Jews and Gypsies

I sympathize with Scott Doniger and his dilemma of what is appropriate to say when a customer uses the expression “Jew down” in his store (“Soul Searching in a Bike Shop” Nov. 26 j.).

When faced with this problem in my own business many years ago, I remembered what my dear departed friend Bruce Handelsman used to say: “You can't Jew me down ‘cuz I'm a Jew.”

This gets the point across clearly but avoids alienating your customer.

Often people who use expressions like that just don't think about the meaning, much like people (Doniger may be one of them) who use the word “gyp” without knowing that it refers to the Roma people (Gypsies), who incidentally died in great numbers in the same death camps that Jews did.

This is what teachers call “a teachable moment.”

Danny Yanow | San Francisco

A compliment?

Alas, you print an article by a bike shop owner who insults, degrades and kicks out of his store a customer who used the term “Jew down” (Nov. 26 j.).

The term means to successfully bargain for a lower price. It comes from the idea that we Jews are successful at business because we know how to strike a deal to our benefit. It can be seen as a compliment — to recognize many Jews are good businessmen.

Several years ago, I took a course in automobile repairs. The instructor, talking about where to buy parts, said although one could get bargains in several stores, there was one where one would have to “pay a Christian price.”

The instructor knew I and at least one other student in the class were Jews. We laughed along with him.

Unfortunately, many Jews look for — and find — anti-Semitism everywhere. When I grew up in the 1930s and 1940s, anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred existed almost everywhere. But today hatred is considered un-American, and we now have the concept of a “hate crime,” wherein we punish more severely anyone who commits a crime of violence because he was motivated by hatred of any group.

Yehuda Sherman | Lafayette

Religion’s relevancy

Dan Pine reports his immersion in Berkeley’s Taharat Israel mikvah left him feeling, well, dry (Nov. 12 j.).

I respect Pine’s honest response to his experience, and his attempt to understand why he didn’t surface a new man with supernatural mystical sensitivity.

But how do we prepare ourselves to engage in rituals which seem remote or, as Pine says, inaccessible? We might attempt to set our contemporary frame of mind aside.

Perhaps Pine may have found his experience more compelling had he imagined the countless number of men and women who’ve used mikvah as a means of spiritual renewal for thousands of years; or meditated upon the primary message of Va-Yikra; or imagined the besieged Zealots atop of Masada immersing in preparation for tefillah, or prayer.

Perhaps not.

Judaism provides overwhelming opportunity for us to feel connected to God and community. Some rituals link us; others don’t.

Not unlike the purpose of the shower one takes before immersing in the mikvah, or the extra-special setting of the Sabbath table, it’s our work to prepare

ourselves to meet the challenge of making observance relevant.

Kathie Torchio | San Francisco

‘A very good point’

“Single, spiritual and solitary” (Nov. 5 j.), showing the gap between female and male rabbis, was a very interesting article. I know for many years a person who participated in that story, Rabbi Leslie Alexander. She is a wonderful person and rabbi.

I liked what she said: She doesn’t think we can be politically correct when it comes to religion.

People’s religious lives are intimate and personal, and they choose a synagogue based on values similar to theirs.

It’s a very good point the rabbi made. She is a very well educated person, and she knows what she is talking about. Her father, Rabbi Ted Alexander, and mother, Gertrude, gave her a good education and knowledge.

Sometimes, she comes to Congregation B’nai Emunah to help her father at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

She is also a good mother. She has a good husband and two children.

Paul Shkuratov | San Francisco

And a child shall lead them?

With nonstop coverage of Yasser Arafat’s passing and the drama of who will succeed him, I am surprised nobody has discussed Arafat’s leadership passing through kinship. Isn’t this the legacy of Arab despots — passing on thrones to their offspring?

The rulers of Jordan, Bahrain and Syria all recently passed their countries on to their children. Hosni Mubarak is preparing his son to take over Egypt, and Saddam would have turned Iraq over to one of his sons.

Arafat never actually ruled a country; however, he embodied the Palestinian cause (whether that cause was statehood or Israel’s destruction or both). Surely, his dedication to this cause entitles his offspring to succeed him.

While the fact that Arafat’s daughter is 9 years old seems problematic, this creates an opportunity. Having a female leader will advance the cause of Arab women and children.

Also, by viewing their situation from a feminine perspective, Palestinians may finally be able to reconcile with Israelis.

The Arafat girl has received an excellent education in Paris, which likely did not include indoctrination to kill Zionists.

Finally, since Arafat led his people from disaster to disaster, even a child should be an improvement.

Joshua Baker | San Francisco

Revoke the prize

It should be an embarrassment to the Nobel Peace Prize committee that the death of peace prize-winner Yasser Arafat is being acknowledged around the world as opening the first real opportunity in years for Arab-Israeli peace. 

Arafat was a monster who psychologically poisoned his own people, using Palestinian schools, summer camps, mosques and media to indoctrinate Arab children to hate and kill Israeli children. 

At Arafat’s urging, Palestinians volunteered to become self-destructing bomb delivery devices for the purpose of slaughtering scores of Israeli innocents.

From the Munich Olympics massacre of Israeli athletes and coaches, and the Ma’alot massacre of children in an Israeli school two decades before Arafat became a peace prize laureate, to the school bus, seder, disco and pizzeria bombing massacres of Israeli civilians during the decade after he won the award, Arafat never ceased being a terrorist and mass murderer who dreamed of Israel’s ultimate annihilation. 

As Kaare Kristiansen — the member of the Norwegian Nobel Committee who resigned in protest of Arafat's award — recognized, Arafat did not deserve to share the honor of peacemaker alongside Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. 

The time has come for Arafat’s undeserved peace prize to be revoked.

Stephen A. Silver | Walnut Creek

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