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The JC letters page, October 13

James Leek, Professor Otto Hutter, Robert Bartfield, Sarah Farrier-Rabstein, Lewis Herlitz, Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild, Helen Simmons and Sharon Daniels & Mark Greenfield share their views with JC readers

    (Getty)

    Are schools ‘ghettos’?

    Jonathan Boyd’s enlightening data (JC , October 6) that people are less antisemitic if they know Jews personally (or any other denominational group for that matter) is a worthy follow up to the excellent JPR/CST report on antisemitism, of which I urge readers to get a copy for their synagogue library/reading room

    The answer starts with faith schools and, irrespective of the rules that allow 100 per cent single faith (whether by demographics or choice), the writing is on the wall — all faith schools should voluntarily welcome a sensible percentage of children from other faiths. Children meeting the “other” at school, as we know, then extends to meeting the “other” parent at the school gate.

    If our Jewish schools do not voluntarily start adopting a more intelligent and liberal admission policy, the problem will magnify, as we are seeing in universities, where part of the anti-Israel/antisemitism experiences is anecdotally attributed to the fact that undergraduates no longer know the “other” from their schooldays. Are our 100 per cent Jewish schools trying to recreate the ghettos that we fought so hard to liberate ourselves from?

    James Leek, 
    London SW19


    A modern Genizah

    Now that the holy feast-days and fast-days that mark the beginning of our year are drawing to a close, the seasonal magazines and reports produced by communal organisations large and small that have graced our coffee tables are mostly destined to be binned, whether well-thumbed or unread; for who has the space to collect such ephemeral stuff.

    Yet, collected together, the output of the communal cottage press, nowadays facilitated by desk-top publishing, represents a valuable resource of social history, a veritable modern Genizah to be mined by future historians.  

    So what is already on foot to ensure that this rich archival record is bequeathed to future generations, perhaps in space-saving digitised format? If not, that would surely be a worthy cause for a charitable foundation to take under its wing. 

    Emeritus Professor Otto Hutter, 
    Bournemouth, BH5


    You don’t have to be…

    Jonathan Freedland (October 6) questions the entitlement of Len McCluskey and other non-Jews to claim the same sensitivity to antisemitism as that possessed by Jews. He asks how McCluskey, Loach and Livingstone feel able to claim, on the basis of their experience within the party, that there is no problem of antisemitism. 

    Leaving Livingstone (to whom particular circumstances apply) aside for one moment, the other two must each have each attended hundreds of party events. They are entitled to express a view based on that experience. Presumably, if they’d said that they had encountered antisemitism, he’d have praised them for their insight. 

    John Mann MP and other prominent non–Jews within the Labour Party have indeed made those very claims. As a non-Muslim, I do not, in any way, feel less able than anyone else, Muslim or not, to identify anti-Islamic discourse. I would feel patronised by the suggestion that I somehow could not.

    Robert Bartfield, 
    Leeds LS17


    Banana skin deep

    David Slade  (Letters, September 29) states that David Aaronovitch ignores that “there is a problem… with assuming that God doesn’t care about the little things”.

    However, it is no surprise to anyone who has ever pondered the nature of God that there are multiple problems in assuming anything about a deistic (let alone specifically theistic) prime mover.

    While even the Holocaust can be attributed to the gift of free will (not “Where was God? but, sadly, “Where was Man’?) the understandably wishful thinking behind Mr Slade’s stance itself ignores why a benevolent and omnipotent Creator might throw into the mix of an already troubled world say, congenital deformities that can’t all be caused by egregious environmental damage, or gratuitous parasites like nematode worms which can only live by burrowing through eyeballs.

    It demands a special kind of sophistry to advocate that it may be spiritually necessary for bad things to happen to good people, and the reverse. We may find satisfying human reasons for putting up with these unwanted phenomena, but how does that imply intelligent design? 

    Our current tenure in the so-called “Goldilocks zone”, where all conditions are temporarily “just right” for our version of life to flourish, may present the seductive illusion of a bespoke “des res” but the lease will expire in a billion years — four billion years before the sun itself dies — and it’s not up for immediate renewal.

    Even if Mars becomes the next habitable zone, it takes our lizard brain solipsism to ignore that, if we are indeed the exalted beneficiary of God’s discerning love, then we are also prime sitting ducks for his intentional slights, like genetically engineering us to share 50 per cent of our DNA with a banana. 

    God’s little cosmic joke or sufficient reason at least to question belief?

    Sarah Farrier-Rabstein, 
    London N20

    I don’t think there is a stage of Creation with man at the centre. Man, Judaism, Life itself, hasn’t stopped evolving. Everything is moving, both at atomic and cosmic level. Our own planet dances round the sun, which dances around the Milky Way, which itself is dancing through the Universe. We can only understand ourselves and our place in the cosmos from our own perspective. We seek a sense of order in our lives on many levels to make sense of who we are, how we are and to interact effectively with all other forms of life.

    I hope I am decent enough to be mindful and full of wonder at my own and others existence.  Our structurally amazing brains spend too much time trying to figure out who is right about God, and what it is that God really means, as if there is separation between us and God. But there isn’t. Our attempts at creating and defining separation cause countless conflicts, not just between countries and cultures, but also within and between our own Jewish communities.

    Lewis Herlitz, 
    Leigh on Sea, Essex 


    Poetry of Balfour

    I am writing in response to your article “School cancels Balfour poetry contest that fails to mention Israel”. As a parent of a child at the school, I had encountered a brick wall when I tried to discuss my concerns with the school leadership at the promotion of this deeply unbalanced competition.

    So I would like to thank not only the Board of Deputies for their help, but also the Council for Christians and Jews, who also wrote to the school explaining to them the problems of the competition as it stood, and who were able to offer positive suggestions for a more balanced presentation on this complex subject.

    I hope the school will now be able to redress the balance.

    Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild, 
    Orpington, BR6


    Educational needs

    The article Wanted: a new curriculum that is actually useful (September 29) sadly omits key components of a rounded education —  emotional and social development. 

    One in 10 young people aged five to 16 have a diagnosed mental-health condition, and of course emotional well-being is something that impacts on everyone. The Jewish community is not immune to mental-health issues, relationship abuse, substance misuse, the impact of social media and other challenges facing young people today.  Education must address these needs alongside more practical life skills. 

    Reform Judaism and RSY-Netzer work pro-actively to promote emotional well-being and reduce stigma. We aim to ensure that young people experiencing emotional or social difficulties are fully included and able to benefit from the positive impact that involvement in a faith community can bring. We hope that, as education evolves, it will address these central aspects of holistic development.

    Sharon Daniels (Welfare Officer) and Mark Greenfield (Young Persons Mental Health and Well-Being Worker), Reform Judaism


    Special care

    As CEO of two leading residential care homes, I welcome Parliamentary Under Secretary of State in the Department of Health, Jackie Doyle-Price highlighting ethnic minority communities as an example of best practice in caring for older people. 

    While the minister’s comments were admirable in recognising the positive contribution that loving relatives and communities can make to the well-being of older people, it discounts the myriad complex health needs that require greater support from health and social care professionals. 

    Residential care homes such as Nightingale Hammerson offer quality specialist care from trained professionals steeped in Jewish traditions and cultural practice.

    This allows our residents to maintain lifelong customs and celebrate festivals in a stimulating environment, often with visiting family, friends and volunteers, further emphasising the sense of community essential to the holistic wellbeing of our older people. 

    Helen Simmons
    Chief Executive,
    Nightingale Hammerson

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