Sir, - Despite the laughter and expressions of joy, the Breslav hassidim are far more complicated than appearances suggest, triggering three emotional responses: good, bad and confusing ("Be happy!" October 5).
Good that their roots are long and strong, and that they've managed to hold onto traditions without falling prey to the internal mud-slinging other hassidic groups not infrequently engage in.
Bad that they subsist on handouts. Their "fund-raising" efforts focus on feeding themselves and they are often seen shnorring their way through family and community activities.
What they're trying to achieve is confusing. Matthew Wagner did not use the word "outreach" once so broadening understanding of Jewish tradition is not what the dancing is about. I won't deny that I feel a little troubled when I encounter Breslav hassidim gesturing and rollicking at some busy intersection. While I won't go so far as to label them charlatans, I can't help but wonder if they understand Rabbi Nachman's teachings.
AMI SHIMON BEN-BARUCH
Sir, - In "The sound of silence" (October 6) Hillel Halkin says: "If it were up to me, we'd have Yom Kippur once a week." Thousands of Israelis already enjoy a weekly rest from the noise and rush of the everyday world: no driving, lawnmowers, telephones, cell phones, fax machines, TVs, radios, boom-boxes or computers. This day of rest is called Shabbat.
Sir, - ...and we won't even make him go to synagogue!
Sir, - "On Yom Kippur even the children play quietly." Really, Mr. Halkin? How come you are spared the scourge of hundreds of screaming youngsters racing back and forth on their bicycles, turning what should be the quietest day of the year into one of the intolerably noisiest?
Tears & terror
Sir, - I wonder if Ruthie Blum would have behaved differently had the crying boy she met on the street not had an Arabic accent ("Tears - and reign - of terror," October 6). If he were Jewish, we like to think, he wouldn't have been alone. Someone would have helped him.
The Israeli Social Services might place a Jewish child with a violent father in full-time care, if a place could be found. There is a waiting list for such places for Jewish boys. The chances of an Arab Israeli boy finding such a shelter are much much slimmer.
Ms. Blum holds the PA chairman responsible for the boy's plight. Similarly, our premier is responsible for the plight of many other boys, Jewish and Arab, roaming the streets when they shouldn't be.
She implied that the Arab child may have been an accomplice in the theft of her friend's car; yet Palestinians do not have a monopoly on petty crime. Some Israeli youth, Jewish as well as Arab, do not have clean hands.
This column did nothing to promote understanding of the boy's miserable plight or the plight of our Palestinian neighbors. Is the Flip Side of the Israeli experience just tears and terror?
DR. MICHELE KLEIN WING
Start with the basics
Sir, - I fully agree with Naomi Chazan's assertion that "The feminine touch" (October 6) may succeed where other methods have failed. However, no peace initiative has any chance of getting off the ground until two conditions are adhered to: the "democratically" elected Hamas government fully recognizes Israel's right to exist; and a complete change is effected in the PA education system, which teaches Palestinian children to hate everything connected to Israel.
Overdue on Pollard
Sir, - Eric Sherby misses the mark in explaining why the so-called Free Pollard movement has failed ("The case for house arrest," October 6). It is not, as he argues, that it has been swinging for a home run when it would be wiser to go for a single, which Sherby equates with house arrest.
Pollard is still in prison after 21 years because there really is no Free Pollard movement. The Pollard case has been off the radar screen of the US Jewish community for the past 11 years. And during that time, with the exception of Binyamin Netanyahu's tenure as premier, Israel's government has been similarly silent.
Neither the US Jewish community nor the Israeli government need ask for a "mea culpa" from the US government, another straw man knocked down by Sherby. What they must do is issue a clarion call: It is long past time Pollard received his freedom, and not merely a switch from one form of incarceration to another.
Sherby is correct about one thing. The time to start acting is now.
'Vos macht a Yid?'
Sir, - I usually enjoy Meir Ronnen's writings very much for their humanism and their erudition. I do not claim any philological training, but it appears to me that the word "Yid" is not from Russian, but is the German Jude(Jew), truncated and corrupted ("A kvetch too far," October 6).
Balago'lefor ba'al agalaappears to stem from the differences in stress and vowel pronunciation between Ashkenazi and Modern Hebrew. This fulfills the requirement of Occam's razor since there is no need to resort to purposeful corruption to permit Hebrew words in everyday speech.
A prime example is the word bayissfor "gaol," still in common usage (so I am told) in Holland. We also have the terms balaboste, klavteand that beloved figure, the mahuteineste, which are no more than the addition of the German suffix -te denoting femininity (unnecessary in the last case since mahuteinesis already feminine).
Sir, - I cannot agree that the word "Yiddish" derives from zhid, one of the worst pejoratives used against Jews. Surely it derives from Judeans (the only survivors of the Israelites after the year 721 BCE), and the German form of the word Juden, pronounced "Yuden"?
Stroll in the East End
Sir, - Take a ball of chalk (= walk) up the frog and toad (= road) - Cannon Street, to be precise -
and you would find Rogs, the best schmaltz herring shop in the world. Opposite was "Max" the barber (short back and sides, pay in old pennies). Stroll back past Hessel Street Market or Chicken Hill and continue to Strongwaters restaurant, next to Black Lion Yard, where the salt beef sandwich kept you full for at least two days.
Think Oxford and St. George's, Brady, Watney Street Market, Gardners Corner and Stepney Green Baths. Spurs are always going to be the better team, and my mum's fried fish could never be matched ("Ah, the East End!" Letters, October 6).
Sir, - Judy Montagu's experiment in which she kept baby salad leaves fresh by placing them in a plastic bag with a paper towel liberally sprinkled with water (Short Order, September 29) echoes advice I once heard from Rabbi David Walk for storing willow leaves, one of the four species used to celebrate Succot, if fresh replacements are unavailable.
For the other three species: Soak the lulav (palm branch) and myrtle in water, or wrap a damp towel around them; simply store the etrog in its box.
At one of his lectures the rabbi provided a cheesecake recipe. But that's the subject of a different festival.
YOSI L. VER