Letters: The Importance of Mussar, Anti-Americanism and the Jews 

August 5, 2020

The Importance of Mussar
Thank you, Rabbi Lori Shapiro, for your informative exposition on the universal relevance of Mussar (“Can Mussar Help Us Repair the World?” July 24). My late father-in-law, Rabbi Naftali Friedler, shared two personal experiences that exemplify the simple yet powerful impact of Mussar. He was a student of the late Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, a revered 20th-century Torah sage, who wrote extensively on Mussar. 

Once, when Dessler was visiting Friedler, Friedler’s toddler son Shmuli bumped into a chair leg and cried. “Hit the chair back,” Friedler joked. “Nekamah?” Dessler, admonished him. “You want to teach him nekamah (revenge)?”

 On another occasion, Friedler ran to hold a subway train door open for Dessler. “Naftali, stop running,” Dessler said. “It’s not worth the behilos (discombobulation). They sat on a bench and calmly waited for the next train. 

According to Dessler, whenever a person is confronted with making an important, conscious choice, they have arrived at their “bechirah point.” If they make the “good” choice, all their subsequent decisions will come from an elevated place, and vice versa.

During this pandemic, we face a societal, “bechirah” point where our individual choices affect the health and welfare of humanity. We can choose the good by wearing masks, social distancing, staying at home as much as we can. Or we can choose the opposite.

At this pivotal moment, let’s internalize Mussar and make choices based on elevating values of healing and unity instead of revenge, impulsiveness and destruction.
Mina Stern, Venice

Anti-Americanism and the Jews
Thank you, David Suissa, for pointing out the concerning connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism (“Anti-Americanism Is Bad for the Jews,” July 24). However, the majority of Americans both support our country and think highly of Jews. It’s important for the media, including the Journal, to publicize these moderate voices.

As former President Bill Clinton said so eloquently in his first inaugural address: “There’s nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”
Theodore C. Friedman, via email

David Suissa tells us that anti-Americanism is a new hatred that “has sneaked up on us.” And it leads to more anti-Semitism because of our love of America. I’m not sure of that, but there is another perspective I prefer.
Suissa notes the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that all men, regardless of race or religious beliefs, would be guaranteed the “unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” as incorporated in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. It is a positive viewpoint. And we have made significant progress over the years. 

On the other hand, too many people today seek out the negatives, finding fault with much of our U.S. history. Suissa writes that people are disgusted that our Founders “were white slave owners; they’re disgusted with racism, police brutality, President Trump, racial inequities, globalism, corrupt politicians, white privilege  and on and on.” 

Therein lies the basis for anti-Americanism. All of this is true but America also has accomplished so much for the betterment of all of our lives and the problems are being dealt with. Let’s stop fueling anti-Americanism.
George Epstein, Los Angeles

Bari Weiss and The New York Times
Kudos to Bari Weiss for proving there was, for a while, one real journalist working at The New York Times (“Bari Weiss Exposes Lack of Viewpoint Diversity,” July 17). I grew up in a suburb of New York City in a family that worshipped the Times. A close relative held a top editorial position there for many years. But over time, it morphed from reporting the news —  journalism’s mandate —  to interpreting news from a myopic viewpoint. I often have said that if I circled in red ink every subjective, opinionated story and headline that masqueraded as news, all you’d see is red ink.
Hollace Brown, Los Angeles

Healthy Food for Tisha b’Av
I really enjoyed the story on healthy food choices during the nine days of Tisha b’Av (“Add Vitamin D to Your Tisha b’Av Diet With Fish,” July 24). It’s great when the Journal can bring together our cultural tradition with healthy food ideas.
Aaron Kemp, via email

Prop. 15 Would Help Schools
I am a Jewish student at Hamilton High School. We’re all being tested in ways nobody could have expected but we’re lucky to have Gov. Gavin Newsom and all those on the front lines leading us through this crisis. But there’s no sugarcoating it: Our schools, essential workers and local governments are facing unprecedented threats of budget cuts.

We have some tough times ahead of us, and we’re going to need reasonable solutions to claw our way out of this crisis.

The Schools & Communities First initiative, now Proposition 15 on the November ballot, garnered a record 1.7 million signatures of support. It would close corporate property tax loopholes to bring back $12 billion locally for our schools, essential workers and critical local services while protecting homeowners and renters, small businesses and agriculture.

What’s more, research has shown that only 10% of the biggest, wealthiest commercial and industrial properties would generate 92% of the new revenue —  meaning a fraction of top corporations would finally pay their fair share.

Simply put, we can’t afford corporate tax loopholes at the expense of our schools and local services anymore.
Shoshana Roberts, via email

If You Hate Prager, Don’t Read Him
I support you publishing Dennis Prager’s opinion pieces. If I didn’t want to read a publication because of who or what is printed, I would just stop reading and tell my friends not to read it instead of sending you a “I’ll take my ball and play elsewhere” letter.
Bren Unger, Irvine

I couldn’t agree more with Prager’s assessment of America (“5 Arguments Against ‘America Is a Racist Country,’ ” July 24). I can’t imagine anyone living in 1930s Germany or in the American South (or North) in the 1950s looking at today’s U.S. and saying, “This is a racist country.”
Steven Freedman, via email

Now it’s your turn. Don’t be shy! Submit your letter to the editor! Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name and city. The Journal reserves the right to edit all letters. letters@jewishjournal.com.

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