November 1: They are our children

I was among those who felt it necessary to leave during Sheetrit's address to the closing plenary of the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors.

letters to the editor 88 (photo credit: )
letters to the editor 88
(photo credit: )
They are our children Sir, - I was among those who felt it necessary to stand up and leave during Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit's address to the closing plenary of the Jewish Agency's Board of Governors on Tuesday ("Sheetrit opposes Israel granting automatic citizenship to Jews," October 31). I left feeling deeply troubled by the manner in which his words came dangerously close to what I personally felt to be a toxic mix of populism and racism. Just last year, during the High Holy Days, my wife and I were attending a dinner sponsored by the Jewish Religious Union (a member of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in Mumbai, India). We shared the evening with a small group of young adults from the Bnei Menashe community, individuals who had completed a program leading to halachic conversion and who were preparing for aliya. Our songs that evening blended Ashkenazi, Bene Israel and Bnei Menashe traditions. As our guests spoke of their love for the Jewish people, as they sang songs of yearning for Zion, I asked their permission to bless them as parents would bless their children. Because they were my children. And they are our children. I care little for the purity of genetic records or for the need felt by some for unchallengeable records of family trees. I care far more for a spark of Jewish life that has come alive and which was being nurtured by the richness of our tradition. I care far more for the unchallengeable willingness of those Bnei Menashe to embrace life in Israel and here to help strengthen the Jewish people as it builds toward a rich and fulfilling future. There are indeed some severe problems among the populations of those who have made aliya these past six decades of Israel's life. But I firmly believe that many of those problems will be far better addressed by removing the power of those self-proclaimed defenders of the gates of Judaism who set aside compassion and concern for human beings, who are blind to the impact of their harsh decisions upon the Jewish future and who have succeeded in imposing upon Israel a strictness toward conversion which is not at all reflective of the realities of Jewish tradition. Israel has every right to make certain that it does not knowingly bring anti-social individuals into the country. But Israel has a powerful obligation as well to hold fast to its policy of welcoming all of those who want to embrace and to defend our people, who are willing to abide by rational and reasonable conversion standards and who have chosen to become partners in our fate. I salute the leadership of the Jewish Agency for distancing itself from Sheetrit's words. I salute the Jewish Agency's ongoing efforts both to promote aliya and to bring about a solution to the vexing problems concerning conversion. And I salute those who, in a public yet civilized protest, chose to distance themselves from what was a most unfortunate presentation. RABBI STANLEY M. DAVIDS President, Association of Reform Zionists of America Narrative and reality Sir, - I read with interest "Jerusalem mufti: Western Wall was never part of Jewish temple" (October 25). The kind of denial by former mufti Ikrema Sadi is somehow disputed by no more and no less than the institution he represents: the Supreme Muslim Council. In an official guide published by the council in 1930, it states: "This site is one of the oldest in the world. Its sanctity dates from the earliest times. It's identity with the site of Solomon's Temple is beyond dispute. This, too, is the spot, according to universal belief, on which 'David built there an altar unto the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings' from 2 Samuel XXIV, 25." The ex-mufti of Jerusalem in 2007 says that "Zionism tries to trick the Jews claiming that this was part of a Jewish temple." But his predecessors said about the Solomon's Stables: "It dates as far back as the construction of Solomon's Temple. According to Josephus it was in existence and was used as a place of refuge by the Jews at the time of the conquest of Jerusalem by Titus in the year 70." The former mufti declares: "Because Allah is fair, he would not agree to make al-Aksa if there were a temple there for others beforehand." However, his predecessors established that when the Caliph Omar occupied Jerusalem in 637, "there were the ruined walls of the Herodian and Roman periods, the remains of an early basilica (probably on the present site of al-Aksa), and the bare Rock." Was the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem in 1930 less Muslim than the one today? Does the mufti really think that by changing the history and declaring that white is black and black is white he can achieve the happiness of his people? Religious narrative is no more than that: narrative. And tales can be said this way and that way. Sometimes, when narrative and historical facts coincide, there is a chance for understanding. Our tragic reality is that there are no two religious leaders in both camps able to come forward and begin a peace process by bringing narrative tale and historical reality closer for both people. ANDRES LACKO Tzur Yigal NILI was crucial Sir, - The successful taking of Beersheba in 1917, now being reconstructed by Australian horsemen and others ("Aussies to reenact the capture of Beersheba," October 31), owed much to the intelligence work done by the NILI spies, foremost Sarah Aaronsohn and her brother, Aharon, together with Avshalom Feinberg. Two of them lost their lives in assuring that British troops under Allenby would provided with maps and other information that allowed them to make the successful round-about Gaza sweep and take the city's Turkish troops by surprise. Shmuel Katz's new book on the Aaronsohn family details this chapter in the history of the Land of Israel. Incidentally, the 1988 film The Lighthorsemen, also shown here, authentically recreated the charge across the plain in a most dramatic fashion. YISRAEL MEDAD Shiloh Unseemly Sir, - As a long time believer that religion and politics do not mix, I was not at all surprised to read of the shenanigans taking place in Betar Illit ("Betar elections may affect national haredi politics," October 31). How unseemly, how degrading. Breaking agreements, backstabbing, acting like prostitutes for hire. And all in the name of religion, and all "blessed" by rabbinic authorities. How perplexing that these leading haredi rabbis can provide a heter for the lowest forms of backroom politics, but cannot countenance heter mehira" for Israeli farmers. MICHAEL D. HIRSCH Kochav Yair