Help from Israel

At a time of incomprehensible tragedy following the massive earthquake and tsunamis that have devastated communities around the Indian Ocean, Israel deserves praise for having been one of the first countries to rush aid to the hard-hit region.

Israel prides itself on being a beacon for the world, and has repeatedly risen to the challenge inherent in the Jewish commitment to tikkun olam, healing the world. From the 1988 Armenian earthquake to the 1999 Kosovo refugee crisis to the present catastrophe, Israel has never failed to offer its assistance to those in need around the globe, regardless of the race, creed, religion or politics of those afflicted.

Israel’s efforts today — sending doctors, rescue teams, and tons upon tons of supplies including medicine, blankets and baby food — offer hope for untold numbers of people from Sri Lanka to India to Thailand.

Stephen A. Silver | Walnut Creek

Who’s donating

It is important to note that with about $2 billion in aid pledged that the largest donor nations have been Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden. Israel sent major rescue and aid teams and supplies to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India and Thailand.

Israel’s aid works out to the highest per capita in the world.

Some of Israel’s initial aid was refused for political reasons. It seems some countries would rather have their people die than accept aid from Israel.

It should also be noted that most of the countries devastated are either Muslim or have very large Muslim populations (Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country). Despite this fact, Muslim countries — including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates (with all their oil and the huge sums of capital they have gathered over the past year of oil-price gouging) — have only now made minor donations to their brother Muslims.

It reminds me of the saying by Rabbi Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”

Jack de Lowe | Ra’anana, Israel

Identity bolstered

This is a response to Paul Abramovitz’s Dec. 24 letter questioning the ability of Jewish kids attending Catholic high schools to remain Jewish.

I am a sophomore at a local Catholic high school. I am also a member of my temple’s youth group board, which is a subdivision of NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth).

On the board, I serve as one of the religious and cultural vice presidents, and I organize and help write services. In addition, I attend weekly confirmation class meetings with my other 10th-grade friends.

Judaism is an integral part of my life, and my experiences at a Catholic high school have reinforced and strengthened my Jewish identity.

I have also learned to respect other faith traditions, and have studied not only Christianity but also Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. These valuable lessons have increased my awareness about world culture, allowing me to admire other religions and at the same time affirm me in my decision to lead a Jewish life.

Rose Friedland | San Mateo

A waste of time?

I happen to know two of the students featured in your Dec. 17 cover story, “Good heavens!” They are wonderful people. So, between family, shul and school, something is working nicely.

What bothers me about the Catholic schooling is the wasted time spent in “Mass” class or “religious” class. It would be so nice if the Jewish kids could take a writing-conversational Hebrew class instead.

If the student is really learning about another’s religious thought, well and good, but if it is just a waste of time, we all know how precious time is and what a shame to waste it — anywhere.

L. Neska Laflamme | Oakland

Two-way street

In response to Paul Abramovitz’s Dec. 24 letter, we would like him to know that two of my children go to Catholic high schools and have been involved with the Jewish community all along by their choice.

Our son Elliot, a senior at Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, is a regional officer in AZA, and has been a religious school aide at Peninsula Sinai Congregation. His Eagle Scout project was done at our synagogue.

Our daughter Abby, a sophomore at Notre Dame Belmont, also has been a religious school aide at PSC and has led portions of the Shabbat and weekday service on many occasions. She is the only teen member of PSC’s High Holy Day choir.

The two have participated in a total of four Maccabiah Games.

Both have been called upon to give the Jewish view of subjects they are studying in theology classes and are proud to respond to questions.

When we call to tell the attendance office our children will not attend school because of Jewish holy days, we are wished “Happy New Year,” not looked down upon because the school will be losing student funding for those days.

Respect is a two-way street.

Peggy and Sam Gluck | Foster City

Not afraid

This is in response to Paul Abramovitz’s Dec. 24 letter “Jews in Catholic schools: missing the point?” We have two sons who both attended parochial high schools in the East Bay with their Jewish and non-Jewish friends. One went to an all-boys school, the other to a coed school. There was never an identity problem attending such schools as they both “knew who they were” and were secure in their Jewishness.

Both attended day school and continued with their Jewish education at Temple Sinai.

We don’t think that their high school experiences took away from or made them hide their religious beliefs. We feel that they were fortunate to have the excellent schooling that was afforded them, and that they grew in knowledge from their experiences.

If a child is not comfortable in his or her own skin and religion, then yes, they should not attend a parochial school.

We were not afraid that our children would lose their Jewishness but that they would gain a broader perspective of those around them.

Both our sons are normal students who continue to follow in their Jewish traditions and beliefs.

Horace and Sandy Cohn | Oakland

Standing together?

It’s ironic that, according to the Dec. 17 j., at least some Jews protesting the AIPAC dinner in Oakland support the “two-state solution.” Had they attended the AIPAC event itself, those individuals would not have heard speeches opposed to that plan but speeches that contained hope that perhaps such a goal could now be achieved. After all, this is what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has explicitly endorsed.

The problem is that these individuals chose to stand together with the anti-Semites, the apologists for (or worse, endorsers of) terrorism, and those who call for the elimination of Israel and its replacement by a 23rd Arab state.

Those who do claim they support the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, though they may disagree with some policies of its current democratically elected government, have a choice: to stand with Israel and with those who support it, or to stand with those who wish its destruction.

This doesn’t mean that they must support every Israeli government decision, but it does mean recognizing that they are in reality much closer to AIPAC’s viewpoint than they are to those who carry signs that say “Smash the Jewish state.”

Michael Harris | San Rafael

Nothing offensive?

The leadership of the JCRC, in a letter published Dec. 24, criticized j. for printing a Dec. 17 letter to the editor. The JCRC complained that many people thought the letter fostered offensive stereotypes.

But if many people found that letter offensive, why didn’t anyone else write in to complain about it?

The real question, though, is what business is this of the JCRC? Do they expect that before j. publishes a letter, the editors will run it by the JCRC for their approval? Do they expect j. not to publish any letter that might foster a stereotype or that someone might consider offensive? Are they trying to present themselves as the arbiters of what views can and cannot be expressed? If not, then what was their point?

If the JCRC disagrees with the views expressed in a letter, they can address those views. If the JCRC’s official position is that to avoid giving offense we must be nonjudgmental about pedophilia (which was what the earlier letter objected to), then let them say so. But trying to censor letters from the community that are politically incorrect does us all a disservice.

Allan Yannow | El Cerrito

A miracle?

Ariel Sharon’s efforts to disengage from Gaza and the West Bank may appear to be a concession to terrorist assaults and a retreat. However, it actually could contain a brilliant vision for the future.

If Gaza and the West Bank are left to their own as part of a Palestinian state, they will flounder under the weight of their own unrest and economic turmoil. If, on the other hand, international aid is requested and granted, as Natan Sharansky proposes — similar to the way the Marshall Plan was enacted after World War II when the Allies rebuilt Germany and Japan both in terms of offering economic support and re-orienting a fascist population towards democracy — an economic and educational miracle may rise in the desert next to Israel.

Out of the ashes of a devastated generation may rise the phoenix of hope, prosperity and cooperation; a sustainable economy and trust among the descendants of Abraham.

Mark Solomons | Oakland

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