Chicago, Ill.

The writer is the treasurer of the Forward Association.

Who Are You Calling ‘Pro-Israel’?

Rep. Howard Berman’s front-page opinion article critiquing Republican Jewish Coalition ads misses the mark in several respects (“GOP Slanders Dems With ‘Anti-Israel’ Ads,” Sept. 29, 2006).

The Republican Jewish Coalition ads are poignant, jarring and have created quite a stir. Their ability to do so reflects growing concern among Jewish Democrats (myself included) about the decreasing level of support for Israel. More importantly, I am deeply troubled by Berman’s questionable assertion that the ads weaken bipartisan consensus supporting Israel. He states: “This cheap ploy will inject uncertainty into the American-Israeli relationship — and ultimately make Israel less secure.” Nonsense.

No politician or party should take our votes for granted. Our votes need to be earned. I vote Israel. When political parties compete for my vote, Israel is strengthened.

Bruce A. Birnberg
East Brunswick, N.J

Rep. Howard Berman argues, rightly, that Israel is not and should not be a partisan issue. He also repeats, almost as an article of faith, that President Bush and other Republicans have “been reliable friends of Israel.” While Berman’s magnanimity is praiseworthy, the argument that President Bush is a friend of Israel deserves scrutiny.

During his six years in office, President Bush has done little to help Israel face the threat posed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a conflict that can undermine Israel’s nature as a Jewish, democratic state. He has remained largely disengaged, appointing envoys and then failing to support their missions, or backing the road map and then opting out of efforts to see it implemented.

Earlier this month, President Bush dispatched the secretary of state to the Middle East to seek progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front. This very public gesture of interest is good news, but President Bush’s past performance raises doubts whether he will stand by Israel’s need for peace when the going gets tough. Time and time again this administration has unveiled peace initiatives but failed to invest the political capital to get the job done.

Likewise, the unresolved territorial dispute with Syria destabilizes the situation in Lebanon and threatens to spark another war on Israel’s northern front. However, when senior Israeli politicians began to endorse the renewal of Israeli-Syrian talks, word spread of American opposition. Soon after, Prime Minister Olmert announced his opposition. Can an administration that pressures Israel to not talk peace be called pro-Israel?

Debra DeLee
President and CEO
Americans for Peace Now
Washington, D.C.

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