The JC

Letters to the editor, 8 September 2023

Melanie Phillips on Judicial reform, Brighton's windows and liberal rabbis

September 07, 2023 09:32

Seeing both sides

I read with interest Melanie Phillip’s article Israel’s protesters are a real threat to its democracy now (25 August) together with the replies on the letters page the following week.

As a sixth former in the early/mid-1960s I captained my school’s debating team. Capital punishment was one of the hot topics of the day, with both retentionists and abolitionists equally adamant of the rightness of their views.

As a convinced abolitionist I was delighted to be given the chance to propose the motion “This house does not believe in capital punishment” at a schools debate. (My seconder from the year below was a young man called Jonathan Sacks.)

However a couple of weeks before the event took place we were informed of a change. Those who had been asked to speak for the motion would instead have to speak against, and vice versa.

From this I learned a couple of lessons which I have tried to follow throughout my life. That there are very few arguments in which all the right is on one side and all the wrong on the other. And the fact that somebody disagrees with me doesn’t necessarily make them wrong, and certainly doesn’t make them evil or deranged.

Perhaps Ms Phillips would do well to ponder these in her future pieces.

Anthony Melnikoff
Barnet, Herts

Ambassador Mark Sofer (Vindictive article, Letters, 1 September) sees as negligible the 22 Knesset laws cancelled by Israel’s Supreme Court, yet each such act is blighted with far-reaching repercussions.  Last Saturday’s riots by Eritrean asylum seekers are a poignant and painful reminder of the court’s ill-conceived rulings against the government and long-suffering Israeli citizens, now amongst the strongest supporters of judicial reforms.

The Supreme Court’s failings should not be trivialised.  Siding with the Bennet-Lapid government, it prevented the Knesset from debating the potential dangers of gifting Israel’s gas-rich maritime territory to Lebanon/Hezbollah.  The current escalation in terror and crime is a direct outcome of this frivolity.  It beggars belief that a supreme authority should bear zero responsibility for its perilous decisions.

Professor Stanley Waterman is worried that “if Israel becomes dominated by ultra-nationalists, Charedim and West Bank hoodlums, the admired start up nation will be gone forever”.  I hasten to reassure him that such Israelis already heavily populate the high-tech markets, benefitting all.

Ms Lancaster and Mr Gross assert that the freedom of the press is under threat by the proposals of the current government.  But the Israeli press has long ceased to be free. Yediot Achronot and Haaretz are bereft of even a single article on the merits of the reforms — this while half the nation supports them.

Freedom of speech?  Pluralism?  Open-mindedness?  Advocating bans and boycotts?  How unaware does one have to be not to detect the incongruities of the supposed “proponents of democracy”?

Eda Spinka
London NW4

Rabbis’ apartheid slur

Most Jews, both within Israel and the diaspora are embarrassed — worse, ashamed — at statements emanating from some members of Israel’s present government that constitute a contemptuous concoction of the homophobic, racist, confrontational and non-democratic.

However, it is a source of enormous pride that hundreds of thousands of Jews in Israel are participating for the 35th consecutive week in public, peaceful demonstrations promoting democracy and pluralism rather than strife and confrontation.                                                

For some colleagues to accuse Israel of being an apartheid state (Shock as liberal rabbis back ‘apartheid’ letter, 1 September) ignores this deep wellspring of fundamental Jewish values that thankfully courses through many strata of Israeli society.

The accusation also ignores the valuable and important roles and contributions Israeli Arabs are encouraged to — and do — play in the political, economic and cultural life of the country.

Even worse, the accusation belittles the daily indignities and harrowing humiliations inflicted upon the South African black community during the shameful apartheid era.                                                             
A Rosh Hashanah report card on Israel’s 75 years of independence should read, “Shows much courage, compassion, enterprise and endeavour — but, as for all of us, individually and collectively there is also need and scope for improvement.”

Rabbi Steven Katz
London NW4

As a longstanding member of a Reform synagogue, I read with disgust your report that some prominent Reform rabbis (including, to my shame, the Emeritus Rabbi of my own community) have chosen to attack Israel using the kind of dishonest and demonising language more commonly associated with the Jew-haters around Jeremy Corbyn.

The word “apartheid” is simply a lie. Israel always was, and remains, the Middle East’s only democracy, with a human rights record that puts all of its neighbours, and many Western countries, to shame.

I joined a Reform synagogue many years ago thinking that Reform Judaism stood for Western values of liberal democracy. Sadly, many of its leaders seem to have betrayed that tradition in order to win accolades from the enemies of the Jewish people on the totalitarian left.

Harry Goldstein
London N14

Window vandalism

Redevelopment plans for Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue have never preserved the stained-glass windows as windows. They are to be separated into four sections, as artefacts within a new building, invisible to the outside world and devoid of natural light. Their original format and intention would be completely lost.

The synagogue is dedicated as a Holocaust memorial and is protected as that in its charity object. As an expression of that dedication, the community commissioned the stained-glass windows. This commission was originally given to Mark Chagall but his ill health meant he could not undertake it, so John Petts took the project forward. Petts was uniquely sympathetic to the Holocaust Memorial Commission having been amongst the Bergen-Belsen liberators.

Using biblical symbolism, Petts laid out a theodicy. On one hand are symbolic references to Jewish bondage, oppression by the Nazis and liberation and on the other God’s covenant with the Jewish people and His power to deliver them.  Central to this design is the burning bush, which represents God’s presence. Light plays dramatically through this monumental art work, empowering its impact on the worshipper.

If the board of trustees of Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue persist with their plans not only would an extraordinary icon of twentieth-century architectural design be lost but the windows would be deprived of natural light. The burning bush would no longer burn, hope would not cast its glory over the Jewish past and we would be deprived of one of the most important pieces of religious art in Britain.

Barbara Bell
Horsham, West Sussex

My parents, the late Rita and Sidney Seltzer, were founder members of Brighton and Hove Reform synagogue. With the late Rabbi Rosenblum and a handful of dedicated Jews they fought antisemitism, negativity and objections from all areas of the town administration to build the shul. The late Lord Cohen donated the land on the condition that there will always be a synagogue on it.

Our shul is a dedication to the six million Holocaust victims. Our windows’ beautiful historic artwork and the doors were placed facing east to allow the light to shine through. It must not be destroyed on the whim of a few. Would the plans of destruction be the same if the window had Chagall’s name attached to it?

Our community has not been asked about this destruction. Most of the founder members are no longer with us and they would be turning in their graves if they knew of the planned destruction.

My father and many others gave their lives for the creation of this shul. I’m heartbroken. Who in their right mind wants to destroy a shul?

Our shul has the biggest congregation in the town. Our cheder is thriving. We have an amazing rabbi and rebbetzin (who runs the cheder). If we lose our shul will we lose our fabulous rabbi?

Please save our shul.

Ruth Nguyen-Seltzer
Hove BN3

When is Shabbat?

I admire the indomitable spirit of adventurer Paul Cohen, Greenland’s solitary Jew (Ice Jewish Boy! Greenland’s only known Jew discusses life among the glaciers, 25 August). In the small “town” of Narsaq (population 1,300) he is literally “the only Jew in the village”.

But a number of questions come to mind. Inside the Arctic Circle, at what time should one light the Shabbat candles in summer when the sun never sets, or in winter when the sun never rises? What’s it like celebrating Chanukah to the backdrop of nature’s own festival of lights — the aurora borealis? And although seals and whales are technically not kosher because they don’t chew the cud or have cloven hooves, shouldn’t Paul be allowed to eat their flesh? Especially when Suaasat  — a seal-based Inuit-inspired broth — is Greenland’s national dish and the cultural equivalent of chicken soup?

Stan Labovitch

And what about eggs?

Angela Epstein is wrong about the pronunciation of “vosht” which is of German origin (There’s only one way to say ‘bagel’ and it’s not the east London way, 31 August).

It neither rhymes with “posh” nor “push” given that the word is actually wurst as in Bloom’s Best Wurst.

David Miller
Chigwell, Essex

September 07, 2023 09:32

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