Jewish spirit lacking at the GA?
Sir, - I would like to offer a different perspective as to why the GA of the newly renamed Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is fashioned as it is currently ("How to serve the Jews," November 9).
In the 1960s there was little or no Jewish life at the GA, but it was the only gathering representative of American Jewry. In 1969, Jewish youth, headed by a young Hillel Levine, now a professor, stormed the annual GA, then at Boston, and called emphatically for a spurt in new Jewish life in the US, funded by the American Jewish establishment. The elders were so surprised by these Jewish youngsters, who approached the federation types with such deep sincerity, that money was allocated to bring college students to the GA annually.
When my wife and I arrived at the GA at Pittsburgh in 1971 as delegates, it lasted for five days, through Shabbat. The students were there, but the difference was made by Elie Wiesel and Rabbi Yitz Greenberg. Wiesel spoke several times; almost all the 2,500 delegates heard him. Greenberg conducted services Friday night and Shabbat morning. The GA attendees left with a wonderful feeling about Yiddishkeit and how they needed to create a deeper commitment in their home community. In the 80s, on several occasions, as a so-called professional at the GA, I had the same feeling about the Jewishness expressed there and about the deep love for Israel clearly seen.
The American Jewish community has changed dramatically. There are a multitude of organizations which claim nationwide participation. All the major streams of American Judaism, plus Chabad, have immense conventions with davening of their own persuasions. JFNA still collects the largest amount of money and, in particular, has made Jewish day-school education viable on a community level. However, the leadership of JFNA has chosen to make the GA shorter, with no Shabbat component, since it is no longer deemed necessary to stress the Yiddishkeit component.
I believe many GA former participants will agree that the Jewish spirit is lacking these days. I am glad Natan Sharansky is at the GA this week, but the type of person inspired at the GA in the past to free him, is not present. I guess the GA served its purpose when it was required.
Sir, - I thought that I had heard everything that was obscene about the anti-Israel campaigning in the UK. Then I read your report that "activists" campaigning against the sale of Israeli goods in some supermarkets are asking their supporters to bring blood-stained children's clothes to a demonstration at one supermarket's headquarters ("UK supermarkets targeted for stocking Israeli goods," November 8).
How can the British people tolerate such behavior, especially when their own soldiers are dying at the hands of terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq?
False Berlin parallel
Sir, - As a professor of political geography, David Newman's motive for such a misleading comparison between the security fence in Israel and the Berlin Wall must be more than simple naivetÃ© or ignorance ("Borders everywhere you turn," November 9). He proves my point by attributing the structure to Sharon and Olmert when, in fact, it was Ehud Barak who began its construction.
The Berlin Wall was meant to keep people from escaping to freedom. If Israel is such a terrible place, why are people digging through walls and fences trying to illegally enter? If the barrier were comparable to the Berlin Wall, you would see Israelis trying to break into Ramallah - something that would merit a spoof on Saturday Night Live.
Call Abbas's bluff
Sir, - We all know the real obstacle to peace is Mahmoud Abbas. When he calls for a two-state solution, he really means one state Palestinian and the second state Palestinian. However, Abbas has been able to maneuver in such a way that the onus for the lack of peace talks falls on Israel ("Abbas claims Israel doesn't want peace,' November 9.) He seems to have found Israel's Achilles heel - the settlement issue.
Our prime minister has agreed to a 99% halt in construction in the disputed areas. If he made the halt 100% for a limited amount of time, he would knock the chair out from under Abbas and ingratiate himself with the US. Abbas is certain that Netanyahu does not have the political clout to stop settlements 100% even for a limited period, and therefore feels he can continue to capitalize - making Israelis the scapegoat in the eyes of the world. The question remains: Does our PM have the political courage to turn the tables on Abbas and call his bluff?
Sir, - I read with little surprise and not a small amount of cynicism the report "Study: Public suspicious of hospitals" (November 9).
Having had a family member hospitalized four times this past year, I have intimate knowledge of the lack of care he received. I was astounded to discover that there were not special meals for diabetics. All patients received the same substandard food. Rooms were overcrowded, and bathrooms were not cleaned often enough.
If Deputy Health Minister Litzman truly cared for the health system he is heading, he would insist on food upgrades, less overcrowding (critically, in the flu season) and cleaner bathrooms.
We are supposed to be an industrialized nation, but hospitals here are Third World,
Sir, - Michael Freund's November 5 article "Just Call Him Chaim Columbus" highlights how facts about Columbus's possible origins have been ignored and neglected.
Back in the 1970s, Catalan writer Nito Verdera conducted research to establish that Columbus was from his own Balearic Island of Ibiza, but initially made very slow progress. When I got to know Verdera during my sojourns there, I pointed out that many people believed Columbus had Jewish origins too. Being of Marrano-Anusim background himself, this idea quite excited Verdera.
When Verdera made his first visit to Israel in 1990, he brought research showing the three marks Columbus was in the habit of putting at the top of his letters to his family, but not if a letter was to be shown to others.
At the National Library in Jerusalem, three experts - Dr. Benjamin Richler, who was then head of the Manuscripts Department, Prof. Yom Tov Assis and Prof. Yosef Kaplan - independently read the three marks as Bet-Samech-Daled - the Aramaic acronym for "With Heaven's guidance" used by Orthodox Jews for centuries when writing to each other.
Verdera has continued with his researches. He was asked to assist with the assembling of the 1992 exhibition in Madrid, "Colon And The Jewish Contribution To The Voyages of Discovery," which was later shown at the University of Haifa but sadly received little national publicity.
Hopefully that will now change.
Casa Shalom, The Institute for Marrano-Anusim Studies, Gan Yavneh
Sir, - The disconnect between the article, "India deepens defense ties with Israel to tackle threat of terror," and the fact that India voted in favor of the Arab-backed resolution endorsing the Goldstone Report in the UN General Assembly ("How they voted on the Goldstone Report," both articles November 8) is mind-boggling.
India has to decide. Either it is with us in fighting terror or against us in supporting measures like the Goldstone Report that aid and encourage terrorists.
Israel has to make clear to those who seek our military and intelligence expertise that they cannot simultaneously stab us in the back diplomatically. I hope this message is being conveyed by IDF Chief of the General Staff Ashkenazi and Defense Minister Barak in their meetings this week with visiting Indian Chief of Staff Deepak Kapoor.