You and I have something in common. We are both the sons of Jewish immigrants from Europe. I do not know you so I don’t know what meaning being Jewish has to you, but if you are anything like me it plays a major role in defining who you are as a person and as an American. Although the victimization of the Jewish people is hardly something I ignore, particularly as the son of Holocaust survivors, I am far more emotionally invested in the endurance of our people than I am in the tragedies of our past. Simply put, because of our strength and continuing contributions to society, I am very proud to be Jewish. My question is, are you?
Yes Mr. Gelb, I am challenging you. I am certain there are those who feel I have no right to do so, but under the current circumstances I believe every person of decency has that same right. I am referring to your insistence on allowing the opera “Death to Klinghoffer” to be performed at the Metropolitan Opera. My argument however, is different from many of the other arguments presented to you on this matter. I have not seen this opera. Although it appears by all accounts to be a distasteful and anti-Semitic opera, I wish to appeal to you from a different perspective.
We live in a society where Subway stores are taking ham out off their menu in an effort not to offend their Muslim clientele. A football team, the Washington Redskins, is seriously considering changing its name to show sensitivity towards those within the Native American population that find it offensive. Our society is notorious, or takes pride, depending on your perspective, for its political correctness. Why would it not apply here? I understand you do not find this to be an anti-Semitic opera, but what I am proposing to you is that your opinion is not the issue here. What is the issue is that a large percentage of Jews feel otherwise. As a Jew, how can that not matter to you? How is that in itself not enough reason for you to cancel this opera? With all the concern our society shows for the feelings of others, how do you justify not caring enough about the feelings of your fellow Jews to do what is right for them? And although I am sure you would insist that it would not matter if another ethnic or religious group was offended by an opera if you deemed it acceptable, as a Jewish man who sees my people often at the short end of the ethical stick, I am not entirely convinced.
If that is not enough reason for you, I offer the following thought. The daughters of the late Leon Klinghoffer are actively opposed to this opera which they feel takes a sympathetic approach towards the terrorists that murdered their father. Without having seen the opera I can not give an entirely fair assessment, but my inclination is to accept their word on this matter, not yours. You see, as opposed to you, they gain nothing from having this opera performed at your institution. All it will do for them is rehash the feelings of devastation and horror they must have felt knowing that their father, a 69-year-old wheelchair bound man, was shot and thrown overboard by a group of terrorists now being glorified in song at your institution. In the name of compassion the right thing to do would be to cancel the performances. Unfortunately, it is clear their feelings are only enough for you to allow them to make a statement, not enough for you to take a stand on behalf of your people.
Which leads me to one last thought. As I said to open this letter, you and I have something in common. We are both the sons of Jewish immigrants. Do you know what that means Mr. Gelb? It means that under different, but hardly unimaginable circumstances, the man being shot and thrown overboard that day on the Achille Lauro could just as easily have been your father or mine. Maybe you should consider that when making the decision as to whether or not to continue with what till now has been a display of very poor judgment on your part.
I urge you to look into your heart and soul and do the right thing regarding this matter. I believe the long-term effects, either good or bad, may end up having more impact on your future than you are capable of realizing at this time. You see Mr. Gelb, you are at a crossroads, and your legacy as a Jew, something that may or may not be important to you, will rest on the decision you make in the coming weeks. I implore you to make the correct one.
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