A better response to the BDS question

As I read Molly Horwitz’s opinion piece (“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” April 17), I felt the distress she described in dealing with a question she understood to be anti-Semitic. Coming face-to-face with “in your face” anti-Semitism is horribly disconcerting.

But the writer’s shock is misplaced. The organization from which she sought an endorsement had made a clear moral choice regarding BDS. Since most highly identified Jews do not support the BDS movement, it is entirely reasonable that BDS supporters might ask, “Given your strong Jewish identity, how would you vote on divestment?”

Let’s be honest, Ms. Horwitz. You are running a political campaign. You wanted SOCC’s endorsement, an organization that you knew to be committed to the BDS movement. You said, “My involvement in Hillel, my praying in synagogue, my love of the Hebrew language, my study of Talmud, my celebration of Rosh Hashanah and Hanukkah and Purim and Passover have nothing to do with divestment.” You are wrong. All those acts of Jewish identification have everything to do with divestment. They move you to recognize the centrality of Israel as the homeland of the Jews, a homeland that must be defended. They impel you to continue your struggle against the BDS movement, a movement that is fundamentally anti-Semitic.

Let’s be clear: The question you were asked was not anti-Semitic. It is support of the BDS movement that is anti-Semitic. I intend no recrimination when I suggest that one possible answer to their question might have been, “Given my strong Jewish identity, given my experience as a woman of color and feeling as I do a great sensitivity to peoples and nationalities suffering oppression, I am proud of my continuing effort to better inform my peers about the legitimacy of Israel and its struggle for national survival.”

Jay Koppelman   |   Pleasant Hill


Denials ignore medical evidence

In her letter, Naomi Lifschultz Preston asks for evidence of men complaining about their infant circumcisions (“Doubting claims by anti-circumcision camp,” April 24). Here is one of many books and articles that I would urge Ms. Preston to read: “The Joy of Uncircumcising” by Jim Bigelow, Ph.D. (specifically “The Men’s Voices” columns).

The claims trivializing infant pain are without merit. Numerous studies have shown changes in blood pressure and serum cortisol levels clearly indicating severe pain and stress associated with circumcision. When the baby stops crying it is not an indication of lack of pain. He is just helpless, and is going into a period of transient neurogenic shock.

Denying the extreme trauma of circumcision ignores years of medical evidence.

Mark D. Reiss, M.D.   |   San Francisco


Supporting affordable home care and workers

I was glad to see Susan Lubeck’s op-ed about fair and respectful treatment of domestic workers (“Use your privilege to their advantage — sign domestic workers pledge,” April 24). As a values-based nonprofit operating a home care business, we at JFCS/East Bay have a unique vantage point on this issue.

We are acutely aware of recent legislation, regulation, court decisions and minimum wage ordinances aimed toward improving compensation and working conditions for

in-home caregivers and others doing domestic work. We see these trends as important steps forward for the people who perform the sensitive and often demanding task of providing care for our community’s seniors — and all of us — as we age.

We also understand that the costs of in-home care are increasing, borne by families who often struggle to afford quality care for their loved ones. This is a huge social and political issue, growing as the population ages, exacerbated by home care not being covered by Medicare, and accelerated by the trend toward people wanting to remain in their own homes for as long as possible.

It will take a tremendous effort to muster the resources and political will required to adequately address the need for affordable home caregiving. Meanwhile, JFCS/East Bay applauds the movement toward better appreciating and compensating the unsung heroines who are doing this very important work, and we support efforts such as the Fair Care Pledge promoted in Ms. Lubeck’s opinion piece.

Avi Rose   |   Berkeley

Executive director, Jewish Family & Children’sServices of the East Bay

Don’t question reality when problem is ideology

I was dismayed by Yonkel Goldstein’s dismay about a few readers’ letters, among them mine, that discussed Israeli politics and international relations (“Letters do not reflect deep Jewish values,” April 24).

I have very bad news for Mr. Goldstein. Unlike his suggestion, I support wholeheartedly peace and justice in the Middle East, and I believe that I possess deep Jewish values. But I don’t profess, as Mr. Goldstein does, to speak on behalf of the “vast majority of American and Israeli Jews.” I speak for myself and maybe for some others. I don’t know how many. But for the “vast majority”? Or in the name of “deep Jewish values”? I wouldn’t dare say such arrogant statements.

As far as the issue at hand, the statements in my letter of April 17 are all facts, not opinions. The simple truth is that the vast majority of Israelis, regardless of party affiliation, oppose the proposed agreement with Iran. Not only Netanyahu, as suggested in many American media outlets, including an article in J.

The partial quote by Mr. Goldstein regarding the position of Zionist Union doesn’t alter its strong opposition to the proposed agreement with Iran as stated by the party’s leaders. When reality contradicts an ideology, the ideology needs to be examined, not the reality.

Isaac Agam   |   Palo Alto


Circumcision is bullying,sanctioned by religion

With sadness I read the op-ed “It’s time for anti-circumcision extremists to stop the bullying” by Andrew Gross (April 17). Disrespect, much less implications of violence, are demeaning and counterproductive to any argument regardless of its merit.

I’m also sad to read about the ongoing defense of circumcision, as if taking a knife to an infant’s sexual organ, albeit with the blessing of thousands of years of Jewish history and rabbinical sanctioning, is just a “snip” and not violent.

To justify circumcision we must deny two crucial realities: first, the multiple functions of the foreskin; second, the significance of infant trauma. Creating spurious “medical” reasons to perpetuate this rite, which contradicts every other Jewish precept regarding the protection of children and the sanctification of life, is a smoke screen attempting to persuade us that circumcision is a superior, divinely inspired hygienic “favor” we do for our boys.

Maimonides was far more honest. In his book “The Guide for the Perplexed,” written in 1160, he praises circumcision for its effect of diminishing male pleasure. Many centuries later, Cold and Taylor would confirm in the British Journal of Urology that circumcision ablates thousands of specialized fine-touch receptive cells in the human foreskin, which is responsible for greater nuanced sensation and control not available in any other penile tissue.

The rabbis explain that, because women are closer to the divine, due to our ability to give birth and sustain life, men are in need of other ways to access spirituality — primarily, circumcision. However, the notion that early trauma and the subtraction of healthy sexual tissue can be a bona fide path to greater spiritual awareness is an implicit oxymoron. What is unethical cannot be spiritual. It’s time to stop all forms of bullying, even the religiously sanctioned ones.

Miriam Pollack   |   Oakland