November 12: Dead before their time

Norman Mailer was indeed a prince of letters.

letters to the editor 88 (photo credit: )
letters to the editor 88
(photo credit: )
Dead before their time Sir, - In the 1980s I was director of Foreign Rights at Scott Meredith Literary Agency in New York City, and Norman Mailer was one of its most important clients. In 1985 I took a vacation on Cape Cod and Norman invited me to spend time with him at his home in nearby Provincetown, which was wonderful and memorable. When it came time to leave, I was cognizant that Norman was flying to Los Angeles the next day to appear on The Johnny Carson Show to promote his new book Tough Guys Don't Dance. So before leaving, I said, "Knock 'em dead Norman…" Norman shook his head, looked at me and said, "No, Jonathan, you don't understand, they already are dead…." ("Norman Mailer, pugnacious prince of American letters, dead at 84," November 11). YONATAN SILVERMAN Beit Shemesh Fibs and myths Sir, - At Yasser Arafat's tomb, President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated one of Arafat's favorite fibs: that he was born in Jerusalem (it was Cairo). If Abbas is unwilling to put a lid on that most minor untruth, how can anyone expect him to renounce the big lies that underlie the Palestinian sense of entitlement- the myths of the antiquity, blamelessness and historical Jewlessness of the land's population? As Israel approaches the negotiating table she should realize that the myths she shrugs off as preposterous are powerful diplomatic ammunition; and that she only strengthens them by leaving them unchallenged ("New Arafat tomb dedicated by Abbas in Ramallah," November 11). MARK L. LEVINSON Herzliya Qualifying murder? Sir, - Our attempt to monopolize genocide is backfiring ("Ukraine president wants Israel to recognize 'genocide,'" November 11). Now, in addition to the Armenians demanding recognition of their genocide by the Turks, the Ukrainians are demanding recognition of their genocide by the Soviets in the Thirties. This is what come from quantifying, qualifying and categorizing the murder of millions of people under an official label. At the time when the term was originated as a necessary world recognition of the Holocaust, we thought it a moral, decent, acknowledgement by the world of Jewish suffering. Now it has become a political football, with others than Jews claiming credit for being massacred in order to achieve political advantage. Logically, ethically, can we draw the line at some point and claim that dying before that line is mere tragedy and murder, but dying beyond it becomes something more? Are we implying that murder short of a certain quantity is to be treated with less sensitivity? That once a group qualifies for the title "genocide," it is then to be rewarded with special political, national, conscience-satisfying compensation? JACOB CHINITZ Jerusalem Serbian genocide Sir, - The demand by some in Congress that Turkey acknowledge the Armenian genocide evokes a wry smile from this Serb ("Armenians: Call slaughter 'genocide,'" October 22). Another genocide has never been properly acknowledged, spawning repercussions aplenty. I refer to the WW2 butchery of hundreds of thousands of civilian Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia, whose only political ambition in 1941 was to lie low given that Serbia proper was under brutal German occupation, and whose only crime was their national and religious identity. It was summed up by the Ustasha regime's deputy leader Mile Budak, who decreed in June 1941 that a third of Serbs were to be killed, a third expelled, and the rest converted. Surviving Serbs were forcibly converted en masse to Catholicism. There should have been no surprise when the Krajina Serbs objected, in 1990, to being railroaded into a secessionist Croatia led by Franjo Tudjman, who was unrepentant about the Ustasha's misdeeds. Yet most outside observers accused the Serbs of unnecessarily dredging up the past. Tudjman's 1989 Wastelands of History, a revisionist whitewash of the Ustasha, was dismissed as an unfortunate slip of the tongue, and his proud boast during Croatia's first free elections that his wife was neither Serb nor Jew deemed a mere indiscretion, while his subsequent withdrawal of the Serbs' constitutional status as one of Croatia's two historical nations was brushed aside as a petty detail. Worse still, the renaming of Croatian streets after Budak went unremarked. No wonder the Krajina Serbs took up arms. The Krajina Serb nation was ethnically cleansed in 1995. It is owed an apology, and not just by Zagreb. YUGO KOVACH Twickenham, Middx, UK Social disaster that needs remedying... Sir, - I noticed just one Talkback on to Ruth Eglash's "Someone to watch over me" (November 6). A country's civilization is measurable by the way it treats its weaker citizens, and the way Israel is dealing with its elderly population speaks volumes. For me, as a Dutch immigrant who worked professionally with the handicapped and elderly in Holland, it is obvious that the whole system in Israel, based on voluntary and foreign work, is the root cause of elder abuse in both private homes and institutions. The solution is not more supervision of foreign caretakers, but a complete overhaul of the system: first and foremost via education. I suggest a three-month mandatory course in which educators not only educate but also observe the motivation of potential caretakers. Second, a caretaker working 24 hours in somebody's private home should have at least two days off a week. Third, the government should set up a geriatric nursing training center so that elderly people suffering from serious diseases are treated, as in Holland, solely by its graduate caretakers - and not 24 hours, five days a week, by the same caretaker. This type of nursing is so demanding and intensive that to guarantee optimal care, there should be shifts of no more than 10 hours during the day and 14 evening-night hours. If Israel really wants to be a civilized country, it must begin to respect its elderly citizens and protect the basic rights of those who cannot take care of themselves anymore. The current system of commercial manpower companies and foreign workers is a recipe for more cases of abuse, or worse. YOCHANAN VISSER Efrat ...but caretakers are victims, too Sir, - First realize, there are at least three sides to every story: my story, your story, and the truth. I have been harassed, more than once, by those Ruth Eglash refers to as victims. Realize, these people's mouths are no Torah, nor Talmud. I worked in Neveh Ya'acov and was accused of stealing $300. I was questioned by the police for three hours on a Shabbat. I requested a lie detector test for all concerned; afterwards the police dropped the charges. In the meantime, I never received my pay from the agency. I worked in Beit Shemesh for a wheelchair patient in her 30s with three children, plus a new baby. Her children were very disrespectful to me. One day the daughter said, "Mommy, Hadassah's color stinks." The mother heard her say it and did not correct her. I worked in Har Nof taking care of an elderly man, and assisting his wife. One day, I overheard him tell her, "I don't want this kushi touching me anymore." A senior lady in Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet said to me one day, "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo / Catch a N----r by the toe." The next time, I read her one of my poems, which contains the line: "In order to understand each other / Let's change shoes." HADASSAH HARRELL Beit Shemesh Site insights Sir, - Overheard on my pre-Shabbat bus ride to downtown Jerusalem and reported without comment: "The Betar boos grow out of frustration," one rider noted. "Betar fans see (Yitzhak) Rabin as just another individual whose memory has been focused on sufficiently." A second bus rider added, "In Tel Aviv there are so many Rabin sites - it is difficult to count all of them. Money needed for other purposes is used to spotlight the 12-year victim. Guess we have to live with it" ("Betar punished for unruly fans," November 9). DAVID GEFFEN Jerusalem