Times’ Shalhevet Article Is Not News

I have tried explaining it to friends outside Los Angeles. But the Los Angles Times of Sunday, Aug. 3, cannot be explained in words alone. One must have held the paper in hand to appreciate what appeared that day.

A dear friend from the East, who that morning had e-mailed me the story that captured Page One, still would not appreciate what I felt as I physically held the paper. It was the Sunday edition, the biggest paper of the week. The story occupied virtually half the front page — it was gigantic.

Turn inside and the continuation occupied an entire page inside Section One. Turn the page and the story occupied another complete page and another page. And — this is just amazing — yet another page. There was not a column inch set aside on any of the pages for advertising. Just one page after another after another after another.

It appeared to be the biggest story in Los Angeles since 19 Middle Easterners — 15 of them from Saudi Arabia — commandeered some civilian airliners and crashed two jets into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon and another in a field in western Pennsylvania. As big a story as the destruction of the space shuttle. The story of the year.

And what was this story of the year? The recall of Gov. Gray Davis? Nope. The search for weapons of mass destruction? Wrong again.

Rather, the story of the year was that, well, more than a year ago — in June 2002 — a local modern Orthodox middle school opted not to rehire an English literature teacher. Hold the front page of the Sunday edition! Block out four full pages!

The English teacher had been teaching students at the Jewish parochial school to reassess the Middle East situation, to see things from the Arab viewpoint. Religious faculty objected. Some parents objected.

He had them read a novel about a Palestinian American family that moves to the West Bank from St. Louis and encounters Israeli militaristic barbarism while there. Now — get this — some parents objected! Big news!

The notion that parents pay $6,000 or $8,000 or $10,000 or $12,000 tuition to send their child to a yeshiva, instead of a public school, to study Judaism, instead of moral relativism, pales when compared with the censorship and blockheaded closed mindedness of a liberal Jewish administration that chose not to rehire this guy. Wow!

The guy was not even fired. The liberals at the school actually let him stay the school year. They let him continue teaching the book. They simply did not rehire him.

And then a whole school year passed. A whole doggone school year passed, from June 2002 to July 2003. Then, suddenly, on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2003, that became the biggest story in the Los Angeles Times since Sept. 11.

Los Angeles is a city without a second major daily newspaper. Competition is gone. Mediocrity rules.

There is neither rhyme nor reason to the utterly skewered treatment of Israel in that newspaper. And, when there are no Israelis to fry, the paper will turn a minor incident that happened a year ago in a seventh-grade classroom into a story that rivals the paper’s coverage of the Columbine shootings and the space shuttle Columbia tragedy.

It is for that reason that the paper reaches fewer homes in the pro-Israel community. So many of my colleagues and congregants just do not care. Whether Israel will stand, whether she will hold Judea and Samaria — none of it seems interrelated to the coverage in the Los Angeles Times. So we care less.

It is remarkable that Shalhevet permitted a character like this fellow to teach his politics there in the first place. Not Page One remarkable — just small-time remarkable. So he taught. He is gone. A year passed. End of story.

Faced with the ultimate plight of the liberal, Shalhevet drew from distinctly nonliberal sources — Jewish sources — and ultimately made a gentle decision that the right to survive is not a subject for debate. Liberal to the end, it did not require the English literature teacher to stop teaching nonsense or to go home. It let him finish the year.

But, in the end, Shalhevet swallowed hard and chose Jewish survival. As a result, it taught some of its students that there are red lines that many Jews will not cross. And survival is one of them. Survival is not for discussion. Survival is not for debate.

And the greater community of Los Angeles read all about it in the Sunday Times.

Dov Fischer, an attorney and political affairs commentator in Los Angeles, is rabbi of Congregation Kol Simcha of Calabasas, a modern Orthodox synagogue.