Letters to the editor September 3
Build it and they will come
This is the first time I have felt compelled to respond to an editorial, in this case, the one entitled, “Who are the Downtown Jews?” (Aug. 20).
The history of a small shul like Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob is really the history of its members, the people who brought their sacred heritage with them from the far reaches of Europe, and crossed a vast ocean to a strange but wonderful new land of opportunity, as well as their descendants to whom this heritage was passed like a priceless heirloom.
My wife and myself, along with my son, Evan, as well as my daughter, Mindy Pechersky, and her husband, Brett, of Monroeville have always felt a warm place in our hearts for Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob when we have attended services for a simcha or for regular Shabbos attendance. Rabbi Stanley Savage, the bedrock of this congregation for the past 25 years, is a most compassionate rabbi, who has guided his congregants through all the vibrant times as well as the tumultuous ones.
This past May, my son Evan again recited his bar mitzvah Haftara at the temporary facility [near] Duquesne University. I pray to Hashem that, with his blessing, my son will be able to perform his haftara in the newly rebuilt Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob on his next anniversary. I firmly believe, if we build it, they will come and hopefully, this new congregation made of steel and stone will be part of the new renaissance and flourish with the rest of Downtown Pittsburgh.
I’m sure that my family as well as other families who have a generational heritage to the congregation Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob will support this new structure. G-d willing, count me in as the tenth.
Dr. Alan H. Firestone
Anecdotes of Kennedy, Weintraub
Your Aug. 27 issue reminded me of my personal encounters with Sen. Ted Kennedy and Mickey Weintraub. When Kennedy was running against Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination for president, a local Jewish Democratic delegate arranged for me to have a one-on-one interview with Sen. Kennedy after his appearance at a Downtown hotel and en route to the airport.
He was gracious and both compassionate and knowledgeable about the Middle East. When he opened the backdoor of the limo to greet me, a network tv cameraman shoved a camera into the vehicle and took a picture of me shaking the Senator’s hand.
When I got home, one of my Baltimore relatives was on the phone asking what was I doing with Kennedy.
I played some tennis with Mickey Weintraub in his later years. He was still a competent player in his late 80s. He was always entertaining the guys with his wonderful baseball stories. The stories were even more fun than the tennis.
(The author is the retired executive editor of The Jewish Chronicle.)
Obama needs no forgiveness
I must take serious issue with Abby Wisse Schachter’s statement in her Aug. 27 column (“Obama should seek forgiveness for health care position”). She said that “employing moral/religious reasoning in support of a public policy issue is inappropriate.” When can it ever be acceptable not to employ morality in deciding issues of public policy?
My rabbis have taught me that, for Jews, the path to an ethical life is Torah. Torah clearly tells us that we must be deeply concerned with public as well as private morality, that we stand or fall as a community, not just as individuals: tzedek, tzedek tirdof justice, justice shall you pursue. It is hard to imagine a public policy issue that cries out more for using moral values to pursue justice than the health care debate.
Unlike issues such as abortion, modifying our health care system does not contradict any religious teachings. Most people agree that the system can be improved; the disagreement is on how best to do this. Judaism has a great deal to say to us in such situations, and we look to our rabbis, among others, to articulate these principles.
Ms. Schachter also says, “many Jews will not want to hear a sermon on health care reform come Rosh Hashana.” She may be correct, but I believe Jews should hear such a sermon. I want to know where my rabbi stands on this issue and, just as importantly, how my rabbi’s position is based on Jewish teachings and Jewish values. I may not agree with him, but I want to know his position and his reasoning.
Ms. Schachter seems to think that all rabbis would speak in favor of President Obama’s plan. It is hard to imagine a thousand rabbis agreeing on anything, much less an issue of such complexity. It is virtually certain that many of the rabbis to whom Mr. Obama was speaking disagree with his plan, and would say so from their pulpits. I expect he knew this as he spoke with them.
Asking rabbis to apply their moral and religious reasoning to a matter of social justice, and to share their conclusions with their congregations, is hardly an action for which Mr. Obama should seek forgiveness.
Obama’s position is moral, appropriate
The opinions expressed by Abby Wisse Schachter in her Aug. 27 column require a response.
Ms. Schachter’s basic premise seems to be, “Employing moral/religious reasoning in support of a public policy issue is inappropriate.” I differ. Forty-five million Americans are without health care insurance, including some 15 million children, and I say that this is immoral. Were it not for the moral basis for much legislation, segregation would still prevail in much of our society, and Ms. Schachter, who would still be able to express her opinions, would be unable to vote.
To characterize the Obama health care initiative as “yet another power-grab by Washington, after the stimulus package, the takeover of the auto-industry, regulatory control of the financial sector, etc.” is a wildly unbalanced interpretation of what has actually happened. State governments administer the stimulus projects. The federal government did not take over the auto industry; it rescued the industry from almost certain failure. Washington’s regulation of the financial sector is an attempt to halt the abuses, which were allowed to run amok during the previous administration, that resulted in the mortgage crisis, the stock market panic and a recession that nearly became a depression.
The health care initiative is not a power grab; it is an attempt to right a wrong, and it is moral.
Ms. Schachter asks, “…who exactly is responsible for any supposed miscommunications?” (about the health care plan). I respectfully suggest that Ms. Schachter is among those responsible. She asks, “…did he (the president) mean that, with his plan, God would be working though the government bureaucrats who will be counseling their clients on end of life decisions?” This is a reference to the so-called “death panels,” which were long ago revealed to be a pure fabrication of health care initiative opponents, which do not appear anywhere in any of the bills in Congress, and which were no doubt created to instill fear of the initiative in the minds and hearts of the uninformed. Perpetuating this myth is not moral, and Ms. Schachter should know better.
There is every reason to support the health care initiative on moral/religious grounds. I hope my fellow Jewish Americans and Americans of every faith will do so.
Herbert M. Mandel