Oberlin Alumni Magazine

Fall 2006 Vol. 102 No. 2 OAM Home | Oberlin Online


Oberlin Alumni Magazine welcomes mail from readers. Please address your comments to Oberlin Alumni Magazine, 145 W. Lorain St., Oberlin, OH 44074-1089; alum.mag@oberlin.edu; P: 440.775.8182, F: 440.775.6575. The editor reserves the right to edit for clarity and space.

From the Editor

Following publication of the summer issue of OAM, which featured a photo of alumna Jessica Montell on the cover, we received feedback from readers expressing concern over the magazine’s cover line. We apologize for any bad feelings this has created. Our subhead was meant simply to capture the essence of Jessica’s work in Israel and draw readers into the story. In hindsight, however, we realized the rhetorical question could be misleading and unfair, implying that Israel is less amenable to human rights than other countries. The subhead has been removed from subsequent reproductions of the cover.

OAM works hard to present a balanced view of newsworthy, yet sometimes divisive, topics. In this case, the confrontational tone of the subhead escaped us. We have since taken steps to ensure an added layer of review and evaluation before heading to press. Again, we offer our apologies.

“I applaud Jessica Montell’s efforts to take the part of innocent Palestinians, but I refuse to place all the blame on Israel.”

Courage of Her Convictions

While I enjoyed the story about Jessica Montell, the subtitle on the cover caused me to bristle: “Can human rights find a place in Israel?” No other country in the Middle East has the quality of human rights that Israel offers. Yet, many seem to conveniently ignore this and demonize Israel because of the Palestinian issue. The inference that human rights have no place in Israel made me wonder if the choice of wording was reflective of these sentiments. I applaud Jessica’s efforts to take the part of innocent Palestinians, but I refuse to place all the blame on Israel. Israel is a nation under constant attack from her enemies, many of whom would be happy to see the end of her existence. Let’s not forget this important fact.

Debra Tope ’86
Reynoldsburg, Ohio

Thank you for featuring the brave and thoughtful work of Jessica Montell and for making it your cover story. We are the proud parents of Oberlin student Ben Regenspan, who in-terned this summer for People for the American Way. We believe that the progressive political environment of Oberlin has shown Ben how to turn his convictions into a life path, and we are extremely grateful. We get our best news about Israel and Palestine from B’Tselem, and we support them when we can. Thanks for braving the “any criticism of Israel is anti-semitism” lobby, which is sorely misguided and in part responsible for the current lack of comfort in the mainstream Jewish community experienced by many of us. Keep up the great work.

Barbara Regenspan and
Rabbi David Regenspan
Ithaca, N.Y.

Jessica Montell does very important work and does it well. You featured her article on the cover, followed by the question, “Can human rights find a place in Israel?” The article clearly answers that question in the affirmative. What troubles and offends me, however, is that the magazine editors would want to ask such a question.

David Gladfelter ’58
Moorestown, N.J.

Congratulations on the interesting profile. Writer Tim Tibbitts handled a subject that usually generates a great deal of heat but very little light with great sensitivity. It was truly in the Oberlin spirit that the magazine chose to highlight the work of an Oberlin graduate who is trying to address an important, complex problem in a caring, intelligent way; avoiding the hyperbolic rhetoric and ideological inflexibility that has poisoned debates about Israel and the Middle East.

Andrew M. Manshel ’78
Jamaica, N.Y.

As the Israel-Lebanon situation in-tensified, the timing of the article on Jessica Montell and her human rights work in Israel was remarkable. Individuals like Jessica make me ex-tremely proud to be an Obie.

Francisco X. Dominguez ’89
El Paso, Texas

The work that Ms. Montell is doing is wonderful and reflects the work that many Israelis and Americans perform in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. I strongly support and respect her work as described in the article. Tim Tibbitts’ story is well written, thoughtful, and balanced. My problem is not with the content of the article but with the cover of the magazine. One can criticize a number of human rights policies within Israel. Separation of church and state is a complicated concept in Israel, and many groups are working on that issue. Israeli-Arabs are not 100 percent equal citizens, but they have voting rights and representatives in the Israeli government. There is freedom of the press and freedom of religion. There are hundreds of NGOs working with the disadvantaged throughout the country, the world, and the Palestinian Territories. Palestinians from the Territories are regularly cared for in Israeli hospitals. One group of Israelis spends their own money to support those who leave their homes in the West Bank to accompany relatives to Israeli hospitals. Nevertheless, there is plenty more to do. That is why we need people like Jessica Montell in Israel. The fact that criticisms can be stated publicly and safely is proof that the cover’s subhead is off base. The fact that Ms. Montell can do what she does, and the fact that thousands of Israelis do what they do to live out the basic tenet of Judaism, tikun olam, to heal the world, proves that human rights are part of the bedrock of life in Israel. To imply otherwise is an insult, regrettable ignorance, profound insensitivity, or vicious slander. I wonder which it is.

Tom I. Abelson ’72
Adjunct Faculty, Oberlin Conservatory of Music

Courage of Her Convictions was one of the most inspiring things I have read in the alumni magazine in ages. This is what Oberlin is all about.

Keith Herndon ’79
Lexington, Mass.

As the father of a recent graduate, I have concerns over the tone and implication of the cover caption. Grouping Israel—which is the only true democracy in the Middle East—with totalitarian governments such as Iran, South Korea, and China is not only unfair, but it implies an attitude toward Israel that suggests prejudice. I am not a blind supporter of Israel. I am ashamed and distressed by many of its policies and actions. Still, I feel you should have thought about the implications of that caption before you printed it. I feel you owe an apology to the many friends and supporters of Israel among your students and alumni.

Daniel Katz
San Francisco, Calif.

Thank you for your profile of Jessica Montell and her courageous work. As a rabbi concerned about the well being of Israel, I look to B’Tselem as an important resource for information and advocacy. Unfortunately, the article’s assertion that “few Israelis are willing to hear about human rights for the Palestinians” is both inaccurate and irresponsible. One can make the case that many Israelis are deeply concerned about Palestinian human rights. In fact, as the article points out, the work of B’Tselem was praised by Ha’aretz, the most respected daily newspaper in Israel. The article also notes the ruling of the Israel Supreme Court ordering the IDF to re-route the security fence in order to safeguard the rights of Palestinians. Furthermore, the article failed to mention the left wing political parties and philanthropic organizations within Israel that place Palestinian human rights at the top of their agendas. To be sure, Jessica Montell and B’Tselem face profound challenges in advancing the cause of Palestinian human rights within Israel. But there is a more accurate way of placing this work in context than by casting aspersions on an entire society save for the enlightened “few.”

Rabbi Justin David ’90
Congregation B’nai Israel
Northampton, Mass.

Coaching Philosophy Carries On

I enjoyed reading about the tribute to Coach Michaels (Summer 2006). While I never swam at Oberlin, my son, a definite “mullet,” recently completed his high school swim career. A parent volunteer coach, Steve Kaiser ’73, spent more time with my son than with any of the fast swimmers and, at the end of my son’s somewhat lackluster senior season, pushed him to a personal best in his last race. Coach Michaels’ philosophy is not retiring with him, but is alive in the swimmers he coached.

Jack Kashtan ’72
Sacramento, Calif.

Radio Active

Thank you for your interesting sidebar, Oberlin and Public Radio: Dissecting the Connection (Summer 2006), and your online list of Obies who work in the world of NPR. However, I was disappointed at the omission of my friend Jeff Lunden ’80. Jeff regularly files entertaining and illuminating stories on theater and other performing arts for Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. He has also produced numerous radio documentaries for NPR about such luminaries as George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Richard Rogers, and Jule Styne. I encourage you to search under Jeff’s name on the npr.org archives, and then sit back and enjoy a sampling of his work.

Vicki Greenlick Ambinder ’83
Portland, Ore.

We’ve expanded our list of alumni working in the public radio world. See it at www.oberlin.edu/oam.

Yes, Dad, It Was Worth It

I appreciated Melissa Ballard’s essay (Last Word, Summer 2006) about her experiences as a first-generation college student. As a first-generation Oberlin student in the early 1990s, I struggled to focus on my studies while juggling the tension of financial worries and the widening cultural gap between home and my Oberlin life. Ballard raises issues that need to be kept out in the open at Oberlin. The irony of education is that it confronts students like myself with the emotionally wrenching conflict between leaving our background and moving culturally and economically in an often different direction. While at Oberlin, it was difficult for me to talk to anyone about my situation because the conflicts were so particular to first-generation students. Now, as a communications professor who straddles the working and middle classes, I have lived many of the theories on class that my students read. We talk about how class differences play out at the college where I work and how classism is just one type of social marginalization. Ballard’s essay reaffirms how Oberlin must commit the resources to support students from all backgrounds. Diverse voices enrich the Oberlin community, just as we take lessons learned there into the world. Because I use the political and cultural knowledge learned at Oberlin to understand my experiences of class, I can help my students look at their world more critically.

Teresa Heinz Housel ’94
Assistant Professor of Communication, Hope College
Holland, Mich.

Corrections: The Class Notes section of the summer issue had two alumni listed incorrectly: Andree (Andy) Barthelemy Miller ’58 and Tom Abernathy ’90. Also, due to an editing error, the reading list by David Young (page 5), substituted the word “authors” for “others.”