Letters to the editor, week of May 9, 2012

Jewish Prison Outreach

Thanks so much to Ellen Futterman and the Light for the article about Rabbi Jim Goodman’s prison seder at Charleston Correctional Center (“Why is this seder different from all other seders?” April 18). 

Since 2005 Jewish Prison Outreach has been working to assist incarcerated individuals who are born Jews, converted Jews, as well as those who have an interest in learning Judaism. Rabbi Goodman has led the program with passion and commitment. The more we are able to do, the more things we find that need to be done. 

Our re-entry program helps Jews as they return to St. Louis, assisting them reintegrate and re-connect with their Jewish roots. We have a family support group which assists family and friends who are dealing with issues around a loved one’s incarceration, providing emotional and spiritual support.  

Rabbi Goodman visits prisons and sends holiday missives to help support and inspire Jews in prisons. We have published our own study guide, print and send Jewish calendars, provide Jewish books/religious items, and attempt to stay connected with prison chaplains. 

We regularly find new people within the Jewish community who are dealing with incarceration issues in their families and are in need of our support, but we need help from the community. Our funds are depleted, and we require financial assistance to be able to continue and (we hope) enhance our services. Readers of the Light, please consider a donation to Jewish Prison Outreach (through Congregation Neve Shalom or JF&CS). Know that you can positively affect a very underserved population that truly needs your support. 

Margie Kessler, Jewish Prison Outreach 

Commentary is divisive

I was disappointed to read Gail Appleson’s pejorative reference to an Orthodox day school she attended briefly while young (A rabbi who could ‘reach’ me,” April 25) . In her blog, she singled out an Orthodox rabbi, blaming him for driving her away from Judaism while she was a young adult. Ms. Appleson is an accomplished writer and she knows how to analyze facts. She knows that her turn away from Judaism was the result of any number of complex factors. 

I regret that the Light failed to help her edit her piece in order to keep out an inflammatory reference that added nothing to the story. 

The role of the Light, as its editors claim it to be, is to promote Community unity. Did that reference help? 

My child attends an Orthodox day school filled with dedicated and talented teachers. Some are Jewish and some are not. Some are Orthodox and some are not. Some are rabbis and some not. None would ever badger a child because he or she was not Orthodox. It would be unfair for any of these fine educators and role models to feel slighted because of the divisive commentary. 

It appears that Ms. Appleson’s objective in writing her commentary was to praise Rabbi Mordechai Miller. I know Rabbi Miller and ironically, there is no one who would be more ashamed or offended by that hurtful reference than he. 

David A. Rubin, University City

Hadassah story omitted key information

The recent news brief about the new $363 million Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower opening at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem (“Hadassah opens $363 million tower in Jerusalem,” April 25) barely scratched the surface regarding the pride and promise felt among Hadassah members worldwide as well as among Jerusalemites in general.  While it’s true that this amazing tower alleviates overcrowding, due in large part to the fact that Hadassah Hospital, considered a world class hospital throughout the Middle East, has always accepted any patient—regardless of race, religion, nationality, or ability to pay— it’s also amazing because of the promise it offers to this region of Israel in the way of new, well-paid high-tech jobs. Bringing highly educated medical staff to Jerusalem, along with their families, offers much in the way of revitalization in that area of the country.  

In addition, the tower was designed with the ever-present threat of war in the region in mind; of the 19 floors in this tower, five floors were built below ground with both the ability to house patients from the tower in the event of an emergency, as well as with the ability to continue to perform surgeries in high-tech below ground operating rooms.

Perhaps most amazingly, the tower was built with significant donations from generous people across the United States and worldwide, including donations small and quite large, from some of our own generous St. Louis philanthropists and believers in Hadassah’s premise that there is great potential in peace through medicine.

We have lots to be proud of in our city, and the opening of this incredible Sarah Wetsmann Davidson Tower — albeit all the way over in Jerusalem — is certainly one of them.

Judy Kramer, Immediate Past President, St. Louis Chapter Hadassah

ZOA responds to op-ed about Title VI

David Wilensky’s op-ed on using Title VI (“Title VI Should Be Used Only On True Hatemongers, Not Political Opponents,” Apr. 25, 2012) was an amateurish attempt to condemn an important new legal tool for Jewish students who are now protected from anti-Semitic harassment, intimidation and discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. He claims that the Zionist Organization of America — which spearheaded the effort to achieve this civil rights protection — is misusing Title VI “to stifle legitimate discourse” and as a “bludgeon” to advance “far-right political viewpoints.” These ridiculous charges are baseless.

The ZOA has never used Title VI to stifle free speech or to advance a particular political viewpoint.  We have called on university leaders to exercise their own First Amendment rights and publicly condemn speakers and programs that demonize Jews, compare Jews to Nazis, and call for the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel — all of which is anti-Semitism according to U.S. government standards. 

The ZOA has also called on university leaders to enforce their own rules.  Thus, when a Jewish student is physically threatened or assaulted, the wrongdoers must be held accountable and punished. Contrary to Wilensky’s accusations, Title VI is all about protecting Jews and ensuring them a campus environment that’s physically and emotionally safe and conducive to learning.  

A dozen national Jewish organizations across the political and religious spectrums have supported the ZOA’s Title VI efforts, so that Jewish students would be afforded the same legal protections that other minority groups have had for almost 50 years.  They joined the ZOA in a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Education, urging that Title VI be enforced to protect Jewish students. 

Fighting anti-Semitic bigotry on campus is not a “right wing” or “left wing” issue. The ZOA is proudly doing the same kind of work that other civil rights groups do, such as the ACLU and the NAACP.    

Morton A. Klein, Zionist Organization of America National President

Susan B. Tuchman, Director, ZOA Center for Law and Justice