Erroneous Statement

In truth, it is Ada Grodzinsky’s knowledge of Jewish history (Your Say, March 7) rather than Stanleigh Cohen’s (Your Say, March 14) that is erroneous, both conceptually and factually.

Grodzinsky insists, “It adds insult to injury to say that any place (other than the land of Israel) will do” as a Jewish abode. That would be gobsmacking news to any number of Jewish communal superstars of the last few centuries. It would be news to none other than Theodore Herzl, founder of modern political Zionism and, as such, the father of the State of Israel, since he initially proposed Jewish settlement in Uganda as a national haven and refuge from anti- Semitism for the beleaguered Jews of Europe. It would be news to Mordecai Manuel Noah, one of the first Jews born in the United States to reach national prominence with his City of Refuge for the Jews Grand Island project. And it would have been news to philanthropist Baron Maurice von Hirsch, ranked among the Top 5 wealthiest individuals in Europe during the late 19th century, who founded the Jewish Colonization Association.

She also claims that the Israelites’ “coined money” was the shekel, as it is today. This is false. Biblical Israel had a barter economy. Through his conquests, Alexander the Great introduced minted currency to the Middle East; the shekel of ancient Canaan/Israel was a measure of weight.

Baruch Shaw
Clarksville

BBYO and AIPAC: Leading the Next Generation

Being only 5 feet tall is pretty overwhelming when you walk around and are constantly being towered over. Often, you’re not heard or listened to because you are just so short.

But standing in a room of more than 14,000 pro-Israel activists is beyond overwhelming. It is stunning, mind-boggling and absolutely amazing that I am able to surround myself with so many people who feel the same way about Israel as I do. It is astonishing how so many people who do not have a strong personal connection to Israel — a good portion of those at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this month weren’t even Jewish — feel so strongly about the safety and well-being of the Jewish state.

This year was my second experience at AIPAC. In November, I had been fortunate enough to attend the AIPAC Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit with BBYO. BBYO has supported me and given me so many experiences to support my love for Israel. During the summer of 2013 I took a trip to Israel with BBYO and got the chance to work with a group of Muslim teens, travel the country, learn about the past and have multiple once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

BBYO also has a program called Speak UP that allows teens to support and create a stronger bond with Israel. This year, with the help of other teen leaders and adult advisers, I have been able to start a sister chapter program between my local BBYO chapter and a chapter in Ashkelon, Baltimore’s sister city. BBYO has supported and helped my love for Israel flourish, and getting the chance to travel to the AIPAC policy conference with BBYO was a great chance for me to learn more about how I can locally help support Israel and educate others.

BBYO gives me infinite experiences to grow as a person, a leader and a Jewish individual. Before I had been in BBYO I saw no point in keeping up Jewish traditions, and I was not very proud to be Jewish. BBYO has given me a whole new perspective on what it means to be a Jewish teen and to be a Jewish leader. I may be short in size, but BBYO helps me stand tall and work my hardest to be a leader inside and outside of my BBYO community. Attending the conference was just another way to continue to learn how I can teach others about Israel, how I can advocate for causes I believe in and how I can be a leader no matter how tall or short.

Leah Fishman is a sophomore at The Park School and a member of Achot BBG in BBYO’s Baltimore Council. She currently serves as chapter president. To learn more about BBYO, contact Baltimore Council program director Danielle Hercenberg at bmore@bbyo.org or 410-559-3549.

Three little words

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,  pictured here with President Obama earlier this week, seems completely opposed to recognizing a Jewish state. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS/Newscom)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,
pictured here with President Obama earlier this week, seems completely opposed to recognizing a Jewish state. (KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS/Newscom)

Will Israeli-Palestinian peace come down to whether the Palestinians will acknowledge that Israel is “a Jewish state”? And if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas doesn’t say those three little words, will we see the current negotiations end without a resolution?

In his defense, Abbas says that he recognizes Israel; that his predecessor, Yassir Ara-fat, already recognized Israel as a Jewish state; and that the 1988 PLO Declaration of Independence speaks of a Jewish state next to a Palestinian one. So why do the three words stick in the throat of the Palestinian leader?

At his White House visit this week Abbas spoke of the urgency of the peace process, warning that “time is not on our side. … We hope that we would be able to seize this opportunity to achieve a lasting peace.” So far so good. But why not seize the opportunity to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, as the original U.N. partition plan called it? Especially when Abbas is calling on Israel to release more Palestinian prisoners as agreed this month “because this will give a very solid impression about the seriousness of these efforts to achieve peace,” why not simply acknowledge Israel’s fundamental Jewish identity?

All parties to any negotiation know that confidence-building measures go both ways. By recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas would give up nothing tangible, while Israel will have taken a calculated risk to its security with the series of prisoner releases. Recognition would be a tremendous confidence boost. It would be a nod to the “Jewish soul” in “Hatikvah.” It would be an admission of what has become known as the “Zionist narrative” — that Jews have always lived in the land and are not interlopers or colonialists. And for the Palestinians and the Arabs to work past the Jewish state mental block, it would surely go a long way to help promote peace and reconciliation between the two peoples.

For now, Abbas seems dead set against Jewish state recognition. We hope that as President Obama did so very publicly before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent Washington visit, he at least privately made clear to Abbas the serious problems the Palestinians will face if he lets these talks fail: a loss of Western financial support and obstruction of any unilateral Palestinian moves at the U.N. There is plenty of pressure Washington can bring to bear on the Palestinian Authority. And maybe Washington has done so behind closed doors. All we know is that it has so far failed to do so publicly.

Whether Abbas is prepared to say the three little words at this time or not, we believe the peace talks should continue. And we urge the Obama administration to do all it can to assure that they do. Without peace talks there will be no possibility of resolution. By continuing, the two sides can build trust, understanding and a relationship. Something may actually come from that.

Sustaining Spring Showers: Dayenu

2013ftv_oshry_aleezaI’m sure that few will lament the bitter cold winter leaving us as we enter spring  and, with it, the resurgence of life. March definitely has come in like a lion but hopefully will leave like a lamb, giving way to the more mild showers of April.

Rain enables the rebirth of vegetation after winter and is the necessary component to all life. Yet, as rain flows off our roofs and down our streets, it washes toxins into our waterways, converting this essential life force into a pestilence.

Speaking of spring and pestilence, Passover arrives in about a month. It’s interesting to note that the first of the 10 plagues upon Egypt, the plague of blood, relates specifically to the Egyptians’  primary water source, the Nile. In Exodus 7:20-24, we read: “All the waters of the river were turned to blood … and the river stank. … And all the Egyptians dug around the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river.”

When I read this, I think of the odor wafting from the stream near my house, the trash along its banks and the posted signs warning us not to enter or drink the water because it is hazardous. Our whole watershed is contaminated; even most well water needs to be treated because of toxic seepage through the soil into the water table. We are experiencing our very own water-based plague.

We are reminded that the quintessential components of the Seder night are to engage, teach and learn. Passover is about re-creating our story: putting ourselves back in Egypt as slaves and reliving the redemption. In a hallmark song found in the Haggadah, we sing: “How many levels of favors has the Omnipresent One bestowed upon us: If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them, it would have been enough — Dayenu!”

Fifteen verses recount the good fortune of blessing and deliverance bestowed upon us. And after each verse, we declare, “Dayenu!” — it would have been enough for us.

The classical interpretation of this song is that it recounts the positive consequences of our actions, which ultimately enabled the redemption, receipt of the Torah and the building of the Temple. Our continued allegiance and perseverance “would have been enough” to warrant the multitude of blessings we received.

As the blessings rise from the lowly to the lofty, it also demonstrates how mediocrity was not sufficient: As a people we strove to rise to a higher level of living and understanding. Coming out of Egypt, we understood that to become a successful nation, we would need discipline and self-restraint. We would need law and education. We would need to sustain ourselves through our actions.

In the spirit of these values and of the upcoming spring, I encourage all of you to learn about our new storm-water regulations and the positive actions you can take to reverse our modern-day plague and preserve our rain as the nourishing life force for which it was intended by visiting baltjc.org/stormwatermanagement.

Aleeza Oshry is manager of the Sustainability Initiative at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. For more information, contact aoshry@associated.org.

Hadassah Steps Up

In response to Ken Birnbaum (Your Say, March 14) concerning Hadassah Hospitals, Hadassah has been as transparent as possible by creating a website, hadassah.org/hmoupdate, to keep everyone apprised of what is happening at our hospitals. The page contains links to question-and-answer pages, daily updates and articles that make it clear to all of our members and donors how we are dealing with the differences and difficulties. This information is regularly updated as the situation in Israel continues to be addressed.

Despite the current financial difficulties, the Hadassah Medical Organization remains one of Israel’s premier health care facilities, pushing the boundaries of medical research and providing state-of-the-art treatment not only for Israelis, but also for patients throughout the Middle East and around the globe.

Now, more than ever, it is critical for all members and donors to step up and continue their support of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America and the Hadassah Medical Organization.

Jill Sapperstein
President,
Hadassah of Greater Baltimore

Israel: Bastion Of Freedom

Concerning Miles Hoenig’s letter (Your Say, March 7) that supports the boycott of Israel’s universities and colleges, targeting any learning institution is wrong and should never be considered in any way, shape or form. But targeting Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East, smacks of racism and anti-Semitism. Israel is a shining bastion of freedom for all the world. It has incredible scientific and technological know-how to share with the world. An academic boycott would impede the free flow of important ideas.

Hoenig’s letter also says that Israel “humiliates men, women and children at checkpoints.” It is easy to sit far away and criticize the security measures of a country that is trying to protect its own vulnerable women and children from acts of terrorism.

The Palestinians who are crossing into Israel want to go there to get the jobs and benefits that Israel provides. There is no humiliation in making sure that it is the only reason they enter Israel.

Ada Grodzinsky
Baltimore

Jordan: Vital As Buffer

While the loss of the monarchy in Jordan would be a national disaster for that nation (“A Kingdom Too Weak To Let Fail,” March 7), it has even more serious implications for Israel and U.S. Mideast policy. Jordan has served as a buffer between the now satellite of Iran, namely Iraq, and Israel, preventing Iran from arming terrorist groups in the Palestinian territories.

The possibility of the overthrow of the monarchy by Jordan’s majority Palestinian population is sufficient reason for Israel to demand in any peace treaty with the Palestinian Authority that the Jordan Valley be retained to impede the flow of
sophisticated weaponry from Iran to the Palestinians. In the worst of scenarios, the presence of Palestinian rule in Jordan with open borders to the Palestinian territories would present an existential threat to Israel.

Nelson Marans
Silver Spring

Two-States Not Best Option

The March 14 editorial (“Michael Oren’s Unilateral Withdrawal”) aptly points out that unilateral action is not a viable substitute for direct negot- iations. On the other hand, the JTprejudges the outcome of negotiations by stating, “The two-state solution is the best Zionist option.” The two-state solution is not the best Zionist option by a long shot.

At the present time, Israeli and Palestinian interests are in direct conflict. The current Palestinian leadership refuses to recognize the Jewish state and seeks to erase all evidence of the millennia-old Jewish presence in the land of Israel. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently stated, the current Palestinian leadership is not negotiating in good faith. In effect, Israel and the United States have been unilaterally negotiating among themselves since 1993, while the Palestinians have been free to carry on their campaign of duplicity and delegitimization against Israel.

Rather than base negotiations on an inherently flawed paradigm, we must look to the original basis for negotiations found in the words of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and the 1979 Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt. If we do so, I believe we shall find two steps are required to achieve peace.

First, a serious effort must be made to identify a Palestinian leadership neither tainted by terrorism nor harboring a demonic desire for the demise of the Jewish state.

Second, negotiation parameters should be based on according the Palestinians some form of “autonomy,” not statehood. At the same time, Israel’s right to “secure recognized and defensible borders” requires that Israel exercise sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, as well as the Jordan Valley, to guarantee maximal security.

This two-step process is the best Zionist option for guaranteeing peace and security to Israel and its citizens while affording Palestinians the fundamental civil rights to which they are entitled.

Marc Caroff
President, Louis D. Brandeis Chapter
Zionist Organization of America
Silver Spring

Beit Shemesh has spoken

In last week’s mayoral election in the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh, incumbent Moshe Abutbul appears to have been returned to office fair and square. That wasn’t the case last fall, when the results of an earlier election went in Abutbul’s favor, only to be overturned due to voter fraud. While it appears that the voters of Beit Shemesh have spoken, it remains to be seen whether the vote was a victory for coexistence in the tense streets of the city. Beit Shemesh is home to a secular, traditional and modern Orthodox majority and a large haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, minority. Abutbul was the incumbent haredi candidate in the election. The ultra-Orthodox minority won the election.

Abutbul received 51 percent of the vote, just 458 votes more than his opponent, Eli Cohen, who was endorsed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Turnout was high at 76 percent, higher in fact than the overturned results. The Jerusalem Post reported that groups of haredim, who traditionally boycott the elections, and haredi women, whom some sects forbid from voting, were given special dispensation by their rabbis to vote. While not illegal, it does seem like a cynical use of democracy from at-times extreme Jewish groups that don’t recognize the State of Israel but are willing to benefit from the public dime.

This is the same constituency whose members made headlines by spitting on a modern Orthodox schoolgirl, attacked a public bus after a woman passenger refused to move to the back in order to accommodate ultra-Orthodox male passengers and, a couple of years earlier, threw parts of the city into chaos with daily riots. Abutbul himself displayed either ignorance of reality or a close reading of his constituency when he claimed that no gays lived in his city, adding, “Thank God, this city is holy and pure.”

At least one Israeli commentator suggested that the local political drama in Beit Shemesh is being amplified into a national issue for partisan reasons. But we have our own interest in Beit Shemesh. For the last several years, the city has been the home of choice for a flood of English-speaking olim. Down I-95, the Greater Washington Jewish community has partnered with the city for more than 18 years. Millions of communal dollars from well-intentioned Americans has been invested in social service and educational programs to benefit the citizens of Beit Shemesh.

So while Beit Shemesh has spoken, and we respect the results, the question now is whether the growing city can fulfill its image as an Israeli success story or whether it will continue to be emblematic of the deep divides in Israeli society.

Love and Inclusivity

This weekend is packed with mitzvahs. On Shabbos, we read Parshat Tzav and Parshat Zachor. On Saturday night, we read Megilat Esther and then again on Sunday, together with all the other mitzvahs of Purim — gifts to friends, charity to the poor and a Purim banquet.

There’s a wonderful theme running through all of these.

Sometimes the counterintuitive proposition is true. This is the case with miracles. Intuitively we would expect miracles to be obvious and completely supernatural; however, G-d’s miracles are always clothed in the natural.

In this week’s parshah, we find that the Kohanim were commanded to keep a fire constantly burning on the altar in the Tabernacle and, later, the Temple. They had to add wood to it every morning and evening.

The Talmud tells us that the fire on the altar was really a miraculous fire that came down from heaven. The obvious question, then, is why add wood? The answer is that, befitting the honor of G-d’s miracles, they are always performed in a hidden way. They are either totally or partially within the framework of natural laws.

This is why at the splitting of the Red Sea, G-d caused a strong east wind to blow the whole night. Even though everyone knows that the sea becoming dry land is a miracle, G-d made it appear like the wind caused it. So too, the Kohanim had to add wood to the fire.

We often look for G-d in our lives in the obvious realms; we look for the supernatural miracle. This is a mistake. G-d operates in the hidden realm. We will see G-d in our lives when we create an inner world, a place hidden from everything and everyone, alone with ourselves and our thoughts. Besides the self-discovery we would find, we might just find G-d as well!

Parshat Zachor, meanwhile, reminds us of Amalek, the first nation to attack the Jews after we left Egypt. Amalek would not accept that we’ve got G-d on our side. He chose to only see the wind parting the sea. He refused to see that behind it all is G-d orchestrating everything.

Megilat Esther presents the story of Purim. G-d’s name does not appear in the entire scroll, yet we know what a tremendous miracle Purim was. The turning point in the story is when King Achashverosh wakes up in the middle of the night. He reads the palace chronicles and finds that Mordechai prevented an assassination. The rest is history: The king couldn’t sleep, and Jewish survival was ensured! That’s the sort of miracle G-d does for us all the time.

G-d’s love for the Jewish people motivates Him to perform these miracles for us. The mitzvahs of Purim, therefore, teach us how to love.

Gifts to friends and even those you are not so close with create community and love. Charity, meanwhile, creates community and inclusivity. Sometimes, in following this mitzvah, we have to go out of our way to find two poor people. That is intentional, because inclusiveness requires us to go out of our way.

G-d is devoted to every Jew. He loves and cares for us and ensures our survival and eventual security and success as a nation. But we will only start to fathom G-d’s love if we start to feel the emotions ourselves. These mitzvahs coach us to do just that.

The Purim banquet is a big celebration. It’s the letting down of our hair and being in a mindset of no worries because we have a G-d who is the ruler of the universe, loves us very much and does miracles for us all the time.

Rabbi Nitzan Bergman is executive director of Etz Chaim: The Center for Jewish Living and Learning and founder and president of the WOW! program for young professionals.