Concern Grows on Iran Abuses


Concern is growing among circles of Iranian nationals and expatriates that European countries are turning a blind eye to the regime’s human rights atrocities in exchange for trade benefits.

Late last year, the U.N. General Assembly approved a resolution criticizing Iran for human rights violations. It cited new restrictions on freedom of expression and the persecution of political and religious dissenters. The resolution, the 52nd such measure by the United Nations against Iran, was approved 71-54, with 55 abstentions. The world body said Iran was facing a “worsening situation” regarding freedom of opinion and expression.

Human Rights Watch reported that the Iranian judiciary was using threats of lengthy prison sentences and coerced televised statements in an attempt to cover up its arbitrary detention and torture of internet journalists and civil society activists.

However, despite the U.N. resolution and the Human Rights Watch report spotlighting the problems, many Iranians inside and outside the country, as well as human rights activists, are concerned by what they see as appeasement by three leading E.U. countries, France, Britain and Germany. Word has spread that in return last October for Iran’s promise to halt its uranium enrichment program, which could be used to develop nuclear weapons, there would be political concessions made. Reportedly included would be a milder position on human rights issues.

In one Iranian human rights case that drew international attention, Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died in custody in 2003. She was arrested while photographing families lined up outside Tehran’s notorious Evin prison waiting to visit prisoners. The journalist’s arbitrary arrest, torture and subsequent death were further compounded by refusal to release Kazemi’s body to her son and a sham trial, in which a scapegoat for the death was cleared.

Kazemi’s death was only one of many human rights violations of which Iran has been accused. Last month, Hajieh Esmailvand, an Iranian woman convicted of adultery, was facing death by stoning, according to Amnesty International. The Iranian Penal Code states that women will be buried up to their breasts for execution by stoning, and the stones should “not be large enough to kill the person by one or two strikes, nor should they be so small that they could not be defined as stones.”

The stoning death sentence was not an isolated incident. Zhila Izadyar, a 13-year-old schoolgirl, was sentenced to be stoned to death after being convicted of having an incestuous relationship with her 15-year-old brother, Bakhtiar. The boy was sentenced to 180 lashes, plus prison.

Hanging was ordered for a retarded 19-year-old woman on “morality-related” charges, after being forced into prostitution by her mother, and a religious judge ordered hanging for 16-year-old girl for “deeds incompatible with chastity.”

Boys have not escaped hanging sentences either. One 16-year-old who in self-defense allegedly killed someone attempting to sexually abuse him faces the noose — but not for two years. In this case, there is a law barring the execution of juveniles under 18. As a result, he will be imprisoned until he is legally old enough to be hanged. There are three other imprisoned minors awaiting the same fate when they turn 18.

During 2004, approximately 230 Iranian prisoners were executed or received death sentences. Recently, state-run television aired video of eight prisoners dangling from a gallows in southeastern Iran. Opponents of the regime have compiled the names and cases of 21,676 political prisoners executed by the government since 1981, and they claim this is less than one-fifth of the actual number.

Continuing concern over prisoner executions and other rights abuses rose even higher after an AFP news story on Oct. 21 that said Europeans promised to help on a range of “political and security issues” and would continue to regard the main Iranian resistance group “as a terrorist organization.” On Oct. 24, the state-run Jomhouri Eslami paper wrote: “European counterparts have stated explicitly that they are prepared to close Iran’s human rights file.”

The news confirmed Iranian expatriates’ previous worries that the E.U. had struck a deal with Iran in 2002, in which it would not go before U.N. Commission on Human Rights and General Assembly and accuse it of human rights abuses. Since that date no resolution on human rights in Iran has been sponsored by the E.U. before the commission — unlike the previous 20 years.

Last year’s passage of a U.N. General Assembly resolution accusing Iran of human rights violations is a good sign, but much more needs to be done. Rights violations in Iran are continuing, so international condemnation of them be should be maintained. Otherwise, Iran’s clerics might get the wrong message.

Nooredin Abedian taught in Iranian higher-education institutions before settling in France as a political refugee in 1981. He writes for a variety of publications on Iranian politics and issues concerning human rights.


Note to AIPAC: ‘Road Map’ Is Alive

The Bush administration is calling out the heavy hitters to
convince the American Jewish community that it won’t ignore Israel’s concerns
as it mounts a renewed push for Israeli-Palestinian peace. 

Five Bush administration officials addressed the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference this week,
including Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice. 

Some Israeli officials and U.S. Jewish leaders have worried
that the Bush administration will pressure Israel to make concessions to the
Palestinians in order to shore up international support for its war against Iraq
or to “pay back” Arab states that have supported, or at least tolerated, the
war. At issue is whether both Israel and the Palestinians are expected to move
forward simultaneously — or whether Israel will be pressed to make concessions
only after the Palestinians have shown that they are serious about ending
terrorism and moving toward peace. 

In a landmark policy speech on June 24, 2002, President Bush
expressed support for a future Palestinian state — but only after an end to
violence against Israel, a change in Palestinian leadership and significant
reforms in Palestinian governance. In contrast, America’s partners in the diplomatic
Quartet that authored the “road map” toward peace — the United Nations,
European Union and Russia –  expect both sides to make simultaneous
concessions. Current drafts of the plan envision a simultaneous process. 

The goal of the speakers at the AIPAC conference was to show
that the administration stands behind Bush’s original vision, and they
repeatedly invoked the June 24 speech.

“The road map is not an edict, it is not a treaty,” Powell
told the conference on Sunday, which drew some 5,000 activists from around the
country. “It is a statement of the broad steps we believe Israel and the
Palestinians must take to achieve President Bush’s vision of hope and the dream
that we all have for peace.” 

However, both Powell and Rice stressed that while the
administration welcomed Israel’s comments on the plan, it would not countenance
major changes. 

Though Bush is very popular among supporters of Israel, some
prominent Jewish organizational officials said they left the sessions concerned
about where the administration was headed. And AIPAC is leaving nothing to
chance: The group is lobbying Congress to pressure the White House to stick to
the June 24 parameters. 

The administration has been sending mixed signals on the
issue in recent weeks. Acknowledging that the road map was controversial in the
Jewish community, Rice told AIPAC participants Monday that the White House
“welcomed comments” from Israel and the Palestinians, but she said that “it is
not a matter of renegotiating the road map,” according to Jewish officials at
the session, which was closed to the media.

The speakers also made clear that the administration would
demand that Israel ease restrictions imposed on the Palestinian population as
part of Israel’s anti-terror operations, and freeze all settlement construction
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israel and some of its American allies have been concerned
that the road map will deviate from the president’s vision, and that the plan —
which does not clearly demand an end to terror before negotiations began and
Israeli makes concessions — will be adopted by a U.S. government that seeks
European and Arab support for its policies elsewhere in the Middle East. Those
concerns were heightened last month, just days before U.S. forces attacked Iraq,
when Bush announced that he would distribute the road map to the Israelis and
Palestinians after the Palestinian Authority prime minister-designate, Mahmoud
Abbas, is confirmed with “real authority.” 

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has
major concerns about the road map, and has hoped to alter it.

The Palestinians, recognizing that the last draft of the
road map is more favorable to them than the Bush speech was, do not want to
allow changes. 

Both Powell and Rice quoted Bush’s call for Israel to freeze
all settlement building as the Palestinians make progress toward peace, an
ambiguous phrasing that the two sides may interpret differently. Israel hopes
to allow for “natural growth” of existing settlements, which critics say is a ploy
to continue building settlements. When Powell on Sunday called settlement
building “inconsistent with President Bush’s two-state vision,” he received
applause and a smattering of boos. 

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who also addressed
the conference Sunday night, met Monday with Powell, Rice and Vice President
Dick Cheney. Bush attended virtually the entire meeting with Rice, senior
Israeli officials said. Shalom’s meetings touched on U.S. military efforts in
western Iraq to ensure that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is not able to launch
missiles against Israel.

Though allied forces say they have had success in ensuring
that Iraq can’t attack Israel, Shalom said the Jewish State’s high alert will
remain in force for at least another week or two. The bulk of Shalom’s meetings
with U.S. officials apparently dealt with the road map, however. Shalom told
reporters Monday that there is a “great understanding” between Israel and the
United States on how to proceed on the Palestinian track, along the lines of
Bush’s June 24 speech. He dismissed questions suggesting that U.S. criticism of
Israeli settlements had grown unusually harsh. 

“If you check U.S. administrations in past decades, you’ll
find that their opposition to settlements was very similar,” Shalom said. The
current criticism “is not something that hasn’t been said in the past.” 

One Israeli official sought to square the circle by noting
that while the United States will demand Palestinian action first, the time
frame for Israel to respond with concessions of its own may be so compressed
that for all intents and purposes the two sides will be acting simultaneously. 

Meanwhile, AIPAC is working to shore up its position on
Capitol Hill. AIPAC delegates lobbied lawmakers to sign onto letters urging the
president to stick to the language of his speech and resist international
pressure to “short-circuit the process.” 

“The United States has developed a level of credibility and
trust with all parties in the region which no other country shares,” says the
House letter, which is sponsored by Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the House majority
whip, and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “We are concerned that certain nations or
groups, if given a meaningful role in monitoring progress made on the ground,
might only lessen the chances of moving forward on a realistic path towards

Those sentiments were seconded Sunday night by Sen. Joseph
Lieberman (D-Conn.), who used a dessert reception to urge AIPAC supporters to
fight to minimize the role of America’s Quartet partners. 

In the Senate, a similar letter is being circulated by Sens.
Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). 

Lawmakers will be hearing this week from many Jews who
support the letters. Such sentiments aren’t universal in the Jewish community,
however. Several Jewish groups say AIPAC is using a delaying tactic in hopes of
scuttling the road map altogether. These groups support the road map and want
it to be imposed immediately. 

“The approach AIPAC is supporting is an approach we’ve tried
for two years, and it has never worked,” said M.J. Rosenberg, policy director
of the Israel Policy Forum. “Anyone who wants the peace process to succeed is
supporting the road map.” 

Stressing its support for the road map in front of the AIPAC
audience showed how serious the Bush administration is taking the issue,
Rosenberg said. 

Israeli Labor Party legislator Colette Avital also said
AIPAC and Sharon would try to delay the road map. 

“They’re going to do everything in their power to postpone,
to change, to turn this plan into an entirely dead story,” said Avital, who
also spoke at the policy conference. “Many people in AIPAC have similar
attitudes to the prime minister.” 

Avital praised the road map, saying it puts the onus on the
Palestinians to reform before requiring Israeli concessions. 

“Israel and AIPAC want 120 percent performance,” she said,
“something which, even if the Palestinians want, they are incapable of.” 

AIPAC officials dismissed the criticism.      

“Those who suggest that AIPAC opposes the road map that
implements the vision laid out by President Bush on June 24 are wrong,” said
Rebecca Needler, AIPAC’s spokeswoman. 

She said that there are several interpretations of the road
map, and that AIPAC is pushing for the one that closely resembles Bush’s speech
and Sharon’s policy. 

In addition to the road map, AIPAC is pushing Congress to
pass a supplemental war spending bill that includes $1 billion in military aid
for Israel and $9 billion in loan guarantees. Support for the money is strong
on Capitol Hill, and AIPAC is working to ensure that the money is not made
contingent on Israeli actions such as a settlement freeze, as some Arab
American and dovish Jewish groups have called for. JTA Managing Editor Michael
Arnold contributed to this story.  

Jewish Identity Crisis

A new study reporting decreased identification with Judaism and rising intermarriage rates is generating concern, but not shock, in the Jewish community.

Instead, many leaders see the new findings, released last week, as a continuation of trends reported in the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey. Rather than viewing the study as a call to radically change course, most see it as a signal to step up existing efforts to strengthen Jewish continuity.

For some, that will come through day school education and making synagogues more spiritually meaningful to people. For others, it means support for nonreligious forms of Jewish expression — such as social action and the arts — that will appeal to people not interested in studying texts or going to synagogue services.

The American Jewish Identity Survey 2001 is an unofficial follow-up to the 1990 survey, conducted by three researchers who were involved in the original study. Preliminary findings were released last week. The researchers — Egon Mayer, Ariela Keysar and Barry Kosmin — are still analyzing the data and expect to offer more details in coming months, particularly about intermarriage and how children of intermarriages are raised.

The study is part of a larger examination of religion in America.

As Jewish leaders analyze the new study, many say its importance depends on how one determines who is Jewish. The study’s estimate of 5.5 million American Jews — of whom 1.4 million identify as members of another religion — includes people who say they are Jewish or of Jewish upbringing or parentage.

Some observers say it would be less surprising for a person with one Jewish parent and who was raised with no religion — or even raised as a Christian — to reject Judaism than for a person who was raised Jewish. Such distinctions are impossible to make from the findings reported so far.

But the study does report that even among people who identify Judaism as their religion, 42 percent profess a secular outlook and 14 percent say they do not believe in God. In contrast, only 15 percent of Americans describe their outlook as secular.

It also finds that while only half of American Jews are affiliated with a synagogue or Jewish community organization, most identify with a stream of Judaism. Thirty percent identify with the Reform movement, 24 percent with the Conservative movement, 8 percent with Orthodoxy, 1 percent with Reconstructionism and 1 percent with Secular Humanism.

Six percent used self-generated labels like "liberal" or "atheist," and 20 percent declined to identify with any label or branch of Judaism.

Yet the findings are contradicted by other measures that would seem to show that interest in Judaism is higher than ever.

Enrollment at Jewish day schools is up, and scores of new schools have been founded in the past few years. Sales of books on Judaism are up.

Adult Jewish education courses — including structured text-study programs that require two-year commitments — are proliferating. Jewish summer camps have long waiting lists of prospective campers.

In addition, the Reform movement — which once rejected many customary Jewish practices — is increasingly embracing traditional ritual and observance.

L.A.’s Rabbi David Ellenson, president of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, said the findings of the survey do not contradict the other evidence.

Modern American life, Ellenson said, has had a dual effect on Jewish identity. On the one hand, acceptance has triggered high rates of assimilation and intermarriage, but it also has "caused other Jews to seek identity and community.

"[There] is a return to tradition, but against a backdrop of American religiosity, where individuals construct their own sense of meaning and look to tradition not as commanding, but for resources to seek meaning in their own lives," Ellenson said.

Jonathan Woocher, president of the Jewish Education Service of North America and the chief professional of the Jewish Federation system’s Renaissance and Renewal Pillar, agreed with Ellenson that there is "nothing surprising" in the new study.

"This is what one would have expected, given everything else we’ve seen in what’s happening in Jewish life," Woocher said. "There’s nothing here that says, ‘Whoa, we’re really on the wrong track,’" he said.

Instead, he said, the findings point to a "diverse population" and illustrate the need for a variety of approaches to engage Jews in Jewish life.

Rabbi Nina Cardin, director of Jewish life at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore and author of two guides on Jewish observance and rituals, said the findings — particularly the low rates of organizational affiliation and religious views — show the need to broaden outreach efforts beyond day schools and synagogues.

While education and synagogues remain important, Cardin said, the organized Jewish community needs to step up support for Jewish social action, environmental and cultural activities.

These arenas are "begging for our increased attention, [and attract] a lot of Jews who will not walk into a synagogue or Torah study class," Cardin said.

Rabbi Norman Lamm, the president of Yeshiva University, called the findings "tragic," saying they show the need for more Jewish education.

Lamm called for strengthening the commitment of Jews already involved in Jewish life by spending more money on Jewish day schools, so the schools can accommodate more students and pay better salaries.

The study’s funder, Felix Posen, said it suggests that secular Jews and those not affiliated with synagogues are a significant segment of the community, and cannot "be dismissed as if their number were insignificant or vestigial."

However, not all are convinced that findings of a low level of Jewish religiosity are so significant.

Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, said that members of other faiths may have different definitions of what it means to be religious, and that Jews may say they are secular or have a secular outlook simply because they are not Orthodox.

Often, people will say they are secular, but "if you press further and ask ‘Do you attend synagogue? Do you pray?’ — some of these secular people will answer yes," Wertheimer said.

"I don’t know of anybody who has written off secular Jews. That’s not the issue," Wertheimer said in response to Posen’s comments. "What came out of the 1990 population study was very powerful evidence that secular Jews who do not participate in organized religious life of the Jews are the least likely to successfully transmit strong Jewish identity to their children."

Out of Commission

There will be no Jews on the Board of Police Commissioners if the L.A. City Council confirms Mayor Hahn’s appointees, as it is expected to do this month.

Although some have voiced concern that the civilian body overseeing the Los Angeles Police Department will, for the first time in years, lack a single Jewish voice, most people involved with the commission feel it is not necessary to have a Jewish police commissioner to represent Jewish concerns.

The two Jewish members of the current five-member board are Raquelle de la Rocha, commission president, and Dean Hansell, vice president. Gerald Chaleff, former commission president, made for a Jewish majority on the board until then Mayor Richard Riordan fired him in February. Other recent Police Commission presidents have included community activist Stanley Sheinbaum and Rabbi Gary Greenebaum.

Police Commissioners volunteer their time — up to 50 hours a week — while maintaining professional careers, and may serve up to two five-year terms. Members of the Board of Police Commissioners, who are appointed by the mayor, traditionally resign at the beginning of a new administration. Of the current commissioners, only Galpin Motors CEO Herbert Boeckman will be reappointed to a second term under Hahn.

De la Rocha likens the responsibilities of the Board of Police Commissioners to those of a corporation’s board of directors (with the police chief as the company’s CEO). One of the commissioners’ projects is a Hate Crimes Task Force, responsible for reviewing reporting methods, training, and actions taken by the Police Department whenever a hate crime is involved. Hansell, a partner with the law firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, and a past board member of the Jewish Federation Council of Los Angeles, Metro region, leads the unit.

One recent Police Commission action may highlight the impact of Jewish sensitivities. In July, the commission voted to substitute a "moment of silent reflection" rather than a chaplain-led prayer at Police Academy graduation ceremonies. Hansell recalled "at least one graduation ceremony where the convocation was in Jesus’ name." The change, proposed by de la Rocha, passed by a margin of 3 to 2, with returning Commissioner Boeckman among the dissenters.

De la Rocha believes issues like this, while not the bulk of the board’s business, are important. De la Rocha, who was raised Catholic, converted to Judaism in 1978 as a philosophy major at UCLA. "I just believed in the philosophy, and the way Judaism views ethical behavior separately from a system of rewards or punishments" she says. "I don’t want to say Jews think a certain way, but I think there should be a balance of viewpoints on the Police Commission."

Hansell agrees, at least, in the sense that "being Jewish is an important perspective, and Jews have a unique sensitivity on a number of issues." Hansell also says, however, "There are other viewpoints that need to be represented as well." Anti-Semitism within the ranks of the Police Department, he says, is "a theoretical issue but, fortunately, not a real issue."

Others emphasize that the full diversity of Los Angeles cannot be represented on a five-member board. Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, former Police Commission president and the Western Regional director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), said, "The Jewish community is deeply committed to the life of Los Angeles, so it’s not surprising that for most of the time, there has been a Jew on the Police Commission. But every person appointed or elected in the city doesn’t have to be Jewish to represent Jewish concerns."

He also notes that many important issues of police reform, particularly racial profiling, have not directly affected Jews, adding, "It’s not as if the mayor has appointed five wealthy white Protestant men to the commission."

Indeed, Hahn’s appointees represent an ethnically diverse Los Angeles. Both Hansell and de la Rocha point especially to incoming Commissioner Rose Ochi, a Japanese American who has made a career of battling discrimination and hate crimes, as an assistant attorney general and director of the Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, among other commitments. During Riordan’s administration, no Asian American served on the Board of Police Commissioners.

"My hope is, the [new] commission’s level of sensitivity to Los Angeles’ concerns will not change," Hansell says. "I think they will put as much energy into the work as I have."

Why Us?

I’m sure that most of you have heard about how three synagogues in my hometown of Sacramento were firebombed early Friday morning. And perhaps you have heard about the pain that so many Jews around the country are feeling. And, of course, these feelings run even deeper among those of us who are members of one of the temples.

I have belonged to Congregation B’nai Israel, one of the torched synagogues, for the past 17 years. Celebrating our 150th anniversary, we are the oldest congregation west of the Mississippi River.

All weekend, members of our temple (900 families strong) phoned each other, seeking news about how bad it really was, etc., since we were not allowed anywhere near the site.

We talked about how this could happen in America? What have we done? Why do they (still) hate us so much? Aren’t we good members of the community?

We volunteer for local services and donate funds to good civic causes. All we ask is to be allowed to worship the way we wish and to be allowed to keep our culture alive in our own homes and temples. We don’t seek converts. It is not a “we’re better than you are,” or “God loves us more than you.” All we ask is that we be allowed to live in peace, brotherhood and safety within the dominant Christian community. We don’t want to bother or threaten the dominant community. Just allow us “to be.” Is that so hard?

We heard via our phone tree, as well as the local media, that our weekly Friday Shabbat service would be held in the 2,000-seat Community Theatre.

Since I’m not religious and don’t often go to Friday-night services, I thought simply to pass. But then I thought that someone should be there to “stand up” to the terrorists. I figured that I would lend my presence to the 150 or 250 people who might show up; if nothing else, we would fill a few rows in the huge theater, which has two balconies.

Then I arrived.

Eighteen hundred people from all over our community — Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, Hare Krishna’s, and members from every sect of the Protestant community — were there. There were members from black churches, gay churches, Asian churches, as well as atheists, agnostics and some of the followers of New Age spiritual leaders. There were ministers, bishops, city council members, the police chief, the FBI, ATF, and representatives from the state legislature and governor’s office. Never have I seen such an outpouring of grief and concern from the community…for Jews.

Our Friday-night service is a “Celebration of the Sabbath,” when workday thoughts are put aside and the hearts of the parents turn toward the children, and the hearts of the children turn to the parents. We sing, clap hands, say prayers, listen to the rabbi and cantor banter with each other, and, of course, hear a sermon, often filled with humor. It is a happy service…and usually short.

But who could be happy? Our house of worship had been torched. Our entire library of 5,000 books was gone. Yet our rabbi told us that we must persevere and that to not celebrate the Sabbath would be exactly what the terrorists would hope to achieve. And so we went on with our service.

There were a number of speakers from our congregation and the community. All were inspirational and devoid of the kind of sorrow, sadness, grief or anger that you might expect.

Our previous rabbi, now retired, who served us for 22 years, flew in from Phoenix and reminded us that “we are the Jewish people and that we have always survived and we will survive this as well.” And we were putting on a brave front. We laughed, we sang, we applauded, we said the ancient prayers. We held up the best we could.

Then something I will never forget happened.

Seated on the stage (our stand-in bimah) were a number of our temple’s officers, as well as some of the “dignitaries” from the city. There was also an attractive blonde woman whom no one seemed to recognize. I heard the “buzz” around me: “Who is that woman, and why is she there?” Then our rabbi stepped forward and said he wanted to introduce us to the Rev. Faith Whitmore. The blonde rose and went to the podium. I’m not sure if she is the local or regional head of the United Methodist Church, but she spoke briefly at first about how appalled she and her brethren were over the arson bombings. She then reached into her suit coat and took out a piece of paper.

“I want you to know that this afternoon we took a special offering of our members to help you rebuild your temple, and we want you to have this check for $6,000,” she told us. For two seconds, there was absolute dead quiet. We were astounded. Slowly, then building, the hall shook with applause. I’ve never heard applause like that before. It went on for two minutes. And then people broke into tears. Me, included.

As the Rev. Whitmore gave the check to the rabbi and hugged him, it was one of the most emotional moments I’ve ever been witness to. Our congregation, some 1,100 of us, stood with tears in our eyes. The evening closed with a final hymn, and we all went home feeling a bit better.

The other reality did not hit me until the following afternoon, when I saw the charred remains of the library wing. The place was swarming with ATF, FBI and other agents, who were collecting materials for the investigations. One ATF agent said that this is being classified as an “act of domestic terrorism” and has been given the highest priority. When you see the destruction of something that was “yours,” something you helped build, and something you were proud of, it hits you. The depression is overwhelming.

Why here? Why us? Why me? I’m sure there are answers, but I don’t have them at the moment. The only answer I do have is that we must pick ourselves up as a congregation and community and move on. They can’t beat us. We are the Jewish people. We were here 5,000 years ago, and we will be here 5,000 years from today.

I’m going to end by doing something that may upset some of you. I’m going to call in whatever markers I might have. We lost our entire 5,000-volume library. I saw it. It was soot. Not even a page remained. Nothing.

It was a wonderful library of Jewish-oriented books and films. It was a treasure of our congregation, and it was used by hundreds of our members, especially the young people. In our community, mothers took their children to the temple library as much as they took their children to the public library. It was part of “what we do.” Our books and videos were one of the ways we “socialized” our young people into our culture. And it works. We expect a lot from them, and we make sure that they have the tools and opportunities not to disappoint us.

If you could find it in your heart to send a check for a dollar or two ($5, $10, or whatever is in your heart) for our library fund, it would be a mitzvah. I told our rabbi that I would ask every publisher in America for a small contribution.

If this is something you could do, please make out a check to Congregation B’nai Israel and send it to Alan N. Canton at Adams-Blake Publishing, 8041 Sierra St., Fair Oaks, CA 95628. I will see that it gets to the right people.