February 3: Segregated seating...

While there is no universally accepted definition of “democracy,” references affirm two principles underpinning any definition.

Segregated seating...
Sir, – While there is no universally accepted definition of “democracy,” references affirm two principles underpinning any definition of democracy: equality and freedom (Wikipedia). The Israeli regime of segregated buses for the ultra-Orthodox exposes how blatantly Israel’s version of “democracy” violates these fundamental principles (“Transportation minister OKs ‘mehadrin’ buses,” February 2).
The government funds approximately 90 segregated bus routes: women at the back of the bus, men at the front. Women aren’t free to choose where to enter buses or where to sit. Women who enter or sit in the wrong part of the bus are abused verbally and physically, with few prosecutions of abusers. The separate-and-unequal bus regime violates both principles of democracy. It also imposes on all citizens a conservative, fundamentalist view of Jewishness rejected by the vast majority of Jews, Israelis and Israel supporters.
Israel’s basic laws proclaim it a “Jewish and democratic state.” And its politicians and supporters remind us constantly that Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East.” Yet its transportation minister advocates entrenching and expanding a bus system that is neither Jewish nor democratic. And we Jews remain silent, shamefully.
    JUDY BAMBERGER    O’Connor, Australia
Sir, – With regard to your reports about segregated seating of men and women on buses, I would like to make the following points.
The late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein wrote in a responsa that a man may sit next to a woman on a bus. However, he adds that if a man is aware that doing so would cause him to have improper thoughts, he may not do it.
The reason women are required to sit in the back is not that they are considered inferior; if women sat in the front and men in the back, the men would be able to see the women at least partially, and that would defeat the purpose of the segregation.
On one occasion I unknowingly sat at the back of a segregated bus and was told by a woman to move to the front. I appreciated that she told me, although I was “forced” to sit in front. To avoid misunderstandings and problems, segregated buses should be marked clearly as such.
    EPHRAIM STEIN    Jerusalem
... and secular bar mitzvas
Sir, – In response to Deena Spigelman (“Bar sans mitzva,” Letters, January 3l):
1. One becomes a bat mitzva or bar mitzva by the mere fact of belonging to the Jewish race and turning 12 or 13. Announcing to the world that you are bat- or bar-mitzva, means that you want us to know you have reached an age where certain behavior may be expected of you, be that religious or secular. It’s customary to hold a ceremony in the synagogue, but not compulsory. Nor does not doing so clear you from responsibility.
2. Many mitzvot don’t relate to religious observance at all – not to prayer or keeping Shabbat or kashrut. Many are between man and man: charity, avoiding idle gossip, visiting the sick, helping others, honesty, etc.
3. We need all the Jews we can keep. A secular Jew is still a Jew. Who are you to deny such Jews their birthright?
    LITA ARKIN    Jerusalem
Standing up to smoke
Sir, – Your correspondents have encouraged me to make a point of complaining to the management in any restaurant in which I eat where other diners may be smoking illegally (“Kudos to Efrat’s rabbis,” February 2). I hope I shall not be subjected to assault in consequence!
    MARTIN D. STERN    Salford, England
A different ‘Hatikva’
Sir, – I always enjoy Liat Collins’s refreshing, youthful tone. However, this once, her youthfulness tripped her up (“From Kaddish to Hatikva,” January 31). It is true that Naftali Herz Imber wrote “Hatikva.” However, the version currently used as the national anthem of Israel is not exactly what he wrote. The lines quoted by Ms. Collins did not exist in the original and are from a modification made to the text in 1948.
Imber lived in Palestine briefly in the 1880s, during which time he wrote “Tikvateinu” (later renamed “Hatikva”). The poem has nine stanzas plus a refrain. The full version expresses a historic yearning for a return to the land, devoid of a political Zionist aspiration for an independent state.
    HAROLD E. NEUSTADTER    Jerusalem
Liat Collins writes: Many thanks for enlightening us (and for the compliments). Indeed, I’m not that old, although my tone is evidently more youthful than the rest of me!
Keeping memory alive
Sir, – Recognizing the urgency to preserve the real memory of the Holocaust (“Preserving the (real) memory,” January 24), the Holocaust Center Boston North, headquartered in Peabody, Massachusetts, and serving New England and beyond, created Holocaust Legacy Partners, a program that matches survivors with people, who pledge to actively and accurately keep survivors’ memories alive when they are no longer with us. Using video testimonies, interviews, artifacts and other means, people schedule presentations in settings such as middle school and high school classrooms, colleges, churches and temples.
Interest in such programs grows daily in communities across the country. The center encourages communities to implement Holocaust Legacy Partners to ensure not only that future generations remember, but that they never forget.
    DEBORAH L. COLTIN     Board member, Holocaust Center Boston North
Avoiding an ‘apartheid state’
Sir, – Thanks for your prominent reporting of the fact that “in addressing the ramifications of a continued stalemate in negotiations, [Defense Minister Ehud] Barak said, “It must be understood that if between the Jordan [River] and the [Mediterranean Sea] there is only one political entity called ‘Israel’, it will by necessity either be not Jewish or not democratic, and we will turn into an apartheid state” (“Defense Minister preaches two states for two peoples on eve of Mubarak meeting,” January 27).
But this should not be news to anyone. It is impossible to see why the Right does not understand, when every single elected government, from that of Yitzhak Rabin onward, has recognized it.
I worry that Israel has become so deeply polarized among haredim, Israeli Arabs, the settlement movement and Tel Aviv liberals, that it is too paralyzed to create and seize serious opportunities and take serious actions, even if the time were ever ripe. David Horovitz has himself expressed similar concerns in his columns.
I wish more people could be conservative on terrorism, but equally liberal on two viable states and territorial final status terms, which would grant reasonable Palestinian aspirations and, above all, settle an increasingly dangerous conflict and avoid Barak’s demographic “apartheid state” in order to save Israel.
    JAMES ADLER    Cambridge, MA
An Eilat attraction
Sir, – I have just returned from a fabulous visit to Eilat. This wonderful city has something for everyone and should be a tourist destination for all of Europe to recharge their physical and intellectual selves (“Tourism industry mulls taking over marketing strategy from government,” February 2). However, one particular attraction that needs to be rethought is King’s City.