Letters from 7-25-13


Ad hominem attack

Wojo Cohen’s letter to the editor (“He’s an apostate,” WJW, July 4) disapproves of Daniel Pipes use of information received from Marvin Olasky (to wit, that the National Endowment for the Humanities, the NEH, spent $1 million collecting and listing books about Islam that were skewed to the apologist side). Cohen says Olasky has no credibility as he was born a Jew and is now a Christian.

This is an example of argumentum ad hominem, that is attacking the person instead of arguing the fact or logic. Cohen doesn’t claim the information that Olasky provided was wrong (nobody, to my knowledge, claims that, although there may be differences of opinion on whether the NEH was, as Pipes says, sloppy or ideologically driven in doing its work). However, factually, it doesn’t matter if Olasky was Jewish or an atheist or a communist or a Christian (Olasky has been all of these at various points in his life) if what he says is factual.




Fighting the merger

Thank you for the excellent article “Funeral Deal in Doubt,” (WJW, June 27). It informs the Jewish community of the urgent danger to the limited price competition in Jewish funerals that exists in our area. If Service Corporation International (SCI) is permitted to absorb Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home, the Jewish Funeral package for $1,820, including plain pine casket, that Hines-Rinaldi offers everyone who requests a Jewish funeral, will become a casualty. Of the few other Jewish service funeral homes, Danzansky-Goldberg, Sagel and Gawlers already belong to SCI. Since their funeral prices, and Torchinsky’s, are upwards of $5,000, it is not possible that they would allow such price competition to continue to exist.

Please let me correct the few inaccuracies in the article: (1) Everyone who asks Hines-Rinaldi for the Jewish funeral package gets it, without any membership requirement; (2) We, the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee of Greater Washington (JFPCGW), think that we have saved the area Jewish Community $13 million, not $1.3 million, since first Tifereth Israel, and then our citywide organization, began to contract with funeral homes in 1974; (3) Congregations are the members of the JFPCGW. They pay $100 each year to finance its activities. JFPCGW is a 501(c)(3) corporation and thus contributions to it are tax deductible.

JFPCGW is fighting the merger, and particularly the inclusion of Hines-Rinaldi, at the FTC.

We ask everyone to write in support of our effort to Hon. Edith Ramirez ([email protected]) and Jill Frumin ([email protected]) at the FTC, and Doug Gansler ([email protected]) and Ellen Cooper ([email protected]), at the Maryland Attorney-General’s office. It would also be helpful to ask your senators and congressmen and Jewish Community leaders, to contact those people.


President, JFPCGW

Spiritual experience

I am writing to shed some light on one aspect of Suzanne Pollak’s important story (“Funeral deal in doubt,” WJW, June 27) regarding the proposed acquisition by Service Corporation International of Stewart Enterprises Inc. The merger, if consummated, could result in higher funeral costs for many Jewish families in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.

As a member of this community’s men’s chevra kadisha (Jewish burial society), allow me to clarify what I believe Ms. Pollak meant when she indicated that a local funeral home provides “an area for the family to prepare the body and sit with it.” One of Judaism’s most important mitzvot is the preparation of a body for burial. This is not something to be done by immediate family members, however, unless there is no one else who can perform it. When at all possible, members of the chevra kadisha undertake this loving task, which is called a tahara.

Tahara is the ritual washing and preparation of the body, performed usually the night before the burial. It consists of prayers, washing the body twice in a ritual manner, dressing it in ritual shrouds in a ritual way and gently placing the body in the casket. As for Ms. Pollak’s reference to “sitting” with the body, she is speaking of another Jewish tradition, that of watching or guarding the body. A shomer stays all night at the place the body is kept and reads psalms until the casket is placed in the hearse.

Tahara is a very spiritual experience for those who participate, as is being a shomer, and both are considered to be high mitzvot, like accompanying a person to his or her burial spot, because the acts can never be repaid, nor the doer ever thanked by the recipient.

Any family can request that tahara be performed for their loved one, and it should be a normal part of a discussion with any funeral director planning a Jewish funeral.



Chevra kadisha’s job

Suzanne Pollak’s article, “Funeral deal in doubt,” (WJW, June 27) is interesting and informative, but not exactly correct: Pollak states, “A Jewish funeral” includes an area for the family “to prepare the body and sit with it.”

In fact, the funeral homes that perform Jewish funerals may allow family members to sit with the body, but the family members do not “prepare the body.”

That task is normally performed by the chevra kadisha, a group of trained volunteers who, while reciting prayers, wash the entire body for burial. The group dresses the body in shrouds (tachrichim), with men preparing men and women preparing women. After completing the preparation, the group places the body in the casket.



No secret plot

I was surprised to read the claim by Stephen Arkan, in his July 11 letter (“Partisan propaganda”), that critics of President Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust are trying “to drive a wedge between American Jews and the Democratic Party and New Deal liberalism.”

In 2004, I traveled to South Dakota, together with colleagues from the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, to interview former U.S. Sen. and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. We spoke with McGovern about his experiences in World War II as the pilot of a B-24 Liberator, which took part in bombing raids on German oil factories very close to Auschwitz.

McGovern said, on camera, “Franklin Roosevelt was a great man, and he was my political hero. But I think he made two great mistakes in World War Two” — the mass internment of Japanese-Americans without due cause, and the decision “not to go after Auschwitz … God forgive us for that tragic miscalculation.” McGovern said: “There is no question we should have attempted … to go after Auschwitz. There was a pretty good chance we could have blasted those rail lines off the face of the earth, which would have interrupted the flow of people to those death chambers, and we had a pretty good chance of knocking out those gas ovens.”

I don’t think Senator McGovern’s perspective can be dismissed as some kind of secret plot to hurt the Democratic Party or aid the Republicans.


Producer, They Looked Away

Sad reality

Stephen Arkan (“Partisan propaganda,” Letters, WJW, July 11) claims that anyone who questions President Franklin Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust must be “hoping to drive a wedge between American Jews and the Democratic Party and New Deal liberalism in general” and help the Republicans.

Let’s consider what three pillars of the Democratic Party have said on this subject.

At the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993, then-President Bill Clinton said that under the Roosevelt administration, “doors to liberty were shut and even after the United States and the Allies attacked Germany, rail lines to the [death] camps within miles of militarily significant targets were left undisturbed.” He has also called FDR’s rejection of the refugee ship St. Louis “one of the darkest chapters in United States history.”

Then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in her autobiography, recalled how she broke with a Democratic president over human rights (in China) and described with pride how her father, Democratic congressman Thomas D’Alesandro, broke with FDR over the Holocaust: “Although he was a New Deal Democrat and followed Franklin D. Roosevelt’s lead, there was one area in which he disagreed with the administration. Daddy supported an organization called the Bergson Group, which had rallies, pageants, and parades focusing attention on the plight of European Jews during World War II and calling for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, which was not yet the administration’s policy.”

Then Vice President Walter Mondale, in a 1979 speech, called President Roosevelt’s refugee conference in Evian, France, a “legacy of shame.” He said the U.S. and other participants in the conference, by refusing to open their doors to Jews fleeing Hitler, “failed the test of civilization.”

Instead of viewing the historical record through the narrow prism of partisan politics, it’s time to face up to the sad reality of FDR’s woefully inadequate response to the Holocaust — something that leading Democrats and Republicans alike have acknowledged.


Director,The David S. Wyman 

Institute for Holocaust Studies, Washington, D.C.

Out of the bottle

Our society is being turned upside down. In a controversial recent decision, the Supreme Court ruled that married same sex couples are entitled to receive federal benefits such as Social Security, health coverage, pension rights, as well as 1,000 other benefits (“Jews split on DOMA,” WJW, July 4). We will pay for it in higher taxes.

The court left intact the right of 29 states to ban such marriages. But the battle will rage between those who want traditional marriages and those who want homosexual marriages

The genie is out of the bottle. There is no turning back the clock. Personally, I do not care what people do behind closed doors, but I do not want to pay for it.

However, marriage between same-sex couples will be a financial disaster to our hard-pressed country, which is slipping into Third World country status. People are more and more dependent on government support, and our politicians sell out to gain votes.

The old system of marriage, in effect since the dawn of time, should have been left alone. People can have civil unions to legally obligate themselves to take care of each other without government intrusion and support. The argument for “equal protection under the law” is a misreading of the Constitution.

If we continue further with this outlandish line of reasoning, it may be argued that since corporations are legally considered to be persons, that a person should be able to “marry” a corporation. And, to add to the possibilities, since animals have rights, and can be beneficiaries of a will, why can’t a person “marry” her pet dog? If this sounds far out, consider that only a short time ago same sex marriage was seen to be just as bizarre. Wait for further inroads by our court.


Silver Spring


Rabbi Raskin is right (“The advantages of synagogue religious school,” WJW, July 11). The ideal place for our children to begin the development of a lifelong love of Jewish learning and to build the foundation for a strong Jewish identity is through active and persistent engagement in synagogue life and community.

Unfortunately we are facing disturbing declines in synagogue affiliation and Hebrew school enrollment. Not every family puts the priority of Jewish education at the top of the list. Many families are either opting out or seeking options and alternatives to the traditional paths.

If we have options in the community and we can attract families into the synagogues with the exciting programming such as that offered by Har Shalom, or if we can attract them to Jewish education with flexibility and convenience, we have a true win-win.

ShalomLearning is one such Jewish education option.  We partner with area synagogues and with synagogues across the country in a common cause to engage and excite students and build strong Jewish identities.

So why is ShalomLearning also offering classes at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington? The answer is simple. We are reaching out to unaffiliated families.  We are offering our same technology-enhanced curriculum to children who are not in synagogue programs. Our hope is that the tickler of education will attract these unaffiliated families back to synagogues for the full experience of synagogue life.

Every time a child completes a Jewish education class, regardless of where or how it is offered, it is a victory for the entire Jewish community. All boats rise when our children understand what it means to be Jewish, and they grow up with an appreciation and respect for the values that go along with that.


ShalomLearning, CEO, Bethesda

Outright falsehood

Lashon hara impresario Mort Klein (“UN nominee bad for Israel and America,” WJW, June 27) should heed Phil Jacobs’ advice (“Something to learn,” WJW, June 27) about name-calling.

Klein has accused Samantha Power of  “borderline” anti- Semitism. It just so happens that she is married to Cass Sunstein, who is not only Jewish, but a descendant of the one and only Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kremer.

Rehearsing a staple of the right-wing spin-machine, Klein scores President “Obama’s  pre-emptive apology and abasement abroad… .”

This is an outright falsehood. As documented last year by Washington Post “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler, there is and never occurred any such thing as an “Obama apology tour.”


Reisterstown, Md.  

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  1. Mr. Edelman is correct, but more specifically, Mort Klein characterized a remark of US Ambassador-designate to the UN Samantha Power as “borderline anti-Semitic.” As Mr. Edelman noted, Ms. Power is the wife of Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, who is a descendant of the Vilna Gaon. What needs to be added: by way of contrast, Klein’s religious lineage is wholly sectarian and parochial. Yichus envy, anyone?

  2. With regard to the Medoff and Erdheim letters, note the following from Laurence Zuckerman, writing in THE NATION:
    “This historical debate has a significant contemporary subtext, one that helps explain the intensity of the passions it still arouses. That subtext is today’s debate among American Jews about Israel. In recent years, the distorted view of FDR has been promoted by a small group of Israel supporters who cherry-pick the historical record to portray his handling of the Holocaust in the most negative light possible. These scholar-activists deploy similar sleight of hand to paint a picture of most American Jews as having been disengaged and apathetic about the fate of their European counterparts at the hands of the Nazis, and to cast as heroes a small group of right-wing Zionists who mounted an aggressive public relations campaign to pressure Roosevelt to act. In this narrative, the complexities of history are erased and the passage of time is unimportant. The not-so-subtle message: like the Jews of Europe in 1939, Israel is under an existential threat and cannot count on anyone for help—even the United States, even liberals, even Jews in the United States, most of whom are insufficiently committed to Zionism. Betrayal happened before, and no matter how friendly a president or a country may appear to be, it can happen again.”


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