The Conversation

Spring issue 2021

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WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH IRAN?

BIDEN IS BIDING HIS TIME

Moment asked some smart, thoughtful people about a complicated issue: U.S. policy toward Iran (“What’s the Deal with Iran?” January/February 2021). Unfortunately, the article starts with a glaring misstatement. Candidate Joe Biden did not pledge to “bring America back into the Iran nuclear deal” in his first 100 days.

Instead, as candidate, and now as president, Joe Biden has been clear that Iran must not be able to obtain a nuclear weapon; that the best way to reach that goal is through a diplomatic agreement that is longer, stronger and broader than the original JCPOA; and that before the U.S. takes action such as lifting sanctions, Iran must return to full compliance with the original agreement.

The JCPOA was far from perfect; but former President Trump walked away with no strategy for a better one except more pressure. As we have seen, Iran’s rulers will accept any amount of pain for their people so long as they remain in control. The result is that despite a “maximum pressure” campaign, Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon now than it was at the end of the Obama administration. Serious multilateral diplomacy dealing with the dangers posed by Iran has to include those countries in the region with the most at stake, including Israel and our Arab allies. The good news is that these consultations have already begun.
Ann F. Lewis
Co-Chair, Democratic Majority for Israel
Chevy Chase, MD

COUNTING THE DEAD

ASK WHEN YOU CAN 

I loved Judith Viorst’s “Counting the Dead” (January/February 2021) and read it twice over! It was full of shared memories and regrets from my past. First, it reminded me of the many questions about family that I foolishly never asked my parents or grandparents, and now it’s too late. Of course, in my defense, I only learned at my mother’s father’s shiva that my grandfather had been married previously and my mother was the child of his first wife, from whom he was divorced. I was 29 when my grandfather died and only then discovered that my mother’s real mother existed and that she lived in New York. I have been researching family history ever since.

On my father’s side, I never asked my grandmother, who lived with us, or my father about my grandfather, who was killed by the Nazis. My grandmother only survived because she happened to be visiting my father when World War II broke out in Europe. But even though I was interested in family stories, I never pushed, I never probed.
Keep all the good stuff coming. I will always keep reading.
Aviva Meyer
Washington, DC

MOVED TO TEARS

What a profoundly moving article, from an excellent writer who has touched and enriched the lives of so many of us! Judith Viorst is mishpacha to each of us, her losses mirror so many of our own and bring us to tears. May all of us be blessed with good health, long, joyous lives and wonderful memories that keep loved ones alive in our hearts and minds!
Fran Paskowitz
Buffalo, NY

THAT WARM FUZZY FEELING

Tender, heartfelt, moving, useful and just a darn good idea. I have three special people that I speak with whose pictures are in my bedroom, and they make me feel warm and fuzzy for the love we shared and the memories I am lucky enough to have. I intend to expand my list because I think it is a brilliant way to remember all the people with whom I have shared my life. God is another question. Thank you for your contribution to my 83-year-young life.
Phyllis Landis
El Prado, NM

A PEOPLE OF MEMORY

As I age—gracefully, I hope—I think more and more of the people I’ve lost along the way, the people who made me the person I am today, and how I wish I could share my present, along with my past, with them. We are indeed a people of memory. Every time I say my son’s name, I am reminded of my mother, for whom he is named.
Roberta Presser
Boca Raton, FL

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LESSONS FOR THE FUTURE

NEWS VERSUS GOSSIP

When Thomas Friedman writes that Americans have lost their “cognitive immunity” (“Lessons for the Future,” January/February 2021) he is absolutely correct. The old journalism requirement that there had to be more than one credible source before the story could be printed is no longer enforced.

Much is to be done if we are not to become (if we are not already) a nation where news and gossip are treated as interchangeable. We can start with stricter libel laws and stringent oversight on social media by the Federal Communications Commission. Thank you, Moment, for the Friedman piece, which should be seen by members of Congress and the executive branch of government.
Lucille Weener
McLean, VA

ELECTRONIC SURVELLIANCE

A RISKY BUSINESS

Electronic surveillance does not only expose us to the entity that is responsible (“Does Electronic Surveillance Threaten Democracy?” January/February 2021). Once the information is collected, there are numerous risks that it will be spread and misused. It exposes us to various individuals who work within that entity and have access to our information. Further, it exposes us to third parties who maliciously gain access to the information held by the surveilling entity. The value of the surveillance, for policing or public health or other worthy purposes, must be weighed against these risks of illegitimate spread and misuse in addition to the original violation of privacy.
Harvey S. Cohen
Middletown, NJ

BEYOND THE SYNAGOGUE

WHAT CAN WE DO BETTER? 

I appreciated the review of Beyond the Synagogue (“The Power of DNA, Dolls and Delis,” January/February 2021). This is one of many such books released in recent years. By publishing this review, Moment has reminded us that Jewish life is being experienced outside of Jewish institutional settings. For me, the rabbi of a Modern Orthodox synagogue, the article inspired two reactions. On the one hand, it is encouraging that young Jews are seeking out ways to connect to their heritage. Doing so through nostalgic practices is a powerful reminder of the pull of history and how history remains relevant. On the other hand, the book (and the review) compels us to ask why these Jews are not finding meaning in existing Jewish institutions, social or religious. The review suggests that we be hopeful even as we must do better to create institutions that inspire and motivate young and old alike.
Rabbi Barry Gelman
Houston, TX

AVROM SUTZKEVER

YIDDISH GHOSTS

When I think of Avrom Sutzkever (“Making Room for Ghosts,” January/February 2021), I think of Marc Chagall’s paintings, for Sutzkever created a magical world with his words, a world of fantasy more real than one that any literal writer could dream up. Barbara Goldberg perfectly captures the essence of the man who was able to transmute his own tragedies into light for himself and his readers, the same way a flower is able to draw on its soil to become beautiful. Thank you for this review.
Gerald Lebowitz
New York, NY

JEWISH SOUNDTRACK

THE BALLAD OF HARRY LEWIS

Allan Sherman was the quintessential embodiment of mid-20th century Jewish humor, and “The Ballad of Harry Lewis” (1962) has so many allusions to the Jewish experience in the U.S. that it deserves a place on your list “The Soundtrack of the Jewish People” (November/December 2020). There is the reference to God, as “Harry Lewis perished in the service of his Lord.” It also is a tribute—the “Drapes of Roth”—to the garment district of New York, a sanctuary for Jews from Eastern Europe in particular. The dedication to hard work and sacrifice emblematic of the Jewish people is found in “although a fire was raging, Harry stood by his machine.” And to “have the finest funeral the union could afford” bears witness to the deep involvement of Jews in organized labor. Now, whether Sherman meant this as an allegory for the Jewish people likely died with him in 1973, but it was such an important song that it was, for years, sung religiously at Shabbat afternoon song sessions at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Kutz Camp. Its theme of dedication to service made it the theme song of the Kutz maintenance staff in 1975, and it later was adopted by the entire camp.
Michael Swit
via momentmag.com

ABI GEZUNT

What about “Abi Gezunt,” a classic of the Yiddish genre? It’s been recorded by Molly Picon in the 1938 film Mamele, the Barry Sisters, and every Klezmer group I can think of. “As long as you have your health” is the theme, and that’s very Jewish!
Claire Lee
Cincinnati, OH

A FRIDAY NIGHT SONG

I suggest adding “Ana b’Koach,” a prayer attributed to Rabbi Nechunia ben Hakanah, a renowned first century Kabbalist, to the soundtrack. Among its mystical attributes are the initials of the 42 words that form the secret name of God, and the six initials of the words of each of the seven verses form divine names. The same 42 letters of this prayer are the first letters in the book of Genesis. It is recited daily during Shacharit and Mincha (morning and afternoon prayers) but in particular during the Kabbalat Shabbat Friday evening service as we are about to enter the Sabbath. There are numerous moving renditions, but I favor those by Dudu Fisher and by Meyrav Berlin.
Malcolm Hoenlein
New York, NY

U.N.I.

I would include the Israeli singer Achinoam Nini, better known as Noa, who was born in Tel Aviv but moved to New York with her family at age two. She moved back to Israel alone at age 16 and has crafted a style that captures a pair of strains of Judaism—the Arabic-influenced rhythms of Israel and the American accent of New York. In “U.N.I.,” her lyrics capture this dichotomy—and the effort to unite the strands—perfectly: “How does my north connect to my south / How does my heart connect to my mouth / How does my skin connect to my soul? / Is the sum of my parts / Anything whole?”
Alan Rosenberg
Warwick, RI

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