Bernie Sanders tells supporters Trump’s ‘bigotry’ is the focus now, doesn’t mention Israel

Bernie Sanders told his followers that the priority now was defeating Donald Trump and the bigotry he said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee represented. He pledged to work with Hillary Clinton to make sure that happens, although he did not yet withdraw from the race for the Democratic presidential nod.

“The major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly,” Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont, said in an address live-streamed Thursday evening to his followers marking the end of the primaries campaign. “And I personally intend to begin my role in that process in a very short period of time.”

Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win major party nominating contests, noted his differences with Clinton on some issues, but, in a shift, emphasized that the greater threat was Trump, the real estate magnate whose securing of the Republican nomination has roiled the presidential race with accusations that his campaign is undergirded by bigotry.

“After centuries of racism, sexism and discrimination of all forms in our country we do not need a major party candidate who makes bigotry the cornerstone of his campaign,” he said. “We cannot have a president who insults Mexicans and Latinos, Muslims, women and African-Americans. We cannot have a president who, in the midst of so much income and wealth inequality, wants to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the very rich. We cannot have a president who, despite all of the scientific evidence, believes that climate change is a hoax.”

Clinton, the former secretary of state, last week secured enough delegates to be declared the presumptive nominee. Sanders is credited with nudging her to the left on issues like Wall Street reform, income equality and trade protection. He said he would continue to press Clinton on those issues, but for the first time in months, Sanders emphasized that he and Clinton shared much in common.

“It is no secret that Secretary Clinton and I have strong disagreements on some very important issues,” he said. “It is also true that our views are quite close on others. I look forward, in the coming weeks, to continued discussions between the two campaigns to make certain that your voices are heard and that the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history and that Democrats actually fight for that agenda.”

Sanders did not back out of the race, likely because he wants to leverage his delegates to shape the platform at the party convention in Philadelphia next month. Still, his address would likely be welcomed by the party establishment, which wants Sanders to campaign for Clinton after she is formally nominated, and to keep his followers on side in the general election.

Also likely to be assuaged by the speech: The pro-Israel establishment, rattled by Sanders’ sharp differences with Clinton on Israel, where Sanders has said the party should be balanced and take into account Palestinian claims. He did not mention Israel at all, and had only one sentence on foreign policy:”We must make certain our brave young men and women in the military are not thrown into perpetual warfare in the Middle East or other wars we should not be fighting.”

Sanders said he would also work to transform how the party selects its nominee, opening up the nominating process, and urged the party to extend its campaigning into all 50 states.

“The current Democratic Party leadership has turned its back on dozens of states in this country and has allowed right-wing politicians to win elections in some states with virtually no opposition – including some of the poorest states in America,” Sanders said. “The Democratic Party needs a 50-state strategy. We may not win in every state tomorrow but we will never win unless we recruit good candidates and develop organizations that can compete effectively in the future. We must provide resources to those states which have so long been ignored.”

A 50-state strategy, spearheaded by Howard Dean when he led the Democratic National Committee in the mid-2000s, helped Democrats win Congress for a period and elect President Barack Obama. Dean, a former governor of Sanders’ home state, Vermont, also led an insurgent presidential candidacy in 2004 that nudged the party left.

Since 2011, however, and under the stewardship of Sanders’ nemesis, DNC Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the party has focused more on securing swing states.

Sanders called on his followers to remain involved, a signal to some Sanders’ backers who on social media have said they have been disillusioned with the process and may sit out this election. He said that instead they should considering running for office.

“I hope very much that many of you listening tonight are prepared to engage at that level,” he said. “Please go to my website at to learn more about how you can effectively run for office or get involved in politics at the local or state level. I have no doubt that with the energy and enthusiasm our campaign has shown that we can win significant numbers of local and state elections if people are prepared to become involved. I also hope people will give serious thought to running for statewide offices and the U.S. Congress.”

Fight bigotry at ballot box

The Trayvon Martin case has once again reminded us that racial divisiveness isn’t going away any time soon in America. The verdict is being debated all over. There are protests in numerous cities. But the Martin verdict and the ensuing protests will nevertheless not have as enduring an impact on how our government works at all levels as the simple act of voting. The surest tool to guarantee that racial discrimination does not occur is the ballot box, to ensure that all Americans eligible to vote have full opportunity to do so.  

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act, revealed in late June, along with recent actions by a number of states to make it harder for people to vote, are likely to have major consequences for the politics of race. 

The Constitution generally leaves voting rules to the states, except where Congress, the courts or constitutional amendments have acted to protect groups from discrimination in voting — including women, racial minorities and the young. The 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) was intended to rectify decades of discriminatory practices, especially in the South, and, as recently as 2006, was extended as amended with overwhelming bipartisan support and the signature of President George W. Bush. 

The VRA imposed national rules on all the states and managed to discomfort both political parties.  Southern Democrats, after all, were the main targets of the 1965 Act.  Democratic California could not allocate black and Hispanic populations to keep Democratic incumbents in power. Minority voting rights groups used to regularly sue California and Los Angeles about district lines. It also prevented Republicans in Texas from drawing lines to disadvantage minorities.

Lawsuits from minority groups often drew support from Republicans, who did not mind the breakup of “safe” Democratic districts in order to create more minority districts.  It was recognized in both parties that attempts to limit voting would violate the VRA.

After Barack Obama won the White House in 2008 with a new coalition of younger whites and racial minorities, Democrats believed they were on the winning side of history. Only two years later, Republicans swept to victories in midterm elections — nationally and statewide —- not just in the south but also in such industrial states as Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin and Michigan. 

Among the main legislative priorities of these newly elected Republican state governments was the enactment of voter ID laws and other limitations (such as on early voting) that disadvantaged minority groups who were less likely to have the IDs and who tended to heavily utilize early voting. (In Florida, state Republicans also passed the “Stand Your Ground” law that played a role in the Martin trial.)

The VRA provided some protection against these laws. But now the Supreme Court has voided the long-standing “pre-clearance” requirement for those states (mainly in the South) that have had a history of discrimination in voting laws. Within a day of the court’s decision, southern states began imposing new restrictive voting laws and redistricting plans (as in Texas) intended to weaken minority representation.

Thomas Edsall recently predicted in The New York Times that the court’s VRA decision will give Republicans a lock on 11 southern states for years to come, by restricting opportunities for Democrats to win elections — through redistricting — and by limiting the ability of blacks to vote through voter ID and other laws. 

We will soon have two voting regimes in the United States, one of states like California trying to expand voting and another of states trying to restrict it. But this leads to the following question: What happens if those wanting to restrict minority voters win control of both houses of Congress and the White House and pass national voting laws similar to those that emerged after the 2010 midterm elections?  Will the Supreme Court allow the dual regimes to continue?

This reality casts a sharp light on the debate about whether Republicans, in weighing immigration reform, can remain a largely white party or must become more diverse.  Without the core of the VRA, Republicans will not have to look over their shoulders in the South, and they can build a base of states entirely without minority voters. With control of many states, a lock on the House of Representatives and a sympathetic Supreme Court majority, Republicans might be tempted to go on as they have.  But another block of Republicans that long supported the VRA does not want to commit the party to a whites-only strategy built on low levels of minority participation.  Hopefully, there will be bipartisan support to rebuild the crippled VRA.  That would be good for both parties and certainly good for the nation. In the absence of a bipartisan solution, much will depend on the outcome of midterm elections in 2014.

 The effort to protect and expand the right to vote is entering a new phase, not unlike the early days of the civil rights movement. The lesson of that era is that voting is precious and must be defended in the courtroom, in the political arena and in the neighborhoods where people live and vote, even if it means personally helping a voter in another state to meet excessively difficult requirements intended to discourage voting. 

While it may be a while before voting rights regain their recently lost bipartisan umbrella, and while that would be an outcome to be greatly welcomed, it remains urgently important now to nurture and protect the franchise.

Raphael J. Sonenshein is executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Where’s the struggle?

I feel cheated. I’ve always been told that Judaism is all about the struggle — the struggle with God, with ourselves, with ideas.

I’ve been told that Judaism embraces the tension between opposing views; that a key part of being Jewish is the ability to hold onto, even nurture, this tension as a way of refining our character.

So, what happened?

When I see the coarse arguments currently raging over the issue of same-sex marriage, I don’t see any thoughtful or fascinating debates or any embracing of tension. I see two armies shooting at each other.

These two armies have one thing in common: They’re both absolutely sure they have the truth on their side.

Many proponents of same-sex marriage are so sure of themselves that they’ll accuse the other side of “hatred, discrimination and bigotry.” When I saw a neighbor a few weeks ago put up a sign that said, “No to Hate, No to 8,” the first thing that crossed my mind was: If these people can go so far as to accuse the neighbors who disagree with them of hatred, well, they must be incredibly sure of themselves. No inner turmoil there.

I can’t say I’ve reached that state of blissful certitude. That’s because for every heartfelt, passionate argument I hear in favor of same-sex marriage, I’ll hear something that complicates the argument, such as this from Carol A. Corrigan:

“If there is to be a new understanding of the meaning of marriage in California, it should develop among the people of our state and find its expression at the ballot box.”

Corrigan is not a Mormon missionary. She’s a justice of the California Supreme Court. She was one of three dissenters in the decision last May to overturn the result of Proposition 22 from March 2000, when 61 percent of Californians who cast ballots voted that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Corrigan also happens to be a lesbian, who would personally like to see same-sex marriage become the law of the land. But as she wrote in her dissent:

“We are in the midst of a major social change. Societies seldom make such changes smoothly. For some, the process is frustratingly slow. For others it is jarringly fast. In a democracy the people should be given a fair chance to set the pace of change without judicial interference. That is the way democracies work.

“Ideas are proposed, debated, tested. Often new ideas are initially resisted, only to be ultimately embraced. But when ideas are imposed, opposition hardens and progress may be hampered.”

Does that sound like someone who’s full of hatred, discrimination and bigotry?

Similarly, I came across a scholarly and respectful essay from professor Margaret Somerville of McGill University titled, “The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage.” The Bible is never mentioned. Instead, strictly from a secular and ethical viewpoint, Somerville delves into the many layers of the issue, always recognizing the opposing viewpoint. And without a trace of self-righteousness, she advances, slowly and carefully, her belief that “society needs an institution that represents, symbolizes and protects the inherently reproductive relationship.”

I would love to see all proponents of Proposition 8 show the same appreciation for the complexity of this issue.

As I see it, the key point is not whether one agrees or disagrees with Corrigan and Somerville, but rather, recognizing that there’s a lot more thoughtful debate on this issue than meets the eye.

Frankly, when I see the increasingly vitriolic attacks being launched against people who exercised their democratic right to vote on a proposition, all I’m thinking is: They’re losing me.

One person who certainly didn’t lose me was Rabbi Sharon Brous, the spiritual leader of the IKAR community. Over coffee at Delice Bakery the other day, she made arguments in favor of same-sex marriage that were compelling and genuinely moving.

What moved me the most was the way she made her arguments — without any hint of anger or condescension, but with kindness, reason and heartfelt anecdotes. She didn’t feel the need to use scare tactics. She was against using words like “hate” to characterize the opposition, because, as she said, that kind of language doesn’t “open the heart.”

My conversation with Brous made me reflect on my own approach. Because I’m driven by curiosity as much as ideology, I have a tendency to immerse myself in both sides of an issue — even if I usually lean one way or the other.

I admit that I’m often tempted to just go over to my side, pick up a gun and start shooting. And sometimes I do. But then I ask myself, does the community need another partisan shooter, or does it need someone who can encourage all shooters to put down their guns and try to speak with the calmness and sensitivity of a Carole Corrigan, a Margaret Somerville or a Sharon Brous?

Maybe that’s the real struggle. Instead of trying to “convert” other people to our beliefs, we should struggle to convey those beliefs in a way that won’t alienate, demean or patronize the other side.

Even when — especially when — we’re absolutely sure that we are right and they are wrong.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

‘When there’s life, there’s hate’: Q & A with ADL’s Abe Foxman

Abe Foxman is director of the Anti-Defamation League. Born in Poland in 1940, he survived the Holocaust in Lithuania.

Foxman joined the ADL in 1965 upon graduating from New York University Law School and was appointed director in 1987.

Under his leadership the organization has gained a reputation as one of the nation’s preeminent human rights organizations, going after neo-Nazi groups and winning passage of groundbreaking hate-crime legislation. It has also been a magnet for controversy and criticism for its outspoken stands on issues ranging from Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” to the Armenian Genocide.

A week before coming West for the ADL’s annual meeting, Foxman spoke by phone with the Jewish Journal’s Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman.

Rob Eshman: The Republican Jewish Coalition ran a series of ads implying Sen. Barack Obama is anti-Israel and soft on terrorists. If those charges were true, it seems the ADL should have weighed in on Obama.

Abe Foxman: We don’t weigh in on political charges.

RE: But if you truly thought he was all those things, you’d be compelled to weigh in.

AF: We don’t weigh in one way or the other, except when there were rumors very early on which started before it became a major issue, floating in the Jewish community that Obama was a Muslim, went to a madrassa, was sworn in on the Koran. We did our own research, ascertained none of it was true, posted it on our Web site before it became an issue. Whether he is or isn’t [pro-Israel], nobody knows; that’s an opinion, a political opinion. And there’s a whole debate about William Ayers — that’s an opinion. That’s not an issue we would get an involved in.

RE: You released a statement saying the downturn in the economy has increased anti-Semitic invective. But your evidence is online message boards, which consist of crazy people posting on the Internet. How worried are you about this problem?

AF: We’re worried because there is a spike. You call them crazies. I call them bigots. Maybe every bigot is crazy or not. It’s not a surprise that bigots use a crisis situation to spew forth their venom, their hatred, their anti-Semitism. What is of concern is the quantity. What you call crazy or I call bigot out there can communicate his anti-Semitism instantaneously, in nanoseconds, if you will. We don’t know how far it reaches, into whose home, into whose institution, into whose school. We want people to be aware that it’s out there, and we’ve reached out to the servers, those who provide the platforms for it, and at this point they have been responsive. Some of the horrendous stuff is removed, but it doesn’t take very long for it to come back in another forum on another server, so we take it very seriously.

RE: Have you seen any signs that the hate has gone beyond the Internet?

AF: I don’t care what category you put it in, [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad stands in front of the world and declares that the economic downturn is the result of Zionist Jewish control of finances. Hamas declares the same thing on its media. Yeah, it crosses into mainstream.

RE: You believe extremism in Iran is the most important issue facing Jews today?

AF: I think it’s the most important issue facing the free world. I think that … when Iran obtains nuclear power, it will first blackmail the Middle East. Then it threatens freedom and democracy in Europe, it will threaten trade, it will threaten oil supplies, etc. But, yes, I do see it as a greatest threat to the Jewish people, because here is a state in our lifetime that threatens the destruction of the Jewish state. It’s one thing for him to use words, and we believe words can kill, but he is developing the ability to deliver on his words.

RE: Your biography is so striking, so emblematic of the plight of Jews under anti-Semitism. But now there have been two or three generations who have no first-hand experience like you have. Do you worry that they simply won’t feel the urgency on these matters that you lived through?

AF: There are so many people working for the ADL; they are not all Holocaust survivors; they are not all of my age group. What’s happening now, unfortunately, is that … many who felt they would be handing over to our children and grandchildren a different experience wake up in the year 2008 and see that they better become concerned with anti-Semitism, looking at what’s happening in France and in Great Britain and in the Middle East and in Latin America. So this has nothing to with the fact that Abe Foxman is a Holocaust survivor.

RE: Yet the ADL seems to have an image problem. Do you agree with that?

AF: Tell me what that image is?

RE: You had someone like Joey Kurtzman write on and Joe Klein write in Time that the ADL engages somewhat in fear-mongering.

AF: They have their own interests and axes to grind. I respect it. I disagree with it. I work for an organization that is as quick to say that it’s not anti-Semitism as we are to say when something is anti-Semitism. So, in fact, if you want, why don’t you look at the statistics of our sister agency, The American Jewish Committee, who finds in their polls that Jews see anti-Semitism as the greatest threat to them in the United States? I’m not even talking about abroad. Because when you take Iran or you take Europe or you take the Middle East, it has grown exponentially in the last six to eight years. But I think what you will find is that we are an institution that when it’s up, we say it’s up, and when it’s down, we say it’s down.

RE: During the height of controversy over Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion,’ we ran a Purim spoof cover showing Mel Gibson thanking you at the Academy Awards for drawing so much attention to his movie. Of course, it’s easy for us to make fun. How do you balance drawing attention to anti-Semites versus letting them blather in obscurity?

AF: We never have the luxury of ignoring anti-Semitism. By the way, I believe — I don’t think I should say it, I think you should say it — I believe I’ve been vindicated by the very fact that we raised issues about Mel Gibson and his film. We raised concerns, and I never called him an anti-Semite until he himself stood up and exposed himself publicly as the anti-Semite that he was. But you always ask the question, ‘If you talk about it, do more people know about it?’ ‘Is it worth it?’ etc.

My justification, if you will, is to say to you and all those who had a good time on Purim, take a look. Mel Gibson was an icon in this county. When this issue and debate began, Mel Gibson was the people’s choice. He was the most popular actor, producer, director, moneymaker in Hollywood. OK? And when we spoke up, people said, shocked, ‘He’s an icon.’ Well now look, several years later. In the interim, he did his film, he made his money and then he revealed himself for what he was. That’s the beauty of America. Where is he today? He’s still around; he’s no longer an icon. He’s no longer the most popular guy to run after. Where is he? He is where he needs to be. Because this country, the good people of this country did make consequences for him. It happens to politicians in this country; it happens to commercial enterprises. It’s not foolproof; its not 100 percent, and that’s what encourages me to stand up and speak out.

RE: When you see that anti-Semitism is up, around the world, when we thought anti-Semitism would end after the Holocaust and now it’s going on in Iran and in Europe, you have to wonder — is it just built into the civilization? Is it immortal in some ways?

AF: Hatred has been around since Cain and Abel. I’m not a philosopher; I’m not a sociologist. I don’t pretend to be. But they used to say, ‘Where there’s life, there’s bugs.’ When there’s life, there’s hate.

We’re into the age of DNA. The greater hope in our business is DNA, because if we can eventually map and find and isolate these DNA that makes people good, love, courageous, altruistic verses hate, greedy, jealous, etc., we may be able to change the universe.

RE: But the same technology could be reversed to take good people and inject them with hate.

AF: Absolutely. There’s always a risk in science. Take a look at the Internet. Great use for education and information, great use for bigots.

This interview has been condensed and edited

Wall Street, Main Street, Jew Street

I like to believe that as a 21st century American Jew, I’m no more paranoid than necessary.

But if I hear one more politician extol the virtues of “small towns,” I am fixing up a hiding place in my attic.

If I hear one more pundit bash Wall Street and grow misty over Main Street, I will check airfares out of the country.

“We grow good people in small towns,” vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin said in her acceptance speech at the Republican convention. The crowd went wild with applause.

Sen. Barack Obama told a Florida audience last month, “[Sen. John McCain] wants to run health care like they’ve been running Wall Street. Well, senator, I know some folks on Main Street who aren’t going to think that’s such a good idea.”

First the presidential election and now the financial crisis have given rise to rhetorical nativism. It is open season on the big city. In their bid for those elusive independent, middle-class voters, McCain and Obama and their seconds, Sen. Joe Biden and Palin, are fanning the myth that the real America resides in some shining Mayberry on a hill. If only those nasty money changers and culture vultures in the seething cities below would just let them sow their wheat and do their books and raise their children up good.

These tropes are not new to America; they are older than Shylock. The Jews make up the city: corrupt, scheming, complicated; while the common folk, the good people, occupy the farms and villages. The Jews lord over the metropolises, making easy money off the hard labor of others.

There’s an overlooked and ultimately sympathetic 1934 movie, “The House of Rothschild,” which perfectly captures the previous centuries of anti-Semitic caricature.

The film opens in 1750 on Frankfort’s “Jew Street,” as Mayer Amschel, founder of the Rothschild line, scurries to hide his precious guilden from the cruel tax collector.

“They keep us in chains!” he tells his boys. “They won’t let us learn a trade! They won’t let us own land. So make money. Money is the only weapon the Jew has to defend himself with.”

This stereotype and its accompanying rhetoric only ramps up in times of economic crisis. During the Great Depression, anti-Semitism was most virulent not in the cities where Jews lived but in the Farm Belt and Far West, where the image of “the Jew” lived.

Now the Anti-Defamation League reports “a dramatic upsurge in the number of anti-Semitic statements being posted to Internet discussion boards devoted to finance and the economy.”

Scan those Web sites and you quickly see what the candidates themselves likely don’t even realize: For the bigots and haters, Wall Street is code, the city is code, Hollywood — a staple enemy in the culture wars — is code. They’re code for “Jew.”

We shouldn’t be surprised. After all, when Palin said, “We grow good people in small towns,” she was quoting the late Westbrook Pegler, a notorious anti-Semitic columnist who called Jews “geese,” because “they hiss when they talk, gulp down everything before them and foul everything in their wake.”

Our candidates and our talking heads should be ashamed or, at least, careful. Because not only are such black-and-white dichotomies dangerous, they’re dumb.

Wall Street is not solely to blame for what’s happened — Main Street was a willing and gluttonous partner. And people on Main Street kept voting into office leaders who spouted pure pablum about “government getting out of the way” and deregulation and took their eyes off the market chicanery.

Main Street and Wall Street are inextricably bound up and always have been. Credit is as important to the economy as corn.

“Why is it everyone always talks about protecting the family farmer?” Rep. Barney Frank once told me. “What about the family shoemaker? What about the family banker?”

And those stump-speech paeans to small towns? Please.

First of all, most Americans live in cities, suburbs and exurbs. Cities aren’t cruel, shapeless Gothams and Gommorahs, they are historic centers of creativity and capital, beacons of hope and opportunity. New York is the symbol of American achievement — the terrorists on Sept. 11 didn’t go after Wasilla or some Home Depot in Delaware. Los Angeles — if it can get its act together — is the city of the 21st century, where Hollywood shapes the world’s current imagination and future reality. Ingenuity, productivity and creativity gushes out from America’s cities.

Last Sunday, I attended a fundraiser for Friends of the Los Angeles River. They closed off the Sixth Street Bridge downtown and filled it with a buffet, dinner tables and a dance floor. Maybe 300 people showed up to support a waterway whose restoration will knit together all sorts of economically and ethnically diverse communities. I stood on the bridge watching the sun set behind the rail yards, behind the downtown skyscrapers and the distant hills, and I saw in that instant how Los Angeles is a great city made up of small towns: We call them neighborhoods.

I live in one of those small towns, and so do you. I like that Wall Street, when it works well, provides the wherewithal for my Main Street to grow and compete.

So I’m not going to pack my bags yet, but I sure know where I’d run to if need be. Because no matter how much they hate Wall Street and how much they fume over Hollywood, they always say they love Israel.

I guess that’s where the good Jews live.

Boycott Borat?

Does comedy nullify hatred? Does comedy grant allowance to bigotry, racism and, most of all, anti-Semitism?

Nov. 3 began the opening weekend of the acclaimed “most hilarious movie ever”: “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Khazakstan.” After rushing to the movie theater on Saturday night, I was greatly displeased to find the show was sold out. But since nobody I knew got in either, I soon realized I could still see the show with my friends the following weekend.

After much anticipation, I finally saw “Borat,” and for most of the movie I was almost dying of laughter. However, at a few points my laughter came to an abrupt stop. One scene replaced the Spanish tradition of the Running of the Bulls with “The Running of the Jew.” During this scene, Kazakhs chase two huge, green-colored caricatures of Jews — one a man with an unnaturally large nose and long payot and the other a woman with a large nose and a hideous face. When the crowd erupted in laughter at these famous stereotypes, I felt as though I had traveled back 65 years to when anti-Semitism was openly rampant.

Another scene shows Borat staying at a bed and breakfast run by a Jewish couple. Thinking that the owners had metamorphosed into cockroaches, Borat throws money at the insects and flees the house in great fear. The implication that Jews are “cheap” was displayed and made fun of in front of millions of viewers all over the world. Throughout the film, Borat reinforces stereotypes of other minorities, as well as of Jews. One scene includes Borat sagging his pants and speaking in a mocking African American dialect. Practically throughout the entire film, Borat pokes fun at “hicks,” a term many of us in our own bigotry have used to categorized everyone living in Middle America.

This display of clearly anti-Semitic scenes, in combination with various other scenes offensive to minorities, truly tore my decision in half regarding whether I should support this movie. Do I side with my teenage perspective that says it’s hilarious? Or rather, do I side with my grown-up, more critical side that deems the film offensive and anti-Semitic?

Before making any judgments, we must reconsider Sacha Baron Cohen’s, a.k.a Borat’s, true motives for making this film. Certainly, Cohen is not serious in this anti-Semitism — he’s a Jew. Rather, Cohen successfully attempts to evoke the stupidity of anti-Semites — and all racism, for that matter — through his character, Borat. By making brash, racist remarks, Borat’s exposes the audience to the irrationality and “craziness” of any form of baseless hatred.

The movie also uncovers the very prevalent anti-Semitism in America. This anti-Semitism is something Diaspora Jews tend to forget about, for we assume it is improbable that such views still exist in this civilized, democratic country. This portrayal of reality truly is the genius and motive behind the movie.

Although Cohen’s objectives are correct and pure, many people are still sensitive to any form of racism for whatever reason. For example, my parents saw the movie and, for the most part, thought it was funny. Even with the understanding of Cohen’s intentions, they were still deeply offended by the anti-Semitic scenes. My parents found the sight of the non-Jews sitting next to them laughing at Jewish stereotypes especially disturbing. Furthermore, for those who don’t know Cohen’s true intentions, the movie could perpetuate and enhance prejudice. The Anti-Defamation League had something to say, as well, regarding the fragility of interpretations of Cohen’s film and actually wrote a letter to Cohen himself.

In summation, the letter stated, “We are concerned, however, that one serious pitfall is that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry.”

After reviewing all possible interpretations and resulting occurrences, I believe that Borat should not be boycotted, and not even changed, for a variety of reasons. First, I trust that the majority of American audiences possess the intelligence to differentiate between true racism and a clear mockery of racism.

Second, changing or cutting out scenes of this movie would be the most racist thing to do. How can we take out scenes offensive to Jews but leave the rest of the movie, which is replete with scenes offensive to all the other minorities?

Maybe by attacking all minorities, Cohen tested our society even further. Who thinks their minority’s self-respect is above those of others?

Adam Deutsch is a sophomore at YULA.

Speak Up!
Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the February issue is Jan. 15; Deadline for the March issue is Feb. 15. Send submissions to

What I Really Asked Mel Gibson

Can an alcoholic who was poisoned with his father’s anti-Semitism use a moment of naked exposure to confront his bigotry? Can he ever hope to cleanse himself of this deeply-seated
hatred or is he forever doomed?

Will he turn his life around and begin using his celebrity and wealth to combat the anti-Semitism he now eschews? Is the adage, once an anti-Semite, always an anti-Semite, unshakeable?

As a Jewish people, these are some of the questions we all personally confront in different forms during the month of Elul, the 30-day period preceding the better-known 10 days of penitence (Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur).

For some of us, combating anti-Semitism has replaced the teachings of our faith on compassion as a new form of religion. I meet many Jews who are not religious, don’t keep the Torah, but let anyone dare insult the name of our people, and they are the first to condemn him.

That may be the beginning and the end of Jewish identity for some. But I believe such a reactive mentality neglects the foundations of our faith and its teachings on redemption.

Mel Gibson made a tepid but widely reported expression of remorse and a call to begin dialogue with rabbis after spewing anti-Semitic comments. In response, I invited Gibson to publicly apologize before my congregation on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Our faith does not believe in vicarious atonement and requires direct action to the injured party, coupled with one’s apology. The media mistakenly reported my letter to Gibson as an offer to speak, not as an offer to apologize. It furthermore omitted the key precondition of a face-to-face meeting. Should that meeting ever come to pass, I would use my 30 years of rabbinical experience, 20 of them spent in the entertainment and arts community, to evaluate Gibson’s sincerity.

I would begin by requiring him to adhere to the same four steps of repentance that I set as a guideline for myself. Firstly, he must admit his act and acknowledge that it is not a new phenomenon.

Secondly, he must make a confession of the terrible slander he uttered at a time of defensive war and great sensitivity for the Jewish people. When he declared “the Jews start all the wars,” he was pointing an anti-Semitic finger at the Jewish state, instead of at the true culprit, Hezbollah Islamo-fascism and its call for Israel’s destruction.

How would he respond to his Malibu church and home being bombarded and his children being kidnapped? Gibson needs to comprehend and fully own the scope of that libel. Individual apologies to the families of fallen Israel Defense Forces soldiers would be an appropriate start.

Thirdly, he is required to express his sincere contrition and directly ask forgiveness of the injured party. Sometimes the place you choose for such an act can send an important message.

I recently returned from Poland, where I attended a memorial ceremony at the Auschwitz death camp led by Pope Benedict XVI. During our personal exchange, he told me why he had come to that place of horror. It was, he said, “to make a statement as the leader of world Catholicism and as a son of Germany.” His humble presence and words of comfort spoke volumes.

Gibson’s father denies the Holocaust, and Gibson must now clearly and unequivocally denounce that perverted view. I urged him to stand before the Jewish community, with his children at his side, and break the intergenerational cycle of hatred.

Lastly, any sinner is required to make a, “tikkun,” a viable act of repairing the injury. Gibson should sponsor an annual seminar on combating all forms of religious, ethnic, sexual and racial hatred. Real soul repair requires time and work but it must begin.

Once these concrete steps have been undertaken, we, as a people who pride ourselves at being “the compassionate children of compassionate ancestors,” must open to accept his contrition. While we may remain skeptical, we must be prepared to forgive.

According to the prophet Isaiah, in the final days, the children of those who despised Israel will come to worship with us in the temple of Zion. (Isaiah 60:14) The objective here is not religious conversion, but rather that the persecutor shares in the perspective of the persecuted.

The world is too full of blind hatred of our people, and if we can respond to one anti-Semite is it worth the effort? Rabbinic tradition narrated that some of our worst enemies became instructors of Torah.

The great Rabbi Meir of the second century was a descendant of the Roman emperor, Nero. The offspring of Sennacherib, who sacked Jerusalem, came to teach Torah in public. These were none other than Shemaya and Avtalyon, two of the most distinguished members of the rabbinic chain of tradition. They were also the teachers of the renown sage, Rabbi Hillel, who asked, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me, but if I am only for myself, of what worth am I, and if not now, when?”

Gibson is currently in alcoholism rehabilitation, and I have postponed the invitation for a later date. The time to begin, however, is now, and these 30 days of soul-centered repentance are the opening for his anti-Semitic rehabilitation to begin and for us to ask questions about our dearly held assumptions.

Rabbi David Baron is the spiritual leader of Temple of the Arts. He is the author of the “Sacred Moments” prayer book and “Moses on Management: Leadership Lessons in Business and Life” (Simon & Schuster). He produced a nationally televised Yom Kippur program for the homebound which airs on PAX TV.

The Circuit

ADL Celebrates Family

More than 800 people showed up to celebrate the work of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) last week at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where more than $400,000 was raised for ADL’s battle against anti-Semitism, hate and bigotry.

The event lived up to its theme, “We Are Family,” as it celebrated diversity and tuned into the words of keynote speaker Ambassador Dennis Ross and vignettes by four individuals affected by the work of ADL, including L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who told The Journal, “Without the ADL we couldn’t have made as many advances against bigotry as we have, and I wouldn’t be mayor.”

During the event, co-chaired by Suzanne and Harvey Prince and Stacey and Michael Garfinkel, Villaraigosa spoke of his experience leading an ADL mission to Israel and the importance of an organization that battles hate and bigotry. A victim of anti-Semitic hate mail shared how ADL comforted her and others who received the vicious mail and worked with law enforcement to bring the perpetrator to justice.

Honored during the evening were Richard E. Wiseley, managing director of the Western Division of Oppenheimer & Co, Inc., who received the Humanitarian Award and Justice Norman L. Epstein, presiding judge of the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District, Division Four, who received the Jurisprudence Award. In keeping with the “We Are Family” theme, Wiseley’s wife, March, presented his award and Epstein’s children, Carole and Mark, presented his award.

Eighty Years Young

More than 150 guests gathered at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica on Sunday, Dec. 4 to celebrate the 80th birthday of Moshe Arens, former Israeli ambassador to the United States. Arens, now the chairman of the board of governors for the College of Judea & Samaria in Israel, also accepted the “Living Legacy Award” from the college for his many years of public service in Israel.

“Education is important everywhere, particularly in Israel,” Arens said. “Our natural resources are very limited but our most important resource is our young people, so investing in their education is key.”

Consul General of Israel Ehud Danoch spoke at the event, which included a question-and-answer session with veterans of Israel’s War of Independence Lou Lenart, Arens and famed hairstylist Vidal Sassoon. The Milken Family Foundation sponsored the event with proceeds going to the College of Judea & Samaria. — Karmel Melamed Contributing Writer

Speaking of Lunch

In December, the National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles presented its Lunchtime Speaker and Discussion Series on “The Separation of Church & State,” where John L. Rosove, senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood, and Stephen F. Rohde, vice president of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enlightened the group who lunched and listened intently as they spoke.

In January they will present “Marriage Equality” with speaker Eva Wolfson, executive director and founder of “Freedom to Marry.”

For information call Ruth Williams (323) 651-2930, ext. 503

Big in the Big Apple

Prominent L.A. Jewish communal leader Jack M. Nagel received an honorary degree at Yeshiva University’s (YU) 81st annual Hanukkah Dinner and Convocation on Sunday, Dec. 11 at The Waldorf-Astoria in New York.

YU President Richard M. Joel also confered honorary degrees on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who delivered the convocation, and four other leaders: Linda Altman, Jay Feinberg, Kathryn O. Greenberg and Rose Yavarkovsky.

Nagel, a Holocaust survivor born in Poland, came to the United States in 1947, attended New York University and moved to Los Angeles in 1955, where he established Nagel Construction Company, a leading developer of residential and commercial real estate. He is chairman of the West Coast Friends of Bar-Ilan University and a member of both its American Board of Trustees and International Board. He was awarded an honorary degree from Bar-Ilan University, which named its Jack and Gitta Nagel Jewish Family Heritage Center in honor of him and his wife.

A Star-Studded Shop

Century City’s Westfield Shopping Center kicked off a new $150 million renovation with a star-studded, spectacular movie premiere raising more than $600,000 to benefit UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Celebrities abounded at the festivities featuring the world premiere of the Mel Brooks comedy “The Producers.” On hand were the movie’s stars Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Will Farrell, Gary Beach and Roger Bart along with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who cut the ticket-shaped ribbon with Westfield’s CEO Peter Lowy.

Villaraigosa praised the new facility, noting that “the renovations at the center put the ‘city’ back into Century City and is a great boost to Los Angeles.”

Lowy voiced his determination to keep the facility a major shopping experience for the community and thanked the mayor for finishing the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction project on time.

The new-state-of-the-art theater features stadium seating and an outdoor dining terrace (the first of its kind in the U.S.) which Lowy promised will be the setting for many future movie premieres and exciting events.


New Year Sermons Take Political Turn

Southern California rabbis welcomed 5765 with words both patriotic and angry as they used their Rosh Hashanah pulpits to speak out against indifference, bigotry and other issues large and small.

"This is a congregation that is passionate about Israel, something of which we should be enormously proud," said Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe, as he spoke before High Holiday worshipers at the Westwood synagogue. "But there is a world ablaze out there, and it’s not enough to care only about one thing."

While not downplaying the Holocaust, Wolpe’s call for greater Jewish public witness to the world’s woes found the rabbi quoting French author Albert Camus and, while reiterating the importance of remembering the Holocaust, also saying, "But ‘never again’ can’t only apply to Jews."

Like other Southern California synagogues, security was omnipresent at Sinai Temple, which used three layers of synagogue door greeters checking Rosh Hashanah tickets, then uniformed security guards and plainclothes, off-duty police officers.

The Los Angeles Police Department increased patrols near synagogues during Rosh Hashanah, but a police spokesman said there were no reports of violence or vandalism.

The show of security did not dampen the High Holiday sentiment, as old friends from Sinai Temple greeted each other, including a smartly dressed young mother steering a pram who greeted a friend saying, "I remember that skirt!" Inside Sinai, as the ark was being opened, the Conservative sanctuary’s back rows carried a low hum of friends chatting amidst the prayers.

On Pico Boulevard, Temple Isaiah played host to a sister Reform congregation, the gay- and lesbian-oriented Beth Chayim Chadashim and its overflow crowd of 400. Beth Chayim’s board secretary, Steven Leider, is a UCLA student affairs officer whose gay and lesbian student outreach center had just been vandalized.

"My office at UCLA was attacked twice this week," Leider said. "We know that anti-Semitism, homophobia, racism and misogyny all travel hand in hand."

At the Reconstructionist congregation Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, homosexual issues were the backdrop of Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben’s sermon denouncing those who oppose gay marriage rites as bigots.

"What a tragic commentary it makes upon our society, that just one day after our [state] Supreme Court invalidated California’s 4,000 same-sex marriages," the rabbi said, "James McGreevy, the married governor of New Jersey, announced, ‘I am a gay American,’ and had to quit the governorship in public humiliation for among other things, having an affair with a man."

At Temple Israel of Hollywood, synagogue staffers saw at least 150 tickets sold through the shul’s expanded Web site. Rabbi John Rosove’s sermon mentioned the grand issues of modern Judaism as a stepping stone to discuss the Reform shul’s new $18 million capital campaign to fund expansion.

"Stated simply, we’ve completely outgrown our facility, and this has become a serious problem and an unacceptable reality, because we’re now turning away many individuals and families, including many young people in interfaith marriages, from our nursery school, which has acted as the entry point into our community and into Jewish life itself," Rosove said.

"Imagine what we could do with a renovated and expanded shul," he continued. "Imagine how many people’s needs could be met over the next 75 years!"

At Leo Baeck Temple in Bel Air, Rabbi Kenneth Chasen gave his second High Holidays sermon to his new congregation and painted the world as still deeply anti-Semitic and still filled with hatred, especially in this presidential campaign.

"It pains me to stand before you on this eve of the new year 5765 and say without qualification that I have never lived in worse times than these," the Reform rabbi said. "We live not only in dangerous time, we live in the most openly vitriolic times that I can remember…. It’s hard to deny that we’ve become much more comfortable with being haters than we used to be."

Although many sermons spoke for peace in the Middle East and against genocide in Sudan, Sinai Temple’s Wolpe struck a positive chord by noting that the new year marks the 350th anniversary of the arrival of Jews in America, a land unlike others for Jews.

"America was different, because throughout our history, there was always the majority and the Jews," he said. "But in America, there were no Americans and Jews; we were of the country, not apart from it."

Then Wolpe said to those gathered before him for the High Holidays, "Look around you; this is happening all over America this morning."

No Outrage Over Race Card?

Californians have reached new levels of accommodation for cultural and other differences, but some of our officials still speak unashamedly in stark racial and ethnic terms. In some cases these officials are politicians “of color,” which seems to act as a buffer against the charge that they speak in biased and bigoted terms. Why is this so? What is the standard for what’s acceptable from our elected officials in a state with the most complex population in the entire nation? Is there a double standard at play?

Illustrating this double standard is the flap that has surfaced surrounding the Gray Davis appointment of broadcast executive Norman Pattiz to the Board of Regents of the University of California. Pattiz is white (and Jewish) and wealthy. State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles) has opposed the appointment and argued that the prestigious board needs additional diversity. But Romero, who comes with a resume of extensive political and racial activism, didn’t stop there. She went on to claim that Pattiz’s skin color and wealth didn’t reflect the state’s diversity. The logic here seems to be that white Californians are not part of the state’s complex racial and ethnic diversity. Is “diversity” then just a proxy for “people of color?”

There is a legitimate case to be made that a position on the Board of Regents should not be a reward for wealthy contributors to a governor or his party. And to be fair, Romero did point this out in her own fashion. However, in the process, she strayed significantly across the line of acceptability and made racially offensive comments.

Why no outrage at Romero’s statements? Imagine, if you can, a white political figure making a comment that someone “of color” appointed to a state board or commission was unqualified because of his or her skin color or economic status. It would amount to political suicide.

When a motion was recently put to a vote in the Assembly to seek an apology from Gov. Davis because of an off-hand comment about Arnold Schwarzenegger’s accent, an African American assemblymember commented that no apology was due the Austrian immigrant because he wasn’t a member of an oppressed minority group. Following that logic, does accountability for offensive comments only apply if they are directed at someone “of color?” Somehow we don’t think this view of “social justice” is what the anti-bias struggles of an earlier period intended to bring about.

In our joint experiences as the former heads of Los Angeles-based anti-racist and anti-bias organizations (Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Anti-Defamation League) we fought to diminish the effects of racism and anti-Semitism on diverse and complex constituencies. We did not want biased and bigoted views shifted to any other group or groups in society, we wanted to eliminate backward-facing attitudes to every extent possible. In an even earlier era, civil rights figures like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heshel, didn’t want to simply advantage the nation’s ethnic and religious minorities — they wanted to free all Americans from the yoke of immoral, discriminatory and divisive racial practices and politics. What gives an astute, seasoned political veteran like Romero license to make such comments, seemingly free from fear that she would be censured by either the public or her colleagues?

Several generations of radical street and university activism, combined with the actual reality of racial practices and policies that were exclusionary from another era of California’s history, developed an incorrect belief that racism and bigotry is something that can only be practiced by white Americans, but not people of color. This view has seemingly given license to activists — and obviously some elected officials –to make comments that coarsen public debate and sharpens the already jagged edges of identity politics.

The use of the race, ethnic or religious card is not unheard of in recent California politics. The misuse of these themes dates back as least as far as the brutal 1969 Sam Yorty-Tom Bradley race for mayor of Los Angeles. Yorty never passed on the opportunity to remind voters that his opponent was not just another candidate for mayor — he was a black candidate. In recent times, we’ve had to endure numerous races that featured undertones, or in some cases blatant themes, of race, religion or ethnicity. In the late 1990s, a senatorial race between Richard Katz and Richard Richard Alarcón saw not-so-subtle claims that only a Latino could represent the San Fernando Valley district in question. The 2001 City Council race between incumbent Nick Pacheco and Antonio Villaraigosa produced political mailers that raised questions about the challenger’s ethnic authenticity. That same year, a black candidate for city council urged voters to reject the candidacy of Jan Perry (a black woman) because she is married to a white man.

Comments like these must be met with outrage, and measured against a single standard of what amounts to biased language. It’s one thing to argue that the pool of candidates needs to be enlarged for appointments to the UC Board of Regents, and entirely another to argue that success, wealth and white skin amount to some new sort of “three strikes” system in California.

Joe R. Hicks is the vice president of Community Advocates and the former executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. David A. Lehrer is the president of Community Advocates and was the former western regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Holocaust Programs Focus on Education

What do the Kurds have to do with Holocaust? More than you might think.

When Fran Lapides discusses the plight of this Middle Eastern minority group with her high school students, she notes the similarities to the way the Jews were persecuted during the Holocaust.

“Why do some people choose to treat the Kurds differently than other Iraqis?” the Milken Community High School social science chair asked her history classes. According to the educator, the rampant bigotry and racism is the same as the Jews faced in the Holocaust.

Using resources and teaching methods suggested by Facing History and Ourselves, an international educational and professional development organization, Lapides incorporates the Holocaust to illustrate stereotyping and hate connected with other significant historical and current events.

As Yom HaShoah approaches, thoughts of the Holocaust inevitably permeate the minds of Southland Jews. Faced with the challenge of communicating these horrors to children and hoping they can learn from it, various local educational programs strive to train teachers to teach this difficult subject matter.

Having participated in Facing History and Ourselves’ training several years ago, Lapides and her staff have used the organization’s resources for more than 10 years.

“First you look at the individual,” Lapides said. “You look at yourself and how ‘the other’ is created and why people sit back and don’t protest.” Using the Holocaust as a case study, Facing History and Ourselves addresses how the Jews became “the other” in Nazi Germany and why individual Germans responded to Hitler.

With offices in seven cities around the United States, Facing History and Ourselves offers a more than a dozen teacher training opportunities yearly. The Los Angeles office was established in 1994. More than 1,400 local educators use its resources, and more than 130 local public, private and religious schools use the Facing History and Ourselves program in their curricula. Through the training, the organization aims to teach children morals.

“We’re trying to get teachers to show their kids that it was habits of mind, people’s failure to make ethical decisions as citizens, that made the rise of the Nazis possible,” said Bernie Weinraub, a Los Angeles program associate.

Building on the idea that each person can make a difference, Facing History and Ourselves organizes a variety of events throughout the year. Currently, the organization is sponsoring a multimedia exhibit at the Los Angeles Central Library titled, “Choosing to Participate: Facing History and Ourselves.” The traveling exhibition features dramatic stories of ordinary Americans who took a stand in their own communities, and how their everyday choices affected the course of history.

Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is in its 20th year of conducting a Holocaust education workshop for teachers. The four-session program, which is offered each spring, includes lectures, a visit to the Los Angeles Holocaust Museum and a meeting with Holocaust survivors.

This year’s theme was “From Anti-Semitism to Genocide: Teaching Hope and Humanity in a World Threatened by Terrorism.” Classes were held in February and March.

“A Holocaust education model can be a very effective way to teach humanity and empathy to students,” said Marjan Keypour Greenblatt, associate director of the ADL’s Southwest Region.

The ADL and the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles are targeting local Catholic school educators in offering a new course, the Bearing Witness Summer Institute: Anti-Semitism, The Holocaust and Contemporary Issues, which will be offered June 23-25. The program will address issues of diversity, prejudice and bigotry in contemporary society.

Lapides recalled one year when she taught a Holocaust elective class at Milken, saying, “The change in the kids over the three months of in-depth study was evident. [Holocaust education] makes kids so much more aware of what they’re doing and how they’re treating others, and in our world today, it’s so important as we become a more diverse community.”

The “Choosing to Participate: Facing History and
Ourselves” exhibit is free and open to the public at the Central Library in
downtown Los Angeles through May 4. For more information, call (213) 228-7000 or
visit .

Letters to the Editor

Collaboration with al-Mayarati Shameful

Salam al-Mayarati certainly can’t be trusted. At best, he is not a friend of the Jewish community, let alone of Israel (“Caught in the Crossfire,” June 30).
The fact that leftist-liberal Democratic politician Adam Schiff chose to associate himself with al-Mayarati shows us all we need to know about his values and priorities. That is bad enough, but hardly surprising in a left-wing liberal today – Jewish ancestry or not.
What is much worse is the willingness of those with real Jewish credentials to involve themselves on behalf of Schiff and to engage in apologetics for al-Mayarati. These people either place the leftist cause ahead of the Jewish one or can make no distinction between them.
Their behavior is disgraceful and unhealthy and verges on collaboration. Shame on them.
Dr. Bruce J. Schneider, Irvine

Cohen Lawsuit Coverage Appreciated

I am a Jewish businesswoman from Thousand Oaks. Our newspapers give very little coverage to Kissandra Cohen’s lawsuit against Ed Masry, even though he moved here three years ago and moved his law practice here, too (“Kissandra’s Complaint,” May 26).
He is now announcing that he is running for our local city council, and many of us are extremely concerned about Cohen’s allegations of sexual harassment and anti-Semitism. An update on Cohen’s lawsuit from The Journal would be wonderful.
Jill Lederer, Thousand Oaks

Modesty Is Best Policy

There is no justification for sexually assaulting women, and men who do so are criminals and belong in jail, but based on her immodest appearance on the cover of The Jewish Journal (June 11, 1999), I am not surprised that Kissandra Cohen is alleging unwanted sexual advances. Kissandra, like all women, should take some responsibility to ensure that they are not the victims of unwanted sexual advances.
Certainly women and men know that a woman’s physical appearance is distracting to men. Merely telling men to “get over it” belittles and minimizes men’s nature. This is the way men are created. Men cannot get over it, but good men control it.
In the past, women became resentful of men expressing their base sexual nature in public and demanded change, and they have mostly achieved it. But there has never been a quid pro quo concession from women to curb their sexual nature – exhibiting themselves in public.
Women should begin searching inward for a way to promote goodness among men and women while recognizing and accepting that men will certainly be men. One way of doing that is to be responsible when appearing in public. Society must promote the values necessary to teach men that they must be stronger than their base impulses and teach women that immodesty is demeaning and can lead to a personal threat. Does Kissandra deserve unwanted sexual advances? Obviously, no. Did she help bring it about by her suggestive attire? Arguably, yes. She certainly does not dress in a way to minimize the alleged advances.
A. M. Goldberg, West Hills

Is Nothing Sacred?

Sex, masturbation, reaching a better orgasm, oral sex techniques, the G-spot, using common household objects for greater pleasure – sound like the topics for an X-rated discussion? Think again. These and other highly provocative subjects were all a part of a recent lecture that was led by a sex expert and was held at Stephen S. Wise Temple. The very erotic forum was also co-sponsored by Temple Judea, the University Synagogue and Kehillat Israel.
Isn’t there anything sacred anymore? I never thought that I’d live to see the day when a respected place of worship has been turned into “Jerry Springer.” In our current climate of anything goes, it seems as if no topic is too far out of bounds or unacceptable for public consumption.
But a synagogue? The very place that upholds God, morality, right and wrong, should know better. We attend this institution to learn to live our lives by a higher standard. We send our children to Sunday school and encourage them to absorb the lessons from the Bible and the Ten Commandments. On Yom Kippur we fast and atone for our sins, while we look to our rabbis for leadership and for a sense of direction.
With this in mind, and on the off-chance that I was wrong about my assumption as to what the discussion was going to be about, I decided to go to the event and see it for myself. Unfortunately, I discovered that after attending this sexually explicit and highly pornographic atmosphere, I came away with the sense that I had been cheated – feeling off-balance, and robbed from my idea of what is right and wrong, and what should be valued.
During the break I walked up to the speaker’s table and picked up literature that told me all about the power of seduction, ways to enhance my love-making techniques and how to speak more erotically. I then made my way through the hall and couldn’t help but notice pictures of the smiling faces of the temple’s past confirmation classes staring at me, so wide-eyed, young and innocent.
I left the evening wondering what these leaders from the various organizations involved would have to say for themselves now? How can they explain or reconcile such a disparity in their value systems? Shouldn’t they themselves be held accountable and answer to the same high standards as the rest of us? Doesn’t the public have a right to demand that they do?
Rhonda Rees, Encino

Essential to Oppose Bigotry

Thank you so much for Rabbi Boteach’s insightful article (“Dr. Laura Misguided on Homosexuality,” June 16). I have been troubled by the anti-gay hate speech in which “Dr.” Laura engages, and I feel it is essential that our teachers and leaders stand up to oppose bigotry whenever it is expressed.
Victoria Helton, Ventura

Torah Not an Evolving Document

The Israeli Supreme Court’s recent mandate of absolute equivalence for all-male and all-female prayer groups at the Western Wall has spurred yet another heated debate about rights, entitlements and quality of treatment.
The language of some of the principal plaintiffs quoted in The Jewish Journal (“Widening the Wall,” May 26), expressed the desire to give women “a voice in what may be the final frontier” in Israel and as one woman boasts, “the Torah is mine, and I don’t have to be a spectator.”
The fact is that from the giving of the Torah to the present, both woman and men have and have had a voice in bringing our ultimate redemption and its consequence – our complete return to Israel (truly “the final frontier”) and in owning the Torah’s individual dictates to men and women.
Sadly, the phrases and rhetoric of the Women of the Wall is a pale imitation of rights talk of the American courtroom, legislative chamber and academic journals. This is the language of American-style litigation. We are at home with it; it is familiar to our ears. But it has nothing to do with Torah.
The Torah is not an evolving document like the U.S. Constitution. It is removed from politics because it is from G-d; it knows not of democracy because it is timeless. We were presented with this gift for our common and individual good. But the gift can be received only if we accept it on its own terms.
Moshe Polon, Los Angeles

‘United Against Hate’

Under a giant banner that read “Sacramento United Against Hate,” some 4,500 citizens of all faiths and colors dedicated themselves to the fight against bigotry as their answer to coordinated arson attacks on three local synagogues.

More than 2,500 people crammed into the Community Center Theater Monday night, and 2,000 more listened in an adjacent auditorium, during a 2 1/2-hour rally that participants described as “electric” and “the most emotional experience of my life.”

The audience rose to its feet as California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante declared, “Tonight all of us belong to the three synagogues,” and as Sacramento Mayor Joe Serna said, “When I hear of synagogues burning, then I am a Jew.”

There were more standing ovations as the representative of an African-American housing association presented the first $10,000 check for a proposed municipal museum of tolerance, and as Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, stated that, in future years, Sacramento would be held up as a model of how a community must respond to bigotry.

Not far from the emotion-filled scene, more than 100 federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI were painstakingly combing the three synagogue sites for evidence to link the hate crimes to their perpetrators.

Last Friday’s pre-dawn attacks targeted Congregation B’nai Israel and Congregation Beth Shalom, both Reform temples, and the Kenesset Israel Torah Center, an Orthodox synagogue. Total damage was estimated at close to $1 million.