June 7: Fish out of water?

After listening to Obama's speech I no longer have any belief in him.

letters 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Fish out of water? Sir, - I listened to Barack Obama's Cairo University address from start to finish. I did not vote for him; I don't vote in US elections. But I did think he was an intelligent politician. After listening to his speech, however, I no longer have any belief in him. His appeal to the Muslim world for peace and justice was no different than a biologist getting down on his knees at some river and preaching to the fish to get out of the water and walk on two legs. In particular, I was offended by the way Obama equated Palestinian and Jewish suffering over the years, and the respective rights owed to the two peoples. There is no equation. And there never will be ("Mixed reactions in Israel to speech," Online Edition, June 4). YONATAN SILVERMAN Tel Aviv Sir, - You've got to give President Obama credit. He went to Cairo. He defended the Copts. He told the Shi'ites and the Sunnis to stop killing each other. He told the entire Muslim world to stop denying the Holocaust. And he told it that America's ties with Israel are unshakeable. It's easy to criticize. But, tell me: What other American president had the guts to do all this? JOSEPH WEISSMAN Paramus, New Jersey Sir, - President Obama says it would have made sense for the Palestinian Arabs to have "taken a more constructive approach and sought the moral high ground" ("Tension in Jerusalem," June 4). Obama doesn't seem to realize that in certain circles, intolerance is considered the moral high ground, war against the Jews is deemed a constructive approach, and to live and let live is seen as a gnawing humiliation. Is it possible that he has been living in the US too long? MARK L. LEVINSON Herzliya Minister Neeman: Please desist Sir, - Re "Neeman: I'll appoint dozens of former IDF chaplains to conversion courts" (May 27): If religious conversion means anything, it is the final step in a profoundly personal process of soul-searching and wrestling with issues of faith and spiritual values. It involves the rejection of previously held assumptions, beliefs and life-styles. In the Jewish context, conversion implies a passionate desire to draw close to the God of Israel and to identify with the mission and destiny of the people of Israel. Frankly, I do not believe that there are "tens of thousands" of non-Jewish immigrants to Israel anxious to convert to Judaism within the framework of these prerequisites. And that is before even getting into questions of personal mitzva observance. If having so many immigrants who are not Jewish presents an existential threat to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, as Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman claims, what will be accomplished by establishing "special state conversion courts" to expedite mass conversions? "Converts" processed by such conversion courts will not be recognized by all sectors of the community, which will become even more fragmented than it is. Add to that the increased potential for disappointment and heartbreak as rabbis in both Israel and the Diaspora are forced to perform more rigorous genealogical searches when couples come before them to be married. Prof. Yedidya Stern's nightmares of his children marrying non-Jewish Israeli citizens will become more stark and real if his advocacy of converting "the majority of non-Jews" succeeds. We have to face it. The majority of non-Jews are not interested in converting to Judaism, and for good reasons. Facilitating pro-forma conversions will only exacerbate the "Who is a Jew?" dilemma. Institutions of a secular, albeit Jewish, state have no role to play in the matter of conversion to Judaism. As with other religions, conversion must be the domain of ecclesiastical bodies. One can, therefore, only hope that Minister Neeman will not attempt to follow up on the threat to ram through his proposal to expand the state's special conversion courts - whose standing is questionable, at best. The social and civil upheaval that this would bring in its wake across the Jewish world would prove devastating, and would not contribute to the enhancement of Israel's existential stability. MARVIN PACHINO Jerusalem Civil defense drill insulted Tel Avivians Sir, - Re "Failing the Sheinkin test" (Amir Mizroch, June 3): I live in Tel Aviv. Last Tuesday, I followed the signs for "Public Shelter" around the corner from my flat. The final sign pointed the way into a college. The security guard at the gate did not know of any shelter, nor its location within the college. The college is locked at night. During the Second Lebanon War - in which Hassan Nasrallah boasted that Hizbullah would be able to reach Tel Aviv with long-range missiles, and it seemed a likely possibility - I lived in Neveh Tzedek. Having located the local public shelter and found it locked, I called the municipality to find out why, and was told that the shelters would be opened only if the situation warranted it. (After the warning of an air raid? After loss of life?) Despite being an olah of five years' standing and paying my municipal rates and all other bills regularly, I have never been issued with a gas mask. To residents of Tel Aviv - who have nonexistent, inaccessible and, no doubt, wholly inadequately equipped shelters - last week's air raid warning exercise was not only farcical, but insulting. REBECCA MENDOZA Tel Aviv There but for the grace... Sir, - If, God forbid, Greer Fay Cashman had been a victim of hired goons, suffering a broken nose and fractured eye-socket as did Shira Margalit, would she have written a sympathetic article about Dudu Topaz? ("The media's new football - Dudu Topaz," June 2.) It has already been pointed out that the wide media coverage given to the allegations helped pressure Topaz into confessing his vicious crimes against three innocent people for the sake of personal revenge. MORDECHAI SPIEGELMAN Jerusalem Greer Fay Cashman responds: My op-ed was not specifically intended to be sympathetic to Dudu Topaz, but to make the points that all suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty; and that the Israeli media simply loves to lash into celebrities, tycoons and high-ranking politicians who are under police investigation. Topaz simply happened to be the vehicle of the moment. Second time around Sir, - Judy Montagu's "Second-hand, first-class" (June 3) highlighted the fact that perspective can change with time. Two people may meet and reject each other as prospective marriage partners; then meet again five or 10 years later - both still unmarried - at which point they find themselves willing to take a more realistic look at one another. I personally know some couples who gave each other a second chance, and today are wonderfully happy. HANNAH KOENIGSBERG Jerusalem Sir, - The line about how "right" it feels that someone's unwanted possessions, "ownerless for a time, found someone to cherish and care for them" made me feel even better about donating my vintage clothes to charitable organizations. CHAYA GITTEL Jerusalem