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Letters for the week of March 31, 2017

Dollars and sense

Did I misread last week’s J. editorial (“Trump budget turns safety net into gossamer”), or did you mean to accuse those readers who support deep cuts in the federal budget of supporting “immorality of the highest order?”

That statement is not only extremely divisive and disrespectful but also displays a surprising intolerance of other points of view. It attempts to delegitimize the opposition and squelch political debate.

There are numerous reasons to support deep budget cuts. We are spending money we don’t have, and are saddling our children with the debt — almost $20 trillion, about one-third of that in the last eight years. With an annual budget of $4 trillion, we are spending like profligates and charging it to our children’s credit card.

Interest payments are also a concern. If interest rates rise to just 5 percent, the portion of the budget spent on debt service would balloon from 6 percent to 25 percent, requiring severe cuts to beneficial programs. Cutting now might be preferable to cutting later. If interest rates were to rise to 10 percent (and in the 1980s, they were even higher), half the budget would be spent just servicing the debt. Why are we taking such risks?

Then there is a question of the respective roles of federal government, state government, charitable institutions, religious groups and even family. Should the federal government fund Meals on Wheels and school lunch programs? Should someone else? Should anyone?

These are just some of the issues that need to be debated.  Claiming moral superiority over one’s opponents feels good but is not constructive. Instead, you should encourage understanding of others’ points of view and engagement with them.

Alan Titus,
San Francisco

Killing animals is wrong

I agreed with your March 17 editorial (“Animal rights protesters are way off base”), which stated that as Jews we should be protesting “monstrously abusive” factory farming systems. However, there is nothing “wrong-headed” about the recent protest at Urban Adamah, and it is never “a waste of energy” to speak out against unnecessary cruelty to animals.

Jewish values should prioritize the core principle of not inflicting unnecessary suffering, and that is exactly what Urban Adamah does every time it unnecessarily slaughters an animal. I have interacted with chickens at animal sanctuaries and know they have unique personalities and complex social systems, and they clearly experience fear, pain and joy. Every major medical organization now acknowledges that we can live a very healthy life on a fully plant-based diet.

Just because Urban Adamah provides more room for their animals to move around in than most industrial farms does not change the end result of their actions. Causing suffering to animals simply because of “tradition” or because they “taste good” is no longer morally justifiable.

The unfortunate fact that “most people eat meat” does not mean we should not speak out against it at every opportunity, especially when it is in our own backyard. Thank you for helping to create dialogue about this critical issue. I believe our culture’s treatment of animals as mere objects blinds us to seeing the pain we are causing.

Dr. Robert B. Daroff,
San Francisco

‘Inaccurate talking points’

Dan Fendel’s March 24 letter (“Problem isn’t criticizing Israel, it’s the wrong facts”) suggested that it was “absurd” for me to declare in my March 17 letter that “many American Jews … believe it is wrong for Jews in the diaspora to be critical of Israel.” He goes on to state that he has never heard or read any Jew express that diaspora Jews should not be critical of Israel.

On Feb. 3, I wrote a letter critical of Israel’s settlement policies and someone responded in a Feb. 10 letter with: “If you don’t get your butt to Israel you should butt out and let the Israelis decide what is best for them.” Though I strongly disagree with him, I appreciate his directness in stating a not uncommon sentiment.

Mr. Fendel, on the other hand, claimed that I had “an ignorance of the facts,” and then went on to distort the criticism I had expressed. I stated that “it is disingenuous or ignorant” to declare that “the proliferation of settlements has no bearing on the political stalemate.” In a sentence railing against me, Mr. Fendel changed it to “settlements are not the cause of the stalemate.”

The clear implication of my statement was that the proliferation of settlements is a cause of the stalemate, which is quite different than what he implies I stated — that the settlements are the only cause. He then goes on to imply that I suggested Israel should unilaterally remove all the settlements, which is something I never even addressed.

I think there are many causes for the stalemate, including valid criticisms of Abbas and the Palestinian leadership. Mr. Fendel’s statement, however, that Arab and Palestinian leaders “still want to destroy Israel” is not supported by facts, is in my opinion grossly inaccurate and is another one of the “pro-Israel” talking points that are harmful rather than helpful to Israel.

Inaccurate talking points can justify counterproductive policies and turn off many potential allies of the Zionist cause.

Mark Davidow,
Glen Ellen

‘A disgrace and a blight’

Martin Wasserman wrote in his March 17 letter (“Never retreat”) that “God promised the Land of Israel to the Israelites as an everlasting possession” that Jews should “take possession of their entire homeland and populate it everywhere with Jews.”

Does Mr. Wasserman believe that any means justifies this, in his view, holy end?

Does he believe that Jews have the right to take the land away from the people who have lived there for generations? That God wants Jews to kill if that’s what it takes to fulfill this commandment?

I grew up believing that the Jews were to be the light unto the nations, that we would do things differently, that we learned our lesson through centuries of oppression and persecution. For people in this day and age to be using the Torah as a club to beat their neighbors, this is a disgrace and a blight on the history of our people.

Danny Yanow,
San Francisco

Sephardic memories

Grazie mille, a thousand thanks to Hannah Rubin for her May 2016 article, “Historic Modesto shul welcomes new Latino members,” which I just now saw.

I was born in Mazara del Vallo, County of Trapani, Sicily. My birthplace was founded by the Phoenicians in 900 BCE, who came from the land of Canaan and were a Semitic race indeed!

When my hometown was founded, Jerusalem was only 100 years old. In 1493 there were more than 100,000 Jews in Sicily in 52 communities. Sicily belonged to Spain, and the Inquisition expelled or forced-assimilated the Sicilian Jews on Jan. 19, 1493. I was born in the Jewish ghetto of my town: Via Bagno, or Mikvah Street No. 20. The shul is now the little church of Saint Augustine.

I grew up Roman Catholic and yet, in 1975 we still had shiva, yahrzeit candles, evil eye, cursing, spitting, storytelling and the daily boiled chicken on the stove. I am a member of B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek now, but belonged to Congregation Emanu-El when I lived in San Francisco.

Salvatore Ingrande,
Pleasant Hill