Letters to the editor: Oct. 25, 2017

Modern Orthodoxy isn’t one size fits all

I’d like to thank the Jewish Light for printing the article entitled “Five Takeaways from new survey about Modern Orthodox Jews” (Oct. 4). 

The final takeaway on the educational level of those labeled as Modern Orthodox particularly caught my attention. There may have been a time in which “Orthodox” was perceived as followed principally by new and poor immigrants, lacking education, superstitious and merely carrying with them the quaint customs of the “Old Country.” The author dashes that old stereotype by reporting that of those who consider themselves Orthodox, 90 percent have bachelor’s degrees and an astounding 60 percent have a postgraduate or professional degree.   

My own experience is that most religiously observant folks, particularly those who are new to observance (known as baalei teshuva) bring the same curiosity, thirst for knowledge, questioning outlook and studied discipline that they use in their professional lives.  Given the educational background of this group then, diversity of opinion and belief — but not fragmentation — is hardly surprising. Again, my own experience is that few Jews actually fit nicely into denominational labels, and that most Jews simply fall someplace on an unbroken continuum that includes variables such as knowledge, belief, and observance.  


As a current president of a Modern Orthodox synagogue I understand that the synagogue itself follows certain institutional practices, but I see our membership made up of a wide and divergent group of people with differing levels of knowledge and observance. What they tend to have in common is an interest in their own personal growth as human beings and as Jews, without sitting in judgment on where someone else “holds.”  

The Jewish people are a family, and while not everyone in the family always agrees, that doesn’t mean it is “fragmented.” The “Jewish world” can still be unified, like a family unit, while holding diverse opinions on any number of issues, from support for Israel to, as the Light’s Oct. 4 cover page pointed out, gun control.

 Call it wishful thinking, but I look forward to days in which we look at each other simply as “Jews,” with some in the community being more educated, some more observant, some more charitable, some interested in growing Jewishly and others not, some attracted by spiritual practices, some by ritual practices, some focused on social activism, but each and every one of us equally and indivisibly “Jewish.”  

Skeptics may scoff, but every day I see this model successfully followed at our Modern Orthodox synagogue, with an abundance of diversity of opinion and practice that doesn’t even remotely feel like “fragmentation,“ but instead just like family. 

Bob Kaiser, President, Nusach Hari B’nai Zion  

Column ignores troubling episodes in president’s past

Martin Rochester’s Sept. 27 op-ed, “Charlottesville and healing the Racial Divide” is based on the false premise that Donald Trump is not a racist. 

Anybody who reads a respectable daily newspaper knows Trump launched his pursuit of the presidency with the blatant lie that former President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Perhaps Rochester’s obvious disdain for Obama explains his ignoring of other examples of Trump’s bigotry.

Beginning in 1975, Trump was first accused of violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against minority renters. A settlement was reached, but by 1978 new charges were advanced when Trump continued his discrimination in violation of the settlement agreement by maintaining a level of 95 percent white occupants.

In 1992, a judge ruled that the Trump Plaza Hotel in New Jersey was guilty of unlawful discrimination in regard to its treatment of an African-American employee.

In 2000, Trump paid a fine thereby admitting he had funded ads targeting Native Americans, which included photographs of syringes and cocaine and posed the question: “Are these the neighbors we want?”

In May 2016, Trump openly criticized a Mexican-American federal judge. Later, Trump said the judge’s Mexican heritage prevented fairness in the Trump University case. 

In January 2017, Trump ignored a State Department written statement mentioning Jews on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, established by the United Nations. He failed to mention Jews or even anti-Semitism on a day which is observed worldwide to honor victims of the Holocaust.

Rochester failed the Jewish community by failing to recognize Trump’s obvious racism against Jews, Muslims, African-Americans, Native Americans and those of Hispanic descent. Jewish values cannot tolerate denial of such a long standing pattern. 

We should expect better from an award winning teacher and scholar. This is part of the evidence that Professor Rochester chose to ignore.

Burt Newman, St. Louis