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September 5, 2003

Impassioned Warning Or Confused Criticism?

Former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg’s scathing critique of the present state of Zionism is as painful as it is true (“A Failed Israeli Society Collapses While Its Leaders Remain Silent,” August 29).

Burg discloses what seems so obvious yet so unspoken in the Jewish media — that we are committing Zionist suicide for the sake of a corrupt version of nationalism. We are witnessing a case of the margins becoming the center (Kahanism is now espoused by elected Israeli officials), a prelude to the disappearance of any visible moral barometer in the Jewish world and the collapse of the very foundations upon which Zionism was founded and which gave the Jewish state legitimacy.

My challenge to those who still support the present government’s policies is this: Name me one good thing the settlement movement has contributed to Israeli security, prosperity or morality?

Its messianic pretensions, now couched in classic Revisionist rhetoric, are undermining the country and endangering its population. It is time reasonable Diaspora Jews stand up and say “enough!” Enough of this defective and corrosive ideology in the name of Judaism, enough of the demonization of the Arab as the enemy and the education of our children in racism and hatred, enough of the corruption of religion for some dream of Armageddon at the expense of Jewish and Palestinian lives.

Thank you, Avraham Burg, for saying what is unsaid, at least here in the Diaspora.

Shaul Magid

Associate Professor of Jewish Philosophy

Jewish Theological Seminary of America

New York, N.Y.

I was all behind Avraham Burg after reading the beginning of his August 29 opinion article, when I thought he was going to talk about Israeli government corruption and the growth of organized crime within Israeli society during the last decade. That truly could spell the end of the Zionist dream.

But after reading further into his piece, I realized that he was simply falling into the same old weary trap of advocating what will surely be a fascist Palestinian state. It’s time we see the Palestinians for the perpetrators they are instead of the victims they claim to be. It’s time to stop confusing the perpetrator of violence with the victim of violence just because the victim has — thank goodness! — bigger and better weapons.

Judith Antonelli

Brookline, Mass.

I am grateful to Avraham Burg for his opinion article and to the Forward for its courage in printing it, along with a supportive editorial (“Israel’s Choice‚” August 29).

Burg’s impassioned warning is in the best tradition of our prophets, urging the people of Israel to turn away from corruption and seek justice.

With demographic trends pointing toward an Arab majority between the Jordan and the Mediterranean in one or two decades, continued settlement in the territories will have one of two dire results for Israel: either a binational state in which it will lose its Jewish character, or an apartheid state in which it will lose its democratic character.

Everyone who deeply cares about the survival of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state must heed Burg’s timely, eloquent statement.

Jeff Tone

Kew Gardens, N.Y.

Avraham Burg’s anguished opinion article is anguished precisely because it reflects both the intellectual and electoral bankruptcy of the Labor Party. It’s sad that the Forward has positioned itself with the discredited view that retreat to the 1967 borders will somehow solve our conflict with the Arabs.

Bill Coleman

Chicago, Ill.

Dr. Laura Disappoints

I listened to Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s broadcasts, for hours a day, when I drove a U-Haul truck across country in the summer of 2001 (“Dr. Laura Loses Her Religion,” August 15).

To be sure, there is not much else on the radio in Missouri, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Regardless, I rarely have time to indulge myself in talk radio, and as a progressive rabbi, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to hear from one of American Jewry’s most celebrated Jews-by-choice, and one of our most influential radio personalities. I must confess, often I appreciated Schlessinger’s firm values, sureness and guided-missile approach to a person’s concerns. She always had an answer to any tough question, often coming from a consistent position of following absolute integrity and morality.

Yet as I listened, I sadly noticed an absence of two vital elements, perhaps the two items many troubled questioners need the most. These two elements are compassion and flexibility. I, too, often have troubled souls come to my office to unburden themselves to me. Sometimes I offer advice, as Schlessinger does; other times I offer an ear and a hug, and my confidence that they will decide rightly and manage appropriately in whatever their concern may be. Troubled hearts need loving hearts so that they can willingly make the proper decisions that are needed.

Similarly, I have learned that not every person will thrive, or even survive, with the same responses. People have varied circumstances, varied strengths, varied fears and varied values, which require flexible approaches towards problem-solving. Too often, Schlessinger’s replies were patterned, and as such, colored her as not respecting the individuality or uniqueness of her callers and their concerns.

As I listened to Schlessinger in my truck’s cab, I eagerly waited for some pearls of Jewish wisdom, something from our tradition which would endear her to me. It wasn’t forthcoming.

I urge Schlessinger to reconsider what she needs from Jews. She does not need adoration, but to share critical thinking. She does not need blind support for simple moralist positions, but to join in the Jewish pursuit of talmudic challenge and midrashic creativity. She does not need to simply belong, but to more importantly engage. Then, Schlessinger may find us extolling her praises.

Rabbi Douglas Kohn

Congregation Emanu El

San Bernardino, Calif.

I read the August 15 article on Dr. Laura Schlessinger with sadness. I don’t understand how someone could “throw away” their Judaism. I am an African-American woman in my late 40s and I have been trying to convert for nearly three years.

Schlessinger was most likely accepted into the Jewish world right off the bat. Me? I’ve been put through much turmoil and hell. Maybe people are not used to seeing blacks who desire to become Jews. I don’t know what it is, but I am not going to give up.

Here is a woman who seems to want to turn her back on everything, but I wish that I could be in her place as a Jew. Judaism has blessed my life and I can’t see someone giving it up. If she is thinking that she’ll have it easier being a Christian, she needs to come and talk to me. What did she want? A trumpet fanfare because she was an Orthodox Jew? Dr. Laura, think about it. You may end up being real sorry.

Ann Rhys-Sonnenschein

Richmond, Va.

Constitutional Wrongs

Just what price is worth paying to accommodate making common cause with the Evangelical Christian community? To opinion columnist David Klinghoffer, abandoning First Amendment legal “technicalities” is apparently not too dear a cost as he advises the organized Jewish community to stop braying and shouting over Judge Roy Moore’s now failed effort to enshrine in granite in the Alabama Supreme Court Building the Ten Commandments (“Convergence on Commandments,” August 29).

Even if there were some logical symmetry to this bargain, the unstated premise is that little is given up if a minor technical governmental acts of religious establishment are allowed to exist.

Klinghoffer appears to arrive at the conclusion that this is only a minor technical violation of the First Amendment by offering as a comparison the historical displays in the U.S. Supreme Court Building. The motive and effect, as explicitly described by Moore and his supporters, is anything other than a history lesson. Rather, their purpose is to disarm opponents of their religious agenda and alter First Amendment barriers to a religious agenda that would ban abortion, allow public prayer (of their choosing), state funding of religious education and state proscription of homosexual conduct and acceptance.

There are good, perhaps compelling, reasons to encourage religious dialogue with Evangelical Christians. Voluntary acquiescence in assaults on First Amendment rights is not one of those reasons.

Joel Levy

Chevy Chase, Md.

I am a Jewish immigrant from Russia, and while I am not religious and do not go to synagogue, I believe that America was built on the principles of the Ten Commandments. These are the same Ten Commandments that were given to Moses.

It would be more appropriate for a Jewish newspaper like the Forward to support Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore and not to attack him, as you did in an August 22 editorial (“‘Spiritual Warfare’”). It is not Moore who violates the Constitution, but rather those who oppose him.

Vladimir Gertsberg

West Bloomfield, Mich.

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