Letters


Ordinary Child
Dear Rabbi Feinstein: Thank you for your article on “Perfectly Imperfect” (May 5). As educators, we wholeheartedly appreciate your position on making space for the ordinary child.

In our experience as day school educators, we struggle with balancing the parents’ desires for their child’s academic excellence, while supporting each student’s individual capabilities. We make space for our students to be three-dimensional, recognizing their strengths and weaknesses, and encouraging them to stretch where they can.

As you so eloquently say, “God offers a process of repair and renewal and return.” One of the challenges we encounter with perfection is encouraging students to make their next best choice and to reflect on the lessons of their mistakes. As students acknowledge their mistakes and make choices that increase their wisdom, they are making meaning from their experiences that will enhance their lives.

Kedushah and menschlikheit reside very closely in our hearts and in our teachings with both students and parents. We want our students to hear the voices of empathy, generosity and curiosity as they make positive and healthy choices throughout their lives.

Amy Bryman
Cheryl Hersh, Middle School Principal
Inez Tiger, Middle School Counselor Pressman Academy

Jew-by-Choice
As a convert to Judaism, it was reassuring to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). As a lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on, I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967, and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992 on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130-year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room, and I was the only person who had had a first holy communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife, Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complimented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F Rohde
Los Angeles

John Fishel
I read with interest recently your column reported by Marc Ballon, concerning John Fishel (“A Private Man,” May 26). What he left out in his analysis is John Fischel’s relationship with his professional staff.

For me, he was both a role model and a mentor. He provided an opportunity for me to learn a great deal about Jewish communal service, about leadership and dedication to the Jewish people. He was forceful in his ability to set forward a vision for those of us who worked with him concerning his expectations of our performance and his commitment to excellence.

We strived together to work toward a better Los Angeles Jewish community, and we did so under the guiding leadership of a man who dedicated himself toward not only building a stronger Los Angeles community but a stronger Jewish community worldwide.

From these very important core values we took a tremendous amount of inspiration in carrying out our daily activities. He should be commended for all that he has done on behalf of the Jewish community and continues to do.

I know that I would not be in the place that I am today without John Fischel’s interest in who I was, what I wanted to achieve and how I could create a path toward my own professional leadership. I am proud to say that I served for eight years as a senior executive under his tutelage, and that today with his help, I am able to serve as a large city executive in the Jewish community of South Palm Beach County.

William S. Bernstein
Boca Raton, Fla.

Mischaracterizations
[Raphael J.] Sonenshein’s logic and mischaracterizations undermine his arguments (“Israel: Between Iraq and a Hard Place,” May 26). Sonenshein writes, “Wars often start because of such mutual misperceptions.”

The first such misperception that could lead to war is that the Bush administration “might even believe that confrontation [with Iran] would increase their public support.” Yet he also writes that the Bush administration is “capable of taking action with or without public support.”

The second such misperception that could lead to war is that the Iranians “have concluded that the [Bush] administration is so weakened that it can be challenged easily.” This may be true, but it’s not due to the actions of the Bush administration (no matter how incompetent). Rather, it is due to the constant bombardment by the media (including Sonenshein) attacking the Bush administration as being incompetent.

Israel is facing real dangers. The Journal could be a valuable contributor to real solutions by publishing more articles with serious ideas for debate and less articles for Bush-bashing.

Kenny Laitin
Los Angeles

Pearl Foundation
The fact that the Daniel Pearl Foundation is — as stated in your June 2 article (“Quartet of Movies to Tell Pearl’s Story” — trying “to address the root causes of his murder” by promoting “cross-cultural understanding” between the Western and Muslim worlds is very sad. Sad because those of us who haven’t suffered such a loss cannot imagine the grief suffered by Pearl’s parents and how they’re trying to deal with it, and equally sad because people of good will in the Western world still haven’t grasped that one cannot address the “root causes” of jihadist Islam (meaning to make them stop hating and killing Jews and other infidels) by “journalism, music and innovative communication,” any more than Nazism’s desire to slaughter Jews and enslave humanity could have been addressed by such means.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles

Correction
In the June 2 issue, “Quartet of Movies to Tell Pearl’s Story,” the Daniel Pearl photo should have been credited to the Daniel Pearl Foundation.

Wandering Jew misquoted Irving Brecher in the story, “A Man for All Seasonings,” by Hank Rosenfeld (June 2). Brecher did not say he loved Langer’s deli “for their double-baked rye” bread. He said he loved the deli for its pastrami. We regret the error.

 

The Art of Giving


Call me short-sighted and atavistic, but I believe one of the most encouraging bits of news I heard last week was the decision by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to suspend its renovation.

The bad news is Los Angeles will have to wait indefinitely to have a splashier namesake art museum, a Getty-by-the-Tar Pits. The good news is the major donors, many of whom are Jewish, now might be swayed to move some of that museum money over into other communal needs.

Just over one year ago, the museum unveiled a bold plan to overhaul and expand the Wilshire Boulevard institution, according to an architectural design by Rem Koolhaas of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The renovation, which would have involved a downstairs plaza and redesigned upstairs galleries under a tent-like roof, was expected to cost upwards of $400 million.

This is not to take joy in LACMA’s disappointment. I am all in favor of visionary new buildings — that’s one of the benefits of living in a great city — and I am very much pro-LACMA. I’ve spent many hours there, meandering through the galleries, attending special programs, concerts and screenings.

Not long ago, I wandered off through an upstairs gallery and came face to face with Magritte’s "Le Trahaison des Images," the renowned image of a pipe with, "Ceci n’est pas un pipe," (This is not a pipe) inscribed below. Anywhere else, I would have fought crowds for a glance at the landmark work. At LACMA, there it was, with no hoopla, no line, just great art.

That has always been my experience at the museum, so I was among those who questioned why donors, along with L.A. taxpayers through last November’s ballot Measure A, needed to cough up close to a half-billion dollars to renew buildings that were, at most, 37 years old.

Evidently, I wasn’t alone. As the economy wended its way south, people smarter and far, far wealthier than myself came to the same conclusion. I am speaking of the people in a position to make a lead gift to the museum project of $5 million-$50 million. It wasn’t that their portfolios dipped below the poverty line, just that they came to the assessment that the crowd of donors behind them had shrunk, along with the Dow.

But if LACMA’s big plans have disappeared for now, much of the money that was eager to back it hasn’t. And the fact is, many of LACMA’s potential lead donors are Jewish. That’s hardly surprising. The art world in Los Angeles has been funded by Jewish Angelenos out of all proportion to their numbers in this city.

Jewish artists escaping Nazi persecution invigorated the postwar art scene. Jewish donors, looking to take a place among the non-Jewish elite and committed to creating a cultural center, contributed large sums to everything from the UCLA Hammer Museum to the Norton Simon to MOCA to the Music Center to the new Disney Concert Hall.

And LACMA.

But with the Koolhaas expansion on hold, is it right to hope that the millions of Jewish donor dollars ready to fund that project could now flow elsewhere? Are our Jewish leaders scanning the list of LACMA donors and preparing their appeals? I hope so.

I hope so, because I can think of several areas where millions would make a big difference in our part of the L.A. community.

Take health and human services. Facing state and federal budget cuts, agencies that reach out to elderly or indigent Jews and non-Jews will need significant increases in private donations over the coming year. Otherwise, the people who suffer most in a weak economy will suffer even more.

Then there’s Jewish Community Centers. As Marc Ballon reported last week, the system that serves as a gateway for so many into Jewish life is in dire need of fixing. The Westside JCC, which serves a middle-class and immigrant community, could rebuild and flourish with a lot less than $300 million. JCC services in less populated Jewish areas and new campuses in growing areas can ensure a steady flow of new families and new energy into L.A. Jewish life for decades to come.

Jewish camps, religious schools and day schools are other effective ways of promoting meaningful values and traditions for the next generation, but these institutions are becoming unaffordable to an increasing number of families. Other cities have far-reaching scholarship programs for Jewish schools and camps, often started by just one donor. We need it, too.

These are just a few examples of places where the Jewish community could greatly benefit from the kind of largesse slated for LACMA. Smart money goes where it’s most needed. If a half-billion dollar, tent-covered museum were a pressing necessity, it would be under construction this very moment. Now it’s time for advocates to make their pitch that, while a museum’s expansion can be put on indefinite hold, Jewish communal needs can’t be.

All of us, big and small donors alike, speak of the importance of Jewish community. But unless we give — give as much as possible — what we end up with is, like Magritte’s pipe, not real community, but only its unreal image.