Smear without substance

I am a proud feminist and a member of the Jewish clergy. I also was very inspired by the huge outpouring of women in the marches in this country and all over the world on January 21. I am particularly heartened and hopeful because so many women chose to rise above their differences in order to participate for the greater good.

Martha Cohen, in her op-ed of February 24 (“I am woman, hear me roar”), attempts to post-disqualify Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, from having been a co-organizer of the Women’s March because she is an observant Muslim woman, which means that her life is guided by sharia law. This is no different than the traditionally observant Jewish feminist who chooses to work for women’s empowerment within the bounds of a life guided by halacha.

Ms. Cohen has almost nothing of substance with which to charge Ms. Sarsour, other than her adherence to the dietary laws of halal (which is similar to kashrut), and her somewhat glib statement that wouldn’t it be nice if we could benefit from the Islamic law which allows forgiveness of debts after a specified period. (A very similar law is on the Jewish halachic books related to the sabbatical and jubilee year cycles. Neither of these laws is the modern law of the land in Western society — although both are ancient forms of social justice and income equality.)

Ms. Cohen inexplicably begins her piece with the entire text of the 1970s feminist anthem “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” followed by 4 paragraphs of completely unrelated stories about Islamic fatwas and acts of violence against writers and women. She produces nothing that links these stories with Ms. Sarsour, but the juxtaposition of these disturbing vignettes with the fierce feminist anthem seems calculated to create fear, loathing, and hysteria in the reader. Female genital mutilation and honor killings are horrifying. Yes, there are places in the world where Islamic women cannot leave their houses without male escort, but painting a professional Muslim-American woman with these brushes makes no more sense than saying that every modern Orthodox feminist completely condones the abusive treatment of women found among some sects of chasidim, or agrees with the violent acts of someone like Baruch Goldstein.

I came of age with the feminists of the 1970s, and we learned the hard way that empowerment and evolution of women’s role in society needs to be nuanced and inclusive, not judgmental and narrow. Women in the ‘70s who chose to love and marry a man and have children were seen as “traitors to the cause.” I am sorry that Ms. Cohen was disturbed to learn that Linda Sarsour had helped organize the march. Ms. Cohen’s deeply disturbing essay achieves the opposite of her intention — it reveals her ignorance of both Jewish and Islamic law and her desire to justify her apparent prejudice against Muslims. We don’t need this conversation right now. In fact, we need friends like Linda Sarsour, who asked Muslims to donate tens of thousands of dollars in St. Louis last week to help restore vandalized Jewish tombstones.

We need to come from the radical compassion of our tradition and seek the sacred unity that our monotheistic faith teaches us. We are all connected. We are all part of the One.

Yours very sincerely,

Cantor Caitlin Bromberg
Cantor Emerita, Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center of Ridgewood, Interim Spiritual Leader, Temple Hatikvah of Flanders, New Jersey, Union for Reform Judaism Introduction to Judaism Coordinator, New York and New Jersey

Attack on sharia was hateful

I am disappointed that the Jewish Standard published as uninformed, inaccurate, and hateful an opinion piece as Martha Cohen’s “I am Woman, hear me roar against sharia law” (February 24). Surely someone on the editorial staff had a moment of pause and thought that someone educated on sharia, which Ms. Cohen clearly is not, should review and perhaps respond to this piece, rather than let it stand alone as a false, but mercifully short, screed against sharia.

Wrapped up in a bizarre nod to Helen Reddy’s song, Ms. Cohen cherry-picked hateful and violent acts committed by individuals who are Muslim, seeking to use these examples to illustrate sharia, as she perhaps understands it. As a term, “sharia” is quite similar to “halacha” — it’s simply the term for Islam’s legal code, which proscribes the ways in which a Muslim should live his or her life, as reflected in its writings, teachings, and interpretations through the centuries.

It is of course true that there are those today who commit horrible acts in the name of Islam, and those acts should be prevented and condemned. But it’s incorrect and ignorant to argue that they broadly represent or define sharia and Islam any more than the rabbinically inspired Yigal Amir broadly represents or defines halacha and Judaism. Drawing from the unvarnished text, or from outlier examples, sharia’s treatment of and attitude toward women is not significantly dissimilar from what can be found in the broad body of halacha, some of which is still practiced today.

Perhaps Ms. Cohen, and all of us, should limit our criticism and outrage to those people who commit those cruel acts, regardless of their religion, rather than try to use them to smear an entire people and to use the name of a diverse religious code as a buzzword to stoke fear among those who do not understand what that term truly means.

Marc Melzer

Sharia stifles women

What a pleasant and unexpected surprise to read a column from a female perspective (“I am woman, hear me roar,” February 24). It even mentions the word vagina — wow. Local resident Martha Cohen’s informative opinion column about sharia law deserves many follow-ups. I’d like to read more about the seemingly endless ways in which all patriarchal religions (including ours) stifle, silence, and subjugate women.

Many Jewish publications are quick to bemoan intermarriage and secular options as the source of the community’s problems. But, the fact is that women’s lives and choices have changed. So, where are the articles , especially by female writers, that reflect these changes? Please ask Ms. Cohen to keep writing. The Jewish Standard needs her and more female contributors like her.

Robin Katz
Palisades Park

This is un-American

What is happening to my country?

It is painful to see the turmoil that is going on in the America I love.

It is more than 50 years since I became a naturalized citizen of this country, and I have always been proud to be an American. I have had great respect for our constitutional democracy, for our checks and balances, and for the way we stood up for human rights around the world. I have never felt that we were free of mistakes but always felt that we had the right goals.

Unfortunately, over the last couple of decades our two-party system somehow has failed us. We see that our elected representatives no longer seem to be active patriots of our country; they seem to be more like warring factions always preparing for the next battle. Gone are the group of middle-of-the-road senators who used to work together to get things done.

Unfortunately at the same time our news media has also became polarized, each aligned solidly with one party or another. One has to switch channels or read different newspapers to get more than one perspective about an individual event. But free press is the cornerstone of our democracy, and it must be preserved, since without it we will head towards a dictatorship.

I became a registered independent over these years because I was so unhappy with both parties. Watching this transpire, the single word to describe what has been happening is simply “un-American.”

For a year and a half, we watched an election process where the name calling and general antagonism level was so high that we could not let our children watch it. It was truly un-American. I felt that the vicious fighting actually lowered the sanctity of the office of the presidency and the leadership of the world that comes with it. It was as un-American as I have seen in my lifetime. To top this, we proceeded to elect the individual who was unquestionably the most abusive of all the candidates. With his election, the partisan politics is continuing as bad as ever, and there is no attempt at all to seek unity. This antagonism has led all the way down to families and friends, and unfortunately I found myself participating in it! It has gotten so bad that friends and family members have avoided discussing politics, in order to avoid serious disagreements that may hurt their relationships. This should not be happening in America.

We used to be receptive to refugees regardless of race or origin and now we turn our backs to them. Hate crimes are on the rise as never before. Somehow we have lost our way. Where are we heading? Will our democracy prevail or are we heading towards a dictatorship? Will we continue to be the land of the free and the home of the brave?

We have to remain optimistic and we must fight to retain our American values!

Gabe Schlisser

Thank you from Kulanu

The members of Kulanu NNJ, a consortium of Reform and Conservative congregational schools with the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, sincerely thank Larry Yudelson for his outstanding article last week on our ETC project: EdTech Training for Congregational schools (“Are we using our tablets today?,” February 17). He really captured the excitement generated among our students, teachers, and parents by this project. We are also gratified by his mention of our intercongregational and JFNNJ collaboration, which both enriches our students’ experiences and provides resources and professional satisfaction to our teachers. We are so proud of and impressed by the work of the teachers participating in the project. Their accomplishments also clearly came through in his article.

We thank the Covenant Foundation, a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies, for making this possible through its Ignition Grant. We also would like to recognize and thank founder Smadar Goldstein and instructor Hillel Rudolph (both olim from Teaneck) from JETS: Jerusalem EdTech Solutions for their “No Teacher Left Behind” professional development course, their workshops, and their continual guidance. Our thanks as well to Rabbi Michael Bitton, director of educational technology at the Magen David Yeshivah High School in Brooklyn, our teachers’ consultant.

Although the grant is for one year only, the benefits of this program certainly will extend far beyond that time.

Kulanu NNJ Co-Directors:

Rabbi Paula Feldstein
Temple Avodat Shalom, River Edge

Rabbi Shelley Kniaz
Temple Emanuel of the Pascack Valley, Woodcliff Lake

Sarah David
Education and Engagement Coordinator, Synagogue Leadership Initiative, JFNNJ

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