Letters to the Editor, week of Dec. 21, 2011

Ad campaign criticisms were overblown

I disagree with those American Jewish groups and individuals who thought that the Israeli government-sponsored ads, intended to cajole Israelis living in the United States to come home, were intended to insult and offend American Jews (Light editorial Dec. 7; commentary by Danny Danon, Dec. 14).

I do not think the ads showed a lack of sensitivity by the Israeli government toward American Jews any more than American Jews display an insensitivity and ignorance about Israelis. Danon is correct when he writes that “not every domestic policy…by Israel’s government is necessarily aimed at the Jewish Diaspora,” no matter how paramount we think we are.

No country, even the United States wants to lose its brightest citizens, those who have benefited from the best government programs and initiatives. That includes Israel.

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The reaction by those American Jewish groups and individuals to these controversial ads was, not for the first time, an overreaction of hypersensitivity. There are far more serious issues dividing American Jews and Israelis: conversion, the definition of a Jew, the outsized role of Orthodox religious leaders in Israel regarding lifecycle events, Israel’s treatment of its Arab citizens, settlements, the peace process, to mention a few.

Life in Israel is different. Judaism is expressed differently than in the Diaspora. In the United States, we have to work at being Jewish – we have to think about how we express our Jewishness; in Israel it is part of the air breathed, absorbed in your pores.

Was there a little bit of truth in the discomfort experienced by the American Jewish reaction to the ads? Probably. If the relevant departments in Israel need to be more sensitive “to our brethren in the Jewish communities around the world,” the same sensitivity applies also to the Diaspora – in this case, American Jews.

Danon concludes with the hope that the “two communities will move beyond this incident” and focus on the issues that are so important to both groups. I certainly hope so.

Rosalyn Borg

University City

Connecting the next generation to Judaism

I read with great interest David Baugher’s article, “What’s next for the Jewish NextGen?” (Dec. 7). This crucial topic is exactly what the Jewish community needs to discuss, and I was encouraged to read about strategies Jewish organizations employ to engage and strengthen connections with young adults.  

A troubling and fascinating aspect of Jewish life is the disaffection expressed by young Jews regarding religious observance, and the trend seems to be toward other types of activities.  Though I wholeheartedly support many of the events mentioned, including beer tastings, Shabbat dinners, laser tag and volunteering, I have a suggestion which may prove very beneficial to Jewish young adults.

For those young Jews who find religious observance difficult or impossible, I suggest they try some one-on-one Torah study with a learned friend or friendly rabbi.  One easy way to jump in is to join our ragtag group: The Rush Hour Kollel, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays in the Beit Midrash of the JCC Arts and Education Building. You can also find other great learning opportunities by calling Aish HaTorah or the St. Louis Kollel.

In college I spent a great deal of time studying Communism and Chinese philosophy, and was completely ignorant of the elegance and utility of Jewish philosophy – my birthright cosmology.

Just to make sure everyone understands the difference: you do not need to dress up, this is not praying, not a religious service, not a bar mitzvah, Holy Day, wedding or funeral, not an excruciating seder at your uncle’s house.

It is sitting down with a friend or two and discussing some fascinating and practical elements of Jewish philosophy, history, law or mysticism. If you give it a shot, you might discover that Jewish learning is intellectually stimulating, helpful and fun. You may also discover, in the parlance of our era, Jewish philosophy rocks.

Donald Meissner, MSW

University City