Letters: Coronavirus Thoughts, The HIAS Mission

May 6, 2020

Coronavirus Thoughts
As a journalist and as a decades-long paid subscriber to the Journal as well as numerous daily, weekly and monthly publications, I have to commend Journal Editor-in-Chief David Suissa on his column “In This Crisis, It’s Do or Die Time” (May 1). I have not read a better analysis of the COVID-19 crisis and what the president of the United States should do about it.

Suissa points out exactly why we are all so concerned, especially as Jews who regard life itself as so important.

This is a column that should be circulated nationally, and internationally.
Martin A. Brower, Corona del Mar

David Suissa correctly describes the many ways in which “the imminent fear of death” manifests in our society now. Yes, I remember those days with the flu “that’s going around.” I’ve lived over 60 years and have caught that flu multiple times and, yes, after several days, I was back at work. But I was and am well aware that many people were dying from the same flu.

I have read the King James version of the Bible but couldn’t find one text giving us an assurance there will be no disease and death while living on Earth. My first question is: Is there such assurance in the Torah? Where is the “pervasive fear of dying” coming from?

We can argue a lot about what “the core issue of the crisis” is. But I want to mention that mental disorders are more serious than the physical ones and require totally different approaches and treatment.

My final questions are: Do you believe that a man, whose way of handling his personal business crisis is by filing for a bankruptcy, is capable of handling a national crisis of these proportions in a different way?

Do you really believe the current president loves his country?
Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles

The HIAS Mission
I am writing in response to David Suissa’s column posted online on April 28, “Why Did HIAS Move Away From Helping Jews?

As the oldest — and only Jewish — global refugee resettlement agency, HIAS has for 140 years fought to protect Jews fleeing persecution. The extraordinarily diverse Los Angeles Jewish community exists because of HIAS and the American Jewish community’s advocacy for tens of thousands of Jewish refugees from Iran, the Middle East, North Africa, the former Soviet Union and Europe who now call L.A. home. And, to correct the record, HIAS continues to and will always advocate for and assist Jewish refugees who need our help. Jews and other religious minorities from Iran, for example, remain a high priority for HIAS.

We’re blessed to live in an unprecedented moment when very few Jews are fleeing persecution. Today, with robust support from Jews across America, and from across the political spectrum, HIAS applies its experience to help refugees and asylum seekers of all backgrounds and faiths. We welcome the stranger because we, too, have been strangers in strange lands for most of our history.

HIAS used to help refugees because they were Jewish; now we help refugees because we are Jewish. David Suissa suggests that a Google search is needed to know what HIAS stands for. That may be true for those of us lucky to live in safety and peace. But a refugee in Kenya, Colombia or any of the 16 countries where we provide lifesaving support and services, knows what HIAS stands for: cash when they need to buy food, legal help so they can complete an asylum application, job training and caring social workers who help them heal from their trauma. HIAS is a Jewish organization that stands for refugees.
Joe Goldman, HIAS Community Engagement Director for the Western Region, Los Angeles

David Suissa responds:

I thank Mr. Goldman for reaching out. I specifically applauded in my article the work HIAS does with non-Jewish refugees and called it “virtuous.” My key question was: What about the Jews? There is no shortage of oppressed Jews throughout the world who could benefit from HIAS’ deep expertise with “Hebrew Immigrant” assistance. I saw no reference to specific or comprehensive programs to help Jews on either HIAS’ website or in its annual report. Why not? Also, if HIAS is proud of its Jewish values and Jewish identity, why eliminate its Jewish name (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) and use only the acronym? If Jews aspire to be a “Light Unto the Nations,” shouldn’t we recognize our Jewish identity with those very nations we are helping?

Quiet Healers
My husband, Eli, is a mind doctor,
Yeshivish and Johns Hopkins trained
Who treks to Kaiser hospital in Chinatown
most mornings, undaunted by invisible foes.
His weapons are a white coat, mask, sanitizer,
and his calling is
Taking to heart the mother who lost her job
To COVID-19,
A young man who didn’t pull the trigger
but could have
And all the others
yearning for solace.

“En Davar,” Trumpeldore, a fighter for Israel, said … Never mind, we’re not here
to be recognized.
Just do what you need to do.
Our reward is understanding
rising in haunted eyes,
Speaking for those who can’t speak
for themselves.

Sometimes a tree grows.
Other times, we think nothing grows
Yet, a seed always remains in the quiet soil.
Even if the earth’s parched,
the rains will come.
Everything heals.
It’s that simple.
That complicated.
Mina Friedler, Venice

Science vs. Nature
Dennis Prager uses modern Hebrew in his translation of the word “Hivshuva” (Genesis, Chapter 1:28), which also means “to subdue.” Prior translators used the word “master” or “tame” (“Genesis Was Right: We Need to Subdue, Not Worship, Nature,” May 1).

Rashi puts a different spin on this word that contemporary women wouldn’t appreciate. The responsibility and burden to subdue all the negative aspects of nature fall on science. It protects us from the bitter cold of winter, the burning heat of summer. Science builds hospitals, trains doctors and nurses and restores health. Science builds places of worship and transportation to get us there. Science does not venerate nature. It conquers it.

Science helps us to appreciate and harness the positive aspects of nature by using solar power, building dams, bridges and conquering vast distances with ships and planes. But, science also designs and builds deadly weapons of death and destruction.

While religion and faith may have subdued somewhat the negative aspects of human nature, science cannot be blamed for the delay in achieving a better society of human beings. There is a lot more of “subdue it” to be done before humans would be eligible for membership in a future Garden of Eden.
Ken Lautman, Los Angeles

Gantz, Through a Fair Lens
“Betrayal, treason, abomination” — these are words to describe a despicable person’s actions yet in the Israeli media, they’re being used to describe Benny Gantz, an Israeli politician who has sacrificed his political career for the safety and preservation of Israel.

I found the column by Shmuel Rosner to be sensible and objective (“In Joining Netanyahu, Gantz Didn’t Betray His Voters,” May 1). He articulately laid out the fault in Israeli media and how it’s to blame for the dehumanization of a hero. The stories of Gantz joining a coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu blew the whole situation out of proportion and portrayed Gantz as betraying Israel by joining forces with the enemy. This sensationalized story’s purpose was to fuel the uproar and exacerbate political tension. Rosner points out that the majority of Israel supported his actions.

His column sets the record straight, reminding Israel’s citizens that Gantz is a hero, not a traitor, and his actions should be acknowledged as such. This dramatic act is setting a precedent in Israeli politics and enforcing the fundamental political principle that a leader’s actions shouldn’t solely focus on pleasing the supporters and followers, but truly work toward the preservation and success of the state of Israel.
Jake Stephen, Los Angeles

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