Letters | May 26, 2021


Gotta love the man

Regarding “That’s why the rabbi is a mensch” (May 20): My wife, Mindy, and I were members of Ohr Kodesh Congregation for 20-plus years through the 1990s. We joined not so much for ourselves, but for our children. We wanted them to grow up Jewishly knowledgeable and spirited. Every Saturday and holiday we were there and, because our (then) boys loved Rabbi Lyle Fishman (and Cantor Edwin Gerber), they never complained about going. OK, rarely.

Through our time at Ohr Kodesh and ever since, Rabbi Fishman has shown unending interest in our family. It is through him and Debra Fishman that we maintained a connection to Ohr Kodesh. The Fishmans are now “just” our friends, but we will always consider him Our Rabbi.

A few weeks ago, our grandson attended a bar mitzvah at Ohr Kodesh and was honored with an aliyah, his first post-bar mitzvah aliyah. I think the rabbi was as excited about it as we were. Without his example and caring, our kids would not be the strongly identifying Jews they are today. Hundreds of others can say the same. We love the man!

Chevy Chase

A holy moment in Jerusalem

Twenty-six years ago, I was on an Israel mission sponsored by UJA for college campus leaders. I was raised in the Reform movement with very warm, strong ties to my childhood synagogue and rabbi. Yet, I felt a deep yearning for traditional religious observance and Torah learning. As a senior in college, I was seriously contemplating rabbinical school, but I was no longer sure where to pursue my passion for serving the Jewish people. I decided to ask the rabbi-in-residence on the mission if he would be willing to sit and talk about these questions and struggles.

It turns out that conversation in the holy city of Jerusalem was a turning point in my life. I was immediately taken by this rabbi’s kindness and sincerity, not to mention his wisdom and sagacity. He introduced me to Conservative Judaism in a captivating and compelling way. Moreover, he described his rabbinate with such devotion to ahavat Yisrael (love of the Jewish people), ahavat Torah (love of Torah) and yirat Shamayim (awe of God), that it touched my heart in the deepest ways.

That rabbi was Lyle Fishman. With his encouragement, I applied to his alma mater, the Jewish Theological Seminary, where I was ordained in 2002. When the opportunity to come to the Greater Washington Jewish community became available 10 years ago, I immediately called Rabbi Fishman for his counsel. It has been such an honor to be his colleague. I will always revere him as a beloved mentor and role model. Mazal tov to Rabbi Fishman on his distinguished service to Ohr Kodesh and to Am Yisrael!

Congregation Har Shalom, Potomac

Judaism and capitalism are not identical

Sonny Taragin’s pillorying of institutions of higher education (“Student-loan conspiracy,” letters, May 20), camouflages an attack on a core value of Judaism. Our beloved tradition insists upon the primacy of education, believing that the more you know, the better person you will be; hence the saying in Pirkei Avot (2:16) “an ignorant person cannot be pious.” To define education in purely utilitarian terms, as Taragin is eager to do, shows the difference between capitalism’s moneytheism and Jewry’s ethical monotheism. Education is about character building, not vocational money-grubbing.

Further, to denounce “socialism” is to besmirch the Labor Zionist (i.e., democratic socialist) origins of the State of Israel.

And as to a “progressive agenda of anti-America,” the history of the United States can be summed up in one sentence: Black people from Africa were enslaved to work land taken from brown indigenous people in order to create wealth for white European colonizers.


Bagels are only the beginning

In response to Sophie Vershbow, who describes herself as a Jew of no religion (“What’s a Jew of no religion?” May 20), one need not be an observant Jew or have a belief in God. But if we are going to consider ourselves cultural Jews, there is far more than bagels to know about and languages beyond Yiddish. We cultural Jews need to know about the dress of the many Jewish communities, the music styles and the histories from all parts of our world Jewish community.

When it comes to social justice, I believe we can find its origins in the Tanach and rabbinical commentaries from ancient Israel, Babylonia and medieval Sephardi rabbinical commentators.

One can be an advocate for Israel, a Zionist, without being observant or religious. If we are going to call ourselves cultural Jews, we need to ask, where are the art galleries with Jewish themes in our community?

Cultural Jews need education on Jewish culture beyond the bagel.



The May 20 Last Word, “Building community in Northern Virginia Jenn Rafael” incorrectly stated that Rafael currently serves on the board of Temple Rodef Shalom. She is a former board member.

That’s why the rabbi is a mensch” (May 20) incorrectly referred to Stuart Eizenstat as founding chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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