Letters Spring 2015

Minding Your Own Business
I would like to offer high praise of the phenomenal work being done by EPI, highlighted in the fall 2014 issue (“The New Entrepreneur” by Bayla Sheva Brenner). The article, however, omits to mention how EPI was created.

At the Agudah convention in 2008, the Novominsker Rebbe, Rabbi Yaakov Perlow, called together a number of business leaders to respond to the global economic meltdown and crushing parnassah crisis engulfing the Jewish community at the time. Under the Rebbe’s direction and the leadership of Mr. Reuven Wolf and several Agudah activists, the group founded what is today known as EPI. Several candidates were interviewed for the executive director position. Rabbi Zisha Novoseller was head and shoulders above the other candidates and was hired.

EPI opened its doors in January 2009.

Shortly thereafter, EPI began offering start-up business loans and supplying each borrower with a business mentor. The initiative has proven extraordinarily successful, as the article indicated.

I am proud to have been in the room the night EPI was dreamed up and to have played a small role in this wonderful success story.

Leon Goldenberg
Brooklyn, New York

Your article “The New Entrepreneur” focused on the classic definition of entrepreneurship as the process of starting a business or other organization. Israel as a startup nation has taken entrepreneurship to a whole new level with amazing entrepreneurial success stories that have attracted worldwide attention.

While the Orthodox community is very well-represented in the world of high-tech, the biggest surprise is the entrance of the Chareidi sector into this arena. The challenges Chareidi entrepreneurs face are much greater than those facing others, as many of them have never studied English, math or science in any formal setting. There has been a groundswell of grassroot efforts to assist the Chareidi community to enter not only the workforce, but also the entrepreneurial world. At the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), there are currently close to 2,000 Chareidi students, many of whom are studying high-tech and computer engineering. The students are from the leading yeshivot in Israel, and the number keeps growing.

In light of the demand, JCT recently opened a high-tech accelerator program for Chareidim. Within two weeks of announcing it, we received seventy applications. Many of the largest multi-national companies, including IBM and Cisco, agreed to become strategic partners as they understand the untapped potential.

Israel cannot succeed economically without the integration of Chareidim into the workplace. Chareidim need the tools and the venue to become an integral part of Israel’s high-tech revolution. We are hoping that our academic programs and our accelerator program will be able to provide these to an important segment of Israel’s population.

Stuart Hershkowitz
Vice president, Jerusalem College of Technology
CEO, JCTechnologies Ltd
Jerusalem, Israel

Rabbinic Matters
I read with interest Rabbi Yamin Levy’s article dealing with rabbis and synagogue administration (“The Rabbi and His Board,” winter 2014). His presentation is articulate, intelligent, true . . . and therefore, sad and frustrating. Rabbis and synagogues often suffer unnecessarily because there is no proper interaction between the rabbi and the board. Instead of seeing each other as being on the same team, they sometimes operate in a neutral or adversarial pattern.

A rabbi serves a congregation—and each congregant has his or her idea of what the rabbi should or should not be doing. The rabbi’s responsibilities and rights are not always clearly defined—other than that everyone would like him to approximate the Mashiach as closely as possible.

I have known talented rabbis who have left the pulpit rabbinate, largely because it was so unpleasant for them to work with a difficult board. I have known talented young men who would have made excellent rabbis, but who decided they would rather not enter a profession where their lives and livelihoods depend on a relatively small clique of “machers” who have the power to renew (or not) the rabbi’s contract every few years.

Rabbis and boards need to spell out their mutual expectations. They need to meet regularly to discuss synagogue matters, programs and a vision for the future. When lines of communication and friendly interaction break down, the rabbi, the board and the entire congregation suffer the consequences.

Rabbi Levy provides a framework for serious thought and action so that our synagogues and communities can be strengthened. Our rabbis, boards and congregations need to work together for the greater glory of the Almighty and for the wellbeing of the Jewish people.

Rabbi Marc D. Angel
Founder and director,
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals
New York, New York

Remembering the Beilis Trial
OU President Martin Nachimson recently wrote about blood libels (“The Blood Libels of the Twenty-First Century,” winter 2014) and referenced my grandfather’s trial 100 years ago. I thank him for doing so.

Jay Beilis
Oradell, New Jersey

Ed. note: Robert J. Avrech’s article in the winter issue drew several angry responses from readers who have nontraditional families. We are reprinting two such responses, although there are statements in them with which many of us might well disagree. Nevertheless, we chose to publish them as they raise important issues which the Orthodox Jewish community needs to consider.

Offended by Avrech
As a group of Orthodox parents of gay children who receive Jewish Action, we are offended by the tone of the recent article by Robert J. Avrech regarding Hollywood (“Warning! Hollywood’s Coming for Your Home and Children!,” winter 2014). To deny our children who were created by the Ribbono shel Olam as LGBTQ their dignity and place in our Orthodox community by equating them with murderers, cult members, rapists and plunderers is beyond offensive. We, who are trying to make sure that our beautiful, productive children remain as cherished and valued members of observant communities and do as many mitzvot as possible while always remembering they were created betzelem Elokim, have been deemed immoral and radical. The article does not in any way reflect the foundational Jewish values and teachings that inform how we address challenging issues in our lives as observant Jews. Further, while this is so offensive to every one of us, it is especially so for those in the medical, psychiatric and psychological fields, as it is well known that this is not a chosen behavior, but an innate aspect of the way our children were born and as Hashem made them. We object to the inappropriate equations suggested by Mr. Avrech and ask that members of the Orthodox world consider the pain and distress this article has caused to so many in our community.ESHEL Parents

Dr. Elana and Dr. Jerry Altzman, Diane Sandoval, Rena Fruchter, Dr. Sunnie Epstein and Anonymous Others
ESHEL Parents

As an eager consumer of Hollywood’s output, a fan of trenchant media criticism and the mother of two young children who is mindful of the kinds of images I allow them to view, I read Robert J. Avrech’s piece that discussed Hollywood’s “colonization of your mind” with great interest.

I quickly grew discouraged, however. I am a newly divorced mother in the Jewish community, and I take great issue with Avrech’s underlying thesis, crystallized in this statement: “If everything is family, nothing is family.” His view is that Hollywood’s wanton exhibition of families, including gay parents, transgender individuals, childless political power couples and Mafia dads, has perverted the traditional family unit of husband, wife and children to the point where we have all “redefined deviance as something to be celebrated.”

I don’t think anyone watches The Sopranos, House of Cards or any of The Real Housewives shows and thinks those dramatized portrayals depict ideal marriages and families. But does Avrech truly mean to say that if a family does not look exactly like it did in the days of televised yore it somehow dilutes the true concept of a family, or takes away from their right to call themselves a family? With that one statement, he instantly discredits any number of families in the Jewish community, including my own.

I have Orthodox Jewish friends with children who have just come out of the closet or have no children, and I know single Jewish women who have decided to undergo fertility treatments to have children since they have not yet found husbands but do not want to give up on their dreams of motherhood. They are all wonderful people with wonderful families. How painful that they not only have to struggle with feeling different, but also have to face people who suggest that their families are somehow lesser because they’re veering from what’s always been accepted. Has Avrech considered that television is merely branching out to reflect a new reality, and not simply attempting to brainwash us?

My children have two parents who love them, provide safe and happy homes for them and treat one another with respect. While my ex-husband and I might not have the most traditional family, I assure you we have a great one.

Reading Avrech’s article, with its underlying implication that anything other than married heterosexual parents and heterosexual children should be grouped into some deviant category, was not only extremely hurtful but frankly, surprising to see in your publication that reaches such a wide Jewish audience and, surely, a wide array of different kinds of genuine families.

Tova Ross
Englewood, New Jersey

Robert J. Avrech Responds
My article is a survey of liberal-progressive attitudes that are promoted by the Hollywood media. Thus, I cover a great deal of territory and many topics. There is no moral correlation between murderers and homosexuality. Any suggestion that my article promotes such a view is a gross misreading of my thesis.

There are multiple references in the letter from ESHEL parents to the psychological, psychiatric and medical etiology of gender identity, with ultimate attribution to Hashem. Choice, or free will, is not invoked. And you as parents are enraged, since you seem to feel that my article accused your children of deliberately opting to deviate in their sexual orientation. In other words, your children were “born this way.”

I did not address this issue of choice in my article. I did not demonize the child who feels since his earliest memory that he is not attracted to the opposite sex. In fact, given adequate space, I would accuse the media and the movers and shakers who spin the themes of TV and movies of the exact opposite: of setting forth the notion that same-sex attraction is a deliberate lifestyle choice rather than physiologically based.

The liberal media believe that everyone should have a choice in their sexual preferences. They do not believe in God, and they reject any idea of a master plan. They believe in opting for “subversive lifestyles.” You, as caring parents, have joined together to support your children because of your understanding that they did not choose their behaviors, which are outside the mainstream.

In fact, we both reject Hollywood’s message. If you accepted Hollywood’s attitude, you would be touting a different meme: “All choices are the same.” Further, no parent support organization would be needed, no medical, psychiatric or psychological experts would be consulted. To do so would be to admit pathology. I admire your commitment and love for your children.

As to Tova Ross’s letter, the facts on the ground indicate change in the makeup of families in the Orthodox community. However, the point of my article was not to devalue these families but rather to underscore the power of the media’s value system. Hollywood chooses, very carefully, which cultural trends it highlights and romanticizes, and which it treats with contempt.

Thus, leftists are almost always viewed as cool, attractive and virtuous, whereas Republicans are seen as narrow-minded bigots. Atheists are depicted as intellectual giants, but pious people of faith are seen as superstitious dolts. The point being that Hollywood products not only reflect, but impose a super-commentary that is stealth propaganda for leftist ideology.

Scores of special situations are absent because my article is a general survey of Hollywood’s efforts at propaganda for various lifestyles that are at odds with normative lifestyles.

I never mentioned divorce in my article because divorce is an entirely separate situation.

I never mentioned fertility treatments because, again, those are very special cases.

I define non-normative as any lifestyle that, if practiced by a majority of people, would lead to a subversion of Judeo/Christian civilization.

Homosexual marriage is front and center as Hollywood’s most urgent social movement. But government-endorsed homosexual marriage will inevitably lead to the legalization of Islamic polygamous marriages, which is a straight line to the sharia law—ironically, a mortal threat to homosexuals who are cruelly and systematically persecuted, tortured and murdered under Islamic law.

Of course there are wonderful people and wonderful families who do not conform to the ideal. But is that any reason to teach our children that the ideal is no longer the ideal?

My article is an attempt to educate viewers on how to recognize and interpret current Hollywood products, and avoid becoming an origami culture that magically folds when confronted with politically correct propaganda.

 

This article was featured in Jewish Action Spring 2015.