Obama, Practice What You Preach

I find it disturbing and disingenuous to read that President Barack Obama compares gun violence to freedom of religion. In the JT editorial “Balance of Rights” (Jan. 15), Obama states that “the right to worship freely and safely … was denied to Christians in Charleston, S.C., — and to Jews in Kansas City, Muslims in Chapel Hill and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights too.”

Obama, where are the religious rights of the Sisters of the Poor, who are being forced to buy health insurance containing contraceptive benefits? Where are the religious rights of the bakery owner, who didn’t want to sell a wedding cake with two male figures on the cake? The bakery is out of business, and both cases are in court.

‘Hostile’ Takeover?

The JT’s Jan. 8 editorial “Seeing Through the Transparancy Bill” notes how most of these government grants go to what you call “progressive Israeli” nongovernment organizations (NGOs), all of which oppose policies of the Israeli government.

It is fine for Israelis to object to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions; diaspora Jews certainly have opinions about the Jewish state and should make them known to Israeli politicians; Christians and Muslims can, do and should speak up for their coreligionists in the Holy Land.

But that is altogether different than having foreign, mostly European governments fund Israeli organizations seeking to change Israeli government policy. Imagine the League of Women Voters, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood or the Sierra Club taking grants from Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Americans would rightly object, yet under  the proposed bill, Israel accepts this, only requiring any lobbyists from such organizations to clearly state where their money comes from.  Moreover, the bill only applies to NGOs receiving more than half their funds from foreign governments.

To understand the severe problem Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is trying to solve, read “Catch the Jew” by Tuvia Tenenbom. He clearly shows the persistent hostility of European and Israeli NGOs that take foreign government funds to Israeli policy and in many cases to the Jewish state itself.

No Fly, No Problem

Morton Klein’s “Don’t Endanger Americans” (Jan. 8) does an excellent job in articulating the dangers in  allowing Syrian immigrants into the U.S. — at least at this time. I understand the compassion behind permitting these refugees to migrate to the U.S., but President Barack Obama, the Democratic Party and others  advocating for accepting Syrian immigrants need to wake up to reality: Sometimes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

There seems to be a major degree of naiveté on the part of these advocates regarding the risk Syrian immigrants might pose to U.S. citizens and  Jewish Americans in particular. It is  interesting that in our president’s  passionate fight for his proposed gun-control initiatives, he admits that his proposed changes may have little impact on gun violence, but pleads that if even a few lives are saved, it is important to implement these policies. Yet, when it comes to the real risk of Syrian immigration into our land, he seems to be implying that it is OK if a few Americans die at the hands of these immigrants; it is an acceptable loss. I guess American lives don’t matter if they are killed by Islamic terrorists.

The safest, most humane and most cost-effective solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is to establish no-fly zones in Syria or other Muslim countries. True, there would be a risk of conflict between patrolling planes  piloted by the U.S. and its allies and Russian or Syrian planes, but I believe if o-ur president stood up to Russia, there would not be a major conflict. These zones would provide security, humanitarian support (health, education, etc.), religious freedom and the establishment of local governing bodies. The Muslims would still be within a Muslim country. Of course, we also would have to protect the non- Muslims within the no-fly zone from discrimination and harm by the  Muslim majority.

History Lesson Worth Repeating

It was with great interest that I read “Chinese Food for Thought” (Jan. 15) about the Jews in China, especially in Shanghai.

My late husband, Wolfgang Rotenberg, and his family left Germany in December 1939 and sailed to Shanghai, seeking asylum. After a year in that city, where the conditions for refugees were terrible, they moved to Tientsin, North China, also a port city, where there was a sizable Eastern European Jewish community. Wolfgang was a child, and he and his brother were  enrolled in the Tientsin Jewish School, where the brothers learned English, as the secular curriculum was taught by teachers from the University of Cambridge. When I met him, he had a charming British accent. The Jewish/Hebrew studies were taught by local teachers.

After he died, as I was preparing to move from a house to an apartment, I found a box full of documents  relating to this period of the Rotenberg family history. I donated the contents to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial  Museum, which gladly accepted everything. Several years ago, I received a request from the Jewish Museum  of Berlin for documents; now, that museum has copies of everything.  Included in that donation were photographs, affidavits, report cards,  receipts from the ship that took the family to China, ration certificates and marriage and birth certificates, among other items.

Here are two other interesting facts I learned from our daughter: The Rotenberg family moved from Poland to Germany in the 1920s, as the senior Rotenberg took a position as cantor of the Adath Jeshurun synagogue in Berlin; and German citizenship was hard to get at that time, so the family was given League of Nations status. This saved them from a round-up of Jews. Wolfgang and his older brother were born in Berlin.

As a Jewish educator, it is my privilege and pleasure to speak to various groups about this period in Jewish history. I look forward to sharing [my knowledge] with others.

1-Across: G-o-n-e

What happened to the crossword puzzle? It was such fun, where Jewish knowledge helped. It was a great  addition to the JT, and I hope you will bring it back.

Editor’s Note: The publishing of the crossword puzzle is on hiatus.

Well-Received Story

You did a fantastic job of explaining the situation and expressing concerns about the Baltimore Jewish Council (“Jewish Community Split on End-of-Life Issue,” Jan. 8). No matter how this all turns out, I, for one, appreciate the consideration and well-drawn attention to the  discussion.

Lopsided Presentation

The JT’s recent piece on the “Death With Dignity” bill did a fine job outlining the positions of the bill’s  proponents (“Jewish Community Split on End-of-Life Issue,” Jan. 8). In terms of balance, though, it was rather lopsided: one small — and hardly compelling — quote from Rabbi Ariel Sadwin (director of Agudath Israel of Maryland) versus, essentially, every other quote and characterization. Just count the words in your piece that make the case for the legislation and then the words that make the opposite case.

That’s unfortunate, not only for opponents of the bill, but also for readers seeking to truly understand both sides of the issue.

Rabbi Avi Shafran, Director of Public Affairs, Agudath Israel of America

Israeli Espionage

The JT’s editorial “No Reason to Spy” (Jan. 8) notes that “there is an asymmetric relationship at play”  in the U.S.-Israel relationship.  Precisely!

If there is one overriding, super-salient fact that sets the Jonathan  Pollard case apart from that of other Americans caught spying for  so-called friendly or neutral countries, it is this: Not only has America been Israel’s only truly reliable ally in a hostile world — especially at the United Nations — but the U.S. taxpayer has long subsidized Israel, most recently to the tune of a $3 billion appropriation. Who ever heard of a country generously underwriting  another nation and then that nation turning around and spying on its financial patron and long-term political savior? Not to mention seeking to influence American (Jewish) officials to undermine administration foreign policy, as in the case of U.S.-Iran negotiations.

Indeed, according to media  reports, Israel constantly ranks in the top tier of nations actively  engaging in industrial and military espionage against the United States. Doesn’t one of the Big 10 specify “Thou shalt not steal”?

The editorial quotes Israeli commentator Eitan Haber correctly: “Everyone knows that the entire world spies on the entire world.” Or as the rabbis would put it: midah  k’neged midah.

Rabbis Ignore Facts

I agree with Rabbis Marla Hornstein and Ary Lorge in their support of Planned Parenthood. (“A Choice That Needs Protection,” Dec. 18).  However, I cannot understand why the rabbis are blinded by the exposure of Planned Parenthood’s selling of fetus body parts. They state, “The  alleged evidence documenting such behavior has been shown either not to exist or to be inaccurately edited to present a false impression.”

There exists approximately eight tapes in which Planned Parenthood’s representatives are shown discussing the price and their technique for removing intact body parts. The selling of body parts is illegal. I am disappointed in the cover-up by the rabbis.

The Responsibility Is Ours and Ours Alone

First of all, thanks to the JT for publishing its most recent articles on cemeteries, “Honoring Those Who Came Before Us” (Dec. 18).

From my perspective, the issues burdening our cemeteries come from multiple layers. And there is no quick fix because the amount of rot within the root system has caused the decay portrayed within cemeteries today.

Whether it is the issue of mismanagement, fiscal irresponsibility, poor data records, no management continuity or just plain poor knowledge on how a cemetery operates, each and every one of these issues has caused a deterioration of the cemetery position we now find ourselves.

Today, my experience goes even deeper. It deals with the very human psychological disconnect to a cemetery. It deals with rabbis not wanting to raise the issue amid a host of other pressing matters facing the Jewish community. And most importantly, it  deals with a general population not  understanding the importance of the cemetery within the life-cycle process.

One approach is to create educational programs that reduce public fear, broaden the importance of cemetery understanding and increase more of the beauty of the Jewish burial practice. We must start the process of removing the decay from the root.  And we — you and I — definitely owe it to our forefathers. Not just lip service,  but creating the reality of long-term perpetual-care endowments.

And please, do not use the commonly used excuse that “I don’t live in that community any longer” or that “my relatives are not in that cemetery.”

We as Jews, must help our brethren. It is our task and responsibility.