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Put out the welcome mat
Sir, - Saul Singer's "Conversion is Jewish" (July 20) was circulated via our e-mail newsletter ProjeNews - not surprisingly a Progressive Jewish endeavor. His logic is first-rate. The only thing I'd add is that by talking of the "conversion" of "non-Jews," we overlook an obvious and more culturally similar source of Jews, i.e., the offspring of Jewish fathers.
Our congregation includes many families where the father is Jewish and the mother "not." (These women have agreed - apparently enthusiastically - to raise their children as Jews, and therefore I would argue that to call them "non-Jews" is demeaning; we need a new term.) It is madness not to gather into the Jewish fold all those people and families where Jewish descent is patrilineal. Perhaps someone could get an estimate of how many people fall into this category, but I think that's a most significant "growth edge" for Judaism.
President, Leo Baeck Centre
for Progressive Judaism
Saul Singer responds:
I am very much in favor of approaching non-Jewish spouses and agree that this is the most natural pool of potential converts. I did not focus on them because most people think only of this group when they speak of conversion, which I believe is a mistake. It is an interesting point that we need a better word than "non-Jews" to describe people who are married to Jews, lead Jewish lives, and are committed to raising their children as Jews. I think these people should be strongly encouraged to convert, and that the impact on their children of them not converting tends to be underestimated. Children pay more attention to what adults do than to what they say, so not converting is an unmistakable statement.
That said, I recognize that some people do not want to convert for various reasons, or it takes them many years to become ready to convert. So there should be some word for them that recognizes their connection to the Jewish people and encourages them to more fully join us. I'm open to suggestions.
Sir, - Both Saul Singer and Calev Ben David ("The Jews of tomorrow," July 20) put into perspective a question we all ask ourselves: How will we survive as a democratic Jewish state serving all its citizens with humanity and unity?
Of course we must welcome anyone who sincerely wants to join their fate with ours and live a meaningful existence in our country. We can cope with a multifaceted, multicultural and pluralistic society once we make up our minds that we have the ability to do so.
In the early days, every visitor to Israel, irrespective of religion or creed, was asked, "Wouldn't you like to live here with us?" So ease conversion and put out the welcome mat.
Help Ethiopian olim grow...
Sir, - My heart was touched by Getahun Tizazu's "Idleness kills" (July 13) on the plight of immigrants from Ethiopia. Involvement by the general public is needed. An example is the gardening being done in the Mevaseret Zion Absorption Center. A woman who does her shopping at the nearby shopping center noticed immigrants in the absorption center just hanging around, aimlessly. Remembering that many had been farmers in Ethiopia she initiated an ongoing project, setting up gardens around their homes. Anyone who wants to participate in this wonderful project can contact Michelle Katz at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, concerned citizen Danny Sagi (tel. (02) 561-9268 or 052-347-5487) has been working to get moneys sent to the Jewish Agency used to help the Ethiopians at that same absorption center.
...and become Israel-ready
Sir, - I have worked with Ethiopian Jews in Ethiopia and Israel. Needlessly, idleness begins in Ethiopia while people wait, often for years, in deplorable circumstances. Many years too late American Jews focused on this remnant, inaugurated Operation Promise and raised many millions of dollars, including $28 million to pay for aliya while elevating quality of life and vastly improving preparation for life in Israel.
Yet, conditions in Ethiopia have deteriorated, not improved. Missions go to Ethiopia. They see families barely surviving in tiny, dark, dank dirt huts, with little to eat and wear as they wait to immigrate.
These donors cry, hug, take pictures and wring their hands. Instead, they should demand to know from JAFI and UJC: How was the $28m. spent, why do conditions continue to be so deplorable, and why is the community sitting idle, so unprepared for life in Israel?
None of us can say we did not know. As Zionists, we need to demand that funds be spent so that idleness does not become a community plague, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The would-be immigrants must be made Israel-ready like Russian, French, Argentinean and American olim.
In Ethiopia, JAFI must provide: three meals a day to eliminate malnutrition and its damaging physical and mental impact; housing with sanitation and electricity; intensive Hebrew with Israeli Hebrew speakers. It must introduce Israeli/Western living and technology for months, not days, before aliya and train young adults for real work and jobs in Israel.
Israel-readiness will ease the transition while saving untold amounts for remedial programs in Israel, enabling the immigrants to use their great energy and intelligence productively.
Sir, - Pardon me if I don't share Sarah Honig's take on everyone being blamed for "preventing" Binyamin Netanyahu from being reelected - except for Netanyahu himself. Her according him near-martyr status is rather strange considering the fact that he has already been prime minister, and failed ("Just not Bibi," July 20). There is a limit to how much the press and everyone else can be taken to task for the fact that Netanyahu has performed more than a few interesting "zig-zags" of his own, especially vis-a-vis the disengagement from Gaza, not to mention the fact that he led the Likud to its lowest parliamentary numbers ever.
I see a much more basic issue which, to my mind, applies no less to Ehud Barak and the sad fact that his own party saw fit to bring him back into the political limelight: If we were as diligent in recycling bottles and other materials as we are about recycling politicians, our environment would be in great shape!
Both Barak and Netanyahu had their chance and failed. Trying to reinstitute a Netanyahu administration will be no more effective - or successful - than what Labor is trying to do with Barak. Unfortunately, however, Israeli voters seem to be always faced with voting against someone rather than trying to promote and elect truly new leaders.
Women's rights vs rites
Sir, - As an avid reader of Rabbi Riskin's Judaism column, may I add to his "A Jew is a Jew" (July 13) that the daughters of Zelophehad's granted request that they be allowed to inherit their portion of the land of Israel seems to prove not only the power of women's rights against rites, but also that the sins of the fathers are not necessarily visited upon the children.
Treif new world?
Sir, - If Israeli officials want to eat treif themselves, that's their business. But it is an insult to our Jewish state and our Jewish pride when they take working diplomats and foreign dignitaries to eat in non-kosher establishments ("Let them eat felafel," Barbara Sofer, July 20).
Sir, - Many thanks to Dvora Waysman for her amazing fruitcake recipe ("A bit of what you fancy does you good," Short Order, June 15). The only drawback is that my husband and I cannot control our urge for another, and another, and another slice. Our diet is in dire straits!
LEN AND LEA JACKSON