Letters: A word to start with as we work to prevent violence

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In the early 2010s, toward the end of my 30+ year career working in local public health, I was invited to take part in a meeting that I have never forgotten, all the more memorable given the dark events of recent weeks and the days to come.

The meeting, part of a nationwide tour sponsored by the U.S. State Department, was with a group of public health officials from the Israeli and Palestinian Health Services. The topic of the gathering was to compare and learn from one another about effective approaches to promote individual and community health, focusing on healthy nutrition, physical activity, and avoiding tobacco and misuse of alcohol and other drugs.

The first thing I remember about that day was watching out the front window as the delegations got off the van they were traveling in together; my colleague and I both remarked on how we had no idea who was Palestinian and who was Israeli. This remained true throughout most of our conversation together.

The next thing I remember is the similarity and symmetry of the ideas that were shared that day – the commonality we shared around the challenges for addressing health problems for individuals and communities, as well opportunities and strategies for promoting health and well-being, whether in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, or the Twin Cities.

The final thing I remember, which has come to mind even more in recent days, was when our conversation turned to the topic of violence prevention, a field that was and remains foremost in my own work. Again, I would have guessed that beliefs and strategies would have varied greatly among us all, yet what we found was that we shared remarkably similar ideas and hope, despite all of the obstacles to people being able to live together in Peace, again whether in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, or the Twin Cities.

While I do not recall other details from this part of our conversation, what has stuck with me all these years, and haunts me in these dark days, was the agreement among all sitting around that table that the starting point to preventing violence, and to living in Peace, might be as simple as eliminating one word, one concept, that tears us apart from seeing one another as brothers and sisters in this life: the word “Them.”  While it can come to be seen as easy, and even expected and righteous, to commit atrocities against Them, these same actions are far more difficult, if not impossible, to commit against fellow humans regarded as Us.

As we continue on through this terribly trying time, I dedicate this remembrance to the remarkable people I met that day.  As the son of Jewish immigrants to this country who fled pogroms and the Holocaust, I send my hopes for peace and health to all of us who met that day, to all my fellow humans in this life, and especially in these days to Israelis and Palestinians.

Donald Gault, Roseville


As individual human beings

Even as a Jewish American, I have absolutely nothing bad to say about Islam or its followers. I’ve had wonderful experiences in predominantly Muslim countries. I felt genuinely welcomed by most of the people I encountered in Iran and Afghanistan, and I absolutely fell in love with the Turks. Thus, in college, I chose to study Turkish to fulfill my foreign language requirement.

I also chose to study “Islam” and “Sufism,” to better understand Middle Eastern culture. Caesar Farah, my wonderful instructor of Islamic studies, taught me and my fellow students that both Islam and Christianity were born out of Judaism. He taught us that Jews, Muslims and Christians have far more in common than not in common.

Then, with so much in common, in the words of Rodney King, “Why can’t we get along?” Why can’t we get along with the Russians? With the Chinese? With the North Koreans? And, yes, with the Iranis and Palestinians? I believe, wholeheartedly, that it is our governments — and fanatical religious extremists — who are the primary culprits.

We need to stop looking at one another through the lens of broad racial and religious groups. We need to integrate our societies, so we get to know each other as individual human beings. We need to stop reflexively discriminating against and hating “the other,” and start reflexively listening to and loving one another.

Of course, all of this is much easier said than done. Personally, I am not nearly as open-hearted and open-minded as I was half a century ago, way, way back in my college days. But I am trying. Are you?

John Fineberg, St. Paul



It states on the Selective Service website that all men between 18 and 26 years of age must register for the military draft. This includes both legal American citizens and undocumented immigrants. I wonder how many of those men crossing the Mexican border are bothering to stop at the local Selective Service office to get registered. America is not only about freedom and benefits, but also about responsibilities.

Keith Thomas, Farmington


Not the incumbents

The Press tries to publish information on the candidates for the city council seats, and that is a good thing. But, even with that, a good deal of votes are cast by folks who have little knowledge of which candidate is the best one for the job. Given the way St. Paul is now governed and has been governed for quite a few years now, the first rule has to be to not vote for any incumbent. Beyond that, I think the best rule to follow is to vote for the candidate who appears to least need the job. A majority of politicians today, at all levels of government, claim a devotion to “public service” but have derived their sustenance, virtually their entire lives, from taxpayers.

T. J. Sexton, St. Paul

Scores and holidays

Minnesota Department of Education released data in 2023 related to students test scores in reading, math and science. Results show a 1% increase in math scores but 1% decrease in reading and 2% decrease in science. Scores remain at almost 10 percentage points below pre-pandemic levels. Yet this year MEA had a four-day holiday for students. Who is looking out for our kids?

Rae Jwanouskos, White Bear Lake


No releases, no money

What in the world is President Biden thinking when he gives millions to Gaza before the hostages are released? No hostage releases, no money. The terrorist group Hamas runs Gaza. So any money going to Gaza goes right into the pockets of murdering terrorists. That makes no sense at all.

No cease fire either. Why would you have a cease fire with a group that threatens to kill all Jews? What really shocks me is the intense hatred against Israel and Jews in general. With the Nazi killing of Jews in the l930s and l940s still fairly recent memory, it is hard to believe how Western politicians, college campuses and Hollywood (to name a few) have come after a small nation, Israel, which is just trying to survive as it is surrounded by terrorists of the Islamic faith. Where did this intense hatred come from? I thought the world learned some lessons after the Nazis were defeated in World War II. Apparently not.

Tom R. Kovach, Nevis

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