December 25, 2018: Greatness and tragedy

Readers of The Jerusalem Post have their say.

Letters (photo credit: PIXABAY)
(photo credit: PIXABAY)
Greatness and tragedy
Nobody will deny the enormous contribution made to our country and our people by Rona Ramon, wife of Israel’s first astronaut Ilan Ramon, who was tragically killed when Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere. All of us are indebted to her immense contribution to Israeli society. A woman of valor and courage, who died much too young.
All the more, many of us, including myself, are greatly pained by her decision to be cremated, “Senior rabbi appeals to family not to cremate Rona Ramon’s remains,” December 20.
Whether one is Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, traditional, or even totally secular, cremation is considered to be a violation of the most basic Jewish values. The aversion to the willful destruction of the human body, Jewish or not, which in the eyes of Jewish tradition is holy even when the neshama (soul) has left it, is something that is so deeply ingrained in every Jew, that nearly nobody throughout the thousands of years of our history saw this as an option.
After the Holocaust, this matter became even more critical. Turning the human body into ashes became the way in which the Nazis wanted to destroy the very memory of the Jewish Nation. Not even the bodies were allowed to have a place that would remind the world that there was once a Jewish people.
It was the great Jewish Holocaust philosopher Emil Fackenheim who warned us not to give a posthumous victory to Hitler by continuing to assimilate and disregard our basic Jewish values.
Rona Ramon probably did not realize this. A real tragedy.
Because of the great woman she was, her cremation has created a precedence that could have far-reaching consequences.
Let us make sure that this will not be the case. Let us do everything in our power to instill, in our fellow Jews and in our children, the knowledge that cremation is not in our vocabulary. It must be avoided at all costs. May her memory be a blessing.
End of year reflections
As we come to the end of 2018 I have to confess that I am shocked to the core of my being as an Israeli, as a Jew and as a very ordinary human being by the blind folly of the world’s leaders and the endless daily loss of life and continuing threat of wars and the end of human life on this earth.
Here in Israel we have had a series of cruel attacks taking the lives of innocent citizens and soldiers, victims of hate-suffused Palestinians and almost daily our radio and newspapers offer listeners and readers a sickening diet of death, murder, threat of war, without let-up.
It is almost as if the human life in this world has become meaningless in a world obsessed with conflict, power hunger and arms development to achieve the greatest amount of destruction possible.
Ordinary citizens who value life and peaceful existence above all else watch in despair as their leaders lead them from one conflict to another, from one threat to another as if they have learned nothing from the recent past or from the terrifying lessons of history.
We who value human life and yearn for a peaceful world in which to live out our mortal days call on world leaders to exhibit true leadership by heeding the prayers of ordinary people and coming to their senses before it is too late and they become hopelessly embroiled in an all-powers conflict that will spell the end of human life on this bloodstained planet.
As an Orthodox Jew I pray each day that Hashem, who sees with dismay all that is happening in His world, will step in to stop the rot, open the eyes and hearts of the leaders, and make the coming year of 2019 a year of peace, progress and prosperity for all mankind.
Let it plow
As precisely detailed by Melanie Phillips in her December 21 “As I See It” column, “Australia’s boomerang knocks Diaspora Jews off balance too,” I for one am not surprised at the Jewish Diaspora’s response to the recent skewed decision by the Australian government to recognize west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
This diplomatic lite decision, however, came with the caveat of not moving their embassy from Tel Aviv and at the same time, unfortunately, declaring the city as a West and East entity until a peace settlement is forthcoming.
Once again we see the general attitude of Diaspora Jews believing Israel should not look a gift horse in the mouth and any recognition of their rightful capital should produce a tug of the forelock.
A strong, proud and defiant Israel appears to lose unquestioned support in many Diaspora arenas, where in the past this was certainly forthcoming and possibly taken for granted.
It might well be a factor that today’s Israel, having grown and changed over these 70 years, is no longer perceived as only a brave defiant minnow and can now fight its own battles, including on the diplomatic front.
Diaspora support should certainly be nurtured and welcomed however, this can’t be conditional. Israel is a big boy now in a still very dangerous neighborhood and must be allowed to plow its own path for the protection of its citizens and hopefully garner the continued respect and understanding of all fellow Jews along the way.
Tel Aviv
Further widening
In his latest tirade, about the failure of Israel to implement the Oslo “peace process”, Gershon Baskin mentions that “Even the Arabic language is downgraded by the Knesset” (“Cross-border cooperation and partnerships, not divorce,” Encountering Peace, December 20).
The Post
, ostensibly to illustrate the point, has included a large photo in which one can only wonder what is the connection to downgrading Arabic.
The figure shows a settlement on the slopes of a hill. Presumably Jewish since there are no mosques in sight and the architecture is in the Jewish style of the “red roofs.”
Does the presence of a Jewish settlement imply the downgrading of Arabic ? The traffic sign pointing out the direction of Tel Aviv-Jaffa is in Hebrew (on top), then Arabic and then English. Should the Arabic have been on top?
An additional road number sign uses the usual Arabic-Hindu numerals (465) adopted by the West centuries ago.
Should the Arabic-Hindu numerals been accompanied by purely Arabic numerals? Baskin doesn’t seem to realize that his always one-sided criticism only serves to irritate and to further widen the chasms in the Israeli public.
Loss of autonomy
I would like to add one thought to David Harel and Orna Kupferman’s column “On gender separation in academia,” December 23.
Quite irrespective of any religious, haredi (ultra-Orthodox) or otherwise, connotation, the merits of single-gender vs co-education, especially in higher education, was much debated in secular educational circles in the United States during the past 50 years.
It was widely acknowledged that while there were many advantages to co-education, women tended to assume more leadership roles in women’s colleges.
I remember myself as a student in a secular women’s college in the US that when being informed that my college would soon become co-ed having mixed feelings. On the one hand looking forward to the change, and on the other, feeling somehow that as women, we would lose part of our educational autonomy in the process.
Beit Shemesh
Ignorance of history
In response to Ashley Perry’s (“What the Ocasio-Cortez ‘coming out’ can teach us,” December 14) and Daniel Santacruz’s (“Challenging Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘Sephardi’ claims,” December 21) opinion pieces regarding US Congresswomen-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s revealing of her Sephardi heritage: Perry tried once again to raise awareness of the opportunity for Israel and the Jewish community at large to address the growing awareness amongst some Hispanics of their Sephardi ancestry.
Such an effort has hit against not only ignorance of historical facts but also resistance to healing the 500 years’ rift between those Jews who converted and practiced their faith secretly in the Diaspora and those who chose to leave the Iberian Peninsula for communities in Morocco, Turkey, the Netherlands and Britain.
I speak as an Orthodox Jew whose Sephardi ancestors left Spain and Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries traveling to Puerto Rico via London, Mallorca and the Canary Islands. Having discovered the genealogical evidence of this ancestry, the genetic testing results supporting Jewish ancestry and the vestigial remnants of Jewish practices in my family, I made a halachic return via an Israeli Rabbinate-approved Orthodox beit din in New York.
I did so after a soul-searching journey, which included attending a conference at the Institute for Sephardi and Anusim Studies in Netanya and learning of the spiritual awakening taking place around the world for many similar descendants.
It is well established that Puerto Rico was the first place in the New World where the Inquisition was instituted and where the first New World autos de fe took place and sanbenitos were hanged. Abbad y Lasierra (1778) and Lea (1922) among others attest to the establishment of the Inquisition in Puerto Rico in 1519.
Easily 40% of Puerto Ricans trace their ancestry to the Canary Islands, which have are associated with a high population of conversos. Many trace their ancestors to Mallorca and to the families that Rabbi Nissim Karelitz in 2011 stated unequivocally were part of the people of Israel.
Medical genetics research in the past 30 years has further highlighted the presence of genetic diseases associated with individuals of known Jewish ancestry such as Machado Joseph Disease, within Puerto Rican families raising suspicion of Jewish ancestry in these families. The work of Bennett Greenspan at Family Tree DNA has raised awareness amongst Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics to genetic ties to both Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, thus motivating them research the possibilities of Jewish ancestry.
It is sad that the lessons of this past week’s parsha have fallen on deaf ears and brethren refuse to put away the bitterness that divided us when our ancestors parted in separate directions at the time of our expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula.
 There is no question that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez needs to substantiate her claims in a more evidentiary fashion if she wishes to be a part of Klal Yisrael, but to fabricate baseless assertions against the wider Anusim community of Puerto Rico because of one’s political view of her is merely showing one’s bitterness and ignorance of history.
Kudos to Ashley Perry and those at the Institute for Sephardi and Anusim Studies who work tirelessly to bring back the anusim after 500 years of separation from their brethren.
New York