You Rule

“While all other sciences have advanced, government is at a standstill — little better practiced now than three or four thousand years ago.” — John Adams

If the art of government had improved, then war, disease and poverty inflicted by the tyranny and selfishness of man, as well as the corruption of leaders, would not claim so many lives each minute, each second, around the globe. Man’s quest for a perfect form of government started at the dawn of civilization and is still far from conclusion.

The Bible describes the failure of monarchy, and history has proven that theocracy usually leads to fanaticism or hypocrisy. Even democracy boils down eventually to decisions made by individuals, and as long as it depends on the wisdom and discretion of one or several humans at the helm it can take disastrous turns.

A system of checks and balances can put democracy back on track, but we must admit that stumbling, falling, hitting the ground and getting up again to repeat the process is not the ideal form of walking.

In the words of historian Barbara Tuchman: “Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any other human activity…. Why do holders of high office so often act contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggests? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?”

In the early chapters of Genesis, the Torah denounces different forms of government. The anarchy of the generation of Noah started with a corrupt oligarchy, the elite group of Bene Ha’Elohim, or the Sons of the Judges. The attempt of the builders of the Tower of Babel to create a totalitarian society, with communism as its flag and “one language, one ideology” as its motto, resulted in the dispersion and diversification of mankind.

In this week’s portion, we read about the destruction of Sodom, which came about not because of sodomy but rather because of its total abandonment of the weaker layers of society, as the prophet Ezekiel declares: “Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquility; yet she did not support the poor and the needy” (16:49).

The model of Sodom was that of capitalism to the max. If you cannot make a living, don’t turn to me for help; it’s a free country, try harder.

In the midst of that political mayhem there appears our first patriarch, Abraham. He is plucked by God out of nowhere. He is not a king or a chieftain when he is addressed by God. Why was he chosen to be the forefather of Israel? What was special about him?

The answer is disclosed by God: I have chosen Abraham — or better yet: I have made Myself known to him — because I know that he will instruct his household members and his descendants in future generations to observe the path of God and to do justice and charity (18:19).

Abraham is chosen because he can prepare the ground for a utopian society, one in which every individual is raised with the understanding that the boundaries of law must be respected and justice must be pursued. At the same time, that charity, lovingkindness and understanding of other human beings are crucial to maintaining these very boundaries.

The path of God is remembering that all humans were created in God’s image and therefore all have equal rights. The perfect government, therefore, starts with the individual governing himself.

A short while ago, two friends with the help of many bloggers, created a powerful Web tool for locating missing Katrina victims. As Discover magazine reports, it was “the kind of data management effort that could have taken a year to execute if a corporation or a government agency had been in charge of it.” The PeopleFinder group managed to pull it off in four days for zero dollars.

The activism of Bono and the philanthropy of Bill Gates are but two examples of what inspired and dedicated individuals can achieve despite the shortsightedness of governments. Theirs is a world where the responsibility of justice and lovingkindness lies first and foremost on the shoulders of the individual.

The goal still seems tantalizingly distant, but inspired by the eternal message of the Torah, we are allowed and obligated to dream of a perfect world. Translate the dream to action. Assume leadership of yourself first and then exercise it, combining justice and lovingkindness in order to help your family, your community, your neighborhood and eventually, the whole world. Imagine….

Haim Ovadia is rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation, a Sephardic congregation in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at


Your Letters

David Lehrer

As a former colleague of David Lehrer, I am shocked and saddened by his firing by Abe Foxman (“Lehrer to Leave,” Dec. 28). Lehrer’s dedication to the protection of the Jewish community was always tantamount, and he was ever the consummate professional.

However, I am even more disappointed by the local ADL lay leadership’s response to the firing — except for Zev Yaroslavsky and John Rosove, who have clearly and plainly labeled the firing the outrage that it is. The local officers have publicly said and done little.

Whether out of loyalty for all that Lehrer has done to develop ADL as the leading Jewish defense agency in Los Angeles or simply a matter of being taken seriously by New York, it seems to me that any self-respecting local board should only have one response to this fiasco: the regional board president, officers and board members should all have their resignations on Foxman’s desk come first thing Monday morning. That would truly prove that we in the L.A. Jewish community take care of those who dedicate their lives to taking care of us.

Robert Smith, Los Angeles

As former employees of ADL’s Los Angeles office, we felt compelled to respond to the recent dismissal of Regional Director David Lehrer. Not only was David an eloquent and effective spokesman for the ADL, he was also a real mensch to work for. We wish him every success, and we are certain that ADL’s misguided decision will surely be another organization’s very fortunate gain. Thank you, David, for 27 years of singular devotion to the L.A. Jewish community and, on a more personal note, for making it a pleasure to come to work.

Cheryl Cutler Azair, Los Angeles; Barbara Bergen, Los Angeles; Jerry Shapiro, Beverly Hills; Roberta Venger Zelkha, Henderson, NV. JCCs

The Jewish Community Foundation (JCF) was created in the biblical logic of Joseph and his Egyptian Pharaoh, as a storehouse for the lean years. The JCF has collected and fattened its corpus by disbursing the legal minimum 5 percent a year during the fat years (“Resolutions,” Jan. 11). The JCC fiscal crisis has created a very lean year.

It’s unfortunate that the majority of the JCCs’ services will sink because of a $2 million-$6 million debt. This JCC debt could be retired in one or two years by increasing the JCF’s unrestricted disbursement from 5 percent to a modest 10 percent. As donors we are often called and told to dig deeper because it’s been a bad year for one of our agencies and its clients. It is now time that the JCF be called upon to dig deeper, because it’s been a bad year for the JCC community, and the rainy day is here.

Pini Herman, Los Angeles

Carin Davis

I am a new reader of The Jewish Journal. I periodically peruse it online and though I don’t normally write these kind of letters, I wanted to share my enthusiasm for your new columnist Carin Davis. I think she’s funny, charming and manages to capture a strong point of view that’s easy to relate to. Bravo to you guys, and keep up the good work. I hope to read more of her in upcoming issues.

Gregory Goldin, Brentwood

For The Kids

Someone familiar with the Bible should be assigned to verify the facts presented in the For The Kids page. It asserted that the Tower of Babel occurred before the flood, a reversal of biblical chronology (Oct. 19). The ultimate error was on Dec. 28, which contained the incredible statement, “In fact, King David was from the tribe of Ephraim.” David was from the tribe of Judah, as even a cursory reading of Ruth, Samuel, Kings or Chronicles will quickly reveal.

It is terrible to give misinformation to children, since they will believe and retain it, especially if it seems to come from an authoritative source.

Solomon Golomb, Los Angeles


In the Jan. 11 article “Tall Torah Tales,” B’nai Jeshrun in Manhattan is a Conservative synagogue.