Your letters to the editor of the St. Louis Jewish Light

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Stand up to book banning efforts

In Nazi Germany, 25,000 books were burned in one night in 1933, the beginning of a series of censorship actions during the Holocaust. Now 90 years later, we are seeing a worrisome rise in censorship attempts across the United States, including Missouri. Efforts to ban books have surged at a rate the American Library Association calls unprecedented.

Recently, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft has proposed a rule that would eliminate state funding of libraries that don’t file written policies with the state librarian on how individuals can challenge a book or other material on the shelves. The focus is on books that might appeal to the sexual interests of minors and are supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.

Ashcroft’s proposal could be revised or it could go to a bipartisan panel of lawmakers who could vote to send it to the full House and Senate.

Missouri is already on the road to censorship; under a law passed last session, more than 200 books in the Wentzville School District are “under review,” and several other districts have removed books from school libraries. Among the removed books is “Maus,” an illustrated book about the Holocaust geared to young readers.

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The Missouri Library Association calls Ashcroft’s proposal “an infringement on the professional judgment of librarians” and a threat to small and urban libraries, which rely on state funding.

Public comment on the proposal is open through Dec. 15 by e-mail to [email protected] Subject line must include “15 CSR 30-200.015.” Tell them you oppose this rule and why.

If you want our public libraries to continue offering a wide array of materials, without censorship and under the guidance of trained librarians, please let Secretary Ashcroft know. Nothing less than our fundamental right of free speech is at stake.

Lise Bernstein, Past President, National Council of Jewish Women, St. Louis Section


Readers react to recent columns by Marty Rochester

I found myself very much in agreement with Marty Rochester’s Oct. 19 column, “Have you had enough of crime?”

Rochester talks about liberal prosecutors who question the fairness of our legal system and the larger society.  These prosecutors embrace what I like to call the “root causes” approach to crime control, that is, attacking the “root causes” of crime through social programs, making allowances for crime due to conditions such as poverty, and the like.  The problem with the “root causes” approach is that it is long term in nature.  It’s comparable to driving from St. Louis to Chicago by first driving out to Los Angeles, then up to Seattle, and finally driving back to Chicago.

Our society needs more immediate fixes to the problem of crime.  Rochester makes reference to the 1990s, in which measures such as “stop and frisk” and enforcing the law against minor infractions were utilized to a greater extent.  I would add, also, that offenders spent greater amounts of time in prison for their crimes.  We need to reimplement measures such as these. I both worked in the criminal justice system and taught criminal justice, and, on the basis of my experience, strongly believe that most crime is calculating in nature and profit-oriented, and that measures to curb crime must take these realities into account.

I am not in opposition to social programs which address the underlying causes of crime, but I believe they are best justified as measures of social equity, as opposed to directly combatting crime.

Harry Toder, Ph.D. University City

Improving education in the United States should be a higher priority but it is more complicated than Marty Rochester suggests in his Nov. 16 commentary (“The systematic decline of our schools”). 

First, we should have better preschool and childcare. It is very expensive, educators are generally paid less than fast food workers, and the data shows that students in these programs do much better with early education. Teachers are leaving in education in droves because of the harassment, low pay and threats by extreme conservative groups. Missouri is still near the bottom for teacher pay. 

It is very difficult to teach American history with lies about cultural race theory, which is never taught in elementary or high schools. Book banning and curriculum changes are occurring throughout out the country. Educators are now going back to teach phonics as the most effective way to learn how to read, which should improve test scores in the future. If you want smart people to teach, we need to pay these people for their efforts. Spend one day in a school and you will appreciate what goes on. 

Babs Shapiro, Retired teacher at University City High School and current docent at the St. Louis Art Museum

Marty Rochester’s commentary, “The systemic decline of our schools” is based on fundamentally flawed beliefs.  He concludes that students are not challenged, and schools are failing because ACT scores have decreased.  He uses polarizing language to over-simplify a highly nuanced matter. 

 Rochester neglects to mention that several states and esteemed universities, including the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University, recognize that standardized tests are biased against historically under-served groups and do not require them as criteria for admission. Further, standardized tests are one dimensional and not reflective of critical areas like empathy, compassion and emotional regulation. 

Declining ACT scores do not reflect a problem with the educational system, rather a problem with a one-dimensional, antiquated tool that is losing relevance. Rochester asserts that we should argue for “higher, tougher standards.” I agree. We should petition for higher standards with regard to teaching essential life skills that support mental health like meditation and mindfulness. We should fight for tougher, multi-dimensional standards to evaluate our students that include relationship skills, resilience and self-care.  

As a parent and licensed clinical social worker, a decline in ACT scores does not alarm me. I am alarmed by the increase in anxiety, depression, stress, substance misuse and deaths from suicide that we have seen over the past three years. Our students are more than an ACT score. Our schools are not declining, they are expanding to meet the complex needs of our society. 

Christine Schulze, Chesterfield


Shining a spotlight on all of St. Louis’ women rabbis   

On behalf of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, we want to thank Shula Neuman for her Nov. 2 article about the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women rabbis. This was a beautiful opportunity to highlight our colleagues and the excellent work that they are doing in our greater St. Louis community.

Unfortunately, Rabbi Jessica Shafrin and Rabbi Pamela Barmash were left out of the photos of women rabbis included on the front page. This is reflective of the way that the Jewish community often ignores or even excludes rabbis in non-congregational settings, all the more so when they are women. 

Rabbi Shafrin is the manager of pastoral care at SSM St. Joseph Hospitals – St. Charles, Lake St. Louis and Wentzville. This is a role that has never before been filled by a rabbi, and as such, her work is groundbreaking.

Rabbi Barmash, known to her students as Dr. Barmash, is the professor of Hebrew Bible and Biblical Hebrew at Washington University. Among her many positions, she is also the first woman to serve as Chair of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly and as Dayan for the International Beit Din of the Conservative Movement. Barmash, too, is a trailblazer.

We celebrate these visionary women and honor their contributions to their fields, to the Jewish community, and to the greater St. Louis community. 

St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association