Letters to the Editor: Mark Rosenblum, Homeless Sukkah, Vista Del Mar

More on the Crusader

Rob Eshman’s praise of Mark Rosenblum’s decades-long battle for a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is well deserved (“The Crusader,” Aug. 23). I’ve worked with Mark for years, share his passion, if not his energy in working for the two-state solution and fearing for Israel in the years ahead if the two-state solution fails. Charting current birth rates, Jews could be a minority in an Israel with a Palestinian majority. And then what happens? Following Mark’s vision, we must keep trying because failure leads to a very bleak, troubled tomorrow.

Richard Gunther
Los Angeles

While some may find Mark Rosenblum’s steadfastness and refusal to quit Peace Now’s liberal agenda [admirable], others would characterize it as a refusal to give up a pipe dream with no basis in reality.

No matter how much Peace Now wants to join with the Palestinians and carve out a beautiful and peaceful Middle East, the simple fact is the Palestinians don’t have any interest in this kind of partnership with us — not even Peace Now’s beloved PA [Palestinian Authority], which celebrates the murderers of our children as conquering heroes and won’t allow for a single Jew to live in its state if it were ever so fortunate to gain one. 

Rob Eshman finishes his fawning of Rosenblum by stating that the Palestinians “will have to find a formula to accept Israel as a Jewish state.” If they have so much trouble with this basic idea, and they do, what hope could there possibly be for a real peace except in the minds of dreamers and those with delusions who refuse to admit they were wrong from the get-go?

Allan Kandel
Los Angeles

In the Time of Elul

Lovely, David Suissa (“Love in the Time of Elul,” Aug. 23). I believe your answer is a) Forgiveness and b) Community! In Micah we find the prayer “Mi El Kamocha.” Micah does not see God as a Creator, nor a King, but a Forgiver.

Afshine Emrani
via jewishjournal.com

A  Sign of the Times

I agree with the letter writer who pointed out that buying the homeless person’s sign will deprive them of their communication device until they can manage to find the materials to make another one (Letters, Aug. 23; “HomelessSukkah.com,” Aug. 16). In the meantime, they may have lost their opportunity to get other donations. I have an alternate suggestion.

Don’t take their sign, just give them the donation. But, if possible, ask to take their photograph with their sign. Then print the photos large, and write their first name on it (so that they are not merely anonymous) and put them inside your sukkah on the walls as ushpizin guests. At night in the Sukkah, you can tell the story of where you met them, and their name, and their story if you know it.

Miriam Lippel Blum
Tucson, Ariz.

What’s Special at Vista Del Mar

Thank you so much to the Jewish Journal for sharing Vista Del Mar’s Jewish programming for families with children with special needs with the community (“Welcoming Special-Needs Families at Vista Del Mar,” Aug. 23). I wanted to clarify that our Nes Gadol (Great Miracle) b’nai mitzvah and confirmation classes and our amazing new Sundays at Vista Judaica serve children of all abilities. Many of our students with autism and other special needs are highly verbal, while others are challenged in the area of spoken communication. Whatever the case, we cherish our students and strive to create avenues for them to share their gifts with the community and shine. Founded on the principles of Elaine Hall’s the Miracle Project, all of our students are joyfully celebrated and embraced by the Vista Del Mar community. 

Rabbi Jackie Redner
Rabbi in Residence, Vista Del Mar

Cuba’s Painful History

The heartfelt article by Isabel Kaplan is the story of hundreds of a younger generation of Cubans anxious to discover the origins of their identities (“Cuba: Land of My Bubbe,” July 26). Cuba was the home of their families, divided, destroyed and uprooted half a century ago. For somebody, like me, who left Havana so many decades ago, I deeply understand the need we all have to go back, some to learn where they come from, some to walk on the pages of our history. But it is not so easy. At least for me, and for many of my generation.

What was once a dream was turned into a nightmare; what was a republic was transformed into a totalitarian state; where religions flourished, the land was made an atheist state. To say that “even Fidel Castro has a soft spot for the Jews” is very naive. The man is a chameleon and will do and say anything in order to achieve his purposes.

Castro does not have a soft spot for Jews, or Catholics, or intellectuals, or gays. Castro, who destroyed a very prosperous nation (with all the imperfections that that implies), will do anything to stay in power. And now, at his very old age, because he needs outside help, all of the sudden he has become like a gentle grandfather. Don’t buy it.

Raul De Cardenas
Los Angeles, CA

Toxic Crusaders

When Sherman Oaks resident Robina Suwol drove her two sons to school in the Valley March 1998, she didn’t know she was about to become a crusader. The events of that morning kicked off a chain of events resulting in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) new integrated pest control policy, now considered a model for school districts across the nation.

When the Suwol family arrived at Sherman Oaks Elementary, they were greeted by the sight of a man in white coveralls spraying weeds on the school grounds. Nicholas Suwol, then 6, accidentally walked into the path of the spray and cried, “It tastes terrible!” Suwol then realized that the man was clad in a hazardous materials suit.

Suwol, an actress, swung into action that evening after Nicholas suffered a serious asthma attack. She found that environmental groups had linked the weedkiller used at the school site to breathing problems and serious health risks.

Other Jewish parents, including Ashley Posner and Wendy Cohen, rallied around the issue of toxic chemicals on LAUSD campuses. An ad hoc committee uncovered many areas of concern throughout the district, including routine spraying in the presence of students and the use of pesticides in amounts sometimes far exceeding manufacturers’ recommendations.

Julie Korenstein and David Tokofsky were among the LAUSD school board members who quickly got behind the parents’ efforts. But Ashley Posner remembers “a great deal of resistance on the part of the school district bureaucracy,” which he describes as “a ponderous vehicle, and very difficult to change.”

Calling upon scientists, pediatricians and pest control experts, the parents slowly persuaded LAUSD that its goal of eliminating weeds, insects and rodents could largely be attained through the use of environmentally friendly gels and bait traps, with toxic chemicals a last resort. The resulting policy, which creates a protocol for preventing pests as well as eradicating them, also requires that families be notified of pesticides used on their home campuses.

Lynn Roberts, LAUSD’s director of maintenance and operations, describes the new policy as “absolutely state of the art.” She notes it has brought many procedural changes to the district, including more frequent deep cleaning of campus kitchens to stop pest problems before they begin. Whereas recently there have been only nine gardeners to serve all 400 district elementary schools, funding is now in place to increase that number more than tenfold. And LAUSD will soon get its own fulltime integrated pest manager to make sure the policy is correctly implemented. Though all this has meant a rise in labor costs, it is at least partially offset by savings on expensive chemicals. And, of course, there are major health benefits to students, teachers and staff members, who no longer are exposed to potentially hazardous materials.

Suwol insists her group succeeded because it remained “polite and persistent,” relying on “a lot of dignity, a lot of grace, a tremendous amount of documentation to support our stance.”

Roberts, of the LAUSD, partially disagrees. While emphasizing that the district never resisted the thinking behind the new program, she admits that she and her staff “did resent some of the approaches that attacked our personnel.” Although she hints at some personality clashes while the new policy was being hammered out, Roberts acknowledges the value of the parents’ efforts: “Their involvement and their knowledge were very helpful to us.”

Suwol, who has largely abandoned her acting career to focus on environmental issues, is quick to point out that parents of many religious and ethnic backgrounds were involved in the fight to establish the LAUSD policy.

In her new role as a co-founder of the Los Angeles Safe Schools Coalition, she often finds herself working with the Concerned Citizens of South Central, Mothers of East Los Angeles, the Philippine Action Group for the Environment, and other organizations. One ongoing project is a sound wall for some mostly Latino schoolchildren in Boyle Heights who must currently eat their lunches on an outdoor playground next to a well-traveled freeway.

While people of many backgrounds have come together, both Posner and Suwol are convinced that the spirit of Judaism is at work. “Jews have always placed health as a primary concern, along with education. When these two concerns intersect, it’s a Jewish issue along with a human issue,” Posner says. Suwol agrees: “You are responsible for your fellow man, and that is part of what Judaism is about.”

Early on, some district officials tried to convince her to focus solely on her own children’s school, ignoring the larger problems she was beginning to uncover. But Suwol recalls her father teaching her the famous words of Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?”

More information about the Los Angeles Unified School
District Integrated Pest Management Policy is available through the Los Angeles
Safe Schools Coalition Web site, at www.lassc.org .