Letter May 5, 2006

Published May 05, 2006, issue of May 05, 2006.

Hard Work Needed For A Good Job Anywhere

I don’t know whether, as an April 28 article reports, more young Israelis have been leaving the country (“Israelis Park the Moving Truck and Head to the Mall”). All data are skewed, including the Israeli Democracy Institute’s finding that 7% of Israelis aged 15 to 18 do not plan on remaining in Israel.

The fact that a minority feels disenchanted, however, is certainly true, and may always be so. There is no way that a country of 6 million people with a relatively low (but steadily rising) standard of living can compete with a relatively wealthy society of 280 million with far more opportunities. Probably 90% of Mexicans want to live in the United States.

All things considered, Israel has not done badly by its educated population. Unlike the perception of those interviewed for the article, while there are fewer opportunities in Israel, there are nonetheless plenty of opportunities. With the advent of colleges and the flexibility of matriculation standards, higher education in Israel is more accessible than ever. Unemployment dropped during Benjamin Netanyahu’s years as finance minister (his single big accomplishment), though more people live in poverty because government allotments went down.

The young people quoted in the article seem not to have college as a goal, and do not seem to be willing at this point in their lives to do what is necessary to get a good job — regardless of whether it is in Israel or the United States. So it is not surprising that they are captivated by the fact that one can make easy money for a while in the United States.

They did not say what they would do when they finish this stage in their lives. They seem not to realize that opportunities in the United States are also dependent on education, perhaps more so than in Israel. And they seem not to realize how much more “civilized” Israeli society has become; they weren’t there 40 years ago.

Their perceptions, in short, appear to a large extent formed to justify their lifestyle.

It is worth noting that the article is based on one group interview with four guys in one New York apartment. Given the backgrounds of the people interviewed, it’s easy to understand their pessimism.

There are more like them — but they are not the majority. Of course, we have to think about making education in Israel work for them, and opening up more employment opportunities. But even if we did much better, given Israelis’ access to the West there always will be youngsters who are like this.

To reduce that number, we need research to find out more about Israeli youngsters. That research, sadly, is scarce.

Charlie Greenbaum

Professor Emeritus of Social Psychology

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel

Nashville Professor Teaches the Gospel

I agree with opinion writer Michael Cook on the importance of Jews learning about the Gospels (“Time To Teach Jews Gospel Dynamics,” April 14). And I am not the only one.

Amy-Jill Levine, professor of New Testament at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, has introduced Jews in Nashville and all over the country to the New Testament. I am but one of her many “groupies.”

Annette Ratkin

Nashville, Tenn.

Kadima Mandate Weak

The Forward fails to note that, despite the apparently crucial issues at stake, voter turnout of 62.3% was the lowest in Israel’s history. Furthermore, Kadima’s 29 seats represented a sharp drop from earlier polls showing as many as 44 seats; Kadima received only 22% of the votes nationwide and failed to win as much as 30% of the votes cast in any city, and the three parties — Kadima, Labor and Yachad — specifically favoring unilaterally relinquishing land as part of their policy garnered only 53 seats among them.

In addition, it is widely accepted that the newly created Pensioners Party’s surprise showing of seven seats reflected voter apathy and protest against the choices offered to them. Finally, the parties strongly opposed to Ehud Olmert’s convergence plan — Likud, National Union/National Religious Party, and Yisrael Beiteinu — amassed 50 seats, or only three fewer than the parties clearly favoring the Olmert plan.

In addition, as the Forward reports, the recently established Kadima “may have a short half-life” since its membership spans a wide spectrum of disparate views ranging from the political left to the right with very little ideological or policy glue to bind them together. Consequently, the Forward is forced to conclude, rather paradoxically, that the putative “mandate for withdrawal” is not a mandate for a stable coalition.

The fact is that this election, Israel’s fourth in only seven years, was inconclusive and the lack of clear results portend political instability; it is quite likely that another election will be required well before the end of the term of the new Knesset.

Roger Gerber

Scarsdale, N.Y.

Scholar Activist Rises

Arts and culture writer Helen Epstein’s fine albeit all-too-brief review of Charles Figley’s book “Mapping Trauma and Its Wake” (“Trauma and Its Healers,” April 21) necessarily reminds us that, oft-times, good scholarship is the result of personal investment of self and cannot be divorced from the end product.

In the field of Holocaust studies and the emerging one of genocide studies, those who continue to educate us on these historic and contemporary tragedies have themselves been victims, children of victims or extended family members of victims, and bring to their work both moral outrage and intellectual clarity suffused with passionate commitment.

Like the fields of traumatology and victimology, the popular and mythically false notion of the “ivory tower scholar” has long been eclipsed by that of the scholar-activist, at least in these four disciplines.

Steven Leonard Jacobs

Professor of Judaic Studies

University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Review Trivializes Film About Mideast Dialogue

Arts and culture writer Steven Zeitchik’s April 28 review of “Encounter Point,” a documentary about Israeli and Palestinian peace activists that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival (“Tribeca Film Festival Offerings”), trivializes the moving premise of this worthy film.

Zeitchik decries the documentary’s “ideological browbeating,” yet goes on to describe two nuanced portraits of very different Israelis involved in reconciliation endeavors. When he writes that an Israeli peace activist interviewed on television shakes his head at the skeptical host “as if the host is a hopeless cretin,” Zeitchik is attributing to the movie his own projections.

Zeitchik writes, “Saying that we should aspire to more talking and less fighting isn’t exactly writing any new textbooks.” Has he seen any recent textbooks produced by either side of the conflict that present real people engaged in reconciliation through dialogue?

The Israeli and Palestinian voices to which we are most often exposed claim that there is no one to talk to and that the other side only understands force. This film shows that there can be another way, and is an excellent basis for a new curriculum that fosters unfamiliar conversations and offers fresh perspectives.

The few brave individuals portrayed effectively on the screen all suffered grievous pain and personal loss due to the unremitting violence of the prolonged conflict. Nonetheless, they have rejected vengeance and work tirelessly to promote dialogue and positive action to overcome the hatred, suspicion and deep mistrust that characterize most Israeli-Palestinian encounters. They provide inspiring models that we haven’t seen in textbooks, in the media or on the screen.

Elaine Cohen

Teaneck, N.J.

Impede Iranian Efforts

Opinion writer Martin van Creveld’s certainty about the non-wisdom of an American pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities is not to be trusted (“Knowing Why Not To Bomb Iran Is Half the Battle,” April 21). The reliance on Iranian rationality and Israeli destructive power to deter Iran from an effort to realize the obsessive dream of its leader — the wiping of Israel from the map of the Middle East — seems questionable.

No one can know for certain just how set Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in bringing about the chaos of the coming of the 12th imam, but his continual declarations that Israel must be destroyed, combined with the accelerated pace of the Iranian nuclear weapons and missile programs, suggests that it might well be wiser to seriously impede the Iranian nuclear program for several years while working for regime change in a rogue-state sponsor of terrorism.

Shalom Freedman

Jerusalem, Israel



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