‘Dumb Jews’ react, more politics, more Israel

Dumb Jews

Your issue focusing on Jews’ Jewish literacy (“Dumb Jews,” Oct. 20) could not have been more appropriate. The key to building strong Jewish communities is creating knowledgeable Jews, aware of the meaning, significance and holiness of their tradition.

Your issue came out just as our synagogue began a program, started by a young rabbinical student at the University of Judaism, Laurence Rosenthal, called the Conservative Kollel. The program meets twice a month, it is free and offers intimate study sessions on a series of topics drawn from traditional Jewish literature.

I hope that it is through programs like this one that we will deepen and strengthen Jews’ commitment to their beautiful tradition.

Rabbi Aaron D. Benson
Congregation Beth Meier
Studio City

You often print obnoxious and anti-Jewish materials, but the front-page cartoon titled, “Dumb Jews” (Oct. 20), depicting a young Jew in a dunce cap, insults Jews as being stupid.

Jews with little knowledge of Judaism may indeed be uneducated in that important area of knowledge but describing them as “dumb” and “dunce” is nasty and misuses those words.

Webster’s dictionary defines “dumb” as lacking intelligence or not having the capability to process data. “Dunce” is defined as a slow-witted or stupid person.

Jews are often cited as among the most intelligent group of people on earth. Nevertheless, there is certainly a lack of good education about Judaism among American Jews. That is worth discussion that will lead to the desire for better Jewish education.

Show respect for the Jewish community and for the English language. Berating and abusing the former while misusing the latter does nothing for your credibility.

Fred Korr
Los Angeles

Your Page 1 heading, “Dumb Jews,” is wrong, stupid and written by a dumb Jew. The correct word to have been used is “ignorant.” If you don’t know the difference between “dumb” and “ignorant,” I suggest you use a dictionary. None of all those Jewish laureates of whom we are so proud were dumb but will readily admit that they are ignorant of matters not within their range of specialty.

Albert M. Goldberg
via e-mail

I was disappointed in your education issue this month. We have been listening to the same bromide answers for the last 50 years.

As someone who makes an effort to study Jewish texts on a daily basis and who loves Jewish learning, I find myself in the odd position of having to say that Jewish literacy is, in and of itself, not the answer.

We all know from life experience that there is an inextricable bond between belief and conditioning. The clarity and quality of what we believe engenders the clarity and quality our commitments in support of those beliefs. These commitments, such as regular Jewish learning, as well as some level of commitment to Jewish law, represent the conditioning side of classical Judaism’s belief – conditioning dynamic.

For example, how many parents who have been brought up to believe that the Torah is an inspiring “myth” will be motivated to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on even one child’s 12 years of Jewish education?

Beyond financial considerations, how many of these parents would want their child to spend half of each school day during those 12 years studying that “myth?” Why would those same parents decide to spend their Sunday mornings in temple pouring over arcane Jewish texts, when they could be on the golf course?

The real reason most adults and their children do not receive a real Jewish education is that, by and large, our leadership has failed to give them compelling reasons to bother to become knowledgeable Jews. A serious conversation about what we believe and what we are willing to do in support of those beliefs is the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the room that no one will talk about.

No, its not about more user-friendly courses or cutting-edge pedagogical theories. Until we can engage in a serious communal conversation about Jewish beliefs and understand that that conversation is both necessary and possible, even for sophisticated, 21st century American Jews, we will continue the downward spiral and pretend that Jewish literacy is the answer to all our ills.

Rafael Guber
New York

Are Jews “dumb” or are their educators a bit primitive?Jewish educators need to think out of the box, otherwise it’ll be the same old story for dumb Jews.

Classical Jewish education in day or after-school programs prepares people for b’nai mitzvahs but does not have the sophistication to engage Jews from high school ages through young professional ages. Educators even tout this point, but are they doing enough to change the way they convey Jewish concepts to teens and young adults looking for more sophisticated answers and more 21st century learning modes?

We need only look at the abundance of educational products in the Christian market – Internet, audiovisual, music – that has led to great strides in engaging their audiences to learn about their religion. FOX now even has a FOX Faith branch of film development projects geared at Christian audiences.

Jewish education must adapt and be more innovative in its approaches. I’m not saying today’s teens and young adults suffer from a Jewish attention deficit; educators are just not reaching us.

Dan Witzling
Business Director
The J-Flicks Project
Los Angeles

I was terribly upset when I picked up The Jewish Journal just outside of my driveway, face up with the headline, “Dumb Jews.” I thought for a moment that it was perhaps an anti-Semitic publication but was shocked to see that it was indeed The Jewish Journal.

Don’t we have enough people around town, around the country, across the globe bashing us? Is it necessary for you to get your point across in such a demeaning way with the exposure to many who may not understand the significance behind the headline ?

I think you wonderful writers at The Journal could have come up with a better choice for your headline so as not to create more disharmony – not only amongst ourselves but fuel our critics as well.

Your Letters

Mideast Comes to L.A.

Gene Lichtenstein (“The Mideast Comes to L.A.,” April 19) expresses surprise over the fact that very few affiliated Jews were present to hear Robert Fiske, a journalist for the London Independent, speak about the Mideast. Lichtenstein seems to share Fiske’s loathing of Ariel Sharon, while the harshest feeling they have toward Yasser Arafat is “scorn.” Fiske has been criticized by Media Watch International for his long history of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic articles. How shocking to read that any Jew who professes to care about Israel could embrace Fiske.

Phyllis Herskovitz, Beverly Hills

Jewish Hollywood

Whatever happened to Jewish Hollywood (“A Hush in Hollywood,” April 5)? Last time I checked, every Jewish actor in Hollywood was either supporting a ban on keeping goldfish in bowls or saving the blue-breasted sap-sucker from extinction in Malibu.

So, why are Jewish actors, who are willing to support any cause under the sun, silent about the issue of Israel? This silence speaks more than the closing credits of a box-office failure. Not a single actor has traveled to Israel in its time of need to give moral support or help rally the Jewish community.

Each of us in our own way does need to take a stand on the issue of Israel, but to be silent is not an option. Are our Jewish brethren in the Hollywood community afraid to hurt their wallets at the cost of taking a stand? Maybe taking a stand on Israel will hurt some in Hollywood, but that is no comparison to the stand Israelis make every day against terrorism as they risk, and lose, their lives in Israel.

I hope that Hollywood’s moral outspokenness is not limited to causes, which although important, do not come close in moral equivalency to supporting Israel. Our Jewish actors have proven time and time again that speaking from the Hollywood sign can make a difference. Why don’t they speak out now for an issue that is truly critical in their Jewish community?

Name Withheld Upon Request

Providing Safe Haven

The article, “Providing Safe Haven” (April 5), implied that the African Community Resource Center (ACRC) hadn’t received any help from the Jewish community. However, following the 1992 riots, at which time ACRC’s office was burned to the ground, the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) provided ACRC with rent-free offices, use of the facilities of Council House and the caring support of the NCJW officers and staff.

When the local leaders of the social clubs formed by the refugees and immigrants from many of the 52 African nations decided they needed to work together in helping other African refugees, and to become advocates for Africa, they looked to The Jewish Federation Council as a model. Michael Hirshfeld of the Jewish Community Relations Committee became their teacher and adviser.

Individuals with Jewish organization affiliations, too numerous to cite, have helped me refine the programmatic and fundraising concepts of ACRC, and have conducted classes for the African community on the American tradition of volunteerism and the self-satisfaction which comes with volunteering.

Nikki Tesfai, Executive Director African Community Resource Center, Inc.

Cover Comment

As a Jew who has taught about the history of anti-Semitism that preceded and accompanied the rise of the Nazis and the Holocaust, I was disgusted and appalled by the cover on the April 19 issue. It closely resembled the worst of the anti-Semitic cartoons that filled the European newspapers in the 1930s and early ’40s. The editors who decided to publish it owe your readers an apology. Do you really find it necessary to stoop so low to make your point? You insult the Jewish people by such self-indulgent and misguided acts.

Moreover, the one-sided message of this cover makes a mockery of any pretense at serious political analysis. To fail to understand the role of Sharon and of the IDF’s behavior as also being causes of the failure of Powell’s mission, and to instead focus, as your cover did, only on the role of Arafat, reveals a lack of willingness to confront the reality of the shared Israeli and Palestinian responsibility for the failure of the Oslo peace accords and for the current violence.

If you wish The Jewish Journal be viewed as a vehicle for serious political analysis, not mere propaganda, then you must rise above such misguided actions.

Andrew J. Winnick, Claremont