Driving Out Chaplains
Both congratulations and complaints to Seattle Weekly for the very well-researched and well-written piece "The 'Jewish' Con" by George Howland Jr. [March 1].
Congratulations on the content. Howland's story on the prison scam where non-Jews (often gang members and white supremacists) claim to be Jewish to get privileges (kosher food, opportunities to meet together regularly, etc.) highlights the dilemma faced by dedicated prison chaplains. They find that the prisoners and, through them, the state effectively dictate how religions are to be interpreted and observed. Chaplains, like Gary Friedman here in Washington, are faced with a choice: Accept and minister to these false converts, becoming party to the misinterpretation of their faiths; or adhere to their religious beliefs, rejecting the self-proclaimed converts, and face lawsuits that may result in personal liability. Unless this is resolved soon, chaplains may quit, leaving legitimate practitioners without religious assistance or support. The states and the courts need to solve this problem.
Complaints about the title and graphics. The title and cover photo, which grab attention, could leave those who don't read the story thinking it is about a "con" by Jews. And the inside image of the Star of David (the "Jewish star") superimposed on the Nazi swastika was unnecessary and, based on the numerous calls we have received at the Pacific Northwest Anti-Defamation League office, has caused many members of the Jewish community a painful, visceral negative response.
Robert S. Jacobs
Regional Director, Pacific Northwest Region, Anti-Defamation League
"The 'Jewish' Con" [March 1] is much more than just a Jewish issue. As a former member of the community's multifaith Religious Services Advisory Committee to the Washington State Department of Corrections, I am appalled at the inmate manipulation of religious programs that we all worked so hard to develop. Such abuses have unfortunately been encouraged by state officials handing outrageous legal and financial settlements to inmates. Worse yet, our attorneys general have crossed the line between state and religion by making religious determinations that should properly have been left to clergy.
Chaplain Gary Friedman has been leading the battle to combat these problems, and he has been paying dearly for it, particularly in the costs of defending predatory inmate lawsuits. Our community has, therefore, set up a legal defense committee that I am pleased to be chairing. Contributions can be sent to: JPSI Legal Defense Fund, PO Box 85840, Seattle, WA 98145-1840.
Rabbi James Louis Mirel
Perhaps Orthodox Jews who are concerned about prisoners who untruthfully claim to be Orthodox might volunteer to go into the prisons, to lead services and to lead Torah study ["The 'Jewish' Con," March 1]. After all, Torah study is the highest occupation for Orthodox Jewish men, so surely these prisoners would be happy to have someone to lead them in that endeavor.
I read with interest that some fellow Seattleites feel that the Parks Department, led by Ken Bounds, is giving the public short shrift in making its decisions ["No Peace in the Parks," March 1].
As one who has been involved in soccer and playfields for kids over the years, I have a different opinion. The Parks Department, especially under Bounds, has been increasing its attention to public input on its development plans over the years. The public process is thorough and agonizing to those Seattleites who want change. All sides of an issue are given ample opportunity to speak, write, and interact with department staff and board members. There is rarely public agreement, but there's lots of public input.
Parenthetically, I note that the FieldTurf proposed for Loyal Heights is not considered "artificial grass" by most of us with kids playing soccer. It is considered a technological marvel. It provides kids a safe, cushioned, smooth, clean, outdoor, and low-maintenance surface on which to play and romp throughout the wide range of Seattle's weather conditions.
Not Just for Neighbors
Community involvement in Seattle parks is a good thing; it demonstrates the love and concern that citizens have for our beautiful parks ["No Peace in the Parks," March 1]. But sometimes it is also exasperating. Having spent six years as a volunteer on the Seattle Parks Board, I came away impressed by the hardworking staff at the Parks Department and the intense and conflicting demands of park users.
Whenever a decision doesn't go the way a particular group wants, they always say, "No one listened to us, and the decisions had already been made." That's not true. As a board member, I spent hours listening and reading documents and citizen feedback. It often made a difference in what we recommended to the superintendent, the City Council, and the mayor. I frequently saw parks staff, from the superintendent on down, spend considerable time and energy talking with park users. And almost every parks plan reflects the input of all kinds of users.
But, it's as though each entity that approaches the Parks Department about a particular usage believes their ideas and needs trump any others. They don't seem to see or hear the others who want a piece of the parks pie. And oftentimes the higher-income people who live on the park borders are the ones with the money to hire lawyers and stop carefully considered projects. They seem to think every park is owned by the neighbors who live closest to it.
I wish every person who loves Seattle parks would listen a little more carefully to the needs and concerns of other users. I wish they would be more polite to the parks staff and at least acknowledge that people who do that kind of work are also park lovers. And I wish they could find more ways to understand that parks are citywide assets and must serve the needs of all.
The telling point in the KeyArena debate [Mossback, "Show Us the Sonics' Money!," March 1] came in a recent TV interview with Sonic President Wally Walker. Walker agreed with interviewer Robert Mak that, given Seattle's relatively small size, the market for the all-important sports luxury box suites was possibly "saturated." If Sonic management is correct, it means that even if taxpayers are willing to pay the huge dollars to spiff up the currently unleasable suites in the Key to the point of renewed desirability by local millionaires, we'll ultimately just be stealing luxury suite income from one of our other two taxpayer-supported stadiums. The only question then is which franchise will come calling next with even more demands to update their barely-decade-old, "antiquated" facilities.
I've watched the Sonics since day one and would miss them greatly, but it's time to get off of this taxpayer-shakedown merry-go-round.
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