June Letters to the Editor: “Thought Is the World of Freedom”

Jun 17, 2015 by


Clipart_LettersConversion Depends on What Ruth Said

In the May issue, Carol Greenwald from Chevy Chase, MD, answered the Kol Ami question about the controversial Conversion Bill in Israel [Kol Ami: Conversion Law? May 2015] by correctly referring to Ruth as a model for Jewish conversion,

What is puzzling is Ms. Greenwald’s ignoring the rest of the verse. In addition to “Your people are my people, your G-d is my G-d,” Ruth says: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge…where you die, I will die and there I will be buried.”

Why all these extra words? The Talmud in Yevamos 47b indicates that, in addition to accepting the G-d of Israel, a prospective convert must also accept the laws of G-d’s Torah to be part of His chosen people. Without accepting the Torah, one is only a “wanna-be.” That is why we must have honest, rabbinical authorities who can make the determination of sincerity based on Halacha.

Chaim Lasky

Spring Valley, NY


Taxes Are Not Tzedaka

Harry Reid has called our income tax system a voluntary one. He wants you to think it’s just like giving to your synagogue or charity. Giving is an emotional act, usually done from the heart. Americans give to many causes, more than any other nation on Earth. We are a giving people

George W. Bush once advanced the scariest idea I’d ever heard of:  that faith-based charities be made eligible to receive billions of dollars in federal grants to provide social services. Government would have decided which religious organizations received funding. Someone in Washington, D. C. would hand out favors to his or her best choice.

When government hands out your tax dollars, is that giving? More than likely the IRS would have been in charge of selecting the “proper” receivers of these monies. Someone like Lois Lerner would choose between Catholics, Baptists, or Jews.

I mention this to contrast it with the theft that is our current tax system. You have no say in how much they take. They want to crush your hope. Work harder and they take more.

FairTax, a national sales tax that treats every person equally and allows American businesses to thrive, while generating the same tax revenue as the current four-million-word-plus tax code, is voluntary.

Al Ose

Wisconsin Rapids, WI


Terrorism: If You See Something, Say Something

In the past several weeks there have been sightings of Arab women in hijabs (head coverings) checking out yeshivas in the Northern NJ area. In one instance, in Passaic, they seemed to be taking pictures of an area shul.

In the case of the shul, the police and 1-866-4SAFE-NJ (866-472-3365) were contacted. They took the information seriously, and the police said they would give extra attention when patrolling in the shul area. The patrolman did say it is not illegal to take pictures of a building, but, if someone is involved in illegal plotting, they can be prosecuted as long as there is sufficient evidence.

Of particular concern was one woman in a floral headdress, wearing pants and a long shirt, who was spotted a couple of times.

Both the police and office of homeland security (SAFENJ) said a picture or license plate number would be very helpful. So, if you see something, say something. If you see someone engaged in suspicious activity, try to safely get a picture or license number and report it. Call the non-emergency number of the local police, and SAFE NJ number, 1-866-4-SAFE-NJ.

If appropriate, say: “I am calling to report a suspicious behavior which could be terror surveillance.” If in doubt as to whether or not to call 911, inform local law enforcement by calling the police department.

If there is no immediate threat to life or property, inform SAFE-NJ by downloading the SAFE-NJ App to your mobile device. For Adroids, go to Play Store (not Appstore) and search for SAFE-NJ (dash is important, no space). Touch “More” because it may not be listed at the top.

Apple users, go to iTunes and follow the same instructions.

Recent news reports have reported that ISIS is recruiting women, and there are thousands of ISIS operatives currently in the US. They are being told to engage in independent terrorist acts. Recently, on 1010 WINS, it was reported that domestic US army bases were upgraded to the highest security level because of this new information.

We should know only good things.

Name Withheld

Passaic, NJ


Blech Safety

As a result of the recent tragedy in Brooklyn in which seven Jewish children were killed by a malfunctioning hotplate serving as a blech, I have read many articles to improve the safety within our homes. Hopefully, some lives will be saved resulting from this tragedy.

I heartily agree that heat, smoke, and carbon monoxide detectors should be installed in every apartment and in every home.

One recommendation, however, suggests that the use of blechs is dangerous. As an engineer for many decades dealing with fire safety and fire prevention systems, I can equivocally state that if a blech is installed covering low flames from one or two gas burners it is totally safe for the full Shabbos.

Seymour Berkowitz, P.E.

Teaneck, NJ


And Then We Will Have Peace

The hopeful Arab Spring has morphed into a winter of despair. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs have been killed and maimed, and millions have been uprooted from their homes as a result of the internecine warfare in Syria and Iraq, spreading to Yemen, Lebanon and other Mid-East nations exacerbated by the unspeakable brutality of the Islamic State.

There is nothing beyond what is now being done by President Barack Obama, and other nations, that can effectively bring a halt to the mayhem. The fires of mindless fury must burn themselves out over the next several years.

Without diminishing the sorrow and despair that any decent person feels about such human tragedy, it is fair to note that the US, Israel, Western nations, and our civilization are safer from onslaughts from fanatical Islamic religious leaders as a consequence of this internal struggle for hegemony over the region.

It is important to observe that as a result of the withdrawal of our troops, Iraq has doomed itself to Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish partition. It thus becomes incumbent on the US to recognize this eventuality, and commit to strong, generous, and unstinting support for Kurdistan which will become an allied nation with democratic impulses.

From a broader perspective, an enormously important ray of hope for a world free of Islamic tyranny, came to light in December 2014, in a sparsely noted speech by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi to his Nation. Surpassing belief, and with extraordinary courage, President Al Sisi said: “It is inconceivable that the ideology we sanctify should make our entire nation a source of concern, danger, killing, and destruction all over the world…It has reached the point that [this ideology] is hostile to the entire world. Is it conceivable that 1.6 billion [Muslims] would kill the world’s population of 7 billion, so that they could live [on their own]? This is inconceivable…We need to revolutionize our religion…”

As with Kurdistan, Egypt and President Al Sisi, even in the face of shortcomings which offend us, must be strongly supported, to enable his call for Muslim sanity, to become the reality that is essential for a peaceful world.

However, all bets will be off, and the opportunity for peace will be a squandered and forever lost, if Iran is permitted to have the bomb. Acquisition of this weapon of mass destruction will shift the balance of power in the region and beyond, threatening our shores, and giving the possession of power to a heartless regime, which calls for our destruction, that of Western civilization, and of Israel.

The simple application of increased sanctions will bring this bandit nation to its economic knees, as it did prior to the present negotiations. If necessary, air strikes can deliver the coup-detat. Regime change will ensue, and the free world will rejoice the demise of a despotic regime, and can more easily focus on the trepidations and increasing aggressiveness of Russia and China.

And then, we will have peace.

Robert I. Lappin

Swampscott, Massachusetts


To Israel, My Newfound Love

I came to you, Israel, wanting to hate you. To be confirmed in my reasonable European certainty of your arrogant oppression, lounging along the Mediterranean coast, facing West in your vast carelessness and American wealth. I wanted to appreciate your history, but tut over the arrogant folly of your present. I wanted to cross my arms smugly, and shake my head over you, and then leave you to fight your unjust wars.

I wanted to take from you. To steal away some spiritual satisfaction, and sigh and pray, and shake my head over your spiritual folly as well. To see the sad spectacle of the Western wall, and bitterly laugh at your backward-looking notion that God sits high on Moriah Mount, distant and approachable. I wanted to smirk in my Protestant confidence, knowing that God is with me, even if you refuse to turn to him, standing instead starting blankly at a wall of cold stone, pushing scribbled slips of paper into the Holy mountain, not daring to raise your face, and ask with words.

I wanted to see your sights, to bask in your sun, to tramp my feet over your soil, to swim in your seas, to eat the fruit of your fields. I wanted to be amazed, to be interested, to be engaged. I wanted.

I didn’t realize you were broken as well as wealthy, fragile as well as strong. I didn’t realize that you suffer from a thousand voices clamoring in your head, and that some of those voices care about justice and democracy, and that some of them love their neighbors. I didn’t realize that a thousand enemies press on your borders, hoarding instruments of death, as chaos and darkness and madness consume the world every way you look. I didn’t realize that you care about your past – that some of those voices of yours treasure the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob every bit as much as I do. I didn’t realise. Nobody told me. Or maybe they did, and I refused to listen.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with you. Your beauty caught me like a hook. Seeing you, I see what Solomon saw when he wrote about his Beloved. I see that homeland that Jesus loved. The lush green of your Galilee, the stark strength of your desert, the bare whiteness of your Judean hills. I love the Hebrew you speak, the churches your wear like flowers in your hair, the proud golden dome that crowns your head. I love the strength of your soldiers, the warmth of your sun, the joy of your songs, the peace of your kibbutzim.

This cold Boston air is a mockery of your spring warmth, and in this vast sprawl of concrete and red brick it’s no exaggeration to say that I yearn for your troubled horizons, your ancient hills. I’m not ashamed to say it. I love you.

I’m sorry I had to leave you. I know I have no right to love you. What’s ten days compared to a year, a childhood, a lifetime? Or the five-thousand year lifetime of a people? I know that you won’t remember me, that you probably barely even registered my short time with you. I’m sure my love means nothing to you amid the whispers of a million other lovers, and you’re so very far away.

But I will come back to you. I will. I’ll leave these busy, harried, Western shores, and come to you, to the East. I’ll learn your Hebrew, I’ll share your troubles, I’ll breath your air, I’ll walk in your fields again.

I will. I will.

Until then, Israel, mon amour, my love. Until then, shalom.

Oliver Marjot

Cambridge, MA

Mr. Marjot, a sophomore studying medieval history at Harvard, lives in Guilford, England. He was part of a group of 50 Harvard students, of all backgrounds and faiths, who recently visited Israel. This Harvard Israel Trek, arranged with support of Harvard Hillel and other donors, was led by Israeli students also studying at Harvard. More than 300 students applied for the 50 spots.


Safety and Sanctity: A Rabbi’s Thoughts Before Summer

Now that summer is officially upon us, a friendly reminder about safety as well as summer attitudes towards sanctity and kedusha is appropriate. On a metaphysical level our eternal values are as important as our temporal values.


1.Sunscreen. Just about every study and article about the dangers of the sun recommends putting sunscreen on exposed parts of the body, especially when one will be outdoors for a few hours. When in the sun for extended periods, heads should be covered.

2.Bike Helmets. Biking accidents are never good for riders, but while most injuries have a better chance of recovery, brain injuries don’t have such luxuries. Please wear helmets—be a role model for the children and insist that kids do too, even when biking on your block. Review the laws of the road with your children so that they know how to ride safely, especially on local streets. Advise them to stick to the sides of the road instead of the middle and to be aware and courteous to pedestrians and oncoming traffic.

  1. Hydration. We are not always aware how much the heat or humidity affects us. In general, at least 80 oz of liquid should be consumed a day. On hot days spent outdoors, even more is recommended. It is important to remember to drink even when you are doing a water activity. Getting wet does not keep your body hydrated. If you are taking a long plane flight, be sure to drink a good quantity of water.
  2. Nature precautions. Every summer brings with it warnings of ticks that may carry diseases. Appropriate clothing, sprays, and general awareness of what to look for are important.
  3. Plants and wildlife. Know what kinds of animals may be in your vicinity. Know what kinds of plants—whether dangerous by contact alone or through ingestion—are to be avoided.

Poisonous snakes are a particular issue in Israel this summer, and a few precautions are in order. Do not hike in the dark. Do not step or place hands into covered areas where you cannot see what is beneath the covering. Snakes can also be found in water/swimming holes or lakes. Doors should always be closed and windows must have screens. If bitten, sit down, call for an emergency ambulance and get to the nearest hospital ASAP. A poisonous bite will include genuine swelling at the spot of the bite. It is important not to lose one’s cool and not to be active after a bite. Do not tie a tourniquet, or make an incision or suction the bite.

  1. Allergies. I always carry Benadryl with me when I travel or hike. People can get allergic reactions from insect and bee bites even if they have no history of reactions. Ask your physician what is the best precaution for you.
  2. Hiking. Hikers should stick to marked trails. Always have a plan, a map, and a means of communication. Never hike alone.
  3. Driving in the country. Relatively inexperienced drivers (kids under 21) must be reminded that the Catskills and Poconos are full of one-lane, challenging roads. Extra care should be taken on these roads—day and night. Responsible driving will help prevent the fatalities we unfortunately hear about every summer.
  4. Water Safety. Please use every safety precaution with home pools. No one, especially small children, should swim without a responsible and capable person supervising. If swimming at the shore or in a lake, familiarize yourself with important information like undertow or depth of the water. Do not swim without a trained water safety person present. Never swim alone.
  5. Personal Space. Teach children to guard their bodies. If anyone in any camp, on a trip, or anywhere else touches them inappropriately, they should know what to do to protect themselves. They must notify you immediately. Be sure to emphasize to them that they must disclose information, even—especially—if they have been warned to keep quiet.

There can be no mercy for a person who molests children. Such people are potential murderers!

  1. Even if you live in a small, close-knit area or community, children should not walk around alone. They must be reminded not to talk to strangers and to run to the closest home or store if they feel unsafe. Adults, too, should be mindful of their surroundings and call for help if they feel unsafe.


  1. Tzniut: We are Orthodox Jews living in a very open society and we are exposed to the accepted norms of that society. Our standards of kedoshim tihiyoo, to be a holy people often clash with the reality around us. Being a “holy people” requires us to be separate and different in our behavior in general and in the choices we make in our dress. For leisure time and even for swimming, there are appropriate options available that preserve our sense of modesty when in the company of friends.

There are both objective and subjective standards of tzniut. But everyone has some concept of what is not appropriate. It is a challenging task. But we must elevate ourselves in the same way that we sacrifice to keep Kosher and to observe Shabbat.

2 Religious standards when on vacation: Daily prayers, Torah study, tzitzit, tefillin, kashrut, choice of entertainment, and full Shabbat observance is a sine qua non for the Orthodox family. An accepted halachic practice, for example, is not to swim on Shabbat. We must live by the same standards abided by at home even when we are on vacation, away from anyone who knows us. We may go on vacation from the pressures of our daily routines, but there is no vacation from our covenant with Hashem. Parents should set a high bar for themselves and their children. Consistency is a special gift we can give our children.

May we be blessed to be avenues of Kiddush Hashem and the sanctification of G-d’s name in all that we do. I wish everyone a pleasant summer

Rabbi Heshie Billet

Woodmere, Long Island, NY

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