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July 4, 2003

Bring Ethiopians Home

About three years ago, the North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry arranged for Elimelech, an 11-year-old boy who had arrived in New York after escaping from Ethiopia, to live with us for a while (“Rabbis Urging Action on Ethiopian Jewry,” June 27).

Before he came to our home, our parents were really concerned that he wouldn’t know anything about Judaism, and that he could not fit in. When we met him, we were all really surprised. Elimelech knew a great deal about praying. We were a little embarrassed that he took davening a lot more seriously than we did.

He knew a lot about the stories of the Bible, and at our Seder, he was able to give interesting ideas about freedom that we had never thought about. He told us about the hard times he had dealing with non-Jews in Ethiopia, and always spoke about his desire to someday reach the Holy Land of Israel.

After his mother finally left Ethiopia and arrived in Israel, he was able to move in with her. Although he said he liked being in the United States, he knew it was his “destiny” to be part of the Jewish community of Israel. Last August, when our family had a bar mitzvah celebration in Jerusalem, Elimelech and his mother joined us in twinning his bar mitzvah with ours. Elimelech was overjoyed to be living among the people of Israel. When the rabbis in Israel say that the Ethiopians deserve to come to Israel, we know they are right, and we hope that the people of Israel help to bring them home.

Samuel Reinstein, age 14

Margot Reinstein, age 12

Teaneck, N.J.

There’s no question that it’s time to help Ethiopian Jewry, but the editorialist absolves the American government and American Jewish organizations from any responsibility. Ethiopian refugees and those from neighboring countries have been coming to the United States for years — why put the burden on Israel at a time it has difficulty defending and feeding its own citizens? Not one Jewish organization has pledged support to bring Ethiopians to the United States and it would be hard to find support to settle them in Israel.

Jews in America find it too convenient, it seems, to burden Israel from a safe distance and give Israel the gift of guilt.

Herman Elstein

Philadelphia, Pa.

Race Stance Consistent

A June 27 article on the Supreme Court’s decision in the University of Michigan case claims that “In the 1970s, Jewish groups were at the forefront of battles against affirmative action policies” (“ADL, Bush Hail Court’s Decision on Affirmative Action”).

This sentence can be read as literally true — some Jewish groups were against some affirmative action policies. But the statement is, nonetheless, terribly misleading. Many Jews and Jewish organizations supported an affirmative action program that promoted equal opportunity in school admission and in job competition, but for understandable historical reasons, and because Jews had been successful enough to be “over-represented” in many desirable positions and professions, they feared quotas.

But even here, Jews, in terms of racial justice and progressivism, were way ahead of many other white groups who opposed any kind of affirmative action or preferential treatment to right past racial wrongs. In the landmark 1974 Supreme Court case of DeFunis vs. the University of Washington, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations stood with the National Urban League, a leading civil rights, black-opportunity agency, in contending that test scores alone were an inadequate university admissions criterion, and that race could be taken into account.

In 1978 some thought that Jewish organizations had switched sides when the American Jewish Committee among others supported Allen Bakke against the University of California, which had used race alone as a criterion of admission. But the arguments of the Jewish organizations had not really changed — neither using test scores alone nor using race alone constituted for them a legitimate procedure.

Gerald Sorin

Director, Jewish Studies Program

State University of New York

New Paltz, N.Y.

Feith Unfairly Attacked

I was disappointed with the one-sided attack on undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith in your June 20 edition, particularly from anonymous State Department types and one leftist blogger without any credentials other than being a “pundit” — aren’t we all? (“Feith Seen as War-Plans Fall Guy”).

Feith and I attended Central High together in Philadelphia 30 years ago and were on the debate team. He was a zealous supporter of Israel and Soviet Jewry even then, and rallied students together for many demonstrations. His family was very generous in support of dozens of Jewish communal charitable institutions.

I was proud of Feith when he gave up a lucrative law practice to work for President Reagan and now for the younger President Bush. It should not surprise anyone that Feith would ruffle the feathers of the striped-pant crowd at Foggy Bottom; so do his boss, Paul Wolfowitz, Wolfowitz’s boss Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush himself. I know that I sleep better knowing that Feith is at the Pentagon, and your unfair attack on an outstanding American like him is inconsistent with the Forward’s usual balanced reporting.

Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Zeidman

Fort Stewart, Ga.

These opinions are the author’s own.

Douglas Feith’s prominence at the Pentagon raises uncomfortable questions for American Jews who are not thrilled by the Jewish war hawks and “Israel-firsters” who become promoters for right-wing causes inside the American government.

Feith has served on the advisory board of an organization pretentiously named the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. One has to wonder what the rationale is for a specifically Jewish institute of this kind. There is no African American Institute for National Security Affairs, nor a Hispanic American Institute of this kind, nor an Italian or Polish American institute for this purpose.

Why are we Jews blessed with such a dubious organization? Are there so few trustworthy people — Jewish or gentile — in the American government who can deal with issues of national security that there has to be a specifically Jewish institute to deal with such sensitive matters? Will not many people assume that such an organization is really a Jewish outfit only concerned for Israeli national security?

Sid Resnick

Hamden, Conn.

Terrorism is Terrorism

As one of the worshipers at the Islamic Society of Pinellas County, I’m relieved that would-be bomber Robert Goldstein is behind bars — but I can’t help thinking of the double standard being applied (“Mystery Shrouds Florida Doc Who Plotted Mosque Bombing,” June 27).

The Forward raises some valid questions about the handling of this case. From the plot, the template and the confessions, it seems the government had all the “smoking gun” evidence needed to convict all the conspirators without plea deals. Yet the mystery will remain and we may never know the truth about Goldstein.

He is not only a threat to American Muslims and Arabs, he’s also a major threat to American Jews. In his mind he wanted to do something for “his people” — something that would have been harmful to American Jews had the rest of America believed he was acting in the name of Judaism. Had Goldstein known true Judaism, he would not have acted they way he did.

Terrorism and violence against any population — regardless of who commits it — is a threat to all of us. Goldstein’s actions had nothing to do with Judaism, just as the actions of those who attacked us on September 11 has nothing to do with Islam. Goldstein was not a Jewish terrorist — just a terrorist.

Ahmed Bedier

Communications Director

Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations

St. Petersburg, Fla.

Faith Programs Work

In a June 27 article on faith-based prison programs, American Jewish Congress counsel Marc Stern dismisses a University of Pennsylvania study as “meaningless” (“Bush Plans to Introduce Christian Rehab Program In Federal Prison System”).

As anyone who reads the university study with any care could discern, the faith-based programs are anything but worthless. There is a body of research, which the study notes, that shows that on balance secular rehabilitation programs reduce recidivism, or the rate of repeat arrest, by about 5 to 10%. Recidivism rate data for Texas, readily available on the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council Web site, confirm this nationwide finding. The Texas faith-based program, by contrast, reduces recidivism by 17%. The faith-based program is considerably more effective than secular competitors.

The Texas program has three phases, of which the last, reintegration into the community, is arguably the most crucial. Far from just getting released prisoners a job, the program pairs them with volunteer mentors and integrates them into the life of a local church. Spiritual transformation and acceptance by a community are goods that secular programs cannot replicate.

Should the state be paying for this? I agree with Stern and others that there are constitutional issues that ought not be lightly dismissed. I also think, however, that the Jewish community should not simply be nay-sayers, rejecting these promising programs out of hand because of possible legal problems.

Jews should do what their 19th-century forebearers did — when they were worried that Jews would be proselytized in Christian hospitals, they built Jewish ones. Rather than complain about effective evangelical programs, let’s create effective Jewish — and Muslim, and Buddhist, and secular — ones.

Alan Mittleman


Muhlenberg College

Allentown, Pa.

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