Letters, May 26, 2016


Bathroom correctness
This letter is in response to the editorial, “It is bigotry, not religious freedom” (April 14).
Last week I attended a conference at the Newseum. I and many of my colleagues approached the restrooms on our break only to find out that in response to bathroom correctness, the facility had placed “Family” signs over the men’s and women’s restrooms signs and installed locks.
These restrooms, which used to accommodate six at a time, can now only accommodate one, which creates lines and considerable discomfort if used as individual restrooms. But what happened in our situation was people got tired of waiting, so one woman pointed and said to me, “There’s mostly men in that one.”  Mostly men?
In my traditional Jewish values world, modesty matters a lot.
The Obama administration has led the way on bathroom policy, so that large institutions, following its lead, are throwing another timeless religious and traditional value in the waste basket. Presumably these changes are being implemented to support those who are confused as to what sex they are, either for reasons of nature or nurture or some combination thereof. This seems like a small matter, but it causes one concern as to the trajectory of the nation.


Support for Israel in Congress
is strong and bipartisan
The front-page election story (“2016 election upends pro-Israel orthodoxies,” May 19) displayed a serious lack of appreciation for the continuing strong bipartisan support for Israel in Congress, often expressed in opposition to the current
administration’s policies.
While it is true that GOP congressional support has solidified in recent years, with the single exception of the vote to disapprove the administration’s questionable Iran “deal” (which is not a treaty nor even a signed agreement), there remain overwhelming majorities in both parties of both houses of Congress advocating important Israel-related initiatives.
Two very recent examples include the Senate’s Coons-Graham Israel defense-related letter with 83 signatures and the House’s Granger-Lowey letter to President Barack Obama on Israel and the United Nations with 394 signatures — both sent only last month.
While the leftward tilt of the Democratic Party, personified by our chief executive, has indeed resulted in diminished support by some Democrats of Israel-related issues, one should not underestimate the continued significance of the American public’s continued strong positive feelings toward our only reliable, democratic ally in the Middle East. Mainstream Democrats can be expected to reject the sentiments of loud but small fringe elements of the Jewish American community urging harsh criticism of Israel.
The writer is a former executive director of AIPAC, who previously had worked in Congress for two Democrats.

Critical letter criticized
In a recent letter (“Misleading observations,” May 19) Steve Weissman criticizes the David Samuels interview of Ben Rhodes, an adviser to the president, in which Rhodes tells about misleading the nation regarding the negotiations with Iran.
The interview was discussed in an earlier editorial in Washington Jewish Week (“Misleading with contempt,” May 12).
The interview was first published in the May 8 edition of the New York Times Magazine. The interview and commentary by Samuels was several thousand words long. Weissman does not allege any misquote nor cite any factual or logical mistake by Samuels (neither to my knowledge has Rhodes). Instead, Weissman cites previous opinions by Samuels, with which Weissman apparently disagrees, in an effort to discredit the Samuels interview. This is an ad hominen argument, a common fallacy.

Fond reminiscences
Your article last month about Merv Conn (“There’s ‘My Way’ and there’s Merv Conn Way,” April 21) brought back fond memories for me, not of Merv, but of his accordion teacher — Sylvia Kaplowitz.
Along with teaching accordion, Sylvia taught hundreds, if not thousands, of Washingtonians how to play piano. She was the leader of an all-women’s band in the 1930’s and 1940’s and was featured on the radio. Her husband Abraham (“AJ”) owned a dress store on 13th Street near [what is now the] Warner Theatre. But for me, I didn’t know them as Sylvia and Abraham. I was fortunate enough to know them as Grandma and Grandpa.


Shoresh engages Jewish teens
David Bryfman’s piece (“Jewish Teenagers want to engage. Just ask them,” Voices, May 12) rightly points out the critical importance of engaging post-b’nai mitzvah teens in Jewish programs of substance.
We at Shoresh Hebrew High School could not agree more. Since 1999, Shoresh has developed a successful model of text-based Jewish study for students who attend secular schools to help them become critical thinkers about our Jewish heritage, to find a sense of shared community and destiny among all Jews and to meet the challenges of American Jewish life.
Shoresh meets at the JCC of Greater Washington in Rockville each Sunday night during the school year.
The key to our success has been our focus on critical thinking. Because our students and faculty come from different Jewish backgrounds, our focus is less on “What?” than on “Why?” There are no wrong answers, and students are encouraged to bring Judaism into their daily lives in a way which they find satisfying and meaningful.
First, we encourage our students to “think Jewish while doing secular.” Our curriculum leverages what our students are doing in secular school and provides them with the ability to think about secular studies from a knowledgeable Jewish perspective.
Second, we foster Jewish pluralism; respect for differences is crucial.
Our third goal is to help create meaningful relationships among peers and adults.
The final building block of our program is to help build core Jewish life-coping skills, through open and frank discussions of current issues, always with an eye to historical precedent.
But what is perhaps the most compelling aspect of the Shoresh story is its impact on students.
We would welcome more students who want to engage in Jewish life, and to see their own lives and contemporary issues through a Jewish lens.

Neal Meiselman is co-founder and president of Shoresh Hebrew High School.

Gary Simms is a Shoresh teacher and former executive director of Washington-area Reform, Conservative and Orthodox congregations.

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  1. Martin Weiss really needs to read the actual text of the ENTIRE LETTER of what he attempts to criticize, before voicing a knee-jerk response because he disagrees with the factual content cited in the letter’s second sentence, and the overall position articulated by the letter-writer.
    The JJ Goldberg FORWARD article cited by Weissman does indeed explore Samuel’s misquotes and factual/ or logical mistakes.


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