Letters – Fall 2020

Keeping Kosher in Shefford 
I enjoyed David Olivestone’s “Milk for Pesach” (spring 2020) where he discusses being evacuated to London’s countryside during the German Blitz. I also lived in England during World War II and my siblings and I were evacuated with the Jewish Secondary School to Shefford, a small town about forty-five miles north of central London. We were billeted with a farmer and his wife who had never seen a Jew before. A kosher kitchen was soon set up, but in the meantime the famous Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld told us to tell our hosts that we were “fish-eating vegetarians.” 

My father, Solomon A. Birnbaum, as a noted linguist and professor, was sent to Liverpool to the British Postal Censorship, and we relocated with him. Before Pesach a battered cardboard box containing matzos would arrive in Liverpool from London, transported 200 miles by steam train and much thrown about en-route. Every single matzah was always broken, but we were happy to get them. 

David Birnbaum
Director, Nathan & Solomon Birnbaum Archives
Toronto, Canada


Conversing about Nicotine
Kudos to Rachel Schwartzberg and Jewish Action for addressing vaping and the new forms of nicotine addiction (“Nicotine Is Back. Now What?” [spring 2020]) head on. Many institutions as well as parents of teens do not even have this problem on their radar. As Dr. Hylton Lightman accurately points out in the article, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I hope your readers will take the message to heart and begin to have vital conversations with their teens about vaping.

Sarah Fried 
Miami, Florida


When a Child Leaves the Fold
In your issue on “Faith and Family: When a Child Leaves the Fold” (spring 2020), I feel that you’ve left out half the story. All of the contributors spoke about “accepting without approving,” and that parents should remain loving toward the child who has gone off the derech.

But no one mentioned the other side of the coin. When should a parent not be accepting? Aren’t there behaviors that demand distancing? Don’t we say in the Haggadah every year that when a child denies the basic Jewish faith (kofer b’ikar) he will rightfully be left out? That this is a child who would not have been saved (ilu hayah sham, lo hayah nig’al)? Many Jews were left behind in Egypt. Are there no behaviors that deserve a wall to be built and a firm goodbye to be said?


Rabbi Ron Yitzchok Eisenman Responds
Dear Anonymous,

I believe you left out a critical phrase in your quote from the Haggadah, which is: “Lefi she’hotzi es atzmo min haklal”—[The rasha] proactively removed himself from the community.

Most, if not all, of the young men and women I was addressing in my article desperately want to be part of the klal. Many of these young people have been betrayed by someone they respected. This includes sexual, emotional, physical and mental abuse.

They have not removed themselves from the community.

They feel the community has betrayed them.

It was about these beloved Jews who make up the overwhelming majority of the off-the-derech kids that I was speaking.

Thankfully I have yet to meet the “rasha” who, as you said, “deserves a wall to be built and a firm goodbye to be said,” and I honestly doubt I ever will.

I never say a firm goodbye. I always say a firm “you are always welcome in my home.”

Walls keep us apart; Torah keeps us together.


Printing the Survivors’ Talmud
I read with avid interest Allen Fagin’s article on the Survivors’ Talmud (“The ‘Survivors’ Talmud’ and the Obligation to Remember” [spring 2020]).

My father, Shmuel Avram Abba (Samuel) Pollak, was instrumental in helping to print the Survivors’ Talmud. Hailing from Slatfina, a small town in the Ukraine, he spent the war years in labor camps and partisan groups and lost his first wife and three children in the ovens of Auschwitz.

My father was very learned—in February 1930, he delivered the siyum on Shas at the first conclusion of the Daf Yomi in his hometown. After the war, he served as the secretary to Rabbi Shmuel Abba Snieg, the chief rabbi of the US zone of Allied-occupied Germany.

Isaac Pollak
New York, New York


Remembering Rabbi Leo Jung
I was very interested in reading Rabbi Zev Eleff’s “Rabbi Leo Jung, Herman Wouk and Their Little-Known Orthodox Society” (summer 2020) as my mother, Elsie (Miller) Neumann, a”h, worked in Rabbi Leo Jung’s home as a governess and cook sometime between 1936, when she arrived from Germany, and 1943, when she married my father. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Jung wanted their children to have an Orthodox nanny and their kitchen help to be shomer Shabbos.

My mother told me that one year the rebbetzin claimed she didn’t want to be “bothered” to put the chametz dishes back after Pesach. Instead, she planned to use the Pesach dishes for the rest of the year. In that way, she made it seem as if the recipient of her “old” chametz kitchenware was doing her a favor by taking them. In reality, of course, she was providing the essentials of a kosher kitchen to a needy family in a discreet and honorable way.

Miriam (Neumann) Levitz
Brooklyn, New York


Is “Ad Me’ah Ve’esrim Shanah” a Blessing?
I’m writing in response to Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky’s article, “What’s the Truth about . . . ‘Ad Me’ah Ve’esrim Shanah?’” (summer 2020). I grew up as a member of Congregation K’hal Adath Jeshurun, [the German-Jewish kehillah in Washington Heights known as “Breuer’s”] and attended Yeshiva Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. While I cannot provide a printed source, years ago, I was told that Rabbi Dr. Joseph Breuer [the grandson of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and the founding rav of the Breuer community] was not fond of the expression, “ad me’ah ve’esrim shanah”; he preferred, “l’orech yamim tovim.” I’m told that he asked, “What good is a long life if it is not accompanied by good days?”

Leon M. Metzger 
Bronx, New York

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky confirmed the accuracy of this story with Rav Breuer’s grandson.


Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky has once again taken a practice that we take for granted and turned it into a thought-provoking exercise.

Rabbi Zivotofsky questions whether the expression that one live “ad me’ah ve’esrim shanah” is really a blessing because “too long a life without much quality may not be desirable.” But there are two meanings to the word “life”: one refers to physical survival and the other refers to that which most people have in mind when they use the expression “ad me’ah ve’esrim shanah.” The Ramban in his discourse on Rosh Hashanah explains the second meaning in the context of the desire to be inscribed in the Book of Life. “When the Sages mentioned ‘life’ and ‘death,’ they were not speaking of mere nouns. They seized upon life as the epitome of all benefits—riches, property, honor, children, peace and health under the term ‘life.’”

May all of us be inscribed in the Book of Life and live life in its fullest sense “ad me’ah ve’esrim shanah.”

Harold Dershowitz
Jerusalem, Israel


Raising a Generation of Readers
While I enjoyed Steve Lipman’s article “Raising a Generation of Readers” (summer 2020) I would like to add some suggestions of my own, culled from many decades as a teacher, general studies’ principal and literacy coach. To my continuing nachat, I’ve also been able to raise two lifelong readers, who have passed along the “reading gene” to their children.

1. Read to young children but start at birth. Studies have shown the positive effect of parents’ voices on babies as well as the benefits of showing them pictures in books.

2. I am not a big fan of book reports for leisure reading.  But you can use paper plates with your child and create a book worm (title and author on each plate), or use index cards with paper circles, and make a train that winds its way throughout the child’s room.

3. Magazines are an endless source of inspiration—they come in every “flavor” of interest. Gift your youngster with a subscription just for him or her. Titles include Ladybug, Cricket, Highlights, Cobblestone (American history), Ranger Rick Jr. (nature), et cetera.

4. Daily routines: I used to leave messages with magnetic letters on the fridge for my young grandchildren. They would help each other decode them. Try leaving notes for your children in lunchboxes, on pillows, et cetera. You can even create a secret code, just for you and your child. Think creatively!

5. Some children need audio books. Just be sure your child has the physical book in her hand and is following along. Listening can be a great way of reading.

6. There is a plethora of excellent programming on television. Don’t hesitate to watch a show along with your child, then try reading the book, and compare the show to the book.

7. Finally, model, model, model. The more your children see you reading, the more they will realize that reading is a joyous time you can all spend together. (Don’t forget about starting a parent/child book club). Good luck in continuing to raise a generation of readers, writers, speakers and listeners.

Michelle Bergman, M. Ed.
Brooklyn, New York

Jewish Action Wins Three Rockower Awards for Excellence in Jewish Journalism

Jewish Action won three Simon Rockower Awards at the 39th Annual Awards Presentation of the American Jewish Press Association (AJPA), held virtually this past July.

Jewish Action won First Place for excellence in covering Zionism, aliyah and Israel for “Remembering the 1929 Hebron Massacre” by Bayla Sheva Brenner and Toby Klein Greenwald.

The magazine won First Place for excellence in writing about seniors for “After Retirement—A New Stage, A New Chapter, A New Life,” by Steve Lipman, Leah R. Lightman, Sara Leah Guttman,   Pnina Baim and Bayla Sheva Brenner. The magazine also won Second Place for excellence in writing about health care for “Dating with a Mental Disorder” by David H. Rosmarin. The awards are for work in 2019.

“It’s gratifying to be recognized nationally as an award-winning magazine whose authors and editorial staff are certainly of the highest caliber,” said Jewish Action Committee Chairman Gerald M. Schreck. “These well-deserved awards attest to the intelligent, quality journalism readers have come to expect from the publication.”

The prestigious Simon Rockower Awards, referred to as the “Jewish Pulitzers,” are sponsored by the AJPA, which holds a journalism competition for leading Jewish magazines and newspapers from across the country. The entries are judged by a panel of judges with expertise in journalism, writing/reporting, editing, graphic design and cartooning in both the Jewish and non-Jewish media.


This article was featured in the Fall 2020 issue of Jewish Action.
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