Up Front

Rabbi SimchaSheldon

Unity in the Community

Lots of people gripe about the lack of unity among Jews, but RabbiSimcha Sheldon is doing something about it. With a grant from theJewish Community Foundation, Sheldon has launched Project L.E.A.R.N.(Learn, Educate and Renew Networks) to bring what he calls “unity inthe community” through greater understanding of Jewish values acrossthe religious spectrum and across the generations.

Project L.E.A.R.N. is a series of free classes on Judaism, open toanyone who is interested in learning. To help achieve the goal ofgreater unity, the classes will be taught by Reconstructionist,Reform, Conservative and Orthodox rabbis and will be held atsynagogues of all denominations as well as Jewish community centers.Subjects covered in class will include a variety of major Jewishconcepts, including visiting the sick, loving one’s neighbor asoneself, prayer and meditation, and continued personal and spiritualgrowth — “the kind of Torah study that all Jews, no matter theirlevel of commitment or background, can appreciate,” said Sheldon.

In keeping with his goal of increasing knowledge and respect amongdenominations as well as among generations, he asks students tovolunteer four hours monthly to share their newfound knowledge withJewish seniors in retirement homes. Large-print materials areprovided to help the seniors follow the texts they are studying.

Skittish of denominational labels, Sheldon calls himself”shomer mitzvot” (mitzvah-observant). He earned anOrthodox rabbinical ordination in 1992. Before that, many in LosAngeles knew him as Dr. Ed Sheldon, a psychotherapist in privatepractice for 19 years and a founder of the former Westside CounselingCenter.

Sheldon’s goal, he admits, is a little idealistic. But, he says,”there’s been a real splitting off in the community within age groupsand within denominations. If we come together with mutual respect andlearn Torah together, even if there isn’t always agreement, at leastthere can be respect and understanding. I want to help people utilizeJewish practices as a vehicle to spiritual consciousness and lovingbehavior. I hope it will make a difference and open up some hearts.”

Project L.E.A.R.N. classes begin in February. To enroll, call(310) 392-2222.

— Judy R. Gruen

An Ambassador for Peace

When Dr. Marwan Muasher became the first Jordanian ambassador toIsrael, he was struck by the genuine fear among average Israelisthat, at any time, the surrounding Arab States might attack theircountry.

It’s a fear that the typical Arab simply can’t comprehend, becausehe or she is deeply concerned that the powerful Israeli army willinvade at any moment.

The anxieties felt by Arabs and Israelis are mirror images of eachother, and true peace will not come to the Middle East “until we shedour respective fortress mentalities,” said Muasher, now Jordan’sambassador to the United States.

The personable and youthful envoy, who holds a doctorate incomputer engineering from Purdue University, last week addressed anAmerican Jewish Committee luncheon and stuck to a resolutely hopefultone during his talk and subsequent interview.

Much of his optimism seems to derive from his own upbeatexperiences in Israel, where he was received “like a Hollywoodcelebrity,” and from his current relations with the American Jewishcommunity.

Muasher credited the latter with successfully lobbying Congress torestore U.S. aid to Jordan, currently running at $225 million a year,and with sharing his own country’s “vision of peace” in the MiddleEast.

While acknowledging Jordan’s differences with some of the policiesof the present Israeli government, Muasher sought to assure theIsraeli people that Jordan will remain a steadfast partner in thepeace process.

“The Middle East is divided, not between Arab and Israeli, orbetween Moslem and Jew, but between those who want peace and thosewho do not want peace,” he said.

Since 1989, Jordan has undergone three major reform processes, inpolitics, economics and international relations, the envoy said.

“We have opened up the political system so that we now have 22parties and the freest press in the Arab world,” Muasher said. “Wehave opened up the economy and have become one of the mostmarket-oriented countries in the region, and we have signed a peacetreaty with Israel.”

While long-standing suspicions between Jordanians and Israelishave not been entirely removed, the ambassador said that some 100,000Israeli tourists visit his country every year, while 30,000Jordanians tour Israel.

Leaders of major Jewish organizations and institutions in LosAngeles participated in the luncheon. Among the diplomatic guests,interestingly enough, was the consul general of Malaysia, a countrymost recently in the news for its prime minister’s attack on “Jewish”financiers. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Above, from left, American Jewish Committee Los Angeles ChapterPresident Barry A. Sanders; Jordan’s new U.S. ambassador, Dr. MarwanMuasher, and Western Regional Director of the American jewishCommittee Rabbi Gary Greenebaum.

Charlayne Woodard tells of herlife, family and Jewish friends in “Neat,” her superb one-woman showat the Mark Taper Forum, through Feb. 1. For information, call (213)628-2772.

An Antisemite by Any Other Spelling…

How many ways are there to spell “anti-Semite”? A report by CopyEditor, a newsletter for publishing professionals, reports that anumber of historians have successfully urged the Journal of ModernHistory to formally change its style from “anti-Semitism” — the mostcommon usage and to “antisemitism.”

Many historians and other scholars and authors have long lobbiedfor the change. As far back as 1975, when “The Eight Questions PeopleAsk About Judaism” was first published by Dennis Prager and JosephTelushkin, the authors purposefully spelled the term “antisemitism,”following the example of Christian historian James Parkes, “so as notto convey the misunderstanding that there is a Semitic entity whichantisemitism opposes” (“The Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism,”Simon & Schuster, 1981, page 121).

In fact, the term “anti-Semite” was coined in 1879 by a Germannamed Wilhelm Marr. Marr apparently fanned the flames of a growingpolitical enmity toward Jews by giving a name to a host of unsavorycharacteristics supposedly embodied in the “Semite.”

Copy Editor also reported that history Professor Richard Levy ofthe University of Illinois and one of those who asked the Journal ofModern History to change its style, explained that anti-Jewishactivists of the late 19th century made the term “Semite” into apejorative, describing what Levy called “a bundle of uniformlynegative traits that the various enemies of the Jews insisted werethe racial inheritance of every Jew.” Anti-Semites are clearlyanti-Jewish. Yet many historians and language purists point out thatthose opposed to anti-Semitism aren’t defending Semitism — they’redefending the human rights of Jews.

Because “Semitism” became a term popularized by Jew-haters,”there’s no real difference between Semitism and anti-Semitism,” Levywas quoted as saying. “Jews are not in favor of ‘Semitism,’ becausethey recognize it as a fallacious concept created by their enemies.”

In addition to The Journal of Modern History, other publicationsand organizations seem to be using the closed-up spelling, includingthe Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism;Philip Herbst’s new book, “The Color of Words: An EncyclopaedicDictionary of Ethnic Bias in the United States” (InterculturalPress); and Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Third Edition,which lists only “antisemitic.” (The other three college dictionariesspell it with the hyphen and the capital S.)

Although the spelling may change, sadly, the ugly concept islikely to remain. — Judy R. Gruen