A woman saying kaddish

I was delighted to read Joseph Kaplan’s “Orthodox women saying kaddish” (February 26). Having completed doing so myself about six months ago, it was an issue that spoke to me personally.

I said kaddish in four different shuls in Teaneck, and around the country when I was on business, and, overall, the experience was very positive. The shul where I said kaddish and davened most frequently was very accommodating, and there were few bumps in the road. I am very grateful to it. Although the shul does not allow women to say kaddish alone, it was almost never an issue, and I tried not to think about it.

I did not want my saying kaddish for my beloved father to turn into a feminist moment. I was appreciative of the many women (and some men) who came up to me during my 11 months to give me hizuk (strength) and to say that I inspired them. One nice outgrowth of my saying kaddish is that I still go to shul as many mornings as I can.

It’s interesting that Mr. Kaplan mentioned Chabad. I too had a very positive experience in a Chabad shul, where the rabbi actually asked me about my father and made me feel very welcome.

Thank you for highlighting this important issue,

Wendy Borodkin

Originalism and Torah

I followed with interest Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer’s critique of Justice Scalia’s theory of originalism, were it to have been applied to the interpretation of the Torah (“Scalia would have stewed over a Shabbat staple,” February 26), and the ensuing comments from your readers the next week. However, interpreting the Torah and the Constitution of the United States are two different things, and Rabbi Engelmayer’s analogy is inept.

To understand why, one must first understand the need for originalism. Our country’s foundational principle is representative democracy, the establishment of laws through the will of the people. Yet every time the Supreme Court rules that a law is unconstitutional, the court is essentially overriding the will of the people. Words are malleable, and as history has shown, the justices have twisted and interpreted the Constitution to mean anything they want it to mean. Not long ago, for example, gay marriage, aka “marriage equality,” was inconceivable, and Presidents Clinton and Obama scrambled to voice their opposition to it. Only a few years later, a 5-4 Supreme Court decision declared marriage equality a right granted by the Constitution. The personal opinion of one unelected swing vote has thus disenfranchised the many states whose citizens believe otherwise.

Justice Scalia’s theory of originalism thus requires that the court interpret the words of the Constitution according to a standard and not, willy nilly, according to the personal wishes and views of each justice. Scalia’s standard is originalism — i.e., that the Constitution and its amendments mean what was intended when they were adopted.

If we want to change the Constitution, then Scalia says we need to gain the support of the people and follow the democratic amendment procedure provided in the Constitution. Culture wars result when litigants are unable to gain the support of the people. They then urge the Supreme Court — “nine unelected old people” — to usurp the constitutionally mandated amendment procedure by twisting the words of the Constitution so that they have no resemblance to what was originally intended. The people of a particular state naturally take umbrage when their will is thwarted by a 5-4 decision handed down from Washington. The people view this as a tyranny of the minority imposing its views on the majority, and it amounts to a rejection of our foundational principle of representative democracy.

Many today are hoping that a new Supreme Court justice will be appointed who will be the deciding vote to reverse the Citizens United decision. Scalia would argue that these people are, in effect, opposed to the democratic process, and rejecting the inherent right of the people to decide this issue. Scalia believed that New York had every right to adopt a law in 1970 granting a woman the right to choose whether to abort her child. However, he found nothing in the Constitution that authorizes nine unelected people on the Supreme Court to invalidate the choice of the people of Texas from adopting a different law.

This tension between constitutional interpretation and democracy has nothing to do with the interpretation of the Torah. When the rabbis of old, to whom Rabbi Engelmayer referred, creatively interpreted provisions of the Torah, they believed they were actually following Justice Scalia’s theory of originalism. The rabbis of old adopted what they believed were original principles handed down in the Oral Torah by God and applied those original principles to new circumstances. Justice Scalia would do the same.

Harry J. Reidler

Is truth relative?

It may come as a surprise to Mr. Fischer, who wrote a letter (February 26) chastising the Jewish Standard for publishing columns by Rabbi Boteach, but some of us agree with much — not all — of what the rabbi has to say. Isn’t America where diversity is extolled, meaning not only diversity concerning classifications of people, but also diversity of opinion?

And as for Republican bias, is Democratic bias better? In my opinion, it is important for us to sift out the bias and try to find the truth. And my truth may be different from your truth.

Susan Ebenstein

Remembering times past

I read Larry Yudelson’s February 19 story about Shaare Zedek Synagogue in West New York with great interest.

When I was growing up in West New York, my family attended Shaare Zedek. It was Orthodox, and a beautiful place to worship. Maurice Stiskin was the rabbi. I was saddened to read that it might not last very long.

The community at one time was mainly Jewish. That changed in the 1960s as Jews left for Bergen County, at the start mainly to Teaneck, and subsequently to other towns. West New York has had an influx of Cuban emigres.

The article caused me to want to share with the Jewish folks who left the town my many wonderful memories of growing up in West New York. Here’s to waxing nostalgic for an era gone by.

Perhaps you may remember the main shopping center on Bergenline Avenue. I recall a few popular ladies shops: Lily Shop, Betty Paige, and for upscale clothes, Gail Brown. For the men, there was the popular Schlesingers and Eatroffs. There were many shoe stores: Tom McCann, National, Miles and A.S. Beck.

There were many movie theaters in West New York — the Rialto, Rivioli, and Mayfair — and in surrounding towns — the Colony, Temple, Lincoln, Alvin, and Embassy. The ladies would go to the movies one night a week to collect dishes. The children would go on Saturday afternoons to see two movies, a chapter, cartoon, news of the day, and coming attractions, all for 50 cents.

The popular furniture stores were Howell Brothers and, for elegant furniture, Hudson Furniture. We had two five and dimes — Fisher Beer and Woolworths. We bought children’s clothes in Lobels.

The main food market was Low’s, which was privately owned. Everyone knew the shopkeepers. We had two groceries on Hudson Avenue, one owned by the Shulmans and the other by the Stepners. The two kosher butchers in town were Berkowitz, the butcher, and Polinskey, the butcher, (as the ladies referred to them.) We also had a wonderful Jewish bakery owned by the Amsterdams. It had the best rugalach.

Milk was delivered by either Bordens or Sheffield. People had their eggs delivered from Freehold. Cheeses and butter were sold by the pound from buckets. White breads were Wonder Bread, Bond, and Silver Cup. The popular butter and cheese grocery store was Hiamowitz’s in Union City. We enjoyed Schroeders ice cream parlor, with the double cones and juke boxes at the tables.

Doctor’s row was on 60th Street. Those were the days when doctors came to the house. The children’s doctor all the mothers used was Dr. Kerdashian. He always gave the children lollipops. Other doctors I recall were Dr. Schwartzwald, Dr. Bailey, and Dr. Sheppard. Those were the days doctors had time to stay, after visiting a sick patient, for coffee and cake.

I recall taking accordion lessons at Rex Accordion Studio. We also dined on Sunday nights at Barnett & Brodie Deli.

As children, we went to the public library on 60th Street (which is still there) and loved taking out books. Our favorite reads were “The Bobbsey Twins,” the “Honey Bunch” series, and “The Hardy Boys.” The first book I ever read was “The Boxcar Children.”

I graduated Memorial High School, which at the time was known for its great football team, coached by Joe Coviello, who subsequently became principal of North Bergen High School. He also was our history teacher.

As noted in the article, West New York was the embroidery capital of the United States. Most of the people who lived there were Jewish, Italian, or German. The founder of N.Y. Waterways, Arthur Imperator Sr., was born in West New York.

I appreciate Mr. Kaminsky’s emotional attachment to the shul, and I hope that this once beautiful building will be saved.

Grace Jacobs
Cliffside Park

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