Sir, - While I feel unfit to join in the criticism of Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi's handling of the Schalit affair ("Arad apologizes to Ashkenazi for slight," December 23), I nevertheless feel that it is important to raise some issues of negligence in our army, which is the responsibility of both Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
We have been informed recently of several instances of sloppiness in the vetting of army personnel who proved unworthy of their place in the chief of General Staff's office, based on reasons of security or immoral behavior. Much more immediate, however, was the utterly tragic death of an 18-year-old soldier who was killed by a bullet shot through a wall during a training exercise in a building that the army had deemed fit.
Needless to say, it is of vital importance to put the entire house in order.
Not the 'last soldier'
Sir, - Raphael and Ariel Harkham describe Gilad Schalit as Israel's "last soldier" ("How to close a revolving door," December 23). Would that this were true, but it is not.
In all the understandable hysteria, fanned by politicians and media alike, over the proposed deal to free Schalit, very little has been mentioned about our other MIAs. Where are the protest tents asking for the slightest hint of news concerning the fates of Zachary Baumel, Tzvi Feldman and Yehuda Katz, captured alive and paraded on their tank in Damascus, during the First Lebanon War in 1982? What about Ron Arad and Guy Hever? All five have families who have anxiously waited for many long years, with dignity and restraint, for any news of their loved ones.
In all the talk about Schalit being "a son to all of us," there has been little talk about these men, who by now could have been our fathers. That Defense Minister Ehud Barak can pontificate about our responsibility to bring our boys home, without even a mention of these five, is hypocritical and shameful.
Yes, we do need to bring our missing boys home - all of them.
Sir, - Attacking medical personnel is unforgivable, and offenders need to be severely dealt with ("More attacks on medical staff prompt calls to advance bill to punish violators," December 23). However, the focus should be directed toward avoiding steps that create excessive public anxiety - especially when it affects the sick, many of whose life expectancies could be affected by denying or reducing their access to medication or treatment.
Public discussion on changes in the health basket - i.e., to provide dental care for children - regardless of how justified the cause, is a surefire way to create excessive anxiety. It is not reasonable to expect the public to behave in a restrained or passive manner when they feel that their health is being put at risk.
We as a society should forgo massive budgetary investments in favor of fulfilling our medical commitments to our people. When budgeting for the next Independence Day celebrations, for instance, there is absolutely no justification for spending large sums on displays, performances and parades when we are unable to provide properly for the sick.
We have to adjust our priorities to cope with the longer lives we are enjoying.
The meaning of Birthright
Sir, - In view of the waiting lists for Birthright Israel, we agree with the statement made by Mitchell Bard that Birthright Israel has yet to reach its full potential ("Taking it up a notch," December 4). However we dispute a large amount of information published in his op-ed.
A recent study by Brandeis University showed that Birthright Israel was a life-changing event for over 73 percent of participants - with a profound long-term impact on Jewish identity and connectedness to Israel. We maintain that the most critical age bracket to which Birthright Israel trips should cater is between 18 and 26, during which young adults face many of their most important life decisions.
We do not randomly choose participants; rather, they undergo a selection process - and in response to Bard's suggestion of holding post-trip courses and "coffee house" meetings, these already exist in the framework of the Birthright Israel NEXT program, responsible for many ongoing social action initiatives.
While we welcome Bard's innovative approach, a pan-European tour including Jerusalem as one of its stops is a) not economically viable and b) not consistent with the goals of Birthright Israel. As for the idea of providing information on participants to Jewish organizations, requiring Israel studies and requesting donations for the Jewish Federation - this could jeopardize the very mission of Birthright Israel: Connecting the largely unaffiliated to Judaism and the State of Israel. You cannot force people to volunteer, study or donate to a cause that isn't meaningful to them.
We aim to create that meaning and emotional connection through our free 10-day trips. Any community involvement thereafter is a free choice by alumni - a genuine act from the heart. Given that our alumni occupy leadership roles in Jewish organizations such as Hillel, Masa, Otzma and Birthright Israel NEXT, we believe our approach to be the most effective blueprint for fostering long-term community engagement.
CEO Taglit-Birthright Israel
A papal outrage
Sir, - Pope Benedict XVI's intention to beatify Pius XII in order to eventually grant him sainthood ("Metzger 'hurt' by pope's decision to advance beatification of Pius," December 23) is a tremendous outrage. Doesn't he understand that it will be an unforgivable insult to six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust? This will cause irreparable harm to Catholic-Jewish relations.
The power to forgive?
Sir, - I guess that it's nice that former US president Jimmy Carter is sorry that he has spent the past 30 years bad-mouthing Israel ("Carter offers apologies to Jewish community," Internet Edition, December 22), but I don't remember anyone endowing Abe Foxman of the ADL with the power to absolve sin.
Highland Park, NJ
Turkish prize, Israeli publisher
Sir, - I want to thank you for your article "Israelis win Turkish prize for financial history research" (December 14). However, the writer failed to mention the book was published here in Israel by Gefen Publishing House.
It is also available in both Hebrew and English, and more importantly, eight members of the Valero family will be flying to Turkey to attend the award ceremony.
PROF. RUTH KARK
Act of good faith
Sir, - It was heartwarming to read Abe Selig's article about the respect accorded to people of faith from the world's three major religions living in Jerusalem ("JNF funds Christmas tree distribution in J'lem," December 21).
We learn that just as the municipality pays for hundreds of menoras to go up all over the city during Hanukka, and assistance is given with preparation for Ramadan, so Christmas trees are distributed for the celebration of Christmas. I hope that the critics of Israel take note.
DR. RACHEL BIRATI
Page 10 of today's Weekend states that a tower designed by architect Richard Meier for Tel Aviv will be completed in 2010. In fact, the projected date for the building's completion is 2013.