November 7, 2003
Students Making Grade On Israel Advocacy
I am a student at Rutgers University, and I am unhappy with the grade given by opinion writer Natan Sharansky to me and my fellow activists in our efforts to support Israel on campus (“Tour of U.S. Schools Reveals Why Zionism Is Flunking on Campus,” October 24).
Hillel at Rutgers University launched a year-long “Israel Inspires” program, kicked off by a huge community wide rally attended by some 7,000 supporters of Israel from throughout New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area. Scores of Israel activists at Rutgers Hillel worked days and nights for three months to put this program together. Leading government officials of every background — Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, African American, Arab American and more — came out to support Israel on our campus. We created a positive message in the press from the local papers to the national level. The next day we held an Israel block party with music, food and artwork that was attended by more than 1,000 students. To cap this tremendous weekend, we hosted an Israel student weekend gathering attended by nearly 600 students from 68 campuses across North America.
The incredible Israel activism does not end there, however. Israeli cultural events — cooking classes, movies and speeches by figures such as historian Michael Oren and comedian Ben Stein — will continue throughout the year. Pro-Israel image ads will continue to appear in the daily campus paper. In short, “Israel Inspires” was only the beginning of an incredible year of Israel activism at Rutgers.
My peers across the country are doing similar things on a variety of levels. We are helped by supporters such as Alan Dershowitz, who has distributed through Hillel more than 5,000 copies of his book “The Case for Israel.” We are helped by philanthropists and federations who support us financially. In fact, Hillel has raised enough money to send 350 of us to Israel on a mission this December to further hone our advocacy skills. Fortunately, more than 750 students have applied so far, a number of which I am proud to be a part. Unfortunately, despite their strong efforts, they have not yet gotten enough support to send all of us.
With all due respect to Sharansky, I would like to make a request: Help us make the argument on campus easier. Work with your colleagues in the Knesset and with your representatives in the United States to paint a picture of Israel similar to what we have presented at Rutgers University. We need an international “Israel Inspires” campaign to show the miraculous contributions we have made in the areas of health, technology and social welfare. We need the State of Israel to re-fund its portion of the Birthright Israel program so that thousands of students who you feel have “flunked” can see Israel in all of her majesty.
Sharansky writes in his opinion article that students you encountered were scared to present a view of Israel which opposes their professors. To that I respond: We are not afraid. We are not intimidated. And we are not flunking.
New Brunswick, N.J.
I have never met the interim president of Hillel, Avraham Infeld, and I know nothing about him except the criticism he made of Natan Sharansky’s October 24 opinion article about the college campuses that he visited (“Sharansky Article On Campus Tour Irks Hillel Leader,” October 31).
Infeld made an accusation that is laughable to anyone who even knows a little about Sharansky. To think that he would write a disturbing report for a political purpose is outrageous. This is a man who was suffering in the Gulag and would not agree to a medical release because he felt it would be admitting guilt. How can one accuse such a hero of unprincipled behavior?
Infeld certainly has a broader view of the college campuses than Sharansky, and he can disagree with his conclusions. I wish he was correct. But to accuse Sharansky of writing the article for political purposes is insulting.
Elkins Park, Pa.
Concern on In-Marriage
The first public appearance of the “Jewish In-Marriage Initiative,” in an October 31 letter to the editor, gives rise to much concern, with guarded optimism (“Support for Continuity”).
The “new, national group,” according to the letter writers, seeks to “encourage, sensitively and respectfully, Jews to marry Jews.” I’m all in favor of in-marriage, because my goal is to have more children raised as Jews, and that happens more often when Jews marry Jews. However, because intermarriage is a reality and many interfaith couples do raise their children as Jews, any effort to encourage in-marriage must not simultaneously demean intermarriage in such a way that interfaith couples will be pushed away.
My small optimism comes from the initiative’s laudable intention to act “sensitively and respectfully.” One wonders about that, given past expressions of hostility to intermarriage and outreach by some of the letter’s signers. Giving the benefit of that doubt, I constructively suggest two ways they are not off to a good start.
The initiative’s letter indicates a willingness to welcome only the Jewish partner in an interfaith couple. To think that Jewish partners will get involved if non-Jewish partners are not also welcomed is sadly misguided.
Second, the initiative recently co-sponsored, with the Boston-area Jewish Federation of the North Shore, a program titled “Why Marry Jewish?” Newspaper ads and mailings seen by many interfaith couples conveyed the implicit message that their interfaith relationships are not approved of by the Jewish community, pushing them away from getting or staying involved. To be sensitive and respectful, the initiative needs to be aware of the impact of the hurtful messages their language can convey.
We hope the Jewish In-Marriage Initiative will pay heed to the voices of involved interfaith families. We would be glad to work with the initiative to help it do so.
We fear, however, that like much of the intellectual leadership of the American Jewish community, the initiative will be completely closed off to hearing that point of view. As but one example, at the recent Boston conference held to discuss the latest national Jewish population survey, apparently no proponent of outreach to the intermarried was invited, and only opponents of outreach were there to talk among themselves. This lack of willingness at the highest levels to hear another point of view does not bode well for our communal future.
President and Publisher
Expressions Of Pagan Judaism Beyond Belief
I was dismayed by the article on Jews practicing witchcraft and the accompanying photograph of a Jewish woman smiling brightly as she holds up her bare-breasted idol (“Nice Jewitch Girls Leave Their Brooms in the Closet,” October 31).
That anyone would try to argue that paganism and Judaism are somehow compatible is almost beyond belief and another depressing reminder of the spiritual malaise and ignorance that besets our people. With the Christmas season fast approaching, will the Forward be showcasing Jews for Jesus and their embrace of Christian practices as a legitimate expression of Judaism?
Facts on ‘Partial Birth’?
On what basis does the Forward report that partial-birth abortion is a “rarely used, emergency procedure” (“Conservatives Ramp Up Abortion Fight,” October 31)? This is at best an unfounded myth, at worst a deliberate lie that has been fed by abortion advocacy groups to a sympathetic and gullible media.
Rarely used? According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice advocacy group, there were 2,200 such abortions in the United States in the year 2000 alone — and pro-life groups claim the number is significantly higher.
Emergency? The venerable, and not particularly conservative, former surgeon general C. Everett Koop has stated that partial-birth abortion is “never medically necessary.” And according to the executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, the vast majority of such procedures are entirely elective. Based upon my limited research, it would appear that what makes such partial-birth abortion desirable from the practitioner’s perspective is that it guarantees that the fetus will be killed in utero.
Inferred Criticism Off
An October 31 article on the Washington Institute for Near East Policy misled readers by implicitly associating me with unnamed individuals who were allegedly critical in private of the invitation to a group of Palestinian activists, but were unwilling to speak for the record (“Think Tank Head Defends Invitation to Fatah Activists”).
At no point did I indicate in public or in private any criticism of the director of the institute, Dennis Ross, or of his actions. I preferred not to discuss the topic and referred the reporter to the president of the institute. Any inference to the contrary is inaccurate.
The Forward regrets the misimpression.