February 4: Huckabee's message

The visit of former and hopefully future presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is noteworthy.

Huckabee’s message
Sir, – The visit of former and hopefully future presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is noteworthy (“Huckabee: Obama erred in placing all the pressure on Israel,” February 3). He brought with him an entourage of over 150 people who strongly identify with Israel, and was refreshingly candid about President Barack Obama’s heavy-handed pressure on the Jewish state. Huckabee indicated that this pressure has given impetus to pressure from Europe, putting Israel in semi-isolation as far as world opinion is concerned. Israel has become a country at which everyone can throw a few epithets, because if the United States, Israel’s best friend, can do it, the rest of the world can follow suit. It will not help US policies in the Middle East to have Israel publicly pressured, and the sooner President Obama realizes this, the better the US’s image will be.
Thailand says no to drugs
Sir, – After reading the article “‘Nazi speed’ being smuggled here in ever-larger amounts” (February 2), I would like to point out that drug suppression is one of the top priorities of the current Thai government as well as successive ones, and Thailand has stringent laws and measures in areas of prevention, suppression and rehabilitation to combat drug abuse.
Severe punishments exist, and cases of drug smuggling as mentioned in the report are no exception. As drug trafficking is a transnational issue, Thai authorities work in cooperation with the international community to combat this crime.
Furthermore, it should be noted that although the report makes references to the terms “Nazi speed” and “Hitler’s drug,” these terms do not exist in Thailand and certainly have nothing to do with the situation of illicit drugs there.
PULIN MILINTACHINDA Royal Thai Embassy Herzliya Pituah
Six million funerals
Sir, – I recently attended two funerals – one of my beloved grandmother, aged 92, and the second of a good friend and neighbor. Needless to say, it was a time of personal sorrow, and I wore a black suit and tie, as is appropriate on such occasions.
On January 27, I went forth from my home similarly dressed. “Another funeral?” a friend asked after sizing up my attire. “I’m going to six million funerals today,” I answered. Noting her puzzled expression, I elaborated that it was Holocaust Memorial Day, and that I was attending the ceremony in Belfast City Hall in Northern Ireland that evening in memory of the six million Jews killed in the Nazi death camps. A cantor from Dublin sang a moving rendition in Hebrew, and testimonies were read.
It reminded me of living in Tel Aviv, when I would often find myself standing next to a pensioner on the bus who was wearing short sleeves in the heat, and see the tattooed number from the concentration camps. As an outsider and a non-Jew, I was taken aback when I learned what those numbers meant. I often wondered what experiences those individuals had endured at the hands of the Nazis.
While living in Israel, I was moved on Holocaust Memorial Day when a siren sounded across the country and people observed a communal silence, getting out of their cars and standing in the road or stopping their work, to commemorate the millions who perished – many of whom had been friends or family. Few were unaffected.
This is the tragedy of the Holocaust, in that every death was an individual loved by someone, and that is why for the Jewish people, the commemoration is such a personal and painful event. Having just marked the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau (“London ceremonies mark Holocaust Memorial Day,” January 28), let us reflect on the enormity of that hurt and learn not to forget its lessons or the memory of each and every loved one who succumbed to Nazi terror. May their memory be forever blessed.
More birthright follow-up
Sir, – I was born in the former Soviet Union (in what is now Belarus) and emigrated to New York when I was six years old. My family is very much Jewish from all sides, but like most Soviet Jews I was raised secular, with virtually no engagement with the Jewish community. However, this all changed after going on Birthright, particularly due to the post-trip follow-up by Birthright Israel NEXT NY and the JEC.
I went on Birthright with Oranim in June 2008 because I wanted to take advantage of the free opportunity to visit Israel. However, I did not expect the experience to be so life-changing. After the trip I truly began to appreciate Israel and the significance of my Jewish identity. Thus, I was happy to receive an invite for coffee and several follow-up e-mails from the JEC to discuss my Israel experience and opportunities to further engage the Jewish community.
Since the trip, I’ve done a Holocaust study program available through the JEC for Birthright alumni, volunteered to help the Jewish community in New York through JEC efforts such as J-Care, and attended many of their lectures and activities. I even recently accepted a full scholarship to a dual MBA/MA program in Jewish professional leadership at Brandeis University.
I wholeheartedly believe I would not be where I am today if it were not for Birthright, and especially the post-trip follow-up. I also don’t think I’m unique in this respect, as my friends are also taking advantage of these opportunities. Please reconsider your position or interview more Birthright alumni, because the follow-up certainly exists.
Sir, – I am not only a Birthright alumnus, but also an active member of Birthright NEXT and the JEC in Manhattan. I wanted to take this opportunity to comment your article “Birthright needs to transform on a larger scale” (December 30).
The claim that “Jewish communities make little effort to continue their engagement” and “these programs don’t reach the majority of alums” is completely wrong. The Birthright NEXT group here in New York City is probably the most influential and caring group in which I am involved. From halla-baking classes and Shabbat dinners, to putting together meals for the less fortunate, to planning educational and social initiatives throughout the calendar year, I am constantly being contacted and encouraged to stay in touch with my fellow Jewish community members – people I would never even have met if not for Birthright and the JEC.
Better buses for all
Sir, – Of course the haredim deserve better bus conditions – and so do I (“Transportation minister OKs ‘mehadrin buses,” February 2). I, too, dislike being squashed against other people. The overcrowding on Jerusalem buses is intolerable. Ordinary, tired people with no cars have to travel to work and back in these dirty, old buses, with as many standing as sitting. If there is money to spare to improve conditions, let it go to the general public. With fewer passengers and more buses, we all would benefit.
Jerusalem of tolerance
Sir, – It needed to be said, and Greg Tepper said it well: “Jerusalem is indeed tolerant... an honest accounting shows religious, secular, Arab, Jew, and others working together, busing together and walking the same streets” (“O Jerusalem, city of high blood pressure,” February 2). We might add shopping together, and at times being sick together or even being treated by one another.
It must also be said that this situation exists today, but didn’t exist when the “enlightened” English controlled the city, and certainly not when the Jordanians controlled the eastern half and the Old City. Israel is not an apartheid state, but one of the most tolerant anywhere, certainly in the Middle East.