These High Holy Days, hoping for a future free from Hyde


I teach high school sex ed, and the hardest talk I have with my students isn’t about their views on abortion; it’s about how they can’t expect to access abortion unless they live in the “right” place and have the “right” job. Regardless of their personal feelings about abortion — some are comfortable with it and others wrestle with their beliefs — all of my students express confusion and dismay over the needless politicization of this care.

Unfortunately for my students, the situation is a lot worse than what we discuss in class. September 30 marks the 40th anniversary of the Hyde Amendment. First enacted in 1976 to prohibit abortion care for poor women, Hyde and the many federal abortion coverage restrictions for which it’s paved the way, punish a select group of women for becoming pregnant, with the poorest among us hit hardest. 

Hyde bans coverage for abortion for individuals enrolled in most federal health plans and programs, and is reauthorized by Congress annually as part of the federal appropriations process. Its reach is vast. If my students join the Peace Corps, the military, or work for the federal government in any other capacity, they won’t have the coverage they need to access their basic constitutional right to abortion care.

Worse, only 15 states choose to provide additional coverage for abortion using their own locally raised revenue. Many low-income women enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare don’t have coverage unless they are willing to go through the traumatic process of proving rape, incest or life endangerment. The same applies to low-income women living in the District of Columbia, living in federal prisons or detention centers, and Native American women. Should my students require health care through a federal program outside of California, they will likely experience a dearth of options.

Approximately one in three women will have an abortion before the age of 45. It is one of the most common reproductive health procedures. But the steady closure of low-cost reproductive health clinics across the nation has largely made abortion the privilege of higher income white women. Low-income women, often of color, are effectively forced to delay abortion until it’s too costly and more complicated. A woman who wants to get an abortion but is denied is more likely to fall into poverty than a woman who can get an abortion.

Bans that deny coverage for abortion also strip low-income women of their religious freedom. The majority of people of faith nationwide support access to the full range of reproductive services, but Hyde allows elected officials with specific religious views to impose their beliefs on all of us. Women are being denied the ability to follow their own faith and values when making the decision to become a parent. Taking this decision out of women’s hands also infantilizes us, as we are deemed incapable of making the right decisions for ourselves, in private, with our doctors.

I want my students to have the same religious freedoms and care options wherever they go in the US. This is why I volunteer with the National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles (NCJW/LA), which strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children and families. This September 25-October 1, NCJW/LA will join a broad coalition of reproductive rights, health, and justice organizations, as well as faith groups, for a United for Abortion Coverage Week of Action. Our fellow faith organizations include Catholics for Choice, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and many others.

Our traditions are diverse, but we stand together in opposition to the Hyde Amendment, and in support of the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act (HR 2972). The EACH Woman Act will end bans that deny abortion coverage to individuals enrolled in federal health plans and programs.

For the Jewish community, this week of action will culminate with the start of Rosh Hashanah. This is the Jewish new year. It’s a time to reflect on the mistakes of the past and plan for a better future. It is my hope that the future will bring an end to the devastating effects of the Hyde Amendment. A future where women have the resources to make their own decisions about their bodies and families, without political interference and economic coercion.  A future where I can tell my students that they will have the same rights, regardless of their beliefs, wherever they go in the United States.


Rosalind Helfand teaches high school Sex Ed and serves on the Reproductive Justice Committee at the National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles (NCJW/LA). She is a recipient of NCJW/LA’s Emerging Leader Award. A nonprofits and government advisor, she frequently consults for the West Hollywood Women’s Leadership Conference, and she’s been a lead organizer of the West Hollywood Human Rights Speakers Series.

Esther’s choice


During the holiday of Purim, celebrated this week, Jews recount the story of Esther, a secretly Jewish woman who becomes queen, and the choices she makes to save her people. Esther’s actions were aimed at gaining acceptance for a minority religion that was reviled, and preventing the murder of its members. Even today, the echoes of Esther’s story are powerful and enduring. But she might be surprised to learn how the concept of religious freedom is being used now—not to protect minority religious practice or combat religious intolerance, but to give special exceptions from laws designed to prevent intolerance or provide needed services to all people.

Indeed, this year, on the day Purim begins, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on an important case relating to reproductive health access, in particular contraceptive coverage. Zubik v. Burwell considers whether religiously affiliated organizations can successfully claim that their religious expression rights would be violated if they filled out a government form. The form in question is designed to accommodate the organizations’ objections to providing their employees with coverage for contraception, which is a requirement of the Affordable Care Act. The petitioners in the seven consolidated cases object to providing contraceptive coverage, and argue in Zubik that filling out the form is in itself unduly burdensome on their religious practices, because providing the information triggers the coverage for their employees to be provided by someone else. Their logic is like that of a conscientious objector in a war refusing to tell the government she will not serve, because if she does, that means the government will send someone in her place. Having to register the objection in some way may be a burden, but arguably only logistically, not in a moral or religious sense.

My organization, Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), long has been committed to supporting bold choices, even ones that don’t free an entire people. JCPA strongly supports a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions, and has opposed efforts to deny access to reproductive rights, contraception, and family planning services.  In the Zubik case, JCPA joined with the AJC, Union for Reform Judaism, and Central Conference of American Rabbis in an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief explaining why the accommodation does not impose a substantial burden on the petitioners’ exercise of religion.  In 2014, JCPA participated in a brief on the predecessor to this case, Hobby Lobby, also with AJC. Though these briefs represent the broad consensus view in the Jewish community, some of JCPA's member agencies, including the Orthodox Union, have not taken a position on the central issue in these cases. JCPA has been involved in dozens of civil rights cases, including serving as a plaintiff in a seminal school prayer case, Engel v. Vitale. JCPA is concerned that access to medical care coverage for essential health needs could be curtailed if the Court does not rule favorably in the Zubik case.

Equally important, this case is part of an ongoing and troubling trend in which claims of religious freedom are being wielded as trump cards to allow discrimination or deny other people’s rights. For example, some states have passed laws in the name of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that go far beyond the federal law’s initial charge. Some of these laws give protections to businesses that refuse to serve certain patrons, claiming providing services to these individuals violates their religious beliefs. This is a use of religious freedom that is disingenuous at best, and venal at worst. As a religious organization, we have a special duty to speak out when religious freedom rights are used as an excuse to abridge the rights of others.

In this case, those rights are women’s rights to contraceptive coverage. Thinking how far we have come from the time of ancient Persia, it is hard to believe that in 2016 women’s choices are still being threatened. But there are bills and policies all the time in Congress and in state legislatures that seek to undo women’s access to reproductive health care. JCPA continues to believe that reproductive health decisions are best made by individuals in consultation with their families, health care professionals, and with whomever else they choose. We respect and affirm the extensive Jewish teaching and tradition on family planning, including access to contraception, and abortion—understanding that a decision to end a pregnancy is a difficult and deeply personal one, and that people do not take these decisions lightly. We trust women to make their own decisions about their reproductive lives; and for women who seek assistance in making difficult reproductive health decisions, we support full and unfettered access to confidential, affordable, and accurate health and medical guidance of whatever kind they desire, whether spiritual, religious, or secular.

Many women who have made serious reproductive health decisions, such as terminating a pregnancy, don’t discuss them, even though those decisions may have been significant in their lives. Esther also chose to keep her Jewishness secret for a while, but eventually revealed it and convinced King Ahasuerus to stop vilifying, and to spare the lives of, her people. We do need to be reminded every year: It is, unfortunately, still time to speak up for women, battle intolerance, and affirm people’s ability to make their own decisions and be treated with respect.


Hanna Liebman Dershowitz is an attorney and serves as Director of Legal Affairs and Policy Development for JCPA.

Planned Parenthood says Colorado shooter opposed abortion


Planned Parenthood said on Sunday that news reports that the gunman who attacked its Colorado health clinic had uttered “no more baby parts” during his arrest showed that the suspect was motivated by an anti-abortion agenda.

The remark attributed to the suspect, identified by police as Robert Lewis Dear, was an apparent reference to Planned Parenthood's abortion activities and its role in delivering fetal tissue to medical researchers, a hot button issue in the 2016 race for the presidency. 

“We now know the man responsible for the tragic shooting at PP's health center in Colorado was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion,” the organization said on Twitter.

Conservatives have accused Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides a range of health services, including abortion, of illegally selling baby parts, an accusation it has strenuously denied.

Dear, a 57-year-old South Carolina native who moved to Colorado, made the remarks during his arrest after a standoff lasting several hours at the Colorado Springs clinic on Friday, NBC News and other media outlets reported.

Reuters was unable to independently confirm those reports of Dear's comments though the reports cited unnamed law enforcement sources.

While Dear's remarks could hint at a possible motive for Friday's rampage, NBC's sources stressed that investigators were still not sure why the gunman launched the attack.

Authorities have steadfastly declined to discuss a motive for the attack, saying their investigation was still under way.

But Colorado Springs police on Sunday sent a tweet that said unofficial leaks could jeopardize the investigation and prosecution, without specifically mentioning the words attributed to Dear. 

Dear, who appeared to have moved to a remote community in Colorado last year, has been jailed ahead of a court appearance scheduled for Monday.

The shooting was believed to be the first deadly attack at an abortion provider in the United States in six years. The Colorado Springs center has been repeatedly targeted for protests by anti-abortion activists.

At least eight workers at clinics providing abortions have been killed since 1977, according to the National Abortion Federation. The most recent was in 2009 when physician George Tiller was shot to death at a church in Wichita, Kansas.

While calling the shooting “an incredible tragedy,” Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee on Sunday dismissed talk that harsh anti-abortion rhetoric may have contributed to the attack.

“What he did is domestic terrorism,” the former Arkansas governor told CNN, referring to the gunman. 

“There's no excuse for killing other people, whether it's inside … Planned Parenthood clinics, where many millions of babies die, or whether it's people attacking Planned Parenthood,” Huckabee said.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive who is running for the Republican nomination, said on Fox News it was “typical left-wing tactics” to demonize opponents of abortion or the “sale of body parts” because what she said was “obviously a tragedy.”

Planned Parenthood countered in a statement issued after remarks by the Republicans.

“It's not enough to denounce the tragedy without also denouncing the poisonous rhetoric that fueled it,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said. “Instead, some politicians are continuing to stoke it, which is unconscionable.” 

Planned Parenthood came under fierce criticism this year after some of its officials were secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group discussing compensation for providing human tissue from aborted fetuses to researchers.

Critics say the footage is evidence that Planned Parenthood has illegally sold baby parts, but the organization denies the accusation, saying that some affiliates have donated tissue for research and were paid a small fee to cover costs. 

Planned Parenthood recently announced it was discontinuing the practice, aiming to tamp down the controversy, but critics say that is an admission of guilt.

The Center for Medical Progress, which produced the videos, issued a short statement on its website on Sunday, saying it “condemns the barbaric killing spree in Colorado Springs by a violent madman.”

The attack led Governor John Hickenlooper to call for both sides of the debate overPlanned Parenthood's activities to “tone down the rhetoric.”

“I think we should have a discussion at least urging caution when we discuss some of these issues, so we don't get people to a point of going out and committing violence,” the Democratic governor told CNN, describing the rampage as “a form of terrorism.”

The national security and civil rights divisions of the U.S. Justice Department have joined state and local authorities in investigating the shooting, it said in a statement. That raises the possibility that the federal government may bring a terrorism or civil rights charge, or both. 

TWO CIVILIAN CASUALTIES

Hickenlooper revealed that the two civilian fatalities were a man and a woman, but he offered no further information and would not say whether they were patients or employees at the clinic. Planned Parenthood said all of its employees had escaped unharmed.

Authorities have said they would reveal nothing about the pair until after their autopsy reports, likely on Monday.

Garrett Swasey, 44, the officer killed in the attack, worked for the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He had joined city police in responding to reports of shots fired at the clinic. The father of two served as an elder at a local church. 

“We will cherish his memory, especially those times he spent tossing the football to his son and snuggling with his daughter on the couch,” his widow, Rachel Swasey, said in a statement.

In addition to the three fatalities, nine people were injured, including five police officers.

Except for his name and age, police have only said that Dear recently resided in rural Hartsel, about 60 miles (96 km) west of Colorado Springs. Official records show that he has a history of brushes with the law, mostly in South Carolina, but no criminal convictions.

One of Dear's Hartsel neighbors described him as a loner who lived on his remote property with a woman. Zigmond Post Jr., said Dear once gave him a pamphlet critical of President Barack Obama.

House Republicans vote to strip Planned Parenthood funds


House Republicans voted to deny funds to women's healthcare provider Planned Parenthood for a year on Friday but the action did little to quell party desires to use a spending bill as leverage in their fight to punish the group in an abortion controversy.

Congress adjourned for the weekend with an Oct. 1 government shutdown deadline fast approaching and no clear plan from Republican leaders for extending funding for federal agencies.

Many conservative Republicans had called for the stop-gap spending measure to deny funding to Planned Parenthood, but others in the party, aware of Democratic opposition, had said this would increase the likelihood of a second government shutdown in two years.

House Speaker John Boehner, trying to release some steam from his caucus, chose to delay consideration of a spending bill vote and put the stand-alone defunding bill to a vote, along with a separate measure aimed at banning abortions that involve live births.

Both measures passed easily, largely on party lines.

Planned Parenthood faces allegations, which it denies, of improperly selling fetal tissue from abortions. The non-profit group said Internet videos that have inflamed anti-abortion sentiment among Republicans “falsely” portray its participation in tissue donation programs for medical research.

Several House Republicans said the two bills passed on Friday would be blocked by Senate Democrats, and stronger action to stop Planned Parenthood funding may be necessary.

“I think you still need to continue to look at the funding mechanism as a potential vehicle to stop the murders,” said Representative Bill Flores of Texas, who heads a group of 172 House conservatives.

During debate of the two bills, Democratic Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York said the legislation “attempts to criminalize legal medical care and punish women by rolling back reproductive choices.”

Representative Richard Hudson of North Carolina said he was concerned that anti-Planned Parenthood policy provisions in the spending bill would prompt a shutdown without stopping the practices.

And Representative Roger Williams of Texas said, “There are “people like me who can’t find a way to vote for anything that funds Planned Parenthood.”

The White House again called on Republicans to enter budget talks to ease automatic spending constraints, but said a short funding extension was still needed.

“I would not envision a long extension of funding at current levels, but rather enough time for Congress to finally convene the talks, reach an agreement and implement it,” White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said.

‘Stories from the Frontline’ commemorating Roe v. Wade


“My first abortion was in 1966,” began Tony Award-winning actress L. Scott Caldwell in front of a packed house at a National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) event Jan. 22 commemorating the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Caldwell was performing someone else’s story, the heart-wrenching narrative of a woman who got a black-market abortion in Los Angeles without anesthetic.

The evening at NCJW/LA on Fairfax Avenue, dubbed “Stories From the Frontline,” was filled with narratives about women. Some involved a speaker’s college dorm mate, an abuelita (grandmother) or a deeply personal confession. With theater lights dimmed, the intimate ambience recalled that of “The Vagina Monologues,” a production by Eve Ensler. 

Other actors invited to convey these stories included Amy Brenneman, Michael Cory Davis, Damon Gupton and Elizabeth Triplett. Pro-choice activist Lenzi Sheible, president and founder of Fund Texas Choice, a nonprofit that pays travel expenses for low-income Texans seeking abortions, participated as well. 

Around 250 people attended the event, including pro-choice activists sporting pins with slogans such as “Abortion on demand and without apology” and “It’s the Supreme Court, stupid!”  

“It’s great to see a room that’s filled wall to wall with people,” marveled Ruth Zeitzew, NCJW/LA’s vice president, as she introduced the night’s emcee, human-rights advocate Rosalind Helfand, at the start of the evening.

Before the storytelling portion began, Joyce Schorr, founder of Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project, and social justice attorney Sandra Fluke spoke about the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion and the legislation that has since tried to chip away at it. The 1973 decision, which was brought on behalf of Norma McCorvy (“Jane Roe”), is still treading water and struggling to prove itself, as some continue to wage war on the issue and on women’s basic human rights in general, according to Schorr. 

“Unfortunately, we’re losing that war,” she said. 

Schorr shared the experience that ignited her activism on the issue. It happened when her college roommate started hemorrhaging after undergoing an illegal abortion in 1969. Luckily, their friend’s father was a doctor — going to the hospital was out of the question in their minds — and his house call ultimately “saved her life — but not so many woman wound up like she did,” Schorr said.

Fluke gave a rundown on current legislation dealing with reproductive rights and prefaced it with, “I wish, like President [Barack] Obama, I could tell you that our union is strong, and I wish I could give you all the opportunity to rise and clap after every sentence during my State of the Union because I can tell you’re that kind of crowd. But, unfortunately, that is not what I can say to you this evening.”

She went on to discuss a Republican-sponsored bill that would have banned all abortions taking place after 20 weeks, save for a few narrow exceptions, such as victims of sexual assault who reported their attack. Two female GOP leaders ended up withdrawing their co-sponsorship of the proposed legislation because of the limitations in the exception clause, and the White House released a Jan. 20 statement calling the bill “an assault on a woman’s right to choose.” The very next day, Republicans scrapped the bill and turned their attention to the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2015, which bans the use of federal money for abortions or for insurance plans that cover abortions.

The weekend of Jan. 23-25 saw numerous “March for Life” demonstrations across the nation — about 50,000 pro-life activists marched Jan. 24 in San Francisco — but, for one night, the issue was focused on the stories of individuals and the freedom to choose.

Gupton (“The Divide,” “Whiplash”) told the narrative of a grandchild recounting what happened to his abuelita, who endured two alleyway abortion procedures that included a bottle of Clorox and a metal hanger. Triplett, of Hulu’s “Battleground” series, told the story of a 16-year-old girl who was too young to buy the Plan B morning-after pill, ending on a note of suspense after the pharmacist handed the teen a pregnancy test. And Sheible told her own story about getting a Cuban client to Albuquerque, N.M., safely for an abortion. 

Brenneman (“Judging Amy”) responded to Sheible’s story by saying, “I feel like I’m sitting next to Harriet Tubman.” She then went on to read the narrative of Jennifer Whalen, a mother who served a criminal sentence after ordering mifepristone pills online for her underage daughter without a doctor’s prescription in order to induce a miscarriage.

The final speaker of the night, Maya Paley, NCJW/LA’s director of legislative and community engagement, took the stage and opted, instead of reading her prewritten speech, to speak candidly to the audience. 

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is my story,” Paley said. She went on to tell her experience about finding out she was pregnant while working as a human-rights researcher in Israel and eventually deciding to return to the United States to undergo an abortion. (Before leaving Israel, however, she had a miscarriage, she said). It’s a story, she announced, her mom hadn’t heard yet — “and she’s in the room.” 

“I want to get to a point and say, ‘Raise your hand if you’ve had an abortion,’ and it’s OK for people to raise their hands,” Paley said. 

And, at that moment, a sea of hands went up.

In Israel’s abortion debate, pro-choice seems to be the only choice


A billboard in central Tel Aviv features a black-and-white photo of a distressed woman above a caption in bold red letters that reads, “The pain and remorse from my abortion accompany me every day.”

The billboard is an advertisement for Efrat, an anti-abortion outfit that dubs itself “The Committee to Rescue Israel’s Babies” and offers financial support to pregnant women in an effort to persuade them not to terminate their pregnancies.

Efrat has never protested outside a gynecological clinic, nor has it sought to restrict Israel’s fairly liberal abortion laws. Last month, the organization supported a proposal to allow women to undergo abortions without first appearing before a state committee, as the law currently requires.

Efrat’s president, Eli Schussheim, describes himself as pro-choice, a position he adopts more from pragmatism rather than principle.

“If I tell a woman she has no right to abort, she’ll tell me to get out of here,” Schussheim told JTA. “I said I’ll be pro-choice. It’s important to give counseling to women. I think laws don’t educate.”

From the Western Wall to the West Bank, religious issues dominate Israel’s political discourse. Orthodox parties make up a quarter of the Knesset and have sat in nearly every governing coalition since the state’s founding, using their political might to push for widely despised privileges that benefit Israel’s religious minority.

But while religion looms large in Israel, its abortion laws are, in practice, among the world’s most liberal. Though any woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy must demonstrate to a three-person committee that having the baby will cause her emotional or physical harm, or that the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, more than 99 percent of requests are approved.

Since Israel legalized abortions in 1977 — just four years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision galvanized conservative Christian opposition to abortion in the United States — there has been no significant movement to outlaw abortion. In January, the Knesset passed a law allowing government funding for nearly all abortions, some 40,000 of which are performed each year in the Jewish state.

Experts say Israel’s secular foundations, along with Jewish law’s relative ambiguity on abortion, have kept religious political parties mostly silent on the issue and led groups like Efrat to focus on preventing abortions rather than outlawing them. Aliza Lavie, a lawmaker who proposed abolishing abortion committees at a recent Knesset conference, said Israelis are pro-choice because they understand women don’t approach abortion flippantly.

“I think there’s an understanding here that we love children in Israel,” Lavie told JTA. “When a woman already gets to that point [of wanting an abortion], she has just reasons. Israeli culture is very pro-kids.”

Traditional Jewish law doesn’t regard life as beginning at conception, and even mandates abortion if a mother’s life is in danger, so opposing abortion isn’t as high a priority for Israeli religious activists as it is for some of their American counterparts. Haredi Orthodox parties in the past have tried to outlaw late-term abortions, but the bills failed early and no religious party has made abortion a signature issue.

“In the world of the Catholic Church, an abortion is thought of as murder even in the early stages of pregnancy, but in Judaism it’s not so clear,” said Orthodox Rabbi Benny Lau, who attended the Knesset conference.

Absent a powerful anti-abortion movement, Israel’s abortion debate centers on technical policy questions such as who should say what to women seeking abortion or which abortions should be funded by the state.

Skeptical that it could ever get abortion outlawed, Efrat has focused instead on removing incentives for women to abort. According to Schussheim, 60 percent of Israeli abortions stem from financial concerns. So Efrat has mobilized a national network of 3,000 women volunteers who provide counseling during the pregnancy and, for those who need it, material support for the baby’s first two years — anything from a crib and stroller to monthly packages of diapers and wipes.

Efrat’s chief social worker, Ruth Tidhar, says the organization supports eliminating abortion committees for similarly practical reasons. Tidhar believes they don’t adequately inform women of the risks of abortion. Instead, she would like doctors to provide information about the medical risks and a required 72-hour waiting period to enable women to consider the information.

“It’s supposed to be a stopgap [to say] ‘Think about this, it’s a serious decision, it’s going to influence the rest of your life,’ ” Tidhar said. “I don’t believe that any woman goes to have an abortion without some degree of ambivalence and bad feelings.”

In supporting the abolition of the committees, Efrat has made common cause with the Israeli feminist organization Isha L’Isha, which opposes the panels on principle as an impediment to a woman’s right to choose. Isha L’Isha also would like to see women receive more information about the procedure, as well as medical advice.

According to New Family, an Israeli organization that fights religious coercion in marriage, divorce and child care, half of Israel’s 40,000 annual abortions take place illegally, as women prefer to bypass the committees. Abolishing the committees, Lavie said, would remove the incentive to undergo an illegal abortion.

“Only the woman can say what’s best for her,” said Ronit Piso, Isha L’Isha’s women and medical technology coordinator. “Only she can make the judgement if it’s economic or anything else. We do think it’s important that women get advice and counseling on the medical implications and counseling on the process itself.”

Israeli gov’t to fund abortions for women ages 20-33


Israeli women between the ages of 20 and 33 will be eligible to receive government-funded abortions in 2014.

The new eligibility is part of the country’s state-subsidized basket of health services for 2014, approved on Monday. Currently, the government only pays for abortions for medical reasons and for girls under 18.

Some 6,300 women between ages 20 and 33 are expected to have abortions in Israel in 2014. All the women still will be required to receive the approval of a government panel before undergoing the procedure; the panel approves nearly all cases.

The head of the health basket committee, Jonathan Halevy of Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, said the goal is eventually to raise the covered age to 40.

Contraception is not covered in the health basket.

The committee announced the approval of 83 new drugs and treatments for 2014.  The basket still must be approved by the Ministry of Health and the Cabinet.

Self-inflicted wounds


Letters to the Editor: Abortion, Barack Obama, Chris Christie


Prager on Abortion

I am so very tired of middle-aged white men weighing in on abortion, professing to be experts on morality, female anatomy or forensic pathology (“Jews and Abortion,” Nov. 16). Moreover, these same men rarely apply a similar analysis to the morality of the death penalty. So, unless Mr. Prager has a direct line to HaShem, I doubt that he can provide us with a code of universally accepted morality. Some of us may believe that rape does not justify abortion because the fetus is guiltless. Others may believe that it’s wrong to strap a teenage girl with an unwanted pregnancy. Either way, it is for the woman to decide.

Alice J. GarfieldLos Angeles

Mr. Prager laments the fact that rabbis generally don’t call abortions immoral and further that most Jews don’t distinguish between the legality and morality of abortions, while they do distinguish between the legality and morality of adultery. An apples-and-oranges dichotomy. Abortion and adultery are not similar. The reason Jews are pro-choice is because abortion is not immoral. Under Jewish law, life starts at birth, period. English and American common law have followed Torah. It is just Mr. Prager and his Christian friends who believe otherwise. An appropriate example cited by Mr. Prager, namely that the ancient Greeks let deformed and sick kids die while the Jews took care of their sick, seems to encapsulate the attitude of so-called pro-lifers (i.e., after kids are born, forget about them). 

James Auspitz, Los Angeles


Defining ‘Anti’

I’ve been reading Dennis Prager’s columns for a while now, and the thing I notice is that he uses the expressions “anti-Zionism,” “anti-Semitism” and “anti-Israel” frequently. He likes to say that most of this “anti” stuff comes from the left but doesn’t take the time to satisfactorily state what defines those labels for him. He did mention, in a recent reply to a letter (Nov. 9), a Gallup poll about sympathies with the Palestinians and Israel, and how they pan out with the Republicans and Democrats. But just because someone sympathizes more with the Palestinians doesn’t automatically make them anti-Israel. Maybe they’re concerned with the way Palestinians are being treated in that country. When Mr. Prager continually uses these “anti” labels, he’s automatically invalidating and demonizing these opinions on the left without even attempting to figure out where the views are coming from. In using those kinds of “black and white” labels, he’s adding to the problem of effective communication between people of different views, turning it into an “us versus them” mentality.

Ian Rosen, Los Angeles


Respect for Warschaw

I think that you are close-minded in your opinion that only Democrats believe in the reality of science and economics (“The Warschaw Way,” Nov. 16). Although I respect your opinion, I think that you need to respect (or at least consider) the opinion of many Republicans that it is not realistic to continue handing out checks when there is no money left in the checkbook.

While it may be easy for you to generalize about Republicans, it is more fair and honest to say that many (but not all) Republicans believe that state governments should help truly needy people with welfare, food stamps, homeless shelters, free drug needles, birth control and maybe even abortions — but only if they have the money to pay for those acts of charity. 

Michael Waterman, Encino 


Misplaced Concerns

Mr. Rosner, it is not the Israeli people who need to be reassured and it is not President Obama who should act like a responsible adult (“Obama, Go to Israel,” Nov. 16). But it is the American people who need to be reassured and it is the Israeli government that needs to act responsibly and no better time than during [Israel’s] upcoming election.

Theresa H. McGowan, Santa Monica 


Gov. Christie’s Character

I loved Marty Kaplan’s column about Chris Christie, confirmation bias, internal narrative, etc. (“My Chris Christie Hypocrisy,” Nov. 9). It’s really interesting how genes, brains, belief systems, plain old emotions and being hardwired for story play into things — especially politics. Especially when the nation, friends and family are so earnest, yet, so divided about politics. Even if it is politically advantageous for Christie for a 2016 presidential bid, I’m on board with Kaplan’s hypocritical/insightful/evolving opinion about the governor. Christie stepped up to the plate. Character is revealed under pressure.

Hilary Smith, via e-mail


CORRECTIONS

The name of David Siegel, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles, was misspelled in the article “Fighting for Religious Pluralism in Israel” (Nov. 16). 

The byline on a story by Hillel Kuttler was misspelled (“Attracting Gen Y at GA.,” Nov. 16).

Jews and abortion


One of the most frequent questions Christians ask me as a Jew is, “Why aren’t Jews committed to protecting the unborn?”

The question is not asked in anger. The questioners are truly confused. Christians think of Jews as the people who brought the greatest value system into the world — biblical, monotheistic values upon which Western civilization is based.

It was the Torah, after all, that introduced the idea that the human being is created in God’s image, and therefore infinitely valuable. So, while the Greeks allowed sickly or unsightly children to die of exposure, Jews kept every child alive.

Most Jews will respond that what concerns them regarding the human fetus is protecting a woman’s right to have an abortion. It is not that they are “pro-abortion,” but that they are first and foremost pro-choice.

Now, that response would be understandable, and perhaps even morally unobjectionable, if Jews took a moral stand against most abortions while they advocated for the legality of abortion.

What we have here are two separate issues. Ironically, however, both pro-life and pro-choice advocates choose to them see as one.

The first is the legality of abortion. 

The other is the morality of abortion.

Pro-life people argue that since abortions are almost all immoral, abortion — unless performed to save the mother’s life or, for others, in cases of rape or incest — should be illegal.

Meanwhile pro-choice activists argue that since all abortions should be legal, they will never judge any abortions to be immoral.

Because they do not distinguish the legal and moral issues, both sides have done injury to moral clarity about abortion as well as to their respective causes.

By advocating the criminalizing of nearly all abortions, the pro-life forces have hurt their cause. Even the many Americans who are morally ambivalent about abortion on demand — a 2011 Gallup poll showed that 51 percent of Americans believe abortion is morally wrong and only 39 percent believe that abortion is morally acceptable — are against criminalizing abortion. The pro-life movement should have concentrated its rhetorical firepower on the morality of abortion, not its legality.

One the other side, the pro-choice forces are so passionate about the legality of abortions that they are silent about its morality.

And that is where most Jews — especially rabbis — have been a moral disappointment.

Without having to abandon their pro-choice position, any Jew who speaks as a Jew or who cares about Jewish moral values should acknowledge that many abortions have no moral defense. Yet, I have almost never encountered a pro-choice Jew who does so.

Let me give an example of where Jews would surely be pro-choice yet be outspoken about the moral issue: adultery.

I presume that just about every Jew — from ultra-Orthodox and politically conservative to completely irreligious and politically left — would oppose criminalizing adultery. In other words, all Jews are pro-choice on adultery. Yet, I would also presume that nearly all Jews, and certainly all rabbis, if asked whether they are pro-choice on adultery, would respond that while they are, they want to make it abundantly clear that they regard adultery as immoral.

Why, then, can’t pro-choice Jews — especially rabbis — say the same thing about abortion? Why can’t they say that while they are pro-choice, as Jews and as moral humans they regard most abortions immoral?

Is it moral to abort a female fetus solely because the mother wants a boy?

Is it moral for an affluent married woman to have an abortion solely because she just doesn’t want a child at this time, or just doesn’t want any more children?

Is it moral to have an abortion when the fetus can live outside the womb — and there is no medical necessity to have one?

Is it moral to have an abortion for no medical reason even though there are myriad married couples who ache to adopt a newborn?

Shouldn’t everyone be troubled by these questions? 

If the Jewish community took as strong a stand on the immorality of most abortions as it does on keeping abortion legal, it would not only strengthen the pro-choice cause, it would bring moral honor to the Jewish people and to Judaism. That almost no non-Orthodox rabbis, let alone Jewish women’s groups and Jewish organizations preoccupied with social justice, have publicly expressed moral misgivings concerning any abortions is not a credit to Judaism or the Jewish people. 

This is one more reason one must sadly conclude that for many, perhaps most, Jews leftism has supplanted Judaism as their religion; Judaism has become largely a cultural expression and an ethnic identity. One way to reassert the primacy of Judaism would be for pro-choice Jews — again, especially rabbis — to publicly assert the difference between abortion’s legality and most abortions’ morality.


Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk show host (AM 870 in Los Angeles) and founder of PragerUniversity.com. His latest book is the New York Times best-seller “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph” (HarperCollins, 2012).

If Romney wins: Five things every Jew should know about Mormonism


1. Devout Mormons can be found all across the political spectrum.

The Mormon Church doesn’t endorse candidates or political parties, and although most American Mormons are Republicans, a Mormon Democrat has served as the Senate Majority Leader for the last five years. Owing to our history of persecution and emphasis on self-reliance, there is also a noteworthy group of Mormons with libertarian sympathies who do not easily identify with either party.

Mormons can be found on all sides of most issues. On immigration, for example, many Mormons tend to be more liberal than other Republicans (or Democrats, for that matter). Many of us have served missions abroad, and tend not to be too judgmental of people who come here seeking a better life. Although Mormons generally agree on many important moral issues (see below), there is no consensus on economics and the proper role of government. We all agree, for example, that we have an obligation to help the poor. However, the extent to which government should help meet their needs by taxing others is a point of contention among followers of most faiths, including ours.

2. Mormonism is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Our church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) bears the name of the Christian Savior, we believe in the God of Israel, we accept the Hebrew Bible and New Testament as Scripture, we worship in chapels and temples, and we consider ourselves to be covenant Israelites. Mormons follow the Ten Commandments and are Noahides. In addition, the Abrahamic Covenant is central to our faith. Like Jews, the family is central to our faith, and our idea of heaven is to live with our spouses and families for eternity.

3. A Mormon president would not take orders from Salt Lake City.

If Mitt Romney wins, he’ll undoubtedly have the same arrangement with top church leaders that other Mormons have with local leaders: They don’t tell us how to do our jobs, and we don’t tell them how to run the church. Even Romney’s most intractable foes haven’t accused LDS church headquarters of drafting Romneycare in Massachusetts, and it’s safe to assume that church leaders aren’t behind Harry Reid’s shameful promotion of Las Vegas gambling interests in Washington. Mormons are used to looking to their leaders for spiritual advice, not professional guidance. While I would certainly expect Romney to consult with Mormon leaders as part of his general outreach efforts to faith communities (including Jewish leaders), I am confident that he will be his own man when it comes to formulating policies for the nation. I am also confident that Mormons will not be overrepresented in his administration, as Romney has a history of hiring capable people from all backgrounds to work for him.

4. On moral issues, Mormons are not extreme right-wingers.

A closer look shows the views of most Mormons on these issues to be much more nuanced. Let’s take abortion, for example. The LDS church is very much against it but does allow for possible exceptions in the case of rape, incest, a threat to the mother’s life or when the baby is not expected to survive childbirth. That’s pretty much Romney’s campaign’s abortion platform.

On gay issues, it is accurate to say that Mormons oppose state-sanctioned, same-sex marriage. However, it is both inaccurate and insulting to say that we are anti-gay. We can and do support many other issues that are important to gays. For example, former LDS Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) introduced a Senate bill that would have added sexual orientation to the list of protected categories for hate crimes. Every Mormon I know is opposed to discrimination against gays in education, employment and housing. We also support rights for same-sex couples regarding hospitalization and medical care, probate rights, etc., so long as the integrity of the traditional family is not affected. As for theology, the LDS church teaches that homosexuality is not sinful in and of itself, as long as one remains chaste.

Although Mormons tend to have more children than the national average, our church doesn’t take a position on birth control. In addition, the church takes no position on capital punishment, stem-cell research, evolution or global warming. As a result, faithful Mormons are advocates for positions on all sides of these issues. 

5. Mormons are philo-Semites and pro-Israel. 

One of our basic Articles of Faith affirms: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes.” In 1841, LDS Apostle Orson Hyde offered a prayer on the Mount of Olives dedicating the Land of Israel for the gathering of the Jews. Israel went on to receive at least 11 apostolic blessings before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. For more than five decades (1870s-1920s), the church seriously considered establishing a Mormon colony in Palestine. Today, Brigham Young University has a beautiful center on Mount Scopus with the best view of the Old City in Jerusalem.

In the United States, Mormon pioneers arrived in the Utah territory in 1847. The first Jews arrived two years later, in 1849. The first Jewish worship service was held in 1864 in Salt Lake City. Rosh Hashanah was celebrated in Temple Square (the city center) in 1865. Brigham Young donated his personal land for a Jewish cemetery in 1866. In 1903, church President Joseph F. Smith spoke at the ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone for the state’s first Orthodox synagogue, which was largely paid for by the church. The second and third Jewish governors in the country were elected in Idaho (1914) and Utah (1916), the two states with the highest percentage of Mormons. Salt Lake City had a Jewish mayor by 1932, more than four decades before New York City.

Most Mormons in this country are very pro-Israel, and Romney is no exception. He has a close, decades-long personal relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who looks likely to be elected to another term. If Romney is elected, Jews and Israelis can be assured that they will have a true friend in the White House.


Mark Paredes writes the Jews and Mormons blog for the Jewish Journal and is a member of the LDS church's Jewish Relations Committee for Southern California. Read the Jews and Mormons blog at

Lying for the cause


There are many admirable values. The list includes, of course, goodness, integrity and compassion.

But there is one value without which civilization cannot survive, and without which evil is inevitable: truth.

I cannot think of a 20th-century evil not predicated on lies. It was years (if not centuries) of lying about Jews that enabled the Holocaust to take place. Otherwise, “ordinary men,” to use the title of historian Christopher Browning’s work on the perpetrators of the Holocaust, would not have slaughtered Jewish men, women, not to mention children and babies, had they not been brainwashed into believing that Jews were not human and were the source of Germany’s and the world’s problems.

The same with communism. Every communist regime was totalitarian — meaning, among other things, that it controlled what was deemed true. The Soviet Communist Party newspaper was therefore named “Pravda,” the Russian word for truth. But there was no pravda in Pravda.

Given the horrors that result from lies (I am referring largely to societal lies; in personal life, there are times when truth is not the highest value, such as when maintaining shalom bayit, peace in the home, or when lying to a murderer to save an innocent’s life), one would think that more people would value it. But not many do.

And the reason is simple: Most people think that their cause is more important than telling the truth.

The most recent example occurred this past weekend when Congressman Todd Akin (R-Mo.) was asked about his position on abortion for women who had become pregnant as a result of rape. The Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate from Missouri responded, in part, that “from what I understand from doctors, that [pregnancy as a result of a rape] is really rare …  the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

Now, if a lie is something one knows to be untrue, then, technically speaking, Rep. Akin wasn’t telling a lie. After all, he claimed that he understood this “from doctors”– and it is quite possible that someone did tell him that some doctors had made that claim.

What we have here, rather than a lie in that technical sense, are two other, more common assaults on truth:

First is the lack of desire to know the truth in order for the individual to continue to believe what he wants to believe, even when, as in the Akin claim, it is obviously absurd. Mr. Akin is undoubtedly familiar with the massive amount of rape committed by victorious armies throughout history. Does he believe that almost none of the victims got pregnant? And is he not aware of the tragedy of the women of Darfur raped by Sudanese Arab soldiers — and then abandoned by their families for getting pregnant out of wedlock?

As a member of the United States Congress, he surely knows about such things. So, what we have here is reason number one for the assault on truth: People believe what they want to believe more than they want to know, let alone assert, the truth.

And why this lack of desire to know the truth? 

The answer brings us to the second reason so many people don’t value truth: Their cause is always higher than truth telling. It’s permissible to lie on behalf of one’s noble cause (and what cause isn’t noble in the cause-holders’ eyes?)

I’ll give another conservative example: the claim that viewing pornography leads to rape. While many feminists also make this claim, it is mostly associated with religious conservatives. That the claim is patently false is easily demonstrated. First, the countries with the most lax laws governing pornography have the least rape, and many of the countries that ban pornography have the highest rates of sexual and other physical abuse of women. Second, the vast majority of men who look at pornographic images have never, and would never, commit rape. The fact that virtually all rapists have viewed porn is as meaningless as the fact that virtually all rapists are meat eaters.

But for many religious conservatives who regard pornography as a major sin against God, and feminists who regard it as major sin against women, truth telling is less important than their cause — fighting pornography.

This phenomenon is at least as common on the left. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman made up the false charge that Jared Loughner, the mentally deranged man who tried to kill former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (and killed six others) did so because of Republican Party hate rhetoric. Why did Krugman write this lie? Because it served his great cause: demonizing the right.

And progressives in California’s legislature have passed laws governing what goes into history textbooks from elementary school through high school — a certain amount of space must be allotted to blacks, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered. For many progressives, making students feel good about their ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation is more important than historical truth.

So, with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approaching, here’s a suggestion for any rabbi searching for a High Holy Day sermon topic: The primary importance of truth telling. Lies built Auschwitz.


Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

ADL slams Western Wall replica as part of anti-abortion center


The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) described a plan by Evangelical pastors in Kansas to build a replica of the Western Wall as part of an anti-abortion shrine as “an outrageous affront to the Jewish people.”

The International Pro-Life Memorial & National Life Center is being planned by anti-abortion activists in Wichita, which is known for its anti-abortion activism, the Forward reported.

The model of the Western Wall will be a full-size, exact replica. The activists view the Western Wall as the embodiment of remembering Jewish suffering during the Holocaust and now want the wall to memorialize some 60 million aborted fetuses.

The wall replica will be fronted by 60 simple white crosses, each representing 1 million aborted fetuses, according to the center’s Web site.

A Web site for the center says the wall, which is referred to by another of its names, the Wailing Wall, will be “a place of repentance, mediation and healing.”

“The International Pro-Life Center will be a national and international focal point to connect and integrate a variety of services which have the goal of promoting, bring healing, and enhancing human life,” the Web site’s introduction says.

The ADL called the proposed center a perversion of Judaism’s holiest site.

“Over the years we have seen a number of anti-abortion groups compare abortion to the Holocaust, but this takes the misuse of Jewish symbolism and history to another level,” Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director, said in a statement issued on July 16. “The Western Wall, this monumental symbol of Jewish grief and redemption, is being co-opted and distorted to promote an anti-abortion agenda and message. “Members of the pro-life movement are entitled to their opinions, but we wish they would not express them at the expense of Judaism’s holiest site and the Holocaust.”


Western Wall replica to be part of anti-abortion center


Evangelical pastors in Kansas are planning to build a replica of the Western Wall as part of an anti-abortion shrine.

The International Pro-Life Memorial and National Life Center is being planned by anti-abortion activists in Wichita, which is known for its anti-abortion activism.

The model of the Western Wall will be a full-size, exact replica. The activists view the Western Wall as the embodiment of remembering Jewish suffering during the Holocaust and now want the wall to memorialize some 60 million aborted fetuses.

The wall replica will be fronted by 60 simple white crosses, each representing 1 million aborted fetuses, according to the center’s website.

A website for the center says the wall, which is referred to by another of its names, the Wailing Wall, will be “a place of repentance, mediation, and healing.”

“The International Pro-life Center will be a national and international focal point to connect and integrate a variety of services which have the goal of promoting, bring healing, and enhancing human life,” the website introduction’s says.

The Anti-Defamation League in a statement called the proposed center “an outrageous affront to the Jewish people” and a perversion of Judaism’s holiest site.

“Over the years we have seen a number of anti-abortion groups compare abortion to the Holocaust, but this takes the misuse of Jewish symbolism and history to another level,” Abraham Foxman, ADL national director, said in a statement issued Monday. “The Western Wall, this monumental symbol of Jewish grief and redemption is being co-opted and distorted to promote an anti-abortion agenda and message.

“Members of the pro-life movement are entitled to their opinions, but we wish they would not express them at the expense of Judaism’s holiest site and the Holocaust.”

Abortion politics arrives in Israel


Israel’s paradoxical approach to abortion — the procedure is illegal unless approved by a committee, which gives the go-ahead to 98 percent of the requests — could radically change if a Knesset member has his way.

Nissim Zeev of the Sephardi Orthodox party Shas, who has said publicly that abortion is akin to “murder,” wants to make the procedure illegal after the 22nd week of pregnancy unless the pregnancy poses a danger to the mother’s health or the fetus suffers from severe defects and is unlikely to survive.

“This has nothing to do with women’s rights,” Zeev heatedly said in an interview. “I demand that we have a public debate on this campaign of murder.”

Political observers don’t think his measure will progress far, but Zeev has shined a spotlight on an issue that has never figured even vaguely in the country’s political campaigns. In fact, Israel does not even have an active anti-abortion movement.

Still, many rabbis, especially Charedi Orthodox, believe that the messianic redemption will be delayed until all souls are born. As a general rule, Jewish law allows abortion in the first 40 days of pregnancy and in cases where the life of the mother is in mortal danger.

“This is about the last thing we need right now — another conflict between the religious and the secular,” said one Knesset member from the coalition, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “We have enough political issues to deal with. Zeev has to understand that if it ain’t broke, it don’t need to be fixed.”

As a result, the legislator said, the proposal has been purposely buried in committee. Still, in Israel’s unpredictable political landscape, its existence on the dockets could bring it to the fore without warning.

It’s quite a contrast to the United States, where since the 1973 Roe v. Wade case legalizing abortion, the topic has been a heated political and social issue. The lack of controversy in Israel stems mostly from the large gap between law and practical reality.

The Israeli penal code states that termination of pregnancy is a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to five years. But the code also broadly addresses numerous circumstances in which an abortion may be legally performed, including benefit to emotional and financial well-being.

The procedure must be approved by a special committee with at least two physicians and one licensed social worker; at least one of the three must be a woman.

Yet approval is practically automatic if the pregnant woman is younger than 17 or older than 40; if the conception was a result of rape, incest or extramarital relations; if the pregnancy is likely to endanger the mother’s physical or mental well-being; or if the fetus has been diagnosed with a possible birth defect. 

Women also do not need the consent of any male, including the father of the fetus, nor do minors need the consent of parents or guardians. Israeli medical coverage offers an array of free testing for genetic and congenital birth defects.

Both Zeev and feminist organizations such as the Israel Women’s Network confirm that the committees approve 98 percent of requested abortions. 

Less than 10 percent of abortions in Israel are carried out after the 22nd week and some 20,000 legal abortions are performed in public hospitals every year in Israel, according to the Knesset research department. This does not include abortions performed because of concern for the mother’s physical health, which especially if there is any medical emergency are often not even brought before the committee.

It is unknown how many women avoid the committee — whether because they are between 17 and 40, or because of personal preference — and turn to a private doctor. Having an abortion is not a criminal offense and, according to binding legal norms, unless medical malpractice is involved, the physician performing the abortion will not be prosecuted. Private abortions cost $1,500 to $1,750.

Finally, making it impossible to know how many of the procedures are performed in total is that they can be listed as “medical interventions,” which can cover a broad category.

With all that in mind, most Israeli feminists and others favoring the availability of the option have been hesitant to challenge the status quo. But Zeev’s proposal may force their hand, acknowledges Tal Tamir, the director general of Women and Their Bodies, a feminist health organization.

The huge gap between the law’s paradoxical contradictions and practical life, she explains, reflects an attempt by Israeli society to live with all its internal tensions.

“On the one hand, some parts of Israeli society are very liberal, while other parts are very conservative,” Tamir said in an interview. “By making abortion illegal, the patriarchy maintains its hold over women’s bodies, but by making it available, it maintains a progressive, liberal facade.”

Indeed, there is a widely liberal, even permissive, attitude toward sexual activity in much of the Israeli secular culture. Secular schools provide coed sex education. The Israeli health plans don’t offer free birth control, but some high schools provide condoms through vending machines.

Further, the army provides at least one free abortion to every female soldier who requests one. While there is no civil marriage in Israel, civil law recognizes common-law marriage and cohabitation is commonly accepted.

Tamir says the prohibition on abortions for women 17 to 40 is another example of conflicting social pressures. 

“Israel is a very pro-natal society and carries a strong message that Jewish women should bear children, especially after the Holocaust,” she said. “We have the highest rate of IVF [in vitro fertilization] services — all paid for by the state — in the world. So women who are the ‘proper age to have children’ aren’t supposed to have abortions. But Israeli society also wants perfect children, so if there are defects, the abortion is considered OK.”

Furthermore, Tamir adds, the situation is discriminatory.

“Women who have the money go to private clinics. Underprivileged women are forced to go to a committee and plead their case,” she said. “And it really galls me that the state has the right to intervene in our bodies.

But, she says, “In the current political constellation, in which religious parties carry disproportionate weight, the situation could always be worse for women.”

Unlike Tamir, Knesset member Zehava Galon of the Meretz Party is determined to change the status quo. Last fall, she submitted a proposal to permit abortions for all women at any time, but the proposal failed to make it out of preliminary committees.

She insists, however, that she will continue to bring it to the Knesset for debate.

On the issues: GOP hopefuls on Israel, Iran, abortion, Social Security and more


In advance of Super Tuesday, JTA takes a look at the stances of the four Republican presidential candidates on some issues of Jewish interest. The candidates are listed in alphabetical order.

ABORTION

Newt Gingrich: Has said that abortion should not be legal, though he makes exceptions in cases of rape, incest and danger to a mother’s life. He signed a pledge promising to sign a federal law that would “protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.”

Ron Paul: Opposes abortion rights but argues the issue should be left up to the states. But he signed the pledge supporting a federal law banning abortion when the fetus is “capable of feeling pain.” He advocates repealing Roe v. Wade and defining in federal law that life begins at conception.

Mitt Romney: Says Roe v. Wade should be overturned but until then opposes federal laws that clash with it. He says that abortion should be a state issue. Romney has said that he would support state laws defining conception as the moment life begins. He has repudiated his past support for abortion rights.

Rick Santorum: Favors a constitutional ban on abortion. He believes abortion should be illegal with no exceptions for rape or incest. Santorum wants doctors who perform abortions to face criminal charges.

FOREIGN AID

Gingrich: Endorsed Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s proposal to start each country’s foreign aid allocation at zero every year before deciding how much it should receive. Gingrich believes, however, that the existing multi-year aid commitment to Israel should be honored.

Paul: Opposes all foreign aid, including to Israel. He says U.S. aid undermines Israeli sovereignty.

Romney: Endorsed Perry’s start-at-zero aid proposal and has said that the U.S. should not be borrowing money from China to pay for humanitarian aid for other countries. Romney supports increasing military aid to Israel.

Santorum: Defends foreign aid as a cost-effective means of promoting American interests abroad. “America is that shining city on the hill,” he said. “It is the city that comes to the aid of those in trouble in the world.”

IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM

Gingrich: Advocates assassinating Iran’s nuclear scientists and sabotaging its gasoline supply. He says he would give logistical support to Israel if it attacks Iran. Gingrich has questioned whether a bombing campaign could take out Iran’s nuclear sites, calling the notion “a fantasy.” He calls for regime change.

Paul: Argues that the Iranian nuclear threat is “blown out of proportion.” Instead of imposing sanctions on Iran, he suggests the U.S. should be “maybe offering friendship to them.” Paul says he would not object if Israel decides to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Romney: Calls a nuclear Iran “the greatest threat the world faces.” He says he supports “crippling sanctions” but would order a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities “if all else fails.” “Ultimately, regime change is what’s going to be necessary,” he said.

Santorum: Says that if sanctions do not stop the Iranian nuclear program, he would support tactical strikes against its nuclear sites. He proposes that the U.S. should give Iran an ultimatum to open up and dismantle its nuclear facilities or face military action.

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN RELATIONS

Gingrich: Says the Palestinians are an “invented” people but clarified that he supports a negotiated Palestinian state. He says he would move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Paul: Says the U.S. should not be dictating terms of a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. During Operation Cast Lead, he said Gaza was “like a concentration camp” and suggested that the Palestinians were being wrongly labeled the aggressors.

Romney: Says President Obama “threw Israel under the bus” and suggests there should not be “an inch of difference” between the U.S. and Israel. His website says he “will reject any measure that would frustrate direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Santorum: Said on the campaign trail that “all the people that live in the West Bank are Israelis, they’re not Palestinians. There is no ‘Palestinian.’ This is Israeli land.” He says that Israel has a right to build in the West Bank.

RELIGION AND STATE

Gingrich: Says that the “secular left” wants “a totally neutral government without meaning.” Argues that the left’s “stand for a separation of church and state” has “perverted Thomas Jefferson’s words beyond belief.”

Paul: Has argued that there is no constitutional basis for “a rigid separation between church and state.” Says that while the Constitution prohibits theocracy, the First Amendment means “Congress should never prohibit the expression of your Christian faith in a public place.”

Romney: Praised the separation of church and state in his 2008 speech on religion but said that some have taken it “well beyond its original meaning.” He warned against efforts to exclude religion from public life in the name of “the religion of secularism.”

Santorum: Warns against America becoming a place where “only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case,” saying that the idea “makes me throw up.” He said that “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.”

SOCIAL SECURITY

Gingrich: Proposes allowing younger workers to invest in personal retirement accounts instead of Social Security while still requiring employers to pay into the current Social Security system.

Paul: Says that Social Security is unconstitutional. Rather than scrapping the system immediately, he proposes allowing workers under the age of 25 to opt out.

Romney: Supports raising the eligibility age and slowing increases for inflation for higher-income retirees. He would leave benefits the same for people currently over 55.

Santorum: Supports raising the eligibility age, trimming benefits for wealthy retirees and other cost-saving adjustments. Previously supported shifting Social Security to personal retirement accounts but says this would be too expensive under current economic circumstances.

Film equates abortion to the Holocaust


The Anti-Defamation League has condemned a film that compares abortion in the United States to the Holocaust.

The ADL called the movie “cynical and perverse” and “one of the most offensive and outrageous abuses of the memory of the Holocaust we have seen in years,” in a statement released Wednesday.

The film “180,” available on YouTube, is narrated by Ray Comfort and shows graphic images from the Holocaust such as dead bodies piled up at concentration camps and Jews being shot in mass graves. In the film, Comfort said that American people allowing abortions is exactly like when Hitler had the sanction of the German people to kill Jews.

The film is part of an initiative led by the Living Waters organization, which has spearheaded an initiative called Project Heart Changer, in order to change peoples’ minds about abortion.

“Not only does the film try to assert a moral equivalency between the Holocaust and abortion,” Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, said in a statement. “But it also brings Jews and Jewish history into the discussion and then calls on its viewers to repent and accept Jesus as their savior.”

Marty Kaplan: The Monsters Are Due on Maple Streets


The power has gone out in a typical American town.  Wait—it’s not just the electricity.  The phones don’t work, either.  Portable radios are dead.  Cars won’t start. 

But then lawn mowers and cars and lights inexplicably start and stop on their own. What’s going on?  A meteor?  Sunspots?  Or are there, as Tommy’s comic book suggests, aliens among us, preparing for a takeover? Suspicion poisons the air. Neighbor turns on neighbor. A scapegoat is blamed. A shot is fired.  Panic, madness, riot.

And while the humans behave monstrously, the real monsters watch from a nearby hilltop, working a little gizmo that messes with the power on Maple Street and marveling how easy it is to manipulate these earthlings into destroying themselves.

In what is arguably the best “Twilight Zone” episode ever, “” target=”_hplink”>declared their willingness to return to the table and negotiate a shared sacrifice. The monsters are on Wall Street, where state pension funds were sunk into toxic sub-prime mortgage-backed securities.  The monsters are on K Street, where lobbyists are fighting financial industry oversight. The monsters are the politicians who are using Wisconsin’s deficit as a pretext to ” target=”_hplink”>so be it” language of their leadership, you’d think that the federal deficit is caused by the very people who who’ve been suffering the most in this recession.

But the monsters aren’t low-income ” target=”_hplink”>health insurance to cover them; or ” target=”_hplink”>Pell Grants; or people who think their government’s job includes preventing their air and water from ” target=”_hplink”>billionaires who’ve benefited from a massive transfer of wealth from the middle to the top and whose political puppets protect them from paying their fair share of taxes.

They’re the corporations whose cash has convinced Congress to deregulate industry after industry, despite all evidence that it is the enforcement of rules – not the magic of the marketplace—that protects the public’s rights.

They’re the defense contractors and pork appropriators who’ve used the cover of “national security” to shield the Pentagon’s budget and its procurement process from the cuts and reforms that even Republicans like the Secretary of Defense are advocating.

They’re the front groups and propagandists, like FreedomWorks and Fox, who use class warfare and culture wars in order to turn Americans against their own economic interests.

They’re the Supreme Court justices whose Citizens United decision, overthrowing a century of settled law, has made our campaign finance system an open sewer, and whose indifference to ” target=”_hplink”>coming case promises to throw sick people back onto the tender mercies of insurers and to destroy our best hope to curb Medicare costs – further ballooning the deficit and providing cover for even more draconian cuts.

The game in Washington is to use the deficit as camouflage for destroying government’s capacity to promote the general welfare.  The game in Wisconsin and other states whose new Republican governors and legislative majorities are feeling their oats is to shelter the income of the wealthiest, and to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class. 

At the end of the episode, Rod Serling says this:  “The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices to be found only in the minds of men.  For the record: Prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own—for the children, and the children yet unborn.  And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the twilight zone.”

Sometimes it’s hard to watch the news and not think that things are surreal.  The other day, when what’s been happening in Madison reminded me of what happened on “Maple Street,” I suddenly realized the theme music that goes with it.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of ” target=”_hplink”>USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Who you calling rebbetzin, why you dissing Palin, what college anti-Semitism?


The Rabbi’s Spouse

In her recent story, Danielle Berrin contemplates the role of the clergy’s spouse (“Who You Calling Rebbetzin?” Sept. 12).

It seems that one of the downsides is being misunderstood.  
 
I repeatedly emphasized to Danielle that my voluntary role in our community is one which I gladly fill both at our synagogue and in our children’s school, because these are the communities where our family belongs, and I feel a personal responsibility to help.  Never at any time did I or will I expect any financial compensation for the work I volunteer to do in my community. 

I created the position that I fill because I care about the community and am proud to help build our congregation along with my husband.  

I wish there would have been some way for that positive message to have been better expressed in the article.

Pnina Bouskila
Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel

We would like to thank Danielle Berrin for her article on the contemporary rebbetzin.

We were subjects in this piece, and we could not be more pleased. Within the Jewish world so many of us seek connection — with God, with community, with mitzvot, and yes — with the rabbi’s family!? Through her article Ms. Berrin gave our community a chance to get to know us a little better, with the hope of strengthening those connections — that is indeed a holy pursuit, a true mitzvah.

As rabbis who are also rebbetzins, we are grateful for Ms. Berrin’s attention to the value of the rabbinic spouse.

Rabbis Deborah and Brian Schuldenfrei
via e-mail

The Iranian Vote

Iranian American Jews are mostly wary and distrustful of the Obama-Biden ticket.
In your Aug. 11 Iranian American Jews blog report on my debate with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Judge Bruce Einhorn on the U.S. presidential elections, you mistakenly mentioned that I had emphasized the issue of Sen. John McCain’s experience.

In fact, my main and repeated emphasis was on the lack of understanding by Sen. Barack Obama of the nature and the threat of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the worldwide jihadist movement, as well as Sen. Joe Biden’s long-time record of encouraging appeasement and giving one-sided concessions to the Iranian theocratic dictatorship.

I mentioned that as a Democrat, I would strongly suggest putting aside our differences and voting for McCain, due to the overwhelming urgency of the worldwide threats facing us all.

I, like most Iranian Jews, fear that the Obama-Biden administration will fail to stand up to this worldwide threat.

Frank Nikbakht
Director
Committee for
Religious Minority Rights in Iran

Post-Palin Depression

I wanted you to know that I ran across your piece as I scoured the Internet looking for my minute-by-minute updates on the election (“Post-Palin Depression” Sept. 12).

I am just an average person that fits the person you describe in “Post-Palin Depression.” I do not have a therapist, but I have been in depression for almost two weeks now.

But your article inspired me to go nearly cold turkey on election news (I didn’t think about limiting to C-SPAN and, of course, I just can’t go without “The Daily Show”). One question, before I go into detox, can I finish out my obsession until I fall asleep tonight?

Thanks for the great piece. I can’t wait for my blood pressure to resume to normal levels.

Catherine Devericks
Via e-mail

Fields of Dreams

I would like to thank David Suissa and The Jewish Journal for the moving article comparing/contrasting Trochenbrod and Camp Ramah (“Fields of Dreams,” Sept. 12).

Filmmaker Jeremy Goldscheider is doing a big mitzvah in producing a film that will preserve a part of European Jewish History, which would otherwise be lost forever.

I would like to support this project and would like more information on how to get involved. I am writing as a representative of the Blitstein family of Trochenbrod.

Paula Verbit
Trochenbrod Descendant
Second Generation

Strange Love

In his recent letter to David Suissa, Jeff Kramer stated “The truth is that they (missionaries) don’t want your soul, what they want is to help you draw closer to God and in so doing, enjoy a fuller and more complete life now and in eternity.”

This statement is written more like a true believer in Jesus than a faithful Jew who understands that the roots of Christianity originate from Roman and Hellenistic paganism and belief in the trinity and bodily incarnation of God is considered idolatrous for Jews? (“Strange Love,” Aug. 22).

This is something all denominations of Judaism agree represents the spiritual destruction of the Jewish soul.

So yes, regardless of their intention, the end result is that missionaries, who seek to convert Jews, want our soul and in doing so perpetuate a long history of anti-Judaism that disrespects and invalidates the spiritual integrity of Jews and Judaism.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
Founder and Executive Director
JewsForJudaism.org

Sleight of Hand

The directors of Stand With Us have engaged in a bit of sleight of hand (Letters, Sept. 12).

Rather than confront the fact that anti-Semitism is a negligible presence on college campuses today, they engage in name-calling. We are “elitists,” a common epithet in today’s political discourse.

If by characterizing our response as elitist, Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid mean that we actually know what we are talking about, since we work on various college campuses (not just UCLA), then we plead guilty. Actually knowing what one is talking about is something that is very helpful in political discussions — both this one and larger national ones.

Professor Aryeh Cohen
Rabbi Susan Laemmle
Professor David N. Myers
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Professor Roger Waldinger

Sarah Palin

There are issues pertaining to Gov. Sarah Palin’s judgment privately that should be judged publicly (“Sarah Palin and the Jews,” Sept. 5).

First, why is it not immoral to have a baby when you know that the baby has Down syndrome and the baby is your fifth?

Second, why is it not immoral to get pregnant at age 42 with your fifth child when you know or should know that the odds of having a baby with Down syndrome is increased exponentially when a women reaches 40?

According to the March of Dimes Web site, at 25, a woman has about one chance in 1,250 of having a baby with Down syndrome; at age 30, a one in 1,000 chance; at age 35, a one in 400 chance; at age 40, a one in 100 chance; at 45, a one in 30 chance.

Lastly, why is it not immoral to have a fifth baby when given our current world environment. Zero population growth should be a goal for all of us? Why not adopt instead?

The above questions should all be asked of this person, but our media just won’t go there.

Martin H. Kodish
Woodland Hills

Yes, it was nice to know that Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has good relationships with Alaska’s Jewish population, although it was hardly surprising that she is strongly pro-Israel, given that she is an evangelical Christian.

However, to describe her simply as a social conservative is a gross understatement. From all we know of her, insufficient as that is as yet, she is a rabid, right-wing ideologue.

In her acceptance speech at the Republican convention, with its clever one- and two-line zingers written by a group of the best-paid communications professionals in the business and rehearsed by Gov. Palin for at least five hours prior to its presentation, with a mixture of homey references to her family and herself, she likened her small-town roots to those of President Harry S. Truman (a senator from Missouri for 10 years before becoming vice president in January 1945).

It remains the challenge of the media to break through the blockade surrounding their access to her — talk about protectionism run amok — to ask penetrating questions about her positions on policy issues, among them: the kinds of justices she would appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court; whether she believes in multilateral, rather than unilateral, approaches to international affairs; given her opposition to government intervention into our private lives, why a woman should not have the right to make her own reproductive choices without big brother dictating her decisions.

Also, how she intends to protect the guarantees of our Bill of Rights and their erosion in the name of fighting terror; why, if she is so staunchly pro-life, she does not support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research — using embryos that will be discarded or destroyed — to improve the quality of life of those living with terrible diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, AIDs, etc.; why she opposes sex education in the schools, including teaching even kindergartners — as Barack Obama has proposed — about what they need to know, at the most primary level, in order to protect themselves from sexual predators.

In addition, where she stands on our constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state, in general, and the teaching of creationism, along with the theory of evolution, in particular; regulating gun ownership; outlawing hate crimes; drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and on and on.

With less than two months remaining before Election Day on Nov. 4, it is urgent that the media reveal what the new kid on the political block — who would be a heartbeat away from the presidency — believes about many of the most urgent issues facing our country.

Rachel Galperin
Encino

I am not a supporter of the Republican ticket. However, let’s be fair to Sarah Palin on Jewish issues. First of all, most gentiles are probably not familiar with Pat Buchanan’s views on matters of Jewish concern, particularly people such as Palin, who are not known for their deep knowledge of such things. So her wearing of a Buchanan button does not signify anti-Jewish feelings.

Second, whatever one’s views may be on abortion rights, it is not a Jewish issue. The Orthodox Jewish view on abortion is similar to that of most Christian religious groups. The only pertinent Jewish issue in today’s political world is support for Israel.

Marshall Giller
Winnetka

The disclosure that last month Gov. Sarah Palin’s church hosted the executive director of Jews for Jesus, who told congregants that violence against Israeli Jews is God’s punishment for their failure to accept Jesus, is going to be the next club that Palin’s leftist critics pick up against her.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quotes Palin’s pastor at Wasilla Bible Church, the Rev. Larry Kroon, as saying that he doesn’t believe Jews for Jesus are deceptive.

“Look at Paul and Peter and the others, they were Jews and believed in Jesus as the messiah,” he told JTA. “There’s gentile believers and there’s Jewish believers that acknowledge Jesus as messiah. There’re Swedish believers.”

Mainstream Judaism today rejects the idea that one can believe in Jesus and still be a practicing Jew. Anyone who maintains that the two beliefs are compatible is a pariah in the Jewish community.

But these columns have been cautioning against the idea that politicians need to be held accountable for every thing that is said from the pulpits of their congregations. In an editorial of March 18, 2008, “Obama’s Moment,” we said that religion by its nature calls forth great passion, and that religious institutions, churches, synagogues, mosques, are places where things are often said that strike the congregation in a way that they might not strike the wider public.

None of this is to excuse the errors of Sen. Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or Kroon. But it is Obama and Palin who are running for office, not the clergymen.

To make a big issue of these kinds of things in respect of the candidates, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, would be to impose a religious test for office of the sort that the framers of the Constitution forbade right in Article VI, when they wrote, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

No, ever, any. They couldn’t have been more emphatic and not even in an amendment but right there in the original body of the Constitution.

Reyna Oro
via e-mail

Allies and foes scrape through Palin bio for Jewish material


ST. PAUL (JTA)—A small Israeli flag propped up on a window frame. A Pat Buchanan button sported briefly as a courtesy. A prospective son-in-law with a biblical name.

Little about the Frozen North is Jewish outside the realm of fiction (see Mordechai Richler, Michael Chabon, “Northern Exposure”), so when Republicans pitch Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain’s vice presidential pick, to the Jews and Democrats try to undermine her, both sides tend to reach.

Picking through the trivia and smears for substance, there’s this: Palin, 44, has genuinely warm relations with her Jewish constituents—6,000 or so—and appears to have a fondness for Israel. She also comes down on the strongly conservative side on social issues where Jews tend to trend liberal.

“Governor Palin has established a great relationship with the Jewish community over the years and has attended several of our Jewish cultural gala events,” Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch in Anchorage, wrote in an e-mail after McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee and longtime Arizona senator, announced that she was joining his ticket.

“Governor Palin also had plans to visit Israel with members of the Jewish community, however, for technical reasons, the visit has not occurred yet.”

Palin is likeable enough that she got props from Ethan Berkowitz, the Jewish former minority leader in the Alaska House of Representatives who appears poised to become the first Democrat to represent Alaska in the U.S. House of Representatives since Nick Begich disappeared in a snowstorm in 1972.

“I like her and this is an exciting day for Alaska,” Berkowitz told JTA.

Republicans have been scouring the archives to uncover evidence of Palin’s outreach to Jews and to Israel.

Her single substantive act is signing a resolution in June marking 60 years of Alaska-Israel relations, launched improbably in 1948 when Alaska Airlines helped shepherd thousands of Yemeni Jews to Israel. However, she did not initiate the legislation: Its major mover was John Harris, the speaker of the Alaska House.

The paucity of material led the Republican Jewish Coalition to tout the appearance of a small Israeli flag propped against a window of the state Capitol in an online video in which Palin touts the virtues of hiking Juneau.

In an e-mail blast, RJC executive director Matt Brooks offered the screengrab as an answer for “those of you who have had questions regarding Sarah Palin and her views on Israel.”

In a seemingly equal bit of stretching in the other direction, some Democrats played up an Associated Press report that Palin—then the mayor of the small Alaska town of Wasilla—had sported a Buchanan button in 1999 when the Reform Party candidate visited there.

“John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans,” said an e-mail blast from the campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic nominee for president, quoting U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), Obama’s top Jewish surrogate. “Pat Buchanan is a Nazi sympathizer with a uniquely atrocious record on Israel, even going as far as to denounce bringing former Nazi soldiers to justice and praising Adolf Hitler for his ‘great courage.’ ”

The problem was that Palin had corrected the record as soon as the AP report appeared, noting in a letter to a local newspaper that had published the account that she wore the button as a courtesy. In fact, in the 2000 election, during the GOP primaries, she was an official of the Steve Forbes campaign.

The hunger for Palin-Jewish news extended beyond partisan politics. Pulses quickened among some in the Israeli media when the McCain campaign revealed Monday that Palin’s 17-year old unmarried daughter, Bristol, is pregnant and that her fiance’s name is Levi. (It was revealed later that his last name is Johnston, so no seders in the immediate Palin family future.)

The National Jewish Democratic Council focused on a more substantive difference between Palin and the U.S. Jewish community: her staunch social conservatism.

“For a party which claims it is trying to reach out to the Jewish community, McCain’s pick is particularly strange,” NJDC director Ira Forman said in a statement. “On a broad range of issues, most strikingly on the issue of women’s reproductive freedom, she is totally out of step with Jewish public opinion. The gulf between Palin’s public policy positions and the American Jewish community is best illustrated by the fact that the Christian Coalition of America was one of the strongest advocates of her selection.”

Palin backs abortion only in cases where a woman’s life is at risk, opposes stem cell research and believes creationism should be taught in schools alongside evolution.

Perhaps the most damning feature of her resume on Jewish issues is its thinness—her broader problem as well. Berkowitz, the Jewish congressional candidate, poked a little fun at the resume by citing Palin’s enthusiasm for guns and hunting.

“As far as Republican vice presidents go, she will be a much better shot than Dick Cheney,” he said. “But this is John McCain’s choice and an insight in terms of his judgment.”

Ben Chouake, who heads NORPAC, a New Jersey-based pro-Israel political action committee and one who is close to the McCain campaign, says he learned that McCain favored Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the one-time Democrat and Al Gore’s vice-presidential pick in 2000, until the last minute but caved to arguments that Lieberman would alienate the Republican Party’s conservative base.

“I don’t know anything about her, but I’m not concerned because she is the governor, who is someone with executive experience,” Chouake told JTA.

Palin has served less than two years as governor and, as NJDC noted, has “zero foreign policy experience.”

Greenberg, the Chabad rabbi who has not endorsed a candidate, suggests that she makes up in soul what she lacks in experience, referring to her fifth child, Trig, a Down syndrome baby born just four months ago.

“I was personally impressed by Governor Palin’s remarks of hope and faith when she gave birth to a child with special needs,” he said. “We all feel that the Governor is a remarkable, energetic, and good person.”

(JTA staff writer Jacob Berkman contributed to this report from New   York.)

Analysis: Sarah Palin . . . and the Jews


When Sen. John McCain tapped Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate today, the Jewish political blogosphere — as loud and fast and opinionated as (for lack of a better word) the Gentile Web — came to a screeching halt.

After all, you can fight about John McCain, and Barack Obama, and Joe Biden . . .but Sarah Palin?

It took an Internet eternity for Jewish Republicans to come out swinging for Sarah, an just as long for Jewish Democrats to hit back.

“Homerun!” Larry Greenfield, the California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, wrote me via e-mail five hours after McCain’s announcement. “Governor Palin has a very close relationship with the Jewish community of Alaska, with Chabad (Rabbi Greenberg) and with AIPAC. She is close to the Frozen Chosen!”

Seconds later came a blast from Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) claiming Palin endorsed Pat Buchanan’s presidential run in 2000: “John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans.”

Oh, now it’s getting good.

When Sen. Barack Obama picked Sen. Joe Biden last week, the Democrats had nothing but praise for the long term senator, citing positive comments from AIPAC and decades of foreign policy experience. And Jewish e-mail boxes filled with Biden’s now familiar quote: “You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, and I’m a Zionist.”

Then Republican Jews struck.

An e-mail quickly circulated linking to an article on a right-leaning web site claiming Biden was in the pocket of the Iranian mullahs. As for AIPAC’s kind words about Biden? “AIPAC has to say nice things,” a Republican activist told me. “They have to be bi-partisan.” And that pro-Zionist quote? Pretty words, just like his boss, Obama.

The Dems responded with a further defense of Biden’s record. If you could call Biden’s support for Israel into question, said the Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council Ira Forman, then you could call Golda Meir’s loyalty to Israel in question.

The Veep debate among Jews is important because there are many Jewish voters who are still a bit leery about Obama. Jews traditionally vote Democratic (upwards of 75 percent voted for John Kerry in 2004 — and we didn’t even really like him). A growing number of Jews have found a home in the Republican party, and are fairly candidate-proof — they vote red no matter what.

A significant number of Jewish voters, however, will change their vote depending on which candidate they perceive as “better for Israel.” These voters believe that Israel is facing immediate existential threats from Palestinian terror, from a near-nuclear Iran, and from over-eager politicians forcing it to make dangerous territorial concessions for the sake of elusive peace. These voters — call them “Israel Firsters” — see their one vote as crucial to preventing another Holocaust, and theirs are the votes that Jewish Dems and Jewish Republicans are fighting over.

Obama and Israel is the battleground issue for Jewish voters in the 2008 election — these are the Jewish votes up for grabs in this race. If Republicans can paint Obama as a Muslim or Muslim sympathizer, as an appeaser to Iran, as inexperienced on foreign policy, as insufficiently caring about Israel in his kishkes — the Yiddish word for guts — then they can peel off Jewish votes.

This strategy won’t matter in heavily pro-Democratic states like California and New York, but it can matter in swing states like Ohio and Florida. And it matters elsewhere in the race: Jews give money, Jews get involved, Jews shape opinion far out of proportion to their numbers. (Yes, there are only six of us in the entire country. Amazing what controlling the media will get you!)

Enter Sarah.

If McCain had picked Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or — cue the bar mitzvah band — Joe Lieberman, he would have unquestionably swept up the Israel Firsters. These men have track records and gravitas when it comes to Israel and foreign policy. (This debate among Jews and Israel reflects the larger foreign policy concerns about Obama that Republicans are making the centerpiece of their opposition. Many conflicts in Jewish life mirror conflicts in the larger culture — that’s Anthropology 101).

But he chose Sarah Palin: former mayor of a small Alaska town, governor of Alaska, devout Christian.

For Jews who are not necessarily Israel Firsters, she carries some positives and negatives. Positives: she is a crusader for good government and a fiscal conservative. She is smart and successful and patriotic. Jews like all these things.

“As governor of Alaska, Palin has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Alaska’s Jewish community. She has demonstrated sensitivity to the concerns of the community and has been accessible and responsive,” said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks.

Negatives: She is anti-abortion.

Jews are among the largest pro-choice constituency in the country. She has, according to one web site, supported the idea of teaching Creationism and evolution in public schools. “‘Teach both,” she was quoted as saying on a local TV station. “You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.'”

Dependence on foreign oil is a major issue for American Jews, since a lot of that oil comes from regimes that hate Israel and support terror.

Republican Jews are emphasizing Palin’s desire to drill Alaskan oil and develop domestic oil resources as away to decrease our dependence.

“Palin has been a leader on the critical issue of energy independence and lessening our need to buy oil from nations not sharing American and Israel’s foreign policy,” Brooks said in his statement.

But Jews are also pro-environment, and have jumped on the alternative energy (hybrid) bandwagon in a big way. Obama’s convention speech calling for a 10 year campaign to switch to alternative sources of energy may carry deeper resonance.

For the Israel Firsters, Palin may be a problem. Palin has no foreign policy experience. No Israel experience. Her AIPAC rating? When you enter her name on the AIPAC home page, you get this:

Your search - palin - did not match any documents.
No pages were found containing "palin".

The RJC’s Greenfield says her AIPAC relationships are great, but confined to Alaska. And Republicans are now marshalling a great comeback to the charge that Palin once supported Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan is anathema to the Jews. He is someone who has blamed Israel and American Jews for directing American foreign policy against American interests. He has spoken kindly of Adolph Hitler — who is not popular with Jews — and, well, this is going to be interesting.

Sarah Palin might cause the Israel Firsters, who seemed to be pretty much done with Obama, to take a second look.


Rob Eshman is Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and JewishJournal.com.




Sarah Heath (Palin), sportscaster

Conservative Supreme Court rulings vex Jewish advocacy groups


Following a string of conservative rulings in the closing weeks of this year’s Supreme Court session, some Jewish officials are suggesting that they may be forced to abandon their decades-long strategy of relying on the courts to protect liberal gains on a host of issues.

For decades, many Jewish groups counted on the top court to correct what they saw as the excesses of legislatures and chief executives across the country. But with the close of the court’s first full term with two recent conservative arrivals, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, Jewish groups say the situation has reversed itself.

Not only has the Supreme Court thoroughly abandoned a decades-old tradition of upholding the liberal gains of the 1950s and 1960s, it has become the premier bulwark of conservatism now that Democrats have retaken Congress and the White House is weakened to the point of impotency.

“To put it in historical perspective, we were quite sanguine when cases would come up, with the sense we would get a decision in our favor,” said Jeff Sinensky, legal counsel to the American Jewish Committee. “Looking forward, it’s likely that the majority, now headed by Justice John Roberts and with Justice Samuel Alito coming on the court, have a fundamentally different perspective than the Jewish community.”

Sinensky and others cite four decisions that have especially roiled the community over the last year since Alito replaced Sandra Day O’Connor, who carefully hewed to the center, as the court’s swing vote on several hot-button issues:

  • The court ruled in April that a ban on late-term abortions did not violate a woman’s right to privacy, rolling back in part the gains of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
  • In May, the court imposed a tough 180-day limitation on an employee’s right to claim pay discrimination.
  • Last month, a 5-4 majority of the justices ordered school districts in Seattle and Louisville, Ky. to end voluntary busing programs that sought to integrate schools that had become segregated through demographic trends.
  • Also last month, the court ruled that taxpayers have no standing to stop the executive branch from spending federal funds on faith-based programs, a decision that would hamper efforts by Jewish groups to wage legal challenges on such matters.

Not every Jewish group was unhappy with those decisions. Two Orthodox groups, the Orthodox Union and Agudath Israel of America, praised the ruling on faith-based programs. In fact, Agudath argued that it didn’t go far enough, saying it should have eliminated challenges to congressionally mandated religious spending as well.

“There’s not a whole lot of logic for the distinction between executive branch decisions and congressional decisions,” said David Zweibel, Agudath’s general counsel.

Agudath also praised the abortion decision, but Zweibel stressed that the Orthodox community was not necessarily embracing a more conservative court. He noted that Orthodox lawyers in the past had been on the “liberal” side of arguments, for instance in expanding laws combating discrimination.

“To say we’re conservative or liberal is wrong,” Zweibel said.

For most of the Jewish communal stalwarts on jurisprudence, “disappointment” was the term that kept cropping up to describe the recently completed Supreme Court term.

“We were 0-for-3 this term,” said Michael Lieberman, the Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), referring to the ADL’s three friend-of-the-court briefs: the abortion case, the taxpayer case and the desegregation case.

According to Lieberman, the significance of the cases ran deeper than the losses. In each of the three cases he cited, the Supreme Court had gone out of its way to reverse lower court rulings.

“It’s really going to be important going forward to pick our forums,” Lieberman said. “The court system may not be the best way to vindicate rights going forward.”

That prospect, of an activist conservative court seeking to correct what it perceives to be a liberal taint on jurisprudence, led other Jewish groups to the same conclusion.

“There’s a concern about finding the right cases to bring to the court,” said Mark Pelavin, the associate director of the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center. He cited the faith-based funding case, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation.

“The Hein case is a great example of how a case is not necessarily one that the litigators would have chosen as the first case on the president’s faith-based initiative,” Pelavin said.

Jewish groups signed on as friends of the court in the case because of the potential that the justices would overturn precedent, Lieberman said, but generally believed the case was not worth the risk — a sense vindicated by the court’s finding. As a result of the decision, Lieberman said, only those people directly affected by funding for faith groups could challenge the law.

“What you’re asking for is someone who is among the least, the lost, someone with an alcohol addiction, a drug addition, someone who has no job, to come forward,” he said. “It’s so unlikely that someone falling through the safety net is going to say, ‘I need that methadone treatment program, but I resent saying a prayer for it.'”

Another strategy is to advocate for legislation on the local, state and federal levels tailored to circumvent the court’s reasoning. “It may be that a local ordinance is the next way to protect the workplace,” Lieberman said. “It may be state law, it may be Congress or the executive branch.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a Jewish liberal who represents parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, said he expects to take a legislative-based approach to dealing with the court’s ruling that employees seeking to file lawsuits charging discrimination in pay, must do so with the 180-day period.

“Congress must make its intent clear: Anti-discrimination laws must be strengthened — not weakened,” said Nadler, the chairman of the civil liberties subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives, in introducing legislation last week that would expand the 180-day limit.

Sammie Moshenberg, who directs the Washington office of the National Council of Jewish Women, said her organization’s strategy of directly opposing some judicial candidates has been vindicated.

Despite their concerns about the direction of the court, some other Jewish groups opted not to oppose President Bush’s judicial nominees, arguing that a president deserves leeway in placing his or her preferences on the court.

In 2001, according to Moshenberg, when NCJW first started opposing judicial nominees, “We said these people serve for a lifetime [and] make incredibly important decisions that affect us for the rest of our lives.'”

The federal bench and the Supreme Court, Moshenberg said, “have really been the backstop for our constitutional rights throughout history.”

Briefs: Hier scolds Carter, and vice versa; StandWithUs distributes “Israel 101”


Hier scolds Carter, and vice versa

Former President Jimmy Carter has implicitly accused the Simon Wiesenthal Center of “falsehood and slander,” after the center mailed Carter some 25,000 signed petitions protesting his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”

In a brief but stinging note to Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center’s founder and dean, Carter wrote, by hand, “I don’t believe that Simon Wiesenthal would have resorted to falsehood and slander to raise funds.”

In his response to Carter, Hier noted that after reading the book, “It is incredulous to me that, after your historic achievement of brokering peace between Israel and Egypt, you could write such a book.”

After notingthat the United States would react in the same way as Israel if exposed to terrorism and suicide bombings, Hier concluded, “To his last breath, Simon Wiesenthal believed that the only reason there is no peace in the Middle East is because of Islamic extremists who refuse to compromise, not because of the State of Israel.”

— Tom Tugend, Contributing EditorPro-Choice Groups Warn About Complacency

Twenty-three new pro-choice representatives have just been elected to Congress, and California has an A-plus rating in reproductive rights legislation. This sounds like good news, and indeed it is. But, warned Amy Everitt, director of National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice California, these gains can lead to a complacency that is scarcely warranted.

Two days after the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, Everitt, addressing a gathering at the National Coalition of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW) headquarters, emphasized that even with the victories of the last elections, there is still not a pro-choice majority in Congress, and anti-choice forces have been working steadily to erode reproductive freedom. The meeting was co-sponsored by numerous groups, including the City of West Hollywood, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and Hollywood NOW.

Joyce Schorr, founder and president of the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project (WRAPP) underscored how difficult it is for many women to get the care they need.

Despite its excellent rating in legislation, 41 percent of California’s counties have no abortion facilities, while nationwide, 87 percent of counties have no abortion providers whatsoever.

In 1991, Schorr, as an NCJW activist, created WRAPP as a national safety net for women and families. Last year, by raising and distributing funds for medical and travel expenses, WRAPP helped 1,687 women in 48 states obtain abortions.

In discussion after their presentations, Everitt and Schorr rooted their commitment to reproductive rights for all women in the tenets of Judaism.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis has affirmed the “right of a woman or individual family to terminate a pregnancy,” and opposes any amendments or legislation that would abridge that right.

“One of the reasons I started WRAPP as an NCJW project was because the Torah tells us to give of ourselves,” Schorr said. “Poor women needed a mitzvah project and WRAPP provides for their needs.”

— Naomi Glauberman, Contributing Writer

StandWithUs Distributes ‘Israel 101’

StandWithUs, the L.A.-based Israel advocacy organization, has released a primer on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The group prepared “Israel 101” in response to what it says is a “pressing need” for an easy-to-use resource for students engaged in Israel advocacy on college campuses. The 44-page, full-color primer offers a condensed history of Israel and brief introductions to hot-button issues, including the peace process, the Palestinian refugee problem and last summer’s war with Hezbollah.

— Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Interfaith Understanding Starts Young

Jewish, Muslim and Christian students in Orange County spent the fall in a dialogue and art exchange program, producing poetry and artwork based on the new understanding they gained.

The Jerusalem Sky Project, run by the World of Difference Institute of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Orange County/Long Beach office, brought together 75 fourth- to eighth-graders from Morasha Jewish Day School and St. John’s Episcopal School in Rancho Santa Margarita, and The New Horizon Elementary School in Irvine.

The program used the recently published “Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses and Crescents,” by Mark Podwal, to inspire the students to teach each other and to get to know one another.

The schools each hosted the group once during the semester-long interfaith project, and late in November the group gathered for a final meeting and exhibition of their artwork, which was on display at the Rancho Santa Margarita Bell Tower through December.

“Our hope was to start the process of exploring that there are others out there,” said Melissa Carr, special projects director for the ADL’s Orange County/Long Beach office. “A lot of times in private religious school settings, the students don’t have much opportunity to interact with others in the community.”

Carr said all the schools want to continue the relationship and are now working toward putting together a continuing program.

The kids met for the first time at New Horizon, a Muslim elementary school. A parent gave the students an “Islam 101” recap. When the Muslim students shared their traditions for prayers, holidays and holy books, the other students realized how, as religious people, they have a lot in common, said Robin Hoffman, Judaic studies director at Morasha.

Morasha hosted the group on Sukkot, but it was also during Ramadan, and out of respect for the Muslim students no food was served. The Jewish students invited their friends to morning prayer services, where they took out the Torah and explained to their peers the traditions and history of Judaism.

At St. John’s Episcopal school, students went through the 14 stations of the cross to learn about Christianity, and heard about Christian theology from the school’s vicar.

At the final meeting, facilitators from the ADL’s World of Difference Institute led exercises about appreciating and respecting other ways of life.

But such abstractions were already becoming a reality for these students: By the time they met for their last gathering, students were exchanging phone numbers.In her poem for the exhibit, Iman Labanieh, a fifth-grader at New Horizon, wrote:

Abortion Doc’s Son Weighs Thorny Past


“Absolute Convictions: My Father, a City and the Conflict That Divided America” by Eyal Press (Henry Holt and Co, $25).

Every father should be a hero to his child. But a child’s hero and an adult’s hero are often two different people, even when they inhabit the same body. Eyal Press, in his debut book, undergoes the difficult but riveting task of reconciling those two versions of his father, whom he clearly holds in heroic esteem. As the child of a Buffalo, N.Y. gynecologist who performs abortions, Press had a front-row seat for the abortion debate during its most tumultuous and violent years of the 1980s and ’90s, peaking with the 1998 assassination of Dr. Barnett Slepian, Press’s father’s colleague. Gunned down in his home by an anti-abortionist sniper’s bullet after attending Friday night services, Slepian became a symbol of the violent wing of the movement to oppose abortion.

The release of “Absolute Convictions” could not be more auspiciously timed, given the recent passage in South Dakota of the most far-reaching anti-abortion legislation nationwide. That law, and proposed bills in other states, has reignited debate over the future of Roe vs. Wade. The case, decided in 1973, “would turn tens of thousands of Americans, some of them housewives, others previously disengaged evangelical Christians, into full-fledged crusaders,” Press writes.

It would also deeply affect the career of Press’ father and the life of his family — who arrived in Buffalo in February 1973, just three weeks after the Supreme Court’s decision came down.

Over the next three decades, the Presses would find themselves at the center of an increasingly shrill and dangerous abortion debate, one that would lead to the death of their colleague and bring terms like “24-hour surveillance” and “death threats” into their own lives. Less than a decade after Slepian’s death, Press returned to his hometown to dive into the cavernous questions of “life,” “choice” and “freedom” that the abortion debate encapsulates. The book, a well-reported work of journalism with a personal heart, is not content to simply recount the fear and chaos that followed Slepian’s murder, but instead seeks to understand how such a violent act came to pass in the first place. The great strength of this fine book is that it successfully presents twin narratives: a clear-eyed journalistic look at the evolution of a movement — political and religious — to oppose legalized abortion, and the story of a son coming into an adult’s understanding of his father and the role he played in that larger drama. Press, a left-leaning investigative reporter who has published in The Nation, the American Prospect and The New York Times Magazine, adeptly mines his family’s history while never losing his journalistic passion for social policy issues.

Press writes of his admiration for his father, Israeli-born Dr. Shalom Press, in somewhat simple terms — the pride a child feels in the vague sense that his dad does something worthwhile for a living. Throughout “Absolute Convictions,” however, Press’s admiration graduates from that youthful feeling of “My dad does the right thing” into an adult appreciation that enables him to report and reflect more thoroughly on the history and meaning of the anti-abortion movement.

The moment in the book when Press embraces this mature and more complex view takes place in the Rev. Rob Schenck’s Washington, D.C. office. Schenck is the founder of the evangelical advocacy organization Faith and Action and a leader in the pro-life movement. Sitting in Schenck’s office, listening to him describe with exhilaration and passion why he felt that protesting abortion clinics — including Press’s father’s practice — was “one of the most spiritual exercises [he] had ever engaged in,” Press is forced to admit that there is genuine conviction behind the pro-life perspective.

“If I place myself in Schenck’s shoes, I can imagine his sense of exhilaration,” he writes. “At the time, I could not contemplate the idea that a noble impulse might be motivating the protesters — they were doing their best to make my father’s life miserable. But if I step into the moral universe Schenck described to me — a world where every unborn child represents God’s creation and life begins at conception, where this is not a matter of debate but of truth as handed down in Scripture — the ethical imperative is clear.”

At a moment when all eyes are cast forward, Press’ account is a wise attempt to look back, reminding ourselves of how this issue, which once attracted the attention mainly of Catholics, became the center of the moral and political universe for so many evangelical Protestants — some of whom demonstrated their convictions through violent means. Press’s complicated journey takes his readers to that murky crossroads where religion, politics, family and law all meet.

Article courtesy The Forward.

Holly Lebowitz Rossi is a freelance writer who lives in Arlington, Mass.

 

Alito Would Erode Minority Protection


“But is it good for the Jews?” That was the question many of our grandparents voiced when they perused the morning papers — a question we may have dismissed, even with affection, as a narrow or parochial expression.

Today, we know that what’s “good for the Jews” extends beyond ourselves: It encompasses a concern for the well-being of society as a whole and the fate of our constitutional freedoms. After all, we Jews are unquestionably part of the general community, thriving largely thanks to the protections afforded to us as a minority religion.

For the National Council of Jewish Women, this has led us to take sides in the national debate on the direction of our courts, which are the guardians of our liberty and our well-being as Jews and as Americans. And it has led us to oppose the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito Jr. to fill the Supreme Court seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

When a Supreme Court nominee decides that the First Amendment permits the majority religion to impose its beliefs and symbols on the rest of us in the public square — it’s not good for the Jews.

When he reveals his lifelong ambition to overturn the landmark 1973 case Roe v. Wade, preventing a woman from following her conscience and religious beliefs when exercising her legal right to choose abortion — it’s not good for the Jews.

And, when he consistently rules against victims of employment discrimination, narrowing civil rights protections — that too isn’t good for the Jews.

Judge Alito has a record of conservatism that is far to the right of our national consensus. He’s the candidate President Bush promised us when he said in 2000 that he would appoint justices like Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

By his own account in 1985, Judge Alito entered law school “motivated in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the area of criminal procedure, the establishment clause, and reapportionment.”

Further clarifying his views on the Supreme Court’s past decisions regarding religion, in November 2005 he told his supporter, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), that these rulings “were incoherent in this area of the law in a way that really gives the impression of hostility to religious speech and religious expression.”

Alito’s judicial record supports this statement. He disagreed with the majority of the 3rd Circuit when it decided that students could not include a prayer in their graduation programs simply because they had voted to have one.

He also argued that public school teachers could be forced to distribute materials of the Child Evangelism Project for their weekly after-school meetings. In contrast, the Supreme Court concluded that religious meetings may be held on school grounds only “where no school officials actively participate.”

As for a woman’s right to choose an abortion, Judge Alito’s views seem oblivious to the religious convictions of others. His hostility to the right to choose has been unwavering.

While working in the solicitor general’s office, Alito wrote a 17-page memo on using Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as an ” opportunity to advance the goals of bringing about the eventual overruling of Roe v. Wade and, in the meantime, of mitigating its effects.” He later expressed pride in his role in that case.

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, he wanted to uphold a requirement that a woman notify her husband before obtaining an abortion, a proposition Justice O’Connor and the majority rejected, declaring, “A State may not give to a man the kind of dominion over his wife that parents exercise over their children.”

His strategy of pressing for more and more restrictions on Roe clearly became the ongoing strategy of the anti-choice movement — a movement that would restrict religious freedom by imposing one religion’s view on all women.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism recently repeated its support for legislation “maintaining the legality and accessibility of abortion so that in those cases where our religious authorities determine that an abortion is warranted halachically, obtaining that abortion will not be hindered by our civil law.” It’s clear that as a Supreme Court judge, Alito would threaten this principle.

So, what is “good for the Jews?” It’s a Supreme Court committed to upholding the rights and liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights, to upholding the letter and spirit of pluralism and to upholding basic values of inclusion and fairness.

The protections we seek as members of a minority religious group cannot exist in a vacuum, but only in the context of a larger society in which everyone’s rights and liberties are protected. For that reason, the National Council of Jewish Women urges all Jews and Jewish organizations to join with us in the fight to defeat Alito’s nomination to a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land.

Phyllis Snyder is president of the National Council of Jewish Women.

 

Prop. 73: The Devil’s in the Details


When Californians go to the polls on Nov. 8, many will read Proposition 73 as a proposal to require that health care providers perform the seemingly logical task of informing parents before performing abortions on underage girls.

But the considered opinions of doctors and Juvenile Court judges, as well as a look at the actual text of Proposition 73, reveal that the initiative is fraught with adverse ramifications for virtually all Californians. It also poses particular issues for the Jewish community.

Much of the literature against Proposition 73 correctly emphasizes that many teenage girls will seek underground abortions, rather than have their parents (or guardians, foster parents or other legal designees) learn that they are pregnant. Thus, under the banner, “Protect California’s Teens,” a Planned Parenthood Web page urges that defeating Proposition 73 is essential to ensuring that desperate teenagers retain access to safe and legitimate medical care.

This emphasis is entirely appropriate. But there’s more to object to in this ballot initiative. One of the proposition’s most troubling aspects lies within the fine print. Proposition 73 amends the California Constitution to define abortion as a procedure ending the life of a “child conceived but not yet born.”

This radical definition has profound implications not only for teens, but also for adult women. And this carefully calculated wording should be of particular interest to the Jewish community.

Many Jewish couples undergo genetic screening as part of family planning. Those of us who learn we are dual carriers of genetic mutations (e.g., Tay Sachs) know there is a one in four chance of conceiving a child afflicted with the disease.

Couples who face this risk make the wrenching choice of attempting to have a biological child, while also taking the precaution of undergoing testing after conception. Diagnosis is possible through either chorionic villus sampling 10 to 12 weeks into the pregnancy or amniocentesis in the second trimester. Couples choose such procedures with the hope of having a healthy baby.

But typically, they also have resolved to terminate a pregnancy that would, if carried to term, bring forth a child doomed to endure unconscionable suffering ending in early death. A couple that follows this course of action sometimes has the blessing of Orthodox rabbis who would ordinarily oppose abortion.

Amending California’s Constitution to define abortion as ending the life of a “child conceived but not yet born” has profound implications for adult Jewish couples that rely on pregnancy testing. The proposition’s language would, in effect, shorten the road to outlawing abortion.

Indeed, that appears to be the aim of James Holman, the San Diego millionaire who backed Proposition 73 with $800,000, most of which went to paid signature gatherers to get the initiative onto the ballot. In line with his devout, conservative beliefs, Holman has expressed opposition to contraception, as well as to abortion apparently under all circumstances, including rape and incest.

Defining abortion as terminating the life of “a child that is conceived but not yet born” also could undermine the legality of stem cell research, perhaps the most promising scientific frontier of the 21st century. Here again, the medical implications are heightened for those of us in the Jewish community who recognize that stem cell research may herald the cures for degenerative diseases linked with genetic markers prevalent among us.

This subtle but intentional groundwork for outlawing abortion is reason enough for opposing Proposition 73, but even at face value, this measure would do more harm than good. It is opposed by Planned Parenthood, of course, and other pro-choice organizations, but also by California Women Lawyers, a statewide organization that promotes the general interests of women in society, as well as the California League of Women Voters.

Women’s advocacy organizations are correct to cite the dangers to teens posed by parental notification initiatives. Indeed, efforts to decriminalize abortion in the 1970s were largely spearheaded by doctors, lawyers, and clergy who knew only too well that making abortion illegal did not prevent abortion, but simply made the procedure lethal to many women who sought out illegal abortions.

Today, the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists all oppose parental notification laws, citing the risk to teens. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, mandating parental notification does not achieve the intended goal of family communication, but does increase the risk of harm by delaying access to appropriate medical care.

Parental notification is also opposed by Bill and Karen Bell, who lost their daughter to an illegal abortion in 1988. Although Becky Bell belonged to a loving Indianapolis family, this high school junior pursued an underground abortion, rather than tell her parents. The Bells never had the chance to tell their daughter they were not, after all, angry at her.

Instead, they became outraged at the parental notification law, operative in Indiana, that compelled their daughter to resort to the underground abortion that claimed her life. In the wake of their family tragedy, the Bells became activists against parental notification laws.Proposition 73 contains a supposed answer in its “judicial bypass provision,” which would enable teens to seek court orders excusing health care providers from the parental notification requirement in appropriate circumstances. This provision is unrealistic and unreasonably cumbersome both for teenagers and the courts, which is why Juvenile Court judges have gone on record against it.

To activate this provision, California courts would have to appoint guardians ad litem to speak on behalf of teenagers and, in most cases, to appoint lawyers for the minors, as well. In sum, the law would impose a mandate upon all courts, with no source of funding to carry it out.

Like many of my colleagues on the California Women Lawyers board, my personal choices were for marriage and children. I hope, want and expect that my daughters will come to me, however reluctantly, if they became pregnant unexpectedly. But a sweeping parental notification requirement will affect all families, including vulnerable teenagers in broken and abusive families.

As the tragic example of Becky Bell reminds us, even girls in “good” families may resort to underground abortions. And, a close examination of Proposition 73 makes clear that its language and intentions strike far closer to home than many of us previously thought possible in California.

The Jewish community — and everyone else — should oppose Proposition 73 not only because it is bad for teenage girls we may never meet, but also because it is bad — and dangerous — for adults, including ourselves.

Angela J. Davis is president-elect of California Women Lawyers, an independent bar association that advocates on public-policy issues.

 

We Must Heal Divide Over Life Views


The first half of the 20th century saw Americans locked in a fierce ideological debate surrounding economic class and the distribution of wealth.

In the second half of the century, the cultural wars addressed issues of race and gender.

As we stand at the dawn of the 21st century, a perhaps even more fundamental issue divides the American body politic. From stem cells, abortion and human cloning to the Schiavo case and physician-assisted suicides, the question of life has become this generation’s great ideological battle ground.

Jewish tradition certainly sees life as a primary value. Rosh Hashanah is so significant in the Jewish calendar precisely because it celebrates the birth of the world. Life is God’s first gift to humanity.

The liturgy of the High Holidays constantly celebrates life, and as Rabbi Irving Greenberg has suggested, in the Torah reading for the first day of Rosh Hashanah, God tells Abraham that Divine service does not mean sacrificing human life for the Divine but rather living a life devoted to bringing the Divine into the world.

However, Judaism’s emphasis on life is matched by its emphasis on choice. Human freedom to choose is incorporated within Maimonides’ 13 primary theological principles. Maimonides in his Mishnah Torah (Laws of Repentance 2:1) suggests that the essence of repentance is rooted in choice.

“What is complete repentance?” he asks. “It is the case of someone who has the opportunity to commit a sin he or she has committed, and has the ability to commit it [again], and yet separates from it and does not commit it, because of having done repentance, not because of fear or because of lack of power … such a man is a master of complete repentance.”

Such a conception of law highlights the unique choice-centered nature of Jewish law and repentance.

But in today’s American society, the complementary qualities of life and choice have come to represent opposing worldviews. Both sides have taken absolute positions, demanding that human beings live either by the credo “the sanctity of life” or the motto “life without choice is not worth living.” So blinded are those who express such ideologies that in their talk radio extremes, they refer to the other position as the equivalent of communism or Nazism.

Both these noisy sides ignore the silent majority who stand in the very gray, murky and complex terrain called living. Those who stand in the world of the living realize each of us chooses life: “ubacharta b’achaim.”

Living means recognizing that though dogmatic, absolutist and all-encompassing worldviews might make for good media headlines, tenure at a university or electablity at the voting booth, they fail to make any sense in the real world. In the real world, people are not rational computers who make every decision based on a priori theoretical doctrines.

In some cases, we are more open to the pain and suffering of the present. In other cases, we feel more the weight of history and text.

Jewish tradition recognizes that each decision involving human life is a world unto itself. To be sure, the Jewish tradition is not unprincipled. It states unambiguously that never one, but a number of competing factors exist in every bioethical decision. It stands in opposition to both extremes of the debate and offers a sober worldview that gives dignity to the often conflicting rhythms of life.

While the tradition worries about partial-birth or late-term abortions, there are times that even under such circumstances the most stringent of rabbis would allow for terminating a pregnancy. Likewise, almost all rabbinic authorities acknowledge the importance of stem cell research, and while the vast majority of the tradition opposes physician-assisted suicide, much debate and legal room exists around the status of those who are brain dead.

These rulings might seem contradictory, but on closer examination, they give testimony to a theology not of life or choice per se, but rather a theology of the living. The word repentance, teshuvah, so commonly heard over the High Holidays, has many meanings. Among them is reconciliation.

As we sit and watch the political and religious absolutism infecting the American body politic threaten to irreversibly rend our national soul, we as Americans and Jews must become baalei teshuvah, masters of reconciliation. We need to help in healing and reconciling this divided country and remind our fellow citizens there is more to living than life or choice.

Rabbi Eliyahu Stern is scholar-in-residence at Park East Synagogue and is finishing a Ph.D. in Jewish studies at UC Berkeley.

 

Political Journal


Israel School Teaches Peace Lesson

Racially motivated brawls at Jefferson High School this spring made the school appear, at times, like a miniwar zone. Which makes it especially interesting that L.A. Unified School District (LAUSD) officials are learning lessons from Israeli and West Bank schools, where violence, even terrorism, is an ever-present undercurrent.

The person bringing those lessons to Los Angeles is USC professor Ron Avi Astor, who has spent his career studying school violence in Israel and the United States. His newest book, co-written with Israeli professor Rami Benbenishty of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, is titled, “School Violence in Contest: Culture, Neighborhood, Family, School, and Gender.” The two scholars conducted studies encompassing 30,000 Israeli students at a time.

A fundamental finding is that a school’s response to violence should relate to the type of violence: One size does not fit all. One of the first steps is to ask students, teachers and local authorities to describe the problem in detail, be it sexual harassment, weapons, gangs, bullying or something else.

Then, Astor said, officials should map the results. This process immediately reveals where students fear to go, allowing the school to target its response.

In Israel, national attention focused on the problem of school violence during the late 1990s. The government turned to Astor for advice. Acting on his input, schools put in place teacher training based on his methods, and a national dialogue on school violence in Israel began, Astor says. Since then, school violence has dropped by about 25 percent by his estimate.

Some of the schools facing the most hardships have fared best. Shevach Mofet in Herzeliya, for example, saw seven of its students killed in a Tel Aviv nightclub bombing.

The school managed not only to avoid fracturing into conflicting groups, but “created such a strong sense of community that a number of kids were propelled to colleges and good jobs, because they felt they were part of a greater cause,” Astor said.

He said that schools are not doomed to replicate patterns of violent behavior present in the communities around them.

“If you’re in a horrible neighborhood that has drugs and violence and political issues, and we have some of those in the West Bank, a school could shelter you,” Astor said.

The more actively the school assumes a positive, perceptive role in the community, he added, the more violent messages from the outside are mitigated. Schools that are more passive regarding a neighborhood’s ills — which focus, say, only on academics — tend to let in more of the violent messages coming from outside, Astor said.

The polling and mapping Astor and his colleagues developed in Israel and the West Bank are now at work in the LAUSD, where Astor sits on the Working Group for Safer School Communities. Students at Fremont High School in South Los Angeles and Gardena High School have already participated in mapping the dangerous areas around them, and eight more schools may soon follow. Infusing schools with a sense of purpose and community involvement is no quick fix, but the benefits over time can be transforming.

“Some of the schools we looked at were in the West Bank, where [students] go in with armored buses,” Astor recalled. “It’s amazing when you go into some of those schools. They are the most peaceful environments inside.”

Abortion Amendment on the Ballot

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for this November’s special election, he opened a Pandora’s Box. Schwarzenegger’s own initiatives (limiting teacher tenure, granting himself extra fiscal powers and changing the way legislative districts are drawn) are only three of eight now on the ballot.

One of the other ballot measures is a state constitutional amendment called Proposition 73, which would require doctors to notify the parents of minors who want an abortion.

In 1997, the California Supreme Court struck down a state law that would have required parental consent, calling it an invasion of privacy.

However, a constitutional amendment, such as Proposition 73, could preclude state judicial review.

The pro-73 campaign says that notifying parents of their child’s wish to have an abortion would help protect the pregnant minor by introducing mature decision making. It claims anecdotally that most people agree that parents have a right to be involved in this aspect of their children’s lives.

Proposition 73 opponents counter that teens who don’t tell their parents frequently have a good reason not to.

“We know that most teens talk to their parents,” said Hillary Selvin, executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women L.A. “Teens who don’t usually [have] a reason — like abuse or incest caused by somebody close to the parent or by the parents themselves.”

Selvin said that the teens who are most alienated from their parents are the ones most vulnerable.

“They will either go out of state or try and get an abortion illegally,” she said. “And I think most of us thought we were past that point in this country.”

She added that pursuing a judicial waiver to parental notification, which Proposition 73 would allow, is an unrealistic option for a pregnant teenager to pursue.

Yes on 73 campaign staff did not return calls seeking a response.

Whatever else it does, Proposition 73 makes the abortion process more difficult and complicated; it would therefore be likely to reduce the number of abortions. That in itself would please anti-abortion activists.

By far the biggest financial backer of Proposition 73 is James Holman, a publisher of several Catholic newspapers, as well as the secular San Diego Reader. Holman has donated about $1.3 million to the campaign, and has in the past opposed abortion in general, with or without parental notification.

 

Analysis – Leftists Try to ‘Take Back God’ in 2008


The 2008 election may be more than three years away, but one group is hoping to press the Democratic Party to infuse spirituality into its platform for that campaign.

“The right is correct; there is a huge spiritual crisis in America,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine. “And the left doesn’t get it.”

Republicans and their allies on the religious right have “done a good job” of articulating that crisis, Lerner said, but their analysis is “fundamentally flawed” because it’s based on demonizing “feminists, gays, liberals, African Americans.”

Lerner made his comments before an opening-night crowd of 1,200 attendees at a four-day interfaith conference on spiritual activism.

An initiative, as several speakers put it, to “take back God” — and the White House — from the religious right was the principle behind the forum, held July 20-24 at UC Berkeley.

The real crisis in the United States, according to Lerner, is generated by the “ethos of greed and materialism” that drives Western culture and impoverishes human relationships. And until the left and the Democratic Party understand that deep human hunger for meaning, the religious right will continue its ascendancy.

“We have not yet built a movement that speaks to those human needs, and until we do, the right has cornered the market,” he said.

The organizers hope to create a “network of spiritual progressives” who will, over the course of the next three years, develop a spiritually based platform they hope to take to the 2008 presidential elections.

They also plan to call for various international initiatives, including a “Global Marshall Plan” in which the developed countries that are part of the G-8 group of nations would each donate 5 percent of their gross domestic product for the next 20 years to eradicate poverty and hunger and rebuild the infrastructure of Third World economies.

“We’ve created this gathering for people who want to challenge the misuse of God and religion by the religious right and build a new bottom line whereby institutions will be judged rational, productive and efficient not only to the extent that they maximize money and power, but also to the extent that they maximize love and caring, generosity and kindness, ethical and ecological sensitivity,” Lerner outlined.

Although the conference organizers insist they’re apolitical, they’re clearly aiming their words at the Democratic Party, which like the rest of the left is, they say, tainted by “religio-phobia.”

“It’s easier to come out as gay in Boston than as religious in the Democratic Party,” said the keynote speaker, Rev. Jim Wallis, a well-known progressive evangelical Christian and the author of the best-selling “God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.”

Wallis, who has just wrapped up a 47-city book tour, told the crowd that many Americans consider themselves people of faith but don’t feel the religious right speaks in their name.

“The religious right think they own God,” he continued. “They think there are only two moral issues: abortion and gay marriage.”

Instead, he said, ending poverty should be the highest priority of a faith-based politics. “Now that’s a moral value,” he stated.

This isn’t the first faith-based progressive movement to champion social justice. Groups including the Clergy and Laity Network, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Nevada Interfaith Council for Worker Justice also try to bring together representatives of various religious organizations in the name of specific social or economic issues.

But the Berkeley initiative, a project of the Tikkun community created by Lerner, reaches beyond synagogue, church or mosque walls to “people who are spiritual but not religious,” organizers said.

Although the gathering’s theoretical underpinnings — merging traditional leftist ideas of social justice with spirituality — are very much Lerner’s, the conference itself featured speakers from Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and nonsectarian backgrounds, and its focus was clearly nondenominational.

There was just a handful of rabbis and no leaders of major Jewish organizations in attendance. Some people who helped put the conference together admitted privately that they were “disappointed” at the lack of response from the organized Jewish world.

“We are definitely interested in reaching out to them,” said Lerner, adding that he expects that the network’s next conference, in February in Washington, “will attract much more of the Jewish establishment.”

He hopes that this new network and the movement it spawns “will provide a way for Jewish liberals and progressives to unite around issues of concern” to them.

Throughout the conference, speakers urged participants to “go home and organize locally” and spoke of creating progressive, spiritually friendly caucuses within the Democratic and Green parties “and maybe even the Republican Party,” Lerner said.

 

Todd Solondz, Provoking Again


 

“People call me a provocateur,” filmmaker Todd Solondz said. “I’d say that’s fair.”

Peering out from his oversized thick green glasses, dressed in rose-colored pants, a nubbly gray sweater and yellow sneakers, Solondz looks the part of independent cinema’s presiding nerd incendiary. But in an interview to promote his new film, “Palindromes” — which skewers hypocrisy in both camps of the abortion debate — he insists his films do not shock for shock’s sake.

“There is a kind of prodding, a needling to wake people up from their complacency and smugness,” he said unemotionally. “As a filmmaker you need to do certain radical things to achieve that.”

Considered perhaps more radical than fellow filmmaking iconoclasts Neil LaBute and John Waters, Solondz’s grim satires have featured mocking and mordant takes on subjects such as pedophilia and sadistic interracial sex.

His excruciating 1996 comedy, “Welcome to the Dollhouse” — about a geeky four-eyed preteen who strikingly resembles Solondz — (originally titled, “Faggots and Retards”) was a kind of anti-“Wonder Years” that dispelled myths about childhood sexuality. His award-winning 1998 film, “Happiness,” which included a nice suburban dad with a predilection for little boys, was so scandalous, the studio that financed the movie elected not to distribute it.

In 2001’s “Storytelling,” a New Jersey Holocaust refugee’s daughter mouths platitudes about the Shoah and solicits tzedakah while ignoring the plight of her Salvadoran maid. When the housekeeper gasses the family to death, it is in part punishment for “trivializing and exploiting the tragedy of the Holocaust,” Solondz said.

His new film, “Palindromes,” revisits the Jersey suburbs to pit Jewish liberal parents against born-again Christians (and a pedophile) in the great American abortion debate. Stuck in the middle is 13-year-old Aviva, who is played by eight different actors and who gets herself pregnant because “babies are love.” When her appalled mother (Ellen Barkin) forces her to have an abortion, she runs away and finds refuge with Mama Sunshine (Debra Monk), a perky fundamentalist Christian whose home is a sanctuary for disabled children — and murderous right-to-lifers.

Solondz, 45, whose nasal accent belies his own New Jersey roots, was raised in a kosher home but is now an atheist. He believes the film is neither anti-abortion nor for abortion rights.

“I wanted to look at the moral consequences and ramifications of what it means to take on one of these labels,” he said.

On the one hand, Barkin’s character seems to be “a sensible, progressive parent,” he said. “If she were given a form she would check off ‘anti-war,’ ‘pro-gun control,’ ‘pro-gay rights’ and all the correct liberal causes. And, yet, when confronted with this terrible reality of her pregnant 13-year-old daughter, she is pro-choice so long as she does the choosing.”

Mama Sunshine, meanwhile, virtuously takes in abandoned children while helping to kill abortion doctors.

Aviva is suspended between a “pro-choice family that gives her no choice and a pro-life family that kills,” Solondz said.

“Palindromes” begins with the Jewish funeral of “Dollhouse’s” heroine, Dawn Weiner, Aviva’s cousin, who has committed suicide. Solondz said he wasn’t happy about killing Weiner off; he had hoped to explore her adventures as a young woman but was thwarted when Heather Matarazzo, the actress who had portrayed Dawn, declined to resume the role.

Thus he turned to another source for inspiration for his latest film: the television news and in particular, the controversy over abortion. “This is the only country in the world where people bomb clinics and assassinate abortionists,” the director said.

Solondz was especially struck by a story about a Southern community that rallied around such an assassin.

“I began pondering what it means to perpetuate such an atrocity; what goes through one’s mind, and then I realized it’s profoundly human to think that one is basically a good person, fighting the good fight,” he said. “Narcissism and self-deception are our survival mechanisms, so I think this movie is very responsive to what’s going on out there.”

While Solondz’s new film has received mixed reviews, the filmmaker especially bristles at the charge, by one critic, that “Palindromes” has “no artistic interest beyond the limitless ugliness of humanity.”

“Life is so much more cruel than anything I could put in my movies,” said the director. “Just in terms of reading the newspaper every day, there are atrocities that people and governments commit that make it impossible for me in good conscience to celebrate the wonderfulness of mankind.”

Solondz’s pet peeve is the typical Hollywood film that features attractive protagonists behaving heroically.

“That kind of movie allows viewers to feel better about themselves,” said cinema’s nerd provocateur. “You will never get that from any of my films.”

“Palindromes” opens today in Los Angeles.