(photo credit: )
Make it right
Sir, - "Don't rest, reform" (December 14) ignores a fundamental ingredient to a successful education system: the parents' and teachers' commitments to educating our future generation.
As a new oleh, I was dismayed by the attitudes of teachers and parents at the local school where I enrolled my daughter. The teachers displayed disinterest in the children, the children displayed disrespect for the teachers, and to cap it all, there was absolutely no parental involvement in the school. If homework assignments were not turned in, there was no discipline. If children were absent from school, there was no follow-up by the administration as to where they were. There was no parent-teacher association, which led to a lack of communication. To cap it all, whenever I went into the administration office, there were a half-dozen people lounging around, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee.
No matter what reforms are instituted and no matter how much money is spent, they are doomed to fail without a change of attitude by parents and teachers.
The indifference toward education is a greater enemy of Israel than our Arab adversaries.
Sir, - "The educational delusion" (December 18) by Dr. Dan Ben-David is right on the mark.
This is a dedicated man who reluctantly went into politics hoping he could make a difference in education. He was passed over in his party for those more politically connected and once again, good talent was not a consideration in a party system that ignores the public good.
I believe that the majority of people think that teachers should be better paid, but as Ben-David points out, teachers must be better qualified. Why should reasonably intelligent students to have to rely on tutors to keep up their grades?
Education was once our strength; I believe it became our weakness once we lost sight of our real priorities.
In good form
Sir, - "Bad form on campus" by Eitan Ingall and Sasha Gribov (December 12), which protested the University of Michigan's dissemination of a book by Prof. Joel Kovel, was followed by a letter from Abe Krieger ("Quit Griping," December 14) telling the students to "stop whining" and find better ways to come to Israel's defense. I found this letter unnecessarily offensive.
Since Ingall and Gribov are respectively vice president of the Israel IDEA and vice chair of the American Movement for Israel, they are surely engaged in many activities to promote Israel's well-being, in addition to writing articles, and I take my hat off to them. Anyway, writing letters and op-eds is also valuable propaganda.
Just the facts
Sir, - Ambassador of Albania to Israel Tonin Gjuraj, in his letter ("Independent points," December 17), implies an anti-Semitic motivation to my opposition to the 1988 presidential candidacy of Michael Dukakis. This outrageous allegation, having been peddled earlier by an Albanian advocacy group in the US, is false and defamatory. Anyone familiar with the facts knows that my opposition to Dukakis was based on his claims of good standing in the Greek Orthodox Church, to which I belong, and his rejection of the Church's moral teachings on social issues. For me, the problem was his honesty and stand on issues, and certainly not the fact that his wife was Jewish.
JAMES GEORGE JATRAS
Director, American Council for Kosovo
Sir, - The answer to Shmuley Boteach's question as to whether "secular" and shallow values regarding beauty and appearance have penetrated the Chabad world is a resounding: yes ("The receding hemlines of Crown Heights," December 17).
No subculture - which includes all hassidic groups - can exist in a dominant society without being influenced. Just look at the ads in the haredi press for luxury vacations, with all the niceties and perks of the most Hedonistic desires. Though obviously tempered by halachic standards, the very longing for such pleasures shows an impact on these so-called "closed" societies. Such pursuits and materialism were once considered blatant Helenism, and rabbis from time immemorial have lamented these activities and their dangers.
Influence can be seen in other areas, too, like the joint higher education programs between major American yeshivot and colleges and the growing number of wealthy haredi businessmen.
Attempts to prevent Internet access from the haredi world have not been very successful, and even Chabad, like the arguably more isolated Satmar, have used the non-Jewish civil court system to air grievances and fight internal battles.
Trying to isolate the dating phenomenon from the larger picture is like treating the symptom without trying to tackle the disease. We often - and rather justifiably - admire the success the haredi world has had in maintaining its lifestyle and Jewish values better than other communities. But they better be careful: They may be successful in stopping the frontal "attacks" of the outside world, but they're not paying attention to how much has managed to walk in through the back door.
Sir, - It's interesting to note that Abraham Rabinovich, a self-confessed holder of "left-wing views," refers to Conrad Black's conviction for "obstruction of justice and fraud" as "legal transgressions." In praising Black as a "mensch" deserving of respect, he should have added that Conrad Black also loved his mother.
Sir, - In "Drawing on the soul" (December 17), which was about me and my work, I was misquoted many times. I will respond to the most glaring inaccuracy. I was quoted as saying that during a "religious crisis" I turned to Tai Chi or other Japanese disciplines which spoke to me far more than my Jewish learning.
What I had actually said was that during a certain period, I had a crisis with texts in general - not with religion. I was questioning whether the intellectual study of texts alone had the power to effect change in the soul of a person, whereas I felt that a holistic approach, like I was experiencing in Tai Chi studies at the time, had the potential to instill the same traits the Talmud was demanding (such as "One should always be as soft as a reed and never as unyielding as the Cedar") in a deeper way.
This was one of the factors that led to the change in how I approached my calligraphy (and why the exhibition is called "Soft as a Reed").
For the better
Sir, - I was delighted to see your article about Izzy Pludwinski. I have been following his work for many years and enjoy watching him grow and develop. It is wonderful to see him recognized for the excellent artist he is.
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