September 29: Jewish cup half-full

September 29 Jewish cup

Jewish cup half-full... Sir, - Growing up in a NJ suburban Conservative synagogue not far from Marilyn Henry's own home town, I was one of those "three-days-a-year" Jews she speaks about. And perhaps I can shed some light on why we went back to synagogue every year for more "gloom" ("Three days a year," September 27). As children, we did what our parents did, and when we asked why go to synagogue at all, we were told that it was necessary to maintain our Jewish identity. We kept nothing else: no Shabbat or kashrut. Pessah apart, we were even unaware of the existence of certain holidays. But, as Jews, going to shul on the High Holy days was an absolute requirement, so we accepted it. That was our Judaism. As I grew older and began to internalize the rather stark and frightening English prayer translations, I felt scared, guilty, ashamed and quite in awe of an omnipotent God who was aware of my sins and decided that after my bar mitzva, I would fast on Yom Kippur as well. Though now a fully-fledged Orthodox Jew for decades, I admit to somewhat missing that primal fear and guilt I experienced as a child and teenager on Yom Kippur. But - just as Ms. Henry fears - by age 16 I felt the whole three-day-a-year-and-nothing-else Jewish experience was absurd, so I stopped fasting and going to shul for even those three days. I felt totally alienated from Jewish community life. And I wasn't alone: Many years later I discovered that many of my fellow high school classmates were Jewish - some even children of Holocaust survivors - but it didn't matter to any of us then. We were no different than our gentile peers. Unfortunately, most synagogues in the late 1960s and early '70s did little, if any outreach work. Luckily for me, I underwent an internal process of reconnecting with my Judaism, first as an ethnic identity awakening in my senior year of high school, and then as a religious "return" in college; definitely an exception to the rule. Recent Facebook contacts with many of my former classmates support Henry's final conclusion: Most of them have married out of the faith and totally rejected any active Jewish life. GERSHON HARRIS Hatzor Haglilit ...or empty Sir, - As the "rebbetzin" of a Conservative synagogue, Marilyn Henry should hardly be surprised that most Conservative congregants attend services only three times a year and that their numbers are shrinking exponentially. Since the 1950s, when Conservative Jews began fleeing to the suburbs, the Conservative movement has been in the business of pandering to its constituents rather than fortifying them. Virtually every halachic decision made by the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly has been a case of the tail wagging the dog, as their rabbis rubber-stamp de jure what the congregants have long been doing de facto. The very architecture of suburban Conservative synagogues is one of defeatism, trumpeting the awareness that "If you build it, they won't come." Instead of a large sanctuary, these shuls have little chapels with movable walls that open out to opulent, profit-making catering halls. On High Holy Days these walls are pushed aside, allowing for the halls to accommodate the once-a-year attendees. Conservative rabbis, fearful of not having their contracts renewed, make no effort to encourage greater attendance, let alone such core tenets of Conservative Judaism as kashrut, which is not kept in the overwhelming majority of Conservative-affiliated households. The entire movement is running on empty. JJ GROSS New York Just exquisite Sir, - Binyamin Netanyahu's UN speech was a thing of beauty. What a contrast between the ranting of lunatics and the measured, resolved and courageous words of your prime minister. It's what I call a speech with no wiggle room ("PM at UN blasts those silent in face of Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial," September 25). VIRGINIA VANTUYL Prescott, Arizona Sir, - I missed Leonard Cohen, but witnessed a performance of 40 minutes that shook the UN and made me sigh with pride. SHLOMOMANNS Tel Mond Sir, - Kudos to editor-in-chief David Horovitz. Driving home, I heard the end of his BBC interview about PM Netanyahu's UN visit and speech. He held his own and, when challenged on how Netanyahu was trying to "influence things" at the UN by focusing on the danger of Iran, very clearly and aptly represented Israel's side. He set the record straight, indicating that it is the Iranians who back every single terror group fighting Israel in the North (Hizbullah) and the South (Hamas), and they who render anyone interested in making peace unable to make any moves. Horovitz refused to be bullied by those who like to make Israel always look like the "bad guy." BARBARA BROWN Beit Shemesh Joke's on Israel Sir, - Israel puts its own soldiers in danger by worrying way too much about enemy civilians. Madness! If Hamas or Hizbullah fire missiles from civilian centers, those civilians become fair game. Tragic, but it's even more tragic to subject Israeli boys to house-to-house fighting just so Israel should be perceived as "good." The joke is on Israel: The world still sees you as baby-killers. It's time to announce to all enemies that the gloves are off, and stop apologizing ("The IDF's new Yom Kippur challenges," David Horovitz, September 25). PHIL GOODMAN Edison, New Jersey Little joy from Livni Sir, - Re "Livni knocks Netanyahu for invoking Holocaust at UN" (September 27): Netanyahu reminded the world what happens when raving lunatics are left to their own devices, but Tzipi Livni obviously missed the point: The threat of Ahmadinejad is no different than the threat of Hitler, and if Iran gets hold of nuclear weapons, and there is a war, we could see a world war with nuclear weapons being dropped on the Western world as well as Israel. The point isn't that Israel was or wasn't created because of the Holocaust; the two are connected. The Jews had a preexisting claim to the Land of Israel, and in the aftermath of WWII, the world decided to actualize that claim. MATTHEW BERMAN Herzliya Blessing in disguise Sir, - After reading the truly frightening extent of Ehud Olmert's concessions of land and security to Mahmoud Abbas ("I offered PA the best deal ever," September 24), I was left with only one thought: Thank God for Morris Talansky. ZALMI UNSDORFER UK Chairman, Likud-Herut London Well, excuse me! Sir, - I am 16 and writing a project on the Shoah for school, so I've been reading up on the subject. I was extremely upset to read "Waltzing into Hollywood" (September 23) about Christoph Waltz, a German actor playing the role of a Nazi officer in Quentin Tarantino's film Inglorious Basterds. The line that offended me most was Waltz's: "You know, Hitler loved children... one part of a personality doesn't contradict the other." Well, excuse me! What in the world is that supposed to mean? The fact that Adolf Hitler murdered more than 1.5 million children doesn't contradict the fact that he loved children? As far as I can see, Hitler didn't love children, he loved the Aryan race. If he had really loved children he wouldn't have starved, gassed, shot, tortured, emotionally and physically destroyed so many children. When I read this article, I cried. I don't understand why the world needs a kid like me to tell them how wrong Waltz's words are. A. FRIEDMAN Jerusalem Facts are facts Sir, - Should Miriam Nathans be a survivor of the Holocaust, I would not attempt to judge her anti-European reactions to her experiences ("Right, on a technicality," Letters, September 16). But facts remain facts. Whoever wants to blame the Poles, the Dutch, or any other occupied nation for not resisting the basing of German Nazi death camps in their countries has to consider that these people were under brutal occupation, their armies destroyed by the overwhelming Nazi war machinery. And still, some people resisted. Yad Vashem has certified this by honoring over 6,000 Poles. That there were also collaborators, no one disputes. On Nov. 11, 1939, when my father was taken outside our home in a Polish village and shot, it was three well-known Volksdeutsche SS men in our community who committed the crime. The SS guards and commanders in the death camps were Germans. Not only Jews died there. I was there and survived because Poles and, yes, a few Germans helped me. My brother survived because an unknown German guard helped him to flee to unoccupied territory. Ms. Nathans can hate whom she wants. But she should be consistent. If one wants to accuse a nation of passivity, then include the Allies, who refused to bombard the railroad tracks that led to the death camps, though they could have. Complicity? The British closed the only reasonable escape route - to Palestine. HILLEL GOLDBERG Jerusalem Too-harsh father? Sir, - Re "Tale of a boy and his father" (September 23): Judy Montagu heard a father tell his child of three-and-a-half or four: "Your behavior is unacceptable," and seemed pleased with the child's response when, as she puts it, "he looked up an immense distance into his father's face and said sadly, 'I don't want to fight with you, Daddy.'" I would argue that it was the father's behavior that was unacceptable, speaking to this three-and-a-half-year old as if he was a grown-up child. It begs the question of how strict the discipline imposed on him was for him to even think of having to say "I don't want to fight with you, Daddy." "'Good boy,' the father replied and took a peach out of his shoulder bag and handed it over." Could the child have had the audacity to ask for the peach prematurely? EDITH OGNALL Netanya