September 29: Standing alone

The prime minister is sending a clear message that his word is his bond and when he makes a commitment both his friends and enemies can count on the commitment being honored.

Standing alone
Sir, – I don’t think I have ever been as proud of our prime minister as I am at this critical point in the negotiations with the Palestinians. He has refused to back down on his promise to the settlers and to the nation on the issue of construction of housing throughout the country (“PM silent amid world criticism of moratorium’s end,” September 28).
The prime minister is sending a clear message that his word is his bond, and when he makes a commitment both his friends and enemies can count on the commitment being honored.
The message is clear. Israel will not be anybody’s puppet.
With a strong prime minister the chances of reaching a fair settlement with the Arabs has been substantially increased.
What the prime minister needs now is the full support of the country as he stands up to world pressure. This is the least we can do.
Religious and political pluralism
Sir, – That “Most Israelis approve of Reform, Conservative conversions” (September 28) may be appealing to advocates of pluralism in Judaism and of friendship between American and Israeli Jews. However, there is an element in this happy contemplation of religious peace that has not been thought out, in my opinion.
Let us take the parallel of Israel as a state. There are different political parties with different values and agendas. But there cannot be a state without an electoral process that decides policy for the state as a whole. If Judaism is to be an organized religion, rather than a hodgepodge of free-floating ideas and practices, the solution is not to invite a “pluralism” without limits.
Reform, Orthodox and Conservative may legitimately differ as to the method of conversion.
But to leave a triple parallel approach in place may destroy Judaism as a religion, just as leaving each political party in the state the freedom to follow its own policy would destroy the unity and integrity of the state.
The solution more conducive to the integrity of the religion as a whole would be for the three movements to debate the issue of conversion, and other issues of dogma and practice, and come to an agreement on the basis of conviction and perhaps majority vote, as in the political process.
Many have criticized our political system which multiplies political parties to an extent which handicaps governmental function. Would an unbridled pluralism in religion multiply sects and movements to such an extent that the religion of Judaism could not function at all?
Religious-industrial complex
Sir, – In his “The religious-industrial complex” (September 28) Shmuley Boteach addresses two totally disconnected but equally important issues, each deserving singular and sustained attention, namely: the widespread fraud known as gap-year yeshivot, and the sycophantic kowtowing to money on the part of major religious institutions.
Regarding the former, the time has indeed come to blow the whistle on the so-called yeshivot often run by carpetbagger self-styled yeshiva heads who exploit unwitting American parents and their immature offspring.
In exchange for $20,000 (plus airfare and the cost of virtually every weekend when the students are cast into the streets to fend for themselves) parents and children get an ROI of virtually zero. If the parents are lucky, their sons return home none the worse for the experience.
To add insult to injury these unsupervised children do not even develop a genuine connection to Israel or a modicum of derech eretz. If at the very least they would acquire the slightest cognizance of the fact that their Israeli peers are in uniform, protecting them and making it possible for them to fress and booze in relative safety, one might say “Dayenu.”
The saddest thing is that there is a fantastic alternative which would save the parents a bundle, improve the quality of their children dramatically, and viscerally connect their sons to Israel forever. It is called the IDF – which allows foreign boys (and girls) to enlist for 14 months and serve as real soldiers.
Instead of being cast adrift among the bars and pizza shops of Jerusalem, American boys would learn how to make do on less, how to count and be counted on by their comrades, how to defend the Jewish State, and how to be responsible adults.
And they would actually learn how to speak Hebrew.
After 14 months they would return home as men rather than juveniles, if not juvenile delinquents. And Israel, over time, would develop a critical mass of real supporters in America and elsewhere who are connected for life to their Israeli comrades in arms.
It is unfortunate that neither Israel nor the IDF promotes the Machal (Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Hutz L’Aretz, foreign volunteers) program, as it is a 100 percent win-win for both Israel and the Diaspora, not to mention an incredible benefit to the 18-year-old gap-year adolescent.
And ironically, the young soldier would be getting paid rather than having to pay for the privilege.
As far as I’m concerned – as the parent of a former Machalnik, now an officer in the IDF – parents should be happy to fork over the $20,000 to the IDF for providing their sons with such a richly rewarding experience, rather than stuffing it into the wallets of so-called yeshiva heads whose connection to Israel and Zionism is tenuous at best.
J.J. GROSS Jerusalem
Sir, – In response to Shmuley Boteach’s critique of American youth and the cash flow behind them: He seemed to have had no problem with the “fancy breakfast” given in honor of the “wealthiest donors” until he was told that his children were not invited.
This act, while embarrassing for Boteach, does not exactly qualify as “soul-selling.”
‘Schule,’ not shul
Sir, – David Geffen’s reminiscence of Simhat Torah in Atlanta (“Simhat Torah and my Torah,” September 28) is delightful. I read it with pleasure (especially since my daughter- in-law comes from Atlanta).
Among the Jewish institutions Geffen describes, there is one that can be misunderstood – the “Arbeitring [sic] shul.” Of course he means the Arbeiter Ring (later Arbeter Ring) schule. It was not a synagogue.
It was a secular Yiddish school.
In my father’s succa
Sir, – In David Geffen’s article about various succot (“Construction Judaism: An age-old festival,” Succot 5771 special supplement, September 22), Rabbi Geller mentioned the succa my father built at the University of Colorado.
The slight correction to the facts are: the garage was incorporated in the Hillel House to make a large enough area for all sorts of Hillel functions. He correctly stated it had a moveable roof, so that the succa was in fact inside the Hillel House. Just for the record, it was designed with the help of Jewish engineering students at the university, and was the second succa ever to be built in Boulder, Colorado. The first was at our home.
But this was always my father’s approach. At Syracuse University some of the Jewish students in the School of Architecture designed and built an octagon succa on the Quad which lasted two days until the upstate New York weather took it down.
Or another instance of Succot in SU: we all slept in the succa until we got snowed under and had to dig our way out of the succa.
I want to thank David Geffen for bringing me to remember the fun times we had growing up with my parents on various campuses, especially around the period of the hagim, the Jewish festivals.