Letters to the editor, February 19

Myopic abusers Sir, - I read with anger that Jewish and Israeli academics in the UK are again making life uncomfortable for Jewish students on campus ("Oxford holds 'Apartheid' week," February 16). I attended a well-respected British university in the 1990s. Campus life was about studying for my degrees and enjoying the enriched life-style without hostility. Today Prof. Steven Rose and his colleagues are creating hostility by abusing their positions to prejudice opportunities for Jewish students. They are myopic if they believe that their actions will not stir up prejudice and further hatred against Jews both on and off campus. Will the Palestinian university societies come to the aid of this Jewish professor and his colleagues as this occurs? I doubt it. LAWRENCE RYZ London Sir, - The rector of Oxford University should be made aware that the earth is flat, and that Israel is to blame. LOUIS GARB Jerusalem Bareheaded,truly Jewish Sir, - Two of your readers complain about male candidates for the Knesset being pictured without kippot ("Head start," Letters, February 15). They are obviously not aware that the custom for Jews to keep their heads covered is a relatively modern one. In the 13th century it was normal for male adults in Germany and France to leave their heads uncovered, even when called up to read from the Torah. The custom of keeping the head covered at all times began to come into fashion only in the 14th and 15th centuries. Jewish men in biblical and Temple times did not cover their heads. Tractate Shabbat in the Talmud attributes the origin of the custom to Rabbi Nachman ben Yitzchak. It relates that when her son was born, the famous rabbi's mother consulted astrologers, even though this is prohibited. They told her that evil spirits would make her son a thief unless she kept his head covered at all times to protect him from their influence. This she did, and Rabbi Nachman continued the practice. In the rabbi's later life, it is recorded, out of respect for their teacher his many students also kept their heads covered, and the custom spread throughout the Jewish world. As they say, the rest is history. A similar situation has evolved in modern times with followers of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe wearing a hat of the same distinctive style as the Rebbe's as a sign of their allegiance. MAURICE J. SUMMERFIELD Newcastle upon Tyne, UK Sir, - L. Jerome writes from London: "In the Jewish world kippot are an essential item of clothing." Not according to the Vilna Gaon, who wrote: "The head cover that some Jewish communities have accepted as a custom is not Jewish and has nothing to do with Judaism." MOSHE IVRY Jerusalem Valuable insight Sir, - Evelyn Gordon's piece on the youths' rock-throwing in Amona is the first credible insight into why our country's most Zionistic citizens would commit such condemnable acts ("Troubling? Yes, but also understandable," February 16). We might also take note of how the mainstream media, which often try to rationalize the motivation behind Palestinian violence - not that I'm comparing the two - in this case made no attempt to do the same for our brothers and sisters protesting in Amona. AMITAI RICHMAN Ra'anana Cup half-full Sir, - It is hard to understand the interminable verbal and physical battles over how much of the land of Israel we are entitled to live in. When anyone asks me why my husband and I left our comfortable lives in Britain in 1969 to come and live here with our three small children, I have a short answer: After 2,000 years of praying "Next year in Jerusalem," we found ourselves part of the lucky generation that could stop praying and just do it. In 1948, had the Arabs accepted the offered partition plan, we would have had a much smaller country than we have today. We are here, we have done it - shouldn't we realize that our cup is half full? RUTH GREENWALD Givatayim Why be extreme? Sir, - "Religious Zionism is out of touch with mainstream society," says Matthew Wagner (Analysis, February 10). At present, mainstream Israeli society's only objective seems to be to isolate itself from the Palestinians as quickly and completely as possible. This aspiration has been expressed by virtually every political party, including the Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu. The National Union-National Religious Party offers the only alternative for Israelis who object to this process. Popular as disengagement may be as a solution to the "demographic problem," it is extreme and impractical. The withdrawal from Gaza was traumatic and costly, and few of the 1,700 families dislocated have yet found permanent housing and employment. Disengagement from the West Bank will involve between 10 and 20 times more people, families and businesses. The NU-NRP's objective is to encourage Israelis to reconnect with their land, their culture and their religion. It rejects the establishment of a Palestinian state, as did at least 50% of the mainstream until only recently. Autonomy may not be a permanent solution, but NU supporters see no urgent need to foster self-determination for a population that only weeks ago voted by a landslide in favor of the destruction of Israel. CHAIM HANDLER Yakir, Samaria Dancing with wolves Sir, - Barry Rubin's "Appeasement redux" (February 14) struck a deep chord in this retired American physician who grew up in New York in the 1930s. A recent New York Times editorial dealt with ways to discredit the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian election and seek a new election which (with US help) might provide a victory for Mahmoud Abbas, the US's preferred candidate. This from a country which proclaims its mission is to spread democracy throughout the world. The Times, as Rubin so clearly spells out, is again being mealy-mouthed, evading reality, trying to arbitrate, negotiate, conciliate. It's like dancing with wolves. And the hope is to "starve Hamas out.'" What a joke. Such actions can only strengthen Hamas's position. Its leaders are already being welcomed in Venezuela, and this will be followed by the rest of South America, which has found an opportunity to tweak the nose of its big and arrogant northern neighbor. JOSEPH DASHEFSKY Massapequa Park, New York Out-sourcing terror Sir, - Egypt and Syria had the PLO to do their dirty work for them. The PA had Hamas, and Hamas has Islamic Jihad. RICHARD LEFKOWITZ Brooklyn Hamas will provide Sir, - "Israel shouldn't fight aid to Palestinian people" (February 16) is a really cool idea. We and the world will provide the bread, and Hamas will provide the circus. MIRIAM L. GAVARIN Jerusalem Clean under the rug Sir, - Some readers have pointed out that we are "housecleaning" (Letters, February 16). However, I cannot understand why only the Right side of the house is getting the treatment. May we, the public, not know if there is any truth to the rumors surrounding former prime minister Ehud Barak's election campaign? Was there, as rumor has it, a certain Diaspora Jewish community which requested the proceedings be quashed because it didn't want "to wash its dirty linen in public"? If indeed young Mr. Yitzhak Herzog has prime ministerial ambitions, shouldn't the whole sorry business be cleared up? BARBARA OBERMAN Herzliya Pituah Chaplains-in-training Sir, - "NY Jews to provide Israelis with $1m. in 'spiritual care'" (February 14) omitted the substantial role played by the National Association of Jewish Chaplains in starting up chaplaincy in Israel. The NAJC made the first overtures and outreach to initiate and enhance spiritual/pastoral care in the State of Israel, holding its first conference on spiritual care in Jerusalem in March 2005. Six professionally trained and certified Jewish chaplains met in Israel, presenting workshops and visiting healthcare facilities. The relationships forged at that time continue - we held another conference this past December, with almost 100 Israelis involved in spiritual and pastoral care participating. Again, certified NAJC chaplains came from the US to spend a week helping to facilitate the conference and train Israelis to provide spiritual care in hospitals, nursing homes, trauma centers and other healthcare facilities. RABBI MARION SHULEVITZ Certified Jewish Chaplain New York Longing for the old songs Sir, - When I heard of the passing of Shoshana Damari, who more than anyone else represented the good and beautiful in Israeli song for so many years, I recalled some comments she made during a visit in her Tel Aviv apartment about 12 years ago, in connection with an article I was writing. On audience preferences: "There is no such thing as audience bad taste. It all depends on what is presented, and the way it is presented. "Whenever I appear, for instance, in Israel or abroad with a traditional Yemenite prayer, even an audience unfamiliar with that tradition warms up to it and wants me to sing it again and again. The same with my old Eretz Yisraeli, pre-state songs." On songs' lyrics: "When a song is given to me I look first at the words, and only then at the music. The market today is full of cheap texts with meaningless words, but there are beautiful ones around, too." An episode that had moved her greatly: "One day while I was listening to a radio requests program, a 10-year-old asked for an old song of mine called Tzarich letzaltzel pa'amayim ("You have to ring twice"). Asked why he wanted to hear that song, the child answered, "because they don't write songs like that anymore." Shoshana's beautiful songs are the legacy she left us all. RACHEL KAPEN West Bloomfield, Michigan