Letters to the Editor: Honoring Jews, Laying Out the Parameters of Liberalism and the U.N.


Honoring Jews, Not Those Who Would Kill Them

Last week, while the rest of Jewish Los Angeles was memorializing the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust, a group of Jews held a memorial in front of the Jewish Federation building to honor the memory of those with the stated goal of murdering the 6 million Jews of Israel — the Palestinians killed in the recent Gaza protests while trying to break down Israel’s security wall to accomplish their goal.

Thank you, David Suissa, for your column “When Truth Comes Marching In” (April 13) and clearly showing the truth — that contrary to what the Palestinians are promoting, the Gaza protests had the sole purpose of breaking down the border wall, murdering Jews and conquering Israel.

Let us never forget the 6 million, and also that, sadly, there are Jews who see nothing wrong with honoring those who try to wipe Israel’s Jews off the earth.

Jason Kay via email

Bravo, kol ha kvod, David Suissa, for “When Truth Comes Marching In.”

However, most of us, whoever we are, don’t listen to facts. We react to myths and media. We only pay heed to facts when pain hits us in the gut — and even then we don’t believe it. Corruption does that to anyone.

Look at your prime example, Gaza.

Linda Hepner via email

David Suissa is right that Israel’s “better” than her Muslim neighbors (“A ‘Better’ Word for Israel,” April 20). Rising from the ashes of the Holocaust, surrounded by enemies, constantly terrorized and fighting for her life, bullied by the U.N., yet still absorbing millions of desperate European and Ethiopian Jewish refugees, and on top of all that, emerging in just 70 years as a cutting-edge, hydro-agricultural, high-tech wunderkind with 12 Nobel Prizes and a super-hip tourist scene to boot — Israel is an unbelievable miracle. And the icing on the cake is that it drives anti-Semites nuts.

Rueben Gordon, Encino


Laying Out Parameters of Liberalism

I was happy and delighted to read Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column (“I Am a Liberal. Are You?” April 20). It boosts my faith in the integrity and honesty of the Journal.

The only thing I would add to it is the following statement:

You are not a liberal

If you reflexively accuse anyone who dares to disagree with you of being a fascist, a racist and an anti-Semite.

I have witnessed some otherwise very intelligent people making these accusations against people whom they know little or nothing about. This kind of behavior is polarizing and degrades our democracy.

Jeffrey P. Lieb, Cheviot Hills

I have always enjoyed reading Karen Lehrman Bloch’s columns, but “I Am a Liberal. Are You?” really blew me away. It was so spot on and expressed so elegantly what so many of us feel but can’t put into words as succinctly. Thank you.

Also, mazel tov to David Suissa for turning the Journal into a top-tier newspaper that Los Angeles can be proud of.

Miriam Fisher via email


Yom HaAzmaut Coverage in the Journal

Israel’s Independence Day (Yom HaAtzmaut) should have been on your cover, not on page 19 (“Carry a Torch,” April 20)! This was a major failure. Maybe it happened because the editor was in Israel that week. As your columnist Shmuel Rosner put it, “The fifth day of the month of Iyar is your Independence Day. Yes — yours! And by this I mean you, Los Angeles Jews; you, New York Jews; you, Chicago Jews, Sydney Jews, London Jews, Paris Jews.

“Next Year in Jerusalem.”

Bob Kirk, Santa Barbara

Editor’s note: Because HaAzmaut fell on the day the paper came out, April 19, we chose to do a Yom HaAzmaut cover story the week before.


Speaking Truth to U.N.’s Mission

Aaron Bandler’s column is right on target (“We Need a New U.N.,” April 20). He expresses so well what I have thought for many years. And, I am sure, millions of others agree — i.e., the United Nations makes a false pretense to serve the mission for which it was founded.

The U.N. charter called for a commitment to uphold human rights of citizens and outlines a broad set of principles relating to achieving worldwide peace and security. It calls for “higher standards of living,” dealing with “economic, social, health, and related problems,” and calling for “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion.

Wonderful! But that was in 1945 when it was created with 51 members. Currently, it has 193 member states.

In this regard, what good has the U.N. accomplished?

By way of example, CNN’s Jake Tapper’s analysis of the pertinent data vividly shows that, from 2012-15, the U.N. General Assembly rebuked and condemned the State of Israel almost 86 percent of the time — compared with all other nations combined. Incredible — considering the turmoil and government-controlled killings all over the world. As far as Israel is concerned: The U.N. is guilty of blatant discrimination. As it is today, it unashamedly violates its own charter and raison d’etre.

Should our country be donating annually almost $8 billion of taxpayers’ money to such an organization? (We could easily solve the homelessness problem and affordable housing crisis with that kind of money.)

The headline for Bandler’s column says it so well: “We Need a New U.N.”

George Epstein via email


Mitzi Shore Will Be Missed

Thank you for the wonderful obituary and tribute regarding Mitzi Shore.
The Comedy Store continues to be a platform for fledgling and professional comedians. I know, because my son is one of them. This is an iconic place that supports and encourages the art of stand-up. It deserves the support of the entertainment community.

Although I never met Shore, one night when my son Josh was performing, the staff let me sit in Mitzi’s booth. It was an honor.

I hope The Comedy Store continues for many years as a legacy to Shore and all the performers past, present and future.

Linda Meyrowitz via email


AND FROM FACEBOOK:

Here in Finland and in Sweden, the newspapers cry over how it could go this wrong — “peaceful” Palestinian demonstrators against “cruel” Israeli soldiers. They love to misunderstand what Palestinians really want, which is to take over the Jewish state. They even pretend not to understand what the “Great March of Return” means.

Carita Fogde, Helsinki

Portman’s Blunder? She Said Yes.


Natalie Portman must be a conflicted soul. In 2015, she told the Hollywood Reporter she was “very upset and disappointed” by the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was very much “against” him, but that she didn’t want her criticisms to be “used by adversaries of Israel.”

Two years later, in November 2017, Portman was selected by the Genesis Prize Foundation to be its fifth laureate, receiving a grant of $1 million to donate to charitable causes.

As part of the vetting and selection process, Portman was made aware that the prime minister’s office and The Jewish Agency for Israel were partners in the project. She was told the prime minister (whom she disliked so much) would attend the ceremony. His participation was apparent in numerous pictures from previous galas.

Nevertheless, when she received the award, she released this statement:

“I am deeply touched and humbled by this honor. I am proud of my Israeli roots and Jewish heritage; they are crucial parts of who I am. It is such a privilege to be counted among the outstanding Laureates whom I admire so much.”

Last week, five months after making that statement, Portman changed her mind and announced she wouldn’t attend the ceremony in Israel.

A representative said that “recent events in Israel have been extremely distressing to her and she does not feel comfortable participating in any public events in Israel” and that “she cannot in good conscience move forward with the ceremony.”

What happened in five months to cause her to change her mind and publicly shame Israel? Well, we know what didn’t happen — Bibi and Israel did not change their stripes.

After a public outcry, caused in part by the vagueness of the statement, she released a second statement via Instagram, saying that she “chose not to attend because I did not want to appear as endorsing Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to be giving a speech at the ceremony.”

The focus on Netanyahu created another public relations problem for Portman: She always knew Bibi would be part of the ceremony. She knew this was a prime minister event as much as a Jewish Agency event as much as a Genesis event.

So, what happened in five months to cause her to change her mind and publicly shame Israel? Well, we know what didn’t happen — Bibi and Israel did not change their stripes. It’s still the same Bibi she dislikes and the same Israel of her “roots” and “heritage.”

In other words, there is no good, rational explanation for her global ambush of Israel. Portman knows the power of celebrity. She knows that Genesis picks famous people precisely because of their outsized influence to bring positive change to the world. She knows that Israel is already one of the most maligned countries on earth, and that her actions, as she once said, can “be used by adversaries of Israel.”

She knows all that, and she still chose to use her fame to nourish Israel’s enemies. This may be why Portman has received so little support for her decision, even among many Bibi critics. She allowed her disdain for one man to cloud her judgment about a whole country.

If Portman was so concerned about appearing to endorse Netanyahu, she had no business saying yes in the first place. But once she said yes, if she didn’t want to appear to insult a country she claims to love, she had no business saying no.

This is not about criticism of Israel. Portman has every right to criticize Israel — everyone does. There’s probably more public self-criticism going on in one day in Israel than in the whole Middle East.

But Portman didn’t criticize Israel — she boycotted the country. Her action communicated to the world that she’s so turned off by Israel she can’t even live up to her commitment to attend a ceremony in the country. By shutting out Israel, she also shut out nuance and complexity, advancing the one-sided, tired, Israel-hating narrative that puts all the blame on the Jewish state for whatever goes wrong.

If Portman was so concerned about appearing to endorse Netanyahu, she had no business saying yes in the first place. But once she said yes, if she didn’t want to appear to insult a country she claims to love, she had no business saying no.

I can think of one silver lining in this debacle. All the attention on the Genesis Prize means that more attention will be given to the real purpose of the initiative — how to use the prize money to make the world a better place.

Contrary to what many people think, it is Genesis that has the final say on how the prize money is allocated. The laureate only chooses the category, which this year is advancing women’s rights and equality.

In the summer, Genesis will announce grantees in Israel. In the fall, it will announce grantees in North America. With the help of matching funds, the Genesis Prize Foundation hopes to grant up to $3 million this year to help empower women’s causes.

How ironic. The country Portman insulted will follow through on its commitment to help some of her favorite causes. Maybe by Rosh Hashana she’ll release a third statement saying “I’m sorry” and “Thank you.”

It’s Our Film Fest’s Bar Mitzvah


From left, Carl Reiner, George Shapiro, Mel Brooks and Norman Lear in “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast.” Photo courtesy of LAJFF.

The 13th annual Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival launches April 25 with more than two dozen feature, documentary and short film selections celebrating Jewish experience, tradition and culture.

“It’s our bar mitzvah, and we want to celebrate it,” said the festival’s executive director, Hilary Helstein. “It’s extraordinary to see something we started 13 years ago become an anticipated annual event. With the support of community organizations, consulates, individuals, council members, family foundations and the Jewish Journal, we’re proud to have made it to 13 years.”

The festival will take place at 14 venues in and around the city, including theaters, synagogues and community centers. “We deliver films to every part of the community,” Helstein said. “People don’t have to go farther than their neighborhood.”

The opening-night gala features the Los Angeles premiere of the documentary “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” which will air on PBS’ “American Masters” later this year. “We wanted something uplifting for opening night, and nothing could be better than paying tribute to this iconic, legendary entertainer,” Helstein said. Davis’ son, Manny, and friends including producer George Schlatter and comedian Tom Dreesen will be in attendance. “Since it is a bar mitzvah, we want to have all these people do aliyahs and say something about Sammy.”

The festival has several themes. “For Israel’s 70th birthday, we have documentaries focused on what America has done for Israel,” Helstein said. In “The Land of Milk and Funny,” stand-up comic Avi Liberman takes fellow comedians to Israel to perform and see the sights, and Jewish Americans play baseball for Team Israel in “Heading Home.”

Audiences will get to see the first two episodes of the Israeli series “Kipat Barzel” (“Commandments”), about Charedi soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. “It addresses such a timely issue,” Helstein said. The series focuses on how secular Jews resent the ultra-Orthodox for not serving in the military, but when they do serve — against the wishes of the Charedi community — they’re not welcome. “It’s a really important show and will trigger a tremendous amount of discussion,” Helstein said.

Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa will moderate a Q-and-A after the screening and receive the Visionary Award for his contributions to the Jewish community.

Dolev Mesika and Roy Nik in “Commandments.” Photo courtesy of LAJFF.

Helstein emphasized the importance of including Holocaust-related films, and there are nine this year. “The Last Suit” is an Argentine feature about a Holocaust survivor on a mission to find the friend who saved his life in Poland. It’s paired with “The Driver Is Red,” an animated short about the manhunt for Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

The German feature film “The Last Supper,” a world premiere, takes place at the Glickstein family dinner in Berlin on the day Hitler comes to power. With the patriarch insisting the Fuhrer won’t last, and his equally misguided young son ready to join the Brown Shirts, the only voice of reason is the Palestine-bound daughter’s.

“Above the Drowning Sea” chronicles the experience of Jews who escaped Europe and found refuge in Shanghai, thanks to a Chinese diplomat. Each of the documentary shorts “Dieu Merci: The Story of Michele Rodri,” “116 Cameras” and “A Call to Remember” tells a personal story of survival and will be screened together, followed by a Q-and-A led by the latter’s producer, Michael Berenbaum.

The screening of “Reinventing Rosalee,” a world premiere documentary, in which Lillian Glass chronicles the remarkable life of her Holocaust-survivor mother, will feature a Q-and-A with both women.

The festival’s centerpiece program is “The Samuel Project,” about a teenager whose school project forces his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, to confront the past he hasn’t spoken about in 75 years. A world premiere, the family-friendly feature stars Hal Linden, who will receive the festival’s Martin Paige Hollywood Legacy Award.

Also this year, Helstein said, “We have a focus on women’s stories: feminism, activism, ageism, sexism — all very current themes.” The biographical documentaries “Heather Booth: Changing the World,” about a community organizer and activist, and “Seeing Allred,” about women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred, address these issues. Allred and the filmmakers will participate in a post-screening Q-and-A session.

In conjunction with the Austrian consulate, the 1935 film version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” will be shown as a tribute to Jewish émigré and director-producer Max Reinhardt, commemorating the 75th anniversary of his death. “Rising Sons,” a documentary about efforts to break the cycle of rape and violence in the war-torn Congo, will be shown in association with Jewish World Watch, with a discussion to follow.

Other notable selections include the shorts “Stitchers: Tapestry of Spirit,” about a project to  re-create the entire Torah in  needlepoint; “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405,” which won the Oscar for best documentary short this year; and “Tzeva Adom: Color Red,” a tense story about a fateful encounter at the border between an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian boy. Filmmakers and cast members will attend.

The festival’s closing-night presentation is “If You’re Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast,” a lighthearted documentary featuring Carl Reiner and his nonagenarian and centenarian friends — Mel Brooks, Norman Lear and composer Alan Bergman among them — sharing their insights on life and longevity. A Q-and-A with Bergman and the filmmakers will follow.

“We’re paying homage to these Hollywood guys who are still working and vital and who have created so much in our L.A. community,” Helstein said. “It’s an uplifting, lovely film about keeping going through the aches and pains.”

The Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival runs April 25-May 2. Visit lajfilmfest.org for the screening schedule and more information.

A ‘Better’ Word for Israel


There’s something inexplicable about Israel. On the surface, we know it’s one of the most maligned countries on earth. If I told you that the U.N. General Assembly adopted 97 resolutions that singled out a specific country for condemnation from 2012 to 2015, and that 83 of those were against Israel, you might yawn, right? So what else is new?

But as the Journal’s Aaron Bandler mentions in a column this week, CNN’s Jake Tapper wasn’t too jaded to tell his viewers:

“Considering the genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar, the lack of basic human rights in North Korea, the children starving in the streets of Venezuela, the citizens of Syria targeted for murder by their own leader using the most grotesque and painful weapons, you have to ask, is Israel deserving of 86 percent of the world’s condemnation?”

Of course not, but we already knew that. In any case, the extreme bashing of Israel is not the point of this column — which I happen to be writing from Israel this week. My point is to understand what makes Israel tick, in particular: How does a country function when it’s so hated?

The first thing that comes to mind is “busyness.” Everyone in Israel seems superbusy, whether they’re working, playing,  praying or arguing. It’s like when people go through a difficult time — a divorce, a job loss, etc. — and friends tell them, “It’s important to always stay busy,” because the more one wallows in angst, the worse things get.

I’ve been walking around the streets of Tel Aviv for the past couple of days — the kind of thing I’ve done hundreds of times over the years, in areas throughout the country — and I’ve been struck again by this Israeli busyness. They might have read this morning that some famous singer has canceled a performance under pressure from BDS, but they’re too busy to let it affect their reality. There’s a family to feed, a party to plan, a cause to advance, a film to complete, an argument to win, a country to protect.

I’m sure it annoys many Israelis to live in the most condemned country on earth, but since this is not a problem they can solve, they just move on to other concerns, like their daily lives.

I’m sure it annoys many Israelis to live in the most condemned nation on earth, but since this is not a problem they can solve, they just move on to other concerns, like their daily lives.

But there’s something else. Israelis are busy because they have the freedom to live as they wish. This freedom is a rare commodity in their neighborhood. On the  Freedom House website, a chart from 2013 shows 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Twelve are listed as “not free,” five are listed as “partially free,” and one is listed as “free.” Can you guess which country is free?

Here’s how Freedom House summarized the state of the region:

“The Middle East and North Africa holds some of the worst records of freedom of expression in the world. Many countries in the region lack legal protection for human rights and the rule of law is undermined by a lack of independent judiciaries.

“The 2011 Arab Spring popular protests brought hope for improvements but devastating wars, foreign intervention and instability have since made it an extremely dangerous environment for journalists, civil society and human rights defenders, forcing millions to leave in search of safety.”

Note the absurdity: The one country out of 18 deemed “free” gets 86 percent of the U.N.’s condemnations. Israelis must feel this absurdity. They know they live in a messy, flawed country that is far from perfect, but they also feel the blatant injustice of being singled-out for condemnation more than any other country.

What’s more, they know they live in a free country where they can express themselves anyway they like. Arab Israelis, for example, are free to publicly mourn Israel’s most joyous day of the year, its Day of Independence, as their official Nakba, or catastrophe.

Notwithstanding that freedom, my guess is that most of those Arab-Israelis would not want to leave this “catastrophe” for one of those “partially free” or “not free” Arab countries. In fact, in a poll conducted last year by the Israel Democracy Institute, 66 percent of Arab Israelis said they see Israel’s situation as “good” or “very good,” while 57 percent said their personal situation was “good” or “very good.”

Which brings me to the “B” word: Better.

A society that allows you the freedom to express yourself is better than one that doesn’t. On that level, yes, Israel is better.

“Better” is one of those politically incorrect words you never want to say in polite company. Different, yes, but not better. If you claim, for example, that Country A is better than Country B, someone might get offended and say, “Who gives you the right to judge?”

Well, in the case of Israel, the world does. If groups like the U.N. have enough chutzpah to treat one country, Israel, worse than all others, then Israel can certainly push back with this simple truth: A society that allows you the freedom to express yourself is better than one that doesn’t. On that level, yes, Israel is better.

It’s a tragic irony that this “better” country of the Middle East is also the most reviled. But Israelis are not agonizing over this state of affairs. They’re too busy expressing themselves.

Letters to the Editor: Holocaust, Media Bias and Progressives Being Good Parents


Why the Holocaust Still Resonates

I would try to briefly reflect on Thane Rosenbaum’s question: “Is there anything left to say about the Holocaust?” (“What’s Left to Say?” April 6). David Irving and his ilk would show up with technical drawings of concentration camps to argue that the crematoriums were not really used for what all the survivors say they were used for. Or, one of the effects of the fading memories and political manipulations is the emerging concept that the Holocaust was a terrible thing, but it was not just about Jews; these revisionist “historians” would say that gypsies, homosexuals and communists also were unfortunate victims, and numerous soldiers and civilians died as a result of the war. At least Hungary, which certainly has its share of revisionists, is not confused about the word. The equivalent, Hungarian word for “Holocaust” is “vészkorszak” (the age of danger,) and it is used only in the Jewish persecution’s context and does not cover any other death, including the fallen soldiers of the Hungarian 2nd Army or other, non-Jewish civilians.

What we must repeat is that not long ago, 6 million people’s genocide took place on racial/religious grounds. It could happen again if we are not on guard.

Peter Hantos, Los Angeles

It is with concern that I read your article on the Holocaust. More and more young people regard the Holocaust as distant as Hannibal and the Alps. There’s plenty left to say, i.e., Auschwitz II (Birkenau) was so large that it required traffic lights! The camps were nearly as numerous as post offices.  Camp personnel, including guards and administration, were kept drugged on crystal meth. Back then it was known as Pervitin. This was done so they could perform their tasks without giving it thought and in dealing with the large numbers of inmates.

Daniel Kirwan via email


Poland’s Holocaust Law

Regarding your article “The Polish Jewish Story” (March 23), may I bring up a couple of rarely mentioned facts: During their occupation of Europe, only in Poland did the Germans punish those who helped Jews by death, and the punishment included the helper’s closest family (in other countries the penalties varied from dismissal from work to jail time).

On the other hand, the Polish underground, the largest anti-Nazi underground army in Europe, punished by death those Poles who snitched on their Jewish neighbors.

Also, with all due respect to the author of the article, the new Polish law, although imperfect and perhaps in need of correction, does not criminalize “any mention of Poles” being complicit in the Nazi crimes. Rather, it prohibits accusing “the Polish nation or the Polish state” as a whole, of being complicit in the Nazi German crimes.

Jozef Malocha, Chrzanow, Poland


Media Bias Against Israel 

“(((Semitism)))” author Jonathan Weisman commendably assails surging right-wing anti-Semitism, including social-media trolls and Nazis marching through Charlottesville, Va. (“A Call to Action in the Age of Trump,” March 16). However, anti-Semitism takes many forms, including media bias against Israel, which Weisman seems to ignore. His own newspaper, The New York Times, is a leading offender.

Consider the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. On May 14, 1948, Israel legally declared its independence, consistent with U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181. The next day, five Arab armies invaded the Jewish state, determined to annihilate it.

The New York Times never reports these facts. Instead, it describes the conflict as “the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation” (March 8) or “the 1948 war that broke out over Israel’s creation” (March 31). The Times’ Orwellian descriptions whitewash the Arab states’ genocidal intent continues to this day, obscuring the fact that Israel was attacked and implicitly blame Israel.

Rewriting history to vilify Israel is also anti-Semitism.

Stephen A. Silver, San Francisco


Hold on: Progressives Are Good Parents, Too

Here you go again, Karen Lehrman Bloch. In your constant search for negative comments about anything that contradicts conservative dogma, you find the other side guilty of supporting terrorism and raising kids who are insensitive bullies (“Progressive Bullies,” April 6).

As a lifelong progressive, I abhor terrorists and so do all of my progressive friends. I don’t propose that we or Israel give terrorists a pass because they had a rough childhood. Despite blame and fault, Israel is in the dominant position and must treat the general Palestinian population with as much dignity and respect that security allows, and punish terrorists as they deserve.

Regarding child rearing, our two daughters were raised in a progressive home and have become progressive adults who care about their fellow human beings in both their personal and professional lives. They are also raising children to follow our humanistic ideals.

If the proof is in the pudding, we don’t need to look further then at our conservative administration. Bullying, dishonesty, lying and lack of concern are its hallmarks.

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles


Response to Letter Writers 

In his April 6 letter, Martin J. Weisman blames President Donald Trump for the rise in global anti-Semitism (“Trump and Anti-Semitism,” April 6). Respectfully, far-right Trump support explains the emergence of “old-school” American Jew-hatred, but the explosion of Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party and on American campuses is the fault of former President Barack Obama, with his anti-Israel bias and promotion of Muslim groups in government and academia.

Moreover, Trump has nothing to do with the rebirth of European anti-Semitism, which is mainly caused by the immigration of millions of Muslims, and the rise of right-wing parties protesting them. In fact, some of those parties, like France’s National Front and the Dutch Freedom Party, are wooing Jewish support to fight Muslim misogyny, homophobia, anti-Semitism and even Christian-bashing.

Irrational Trump-hatred closes the minds of otherwise intelligent, inquisitive folks. Jewish Democrats who refuse to face this provide cover for the anti-Semites, Louis Farrakhan supporters and Israel-bashers in their party.

Rueben Gordon via email

Marc Yablonka besmirches the name of David Harris in his letter to the editor (“He Doesn’t Miss the ’60s,” April 6) when he falsely calls him a “draft evader … who persuaded others to go to federal prisons for five years for burning their draft cards,” and wrongly claims Harris “chewed up and spit out those of us who were naive enough to ride along so [he] could further [his] own egotistical adventures. … [He] didn’t give a hoot about the rest of us.”

Factually wrong on every count. Harris was the very model of patriotic objection to a governmental policy.

First, he advised his draft board in writing that he would not cooperate with any of its requirements. Second, he publicized his non-cooperation in his advocacy against the war, ensuring that he would become the focus of federal enforcement. Only then did he publicly and repeatedly urge other young men to do the same.

I should know. Harris — a former Stanford student body president — was in prison when I arrived there to begin my freshman year in September 1969.

I turned 18 that November. Federal law required I register with my draft board. I went to Palo Alto Resistance headquarters, which Harris helped establish, for counseling. The draft counselor’s kindness and respect for my struggles and questions as to what to do, even though he was to begin his own prison term for resistance the very next day, moved me to my core. It still does.

These brave men and the equally brave women who supported them will soon get their due when the documentary “Boys Who Said No!: Draft Resistance and the Vietnam War” is released.

David I. Schulman, Los Angeles


and FROM FACEBOOK:

“Why Is This Sport Different?” April 6:

I love it. Baseball is timeless. There is no clock to run out. What a great metaphor for redemption.

Cyndi Buckey

“Between the Shoah and Mimouna,” April 6:

The beauty and light and optimism of Mimouna is tempered, as a sword blade is tempered in the blacksmiths forge and under his hammer, by the awful evil that was the Shoah. It is built into the very fabric of our divinely created world that the forces of destruction and savagery will never have a final conquest. … Not as long as the Chosen People can find the will to resist.

Ernest Sewell

Thank you for writing of the concerns I share about current events.

Marilyn Danko

Beautiful words.

Tamara Anzivino

Rabbis Take a ‘Live’ Look at Passover Themes


At a pre-Passover live-streamed online video gathering at the Journal’s office on March 25, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills Rabbi Emerita Laura Geller, Temple Beth Am Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, Open Temple Rabbi Lori Shapiro and Rabbi Eli Fink of the Journal staff sat down with Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa to discuss the holiday for “Table for Five — Live.” They touched on the rituals of the seder, the metaphorical concept of slavery, modern twists on biblical themes and anecdotes from their own Passover experiences.

Suissa kicked off the event, co-sponsored by Global Limmud, by asking why Passover seems to resonate with so many people. According to Geller, it’s because it works on four levels at the same time. It reminds Jews of their history, and that they can’t stand idly by when others are oppressed. It’s political, because it reminds Jews that there is a Pharaoh in every generation. It’s psychological, because everyone has his or her own Egypt.

“But the most important thing is, it’s a measuring stick,” Geller said. “We grow up around the Passover table. When we were little, we asked the Four Questions, and then we get a little bigger and our little cousin asks the Four Questions. We sit in the seats where our parents sat, [and] where our grandparents sat. At some point, it moves from older generations to our homes, the family recipes to our kitchens. We change. The story doesn’t.”

“The most important thing [about Passover] is, it’s a measuring stick. … We change. The story doesn’t.” — Rabbi Laura Geller

Suissa and the rabbis dived deep into the haggadah, and explained how they bring it to life at the seder table and make it relatable for guests. Kligfeld said that a number of years ago, at his meal, he said to everyone, “Conjure your maror. Conjure a personal bitterness. Imagine it was in the middle of the table. And don’t speak about it, but speak to it.”

Kligfeld’s father, who is still alive, was battling cancer and six months into his chemotherapy treatments. “He named his cancer and spoke to his disease,” Kligfeld said. “He told his disease that although it was a bitter story inside of him, the end of the story is not bitter. The end is salvation.”

Transitioning into a talk about the meaning of “freedom,” Suissa said Passover is about “liberation. It’s about freedom. But yet the word ‘freedom’ is so mysterious and complicated.”

Fink brought up the Talmud, which says that Passover is not about being “freed,” but from moving from one master to another. “They are freed from the Pharaoh, but they don’t get to do whatever they want,” he said. “They’re now servants of this new ruler, God. There’s no such thing as real freedom, the story tells us.”

Fink said true “freedom” is about finding what traps in life you’re comfortable with, and being honest about what you can and can’t do.

On this note, Shapiro brought up that our huge egos make us believe we can be something that is impossible, like becoming the next Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Instead, she said, “It’s being who we are meant to be. I think that’s what Pesach is asking us to do.”

Shapiro also said that Jews need to find their Mitzrayim (Egypt) and “name it, tame it, [and] find redemption.”

Looking forward, Suissa and the rabbis discussed what Jews do following Passover, and how to keep up the spirit of the holiday year round. Kligfeld said that he often spends a lot of time with engaged couples and tells them they are going to be doing tons of planning and spending money on a wedding that is five hours of their lives.

“What about the next morning?” Kligfeld said. “The most significant aspect of this is not the night you get married. It’s the morning you wake up, the next morning, and the one after that, and the one after that, and the one after that. That’s where kiddushin is found.”

Kligfeld continued, “One of the best things we can do as religious leaders in our community is undervalue the seder night so that [Jews] can start to bring Jewish rituals and concepts of freedom into their Jewish lives all other nights of the year.”

The Magic of Mimouna


Go back a few centuries and picture yourself on a small street in a Jewish neighborhood in Casablanca, Morocco, as the sun is starting to set.

You’ve just finished the late afternoon prayers on the last day of Passover, and as you head home, you see Arab grocers setting up shop and laying out butter, milk, honey and, most importantly, flour and yeast. They are doing what their ancestors did for generations: helping the Jews of Morocco prepare for the ancient tradition of Mimouna, a night when the Jews celebrated the end of Passover by opening the doors of their homes to their neighborhood.

After sundown, Jewish men would rush to gather all the supplies — either by purchasing them or receiving them as gestures of good will from local Arabs — and bring them home, where the women would prepare elaborate sweet tables.

These tables were laden with delicacies, but the star of the show was a thin, mouthwatering Moroccan crepe called the moufleta, which you would roll up with soft butter and honey. Please trust me when I tell you that to this day, few things in life are as perfect as a couple of hot, sweet, tender moufletas — right after you’ve come off a strict eight-day diet of dry matzos.

Moufletas were not the only sweet things floating in the Arabian moonlight on the night of Mimouna. According to folklore, Mimouna was known as the ideal night to meet your sweetheart. It was a night when doors and hearts were open, and young men and women, dressed in their finest, would move and mingle like butterflies from one party and sweet table to another. (I know, it sounds a lot more romantic than speed dating.)

The free-flowing and joyful atmosphere that made you feel the promise of finding love was not a coincidence. The night of Mimouna was all about bringing good fortune into your life. After eight days of prohibitions, Mimouna was the night you broke free, the night anything was possible.

For the Jews of Morocco, Mimouna was the Jewish holiday that celebrated optimism.

All night long, people would give the same greeting over and over again: “Terbach,” an Arab word that roughly means, “May you win and be fortunate.”

The word “mimouna” itself combines the Hebrew/Aramaic root “mammon,” which means riches, with the Hebrew word “emunah,” which means faith. Have faith in your good fortune: If Mimouna ever becomes a big deal in California, I bet the California Lottery would salivate to sponsor Mimouna parties.

After eight days of prohibitions, Mimouna was the night you broke free, the night anything was possible.

As many of you know, the mainstreaming of Mimouna has already happened in Israel. The tradition has morphed from magical nights among neighbors to loud daytime barbecues in public parks, where politicians of all stripes come to sell their wares. I’m guessing the politicians want in on the good Mimouna vibes, which might explain why they’ve made it a national holiday.

From what I hear, the rabbis in Israel also got involved. They were afraid that people would rush out to buy their moufleta ingredients before the holiday was officially over, so they nudged Mimouna into the bright sun of the next day.

These rabbis obviously have no feel for romance — Mimouna is for the moon, not the sun. My memories of Mimouna nights in Casablanca can never mesh with the notion of an afternoon barbecue in a public park. Even though I was only a child, I recall feeling this mysterious, nighttime magic in the air. Even the nervous rush after sundown to gather the goods and prepare the sweet tables were part of the excitement.

But the magic of Mimouna was not just the sweet tables and the Arabian nights. There was something else.

When I talk to Sephardic Jews today who spent a big part of their lives in Morocco, they go on and on about Mimouna. It’s like they’re talking about an ex-girlfriend they were madly in love with and wish they had married. There’s a sense of nostalgia, yes, but also of loss — a loss of what that one night represented.

It’s true that they have tried to take Mimouna with them. In Montreal, where I grew up and where there is a large Moroccan Jewish community, people drive to fancy Mimouna parties all over town until the early morning hours. Even here in Los Angeles, there are Mimouna parties sprinkled all over the area, especially in Moroccan Jewish homes.

But everyone knows there’s something missing. You could serve the world’s greatest moufletas (my mother’s), wear a gold-laced caftan and have a live Middle Eastern band, and there would still be something missing.

It’s the neighborhood.

Mimouna represented the love and intimacy of a neighborhood. There’s nothing like popping in to see 10, 20, 30 different neighbors on the same night, most of whom you see all the time — especially when you know your great-great-great-grandparents probably did the same thing in the same place.

According to tradition, Mimouna itself came out of a neighborhood need. Because many Jewish families in Morocco each had their own Passover customs, Passover week was the one time of the year when families would usually not eat in each other’s homes.

Mimouna was a way for the neighborhood to dramatically make up for this week of limited hospitality — a night when things got back to normal, and everyone invited everyone.

If Passover was the holiday that drew you in — toward yourself, your home, your family — Mimouna was the holiday that blew you away, back to the neighbors, your friends, your freedom, your dreams, maybe even your future love.

Many years later, I find myself living again in a Jewish neighborhood, and I can’t help wondering if my moving here had something to do with my memories of another neighborhood.

Especially on that one magical night of the year, when the moufletas were hot, the doors were open and everything was possible.

This story originally appeared in the April 6, 2007, edition of the Jewish Journal.

Between the Shoah and Mimouna


We make a statement by what we choose to feature on the cover. This week, we had to choose between two upcoming events — the Sephardic Mimouna party, which celebrates the end of Passover, and Yom HaShoah, which commemorates perhaps the worst atrocity in human history. It’s a choice between the ultimate light and the ultimate darkness.

We chose darkness.

Had Mimouna been our cover story, you would have seen a beautiful, joyful image on the cover, instead of the haunting one you see now. Mimouna represents the joy of breaking free, the freedom to live as you wish, the unbridled pursuit of happiness.

But while it’s not featured on the cover, you’ll still see plenty of Mimouna coverage. One of the articles is a reprint of a column I wrote many years ago titled, “The Magic of Mimouna.”

“The night of Mimouna was all about bringing good fortune into your life,” I wrote. “After eight days of prohibitions, Mimouna was the night you broke free, the night anything was possible. For the Jews of Morocco, Mimouna was the Jewish holiday that celebrated optimism.”

For the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, optimism was not an option; breaking free was not a possibility. There was nothing to see besides darkness.

Our memories dance between these two impulses — between the Mimouna part of our lives and the Holocaust part, between the craving for light and the unbearable weight of darkness. We yearn for Mimouna because we yearn for happiness, but we’re haunted by Shoah because our memories so easily surrender to the trauma of darkness.

The great irony is that Mimouna glitters at night, under the romance of the moonlight.

It is this darkness we wanted to explore in this issue. At the same time, we didn’t want to regurgitate what you already know. But how does one avoid that with the Holocaust, a subject about which everything has already been said a million times over?

We commissioned a Holocaust scholar and novelist, Thane Rosenbaum, to tackle that very question: What is there left to say?

“Holocaust memory has grown a little stale these past several years, and fatigue has set in,” he writes. “There are, in fact, fewer Yom HaShoah commemorations around the world.  With each passing year, they dwindle, not unlike the number of survivors themselves.”

He adds: “Perhaps the savagery of the world has simply caught up with the Holocaust in a twisted competition for evil supremacy.  We are tragically becoming inured to the atrocious, surrounded by so many contenders.”

For this one, singular moment of unspeakable darkness, “never again” is never enough.

Rosenbaum takes us on a tour of darkness to help us frame the role of memory:

“The Holocaust is being forgotten and exploited — both at the same time.  A surging wave of global anti-Semitism has surfaced with the added aim of pummeling and plundering the Holocaust.  Who knows what will be left when this new period of anti-Semitic fervor comes to an end?”

Despite the enormous industry of Holocaust memory, Rosenbaum concludes that we have fallen short:

“All around the world, even throughout the United States, the grand experiment of Holocaust memory appears to have failed.  Museums and memorials, although still well attended, are perceived as depressing amusement rides, with statistics about mass murder, artifacts from concentration camps, and an occasional cattle car just to complete the necessary ‘real-feel,’ ‘you are there’ experience.

“After departing from such places of ephemeral horror, visitors emerge into the light, and settle upon where to have lunch. Their confrontation with Holocaust memory lasting as long as Chinese food traveling through a digestive tract.”

Perhaps that’s why we chose to put Yom HaShoah on the cover — because for this one, singular moment of unspeakable darkness, “never again” is never enough.

As much as my heart yearns for a time when the joy of Mimouna will dominate our consciousness, the reality of evil keeps getting in the way. Confronting evil while also embracing joy may well be the paradox of the human condition.

On the night of Mimouna, I will taste a few moufletas (recipe inside) and surrender to optimism. But a few days later, I will attend a Yom HaShoah event to commemorate the very opposite of optimism, a moment in Jewish time when Jews were crushed by darkness.

The irony is that Mimouna glitters at night, under the romance of the moonlight. Maybe this is a gentle reminder that even darkness holds the promise of joy.

The Seder of Repairing Ourselves


We’re living in very noisy times. We holler for joy if our team wins during March Madness, and we holler for change if we are Marching for Our Lives. We holler on cable news shows because it’s good for ratings, and we holler in anger with those who don’t share our views.

The new generation is especially good at making noise and getting noticed, as we are reminded from this recent piece in The Atlantic:

“Generation Z — a cohort of Americans who came of age in the era of cable news and social media and an omnipresent internet — is extremely savvy about the workings of the American media. The March for Our Lives was, in the best ways, a testament to that. It offered, in its official programming, a series of set pieces: moments serving not only as political activism, but also as tailor-made sound bites for CNN, as snippets of video perfect for sharing online.”

We’ve reached a point where expressing ourselves in public has become a sacred calling. As the chaos emanating out of Washington increases, as the reasons to march multiply, as cable news shows keep fighting for ratings, and as social media becomes our weapon of choice to deliver minute-to-minute outrage, we can expect things to only get louder.

There’s truth in the idea that the better we can repair ourselves, the better we’ll repair the world.

Where does the Passover seder fit into all this?

In one sense, Passover will just feed into the noise if we focus solely on curing the world. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. Working to repair the world is one of the highest values, and it takes noise to bring about change.

But equally essential is a human value that makes little noise but forces us to confront our weaknesses — the value of repairing ourselves. Yes, there’s truth in the idea that the better we can repair ourselves, the better we’ll repair the world.

In that spirit, this year we thought we’d create a “Seder to Refine Our Character.”

Thanks to the sharp minds of Rabbi Zoë Klein Miles and educator Tamar Andrews, we have designed a user-friendly seder guide that connects the four major sections of the seder — the four cups — to individual character traits.

We picked character traits that we felt connect nicely to the themes of the Passover seder. They’re hardly a complete list, so feel free to add your own.

Here’s just a little sampling of our character seder guide:

On the first trait of Curiosity, Rabbi Klein Miles writes: “Why is this night different from all other nights? The entire Passover seder is designed to spark curiosity. What’s that new item on the table? Why are we eating these strange combinations of foods? Curiosity is at the heart of all learning, all growth.”

Tamar Andrews adds: “How do we spark curiosity in our children and in ourselves? By acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers. We focus on the process of discovery rather than on the discovered. This means paying attention to the search, the quest and questions. It means kvelling when our children ask astute questions, not just when they answer correctly.”

You will see this back and forth for each character trait — a more “religious” take from the rabbi and a more educational one from Andrews.

A refined character is not obsessed with loud self-expression but with quiet self-appraisal.

For the second character trait of Courage, the rabbi writes: “The rabbis say, ‘Who is strong? One who overpowers one’s inclinations.’ (Pirkei Avot 4:1) In other words, true courage is about conquering our inner fears.” Andrews adds that being brave is “allowing ourselves to be imperfect and not always being ready, but knowing that when the opportunity presents itself, we won’t cower.”

For the trait of Kindness, the rabbi writes: “One year when Rabbi Israel Salanter was too sick to supervise the baking of matzahs, his students asked him how to do it. He answered, ‘If you want the matzah to be truly kosher, be kind to the woman who kneads the dough. … For Rabbi Salanter, the matzah was kosher if the workers were treated kindly.”

Andrews adds: “We are born to be completely selfish. … So young children have a knack for selfishness. Kindness is the exact opposite, as it requires one to be empathetic and generous. This quality does not come naturally.”

For the fourth character trait of Humility, the rabbi writes: “Torah also hides the location of Moses’ burial place. Could it be that the greatest Prophet lies in an unmarked tomb? We live in a competitive culture that encourages showing off and exaggerated happiness. But all improvement starts with humility.”

From Andrews: “With humility, the other character traits fall into place. To learn humility, we admit our mistakes to our children and to ourselves and raise children to be team players. We also encourage appropriate responses to success that acknowledge accomplishments but never to the point of arrogance.”

By definition, character traits are not meant to be noisy. A refined character is not obsessed with loud self-expression but with quiet self-appraisal. This inner struggle is itself the reward.

Chag sameach.

Letters to the Editor: Nikki Haley, Seeds of Hate and Trump Derangement Syndrome


Nikki Haley Speaks for Many

How refreshing is it to finally have someone like Nikki Haley speak the truth about the anti-Semitic policies of the United Nations (“Haley Rips U.N. at AIPAC for ‘Bullying’ of Israel,” March 6). The United Nations truly acted as a “bully” toward Israel while former President Barack Obama’s administration did nothing but pass more anti-Israel resolutions. Haley’s voice for Israel and demands for changes in the U.N. are finally being heard. What we need is more people like Haley who are not afraid to speak the truth and recognize the U.N. for what it is.

Alexander Kahan via email

I enjoyed reading the brief on Haley’s appearance at AIPAC. Although I did not attend the most recent AIPAC in Washington, D.C., I did enjoy reading some of the speeches, especially Haley’s. As we all know, Israel has been the punching bag in the U.N. for many years and, regardless of which country is being bullied, the idea of fairness in order to bring unity among the nations should be top priority for the U.N., no matter which country it is.

Ariel Hakim, Los Angeles


The Seeds of Hate

As much as I am in favor of peace between Israelis and Palestinians, I don’t believe that getting them together will help (“Seeking Peace From the Ground Up,” March 2). Yes, you were allowed to feel hate when the 13-year-old boy was brutally murdered. That is what everyone’s initial reaction should be. I don’t see how you can forget that feeling and move on. I agree that you can’t solve the conflict, but I don’t agree that you can prevent racism. As nice as that sounds, I don’t believe that is realistic.

David Raviv via email

I have mixed emotions about the Roots summer camp. It is true that anger is a horrible sin, however, it is best to keep people who commit acts of terror as far away as possible. It has been proven that we cannot appease the Arabs, and I think it is time that we stopped trying. Shaul Judelman is correct in that we should not let adults’ conflict cloud our children’s minds, but this is a different situation. The best thing we can do now is to stand our ground and keep far away from hateful people.

Yosef Khorramian, Los Angeles

I really agree with the points reporter Deborah Danan makes in this story when she talks about making peace with the Palestinians instead of getting angry and causing conflicts, because if we just fight and argue with them, peace will not be achieved. I also agree with creating the Roots program because I think that having young Israelis and Palestinians work together at a young age will bring more respect to both sides.

Borna Haghighat, Rancho Palos Verdes

I applaud the effort by Shaul Judelman. I think it is great that he is attempting to end racism between Palestinians and Jews. However, one must look at the bigger picture. Ultimately, I do not believe that his effort will make much of a difference. The Palestinians raise their children from Day One to hate Jews. This summer camp does not really change that. However, his actions are still having a positive effect on the people around him.

Aryeh Hirt, Los Angeles


Security Tactics to Protect Our Students

Israeli security expert Oded Raz is correct in stating many tactics can make our schools safer (“Israeli Security Expert Talks About Tactics to Protect Our Schools,” Feb. 23).

When asked, “How can America make high school campuses safer?” Raz mentioned four things: concept, procedures, technology and manpower. I agree with every idea.

Also, when asked, “What is the most critical skill for security guards?” Raz said that searching for suspicious people around the school is the most critical skill. If everything is clear, you can let the students and teachers go inside. I also agree with this.

Moshe Gamaty via email


When Ashkenazi Met Sephardic

I agree with David Suissa that we live in a time when Israel is divided by Sephardim and Ashkenazim (“Living in Ashkefardic Times,” March 9). We put this boundary in between us that divides us. I agree with him that we need to combine our cultures. It was very nice that his shul did it. The shul decided to combine the two sides and make it one community. We live in a society today where everyone classifies themselves as Sephardic and Ashkenazi, not a Jew, and that needs to change.

Saul Barnes, Beverly Hills


Trump Derangement Syndrome

Unlike the magnanimous David Suissa, I have little patience for Donald Trump derangement (“Why We Can’t Talk About Trump,” March 16). Former President Barack Obama, cool and stylish, began his term by praising the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, ignoring their vicious Jew-hatred, then refused to visit Israel while there, and snubbed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife throughout his term. By normalizing and promoting Israel-bashing Muslim groups, he facilitated the growth of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and turned the Democratic Party against Israel. He sabotaged Israel in the U.N., but worst of all, he surrendered control of Syria to Vladimir Putin and sent tens of billions of dollars to Iran, which now threatens Israel’s existence.

Trump, by contrast, condemned Palestinian leaders for paying Arabs to kill Jews, condemned U.N. Relief and Works Agency for abetting Hamas terrorism, and cut off U.S. funds for both. He then overruled the State Department to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Even though Indian-American Gov. Nikki Haley didn’t support Trump’s campaign, he still appointed her to the U.N., where she shamed the world’s tyrants and Jew-haters for ganging up on Israel, and decreed that Israel’s enemies no longer receive U.S. aid.  Simply put, Donald Trump, though outrageous and crude, is the best friend Israel’s had since Harry Truman.

Rueben Gordon via email

I believe that President Donald Trump is only the symptom of Trump Derangement Syndrome — he is not the disease.

I admit I am increasingly deranged as I witness the escalating erosion of decency, the normalization and acceptance of deception, the brazen, unchallenged corruption and disregard for law and ethics.

Trump’s tactics are textbook projection. He disowns his venality and blames others for his sins. We are his goats of Azazel, commanded to carry his sins out of sight.

I am baffled that anyone who claims to be an Israelite (one who wrestles) can be assuaged by his antics. He represents Amalek, the anti-Jew who mocks our commandments. Amalek represents our dark, destructive impulses, literally our inner “dweller in the vale,” our Yetzer Hara.  Amalek has many descendants and Trump and his co-conspirators are the most recent, and in my experience, the most frightening eruptions of our individual and national shadows that I have known in my lifetime.

Harriet Rossetto, Los Angeles


The Dating World

Illana Angel’s column should be congratulated for her dating approach as a divorced woman, which is to lead (her son) by example and date only Jewish men (“The Foibles of Dating Nice Jewish Men,” March 2). We know from the Pew report that 90 percent of the children of intermarried couples look at the intermarrying example set by their Jewish parent and do the same thing, resulting in the total assimilation of those Jews. I hope she finds a Jewish husband soon. Even better, I hope her son follows his mother’s example and some day finds a nice Jewish woman to marry.

Jason Kay via email

Passover: Liberating God’s Food


Jewish rituals are very much about what we can’t do. We can’t eat on Yom Kippur, we can’t work on Shabbat, we can’t eat bread during Passover, and so on.

The prohibitions on Passover are especially detailed. Every year, rabbinic authorities and food companies spend an enormous amount of energy determining how to make thousands of supermarket items “kosher for Passover.” I’ve seen very observant Jews go nuts on this holiday. Some are careful not to put water on their matzot because any moisture might “leaven” the matzah.

But here’s the really crazy part — the holiest and most spectacular food items in the world require no rabbinic supervision whatsoever and are “kosher for Passover” all year long.

These are the foods that come straight from God and straight from the earth, foods like beets, bananas, Swiss chard, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, apples, persimmons, tangerines, spinach, red peppers, kiwi, strawberries, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, celery, endive and mangoes.

Ask Picasso to design 20 fruit and vegetables and I’m not sure he can do better than what’s on that list. Ask any nutrition expert and they’ll tell you that fresh and natural produce are the best way to nourish your body. Ask any great chef and they’ll tell you that fruit and vegetables offer the most imaginative possibilities for great recipes.

At our seder tables this year, we can turn God’s earthy foods into the main dish. We can liberate ourselves from
overly processed foods, from too much meat, too much sugar, too much of everything.

And yet, we still have a tendency to treat vegetables as merely the “side dish” to the main meat dish. The age-old tradition, for those who are not vegan or vegetarian, is that meat is the hero and everything else is the supporting cast.

Passover offers us a unique opportunity to turn the tables.

At our seder tables this year, we can turn God’s earthy foods into the main dish. We can liberate ourselves from overly processed foods, from too much meat, too much sugar, too much of everything. Even for carnivores, we can use this season to celebrate the best, holiest foods on earth.

Are you up for it? I hope so, because this special Passover Food issue is loaded with amazing non-dairy vegetarian recipes such as Herb-Stuffed Mushrooms With Arugula, Bulgarian-Style Ratatouille, Eggplant Chopped “Liver,” Raw Zucchini Roll-ups With Smoky Eggplant and Gold Beets and Nectarines With Hazelnuts and Oregano.

Our Food editor, Yamit Behar Wood, who has shared plenty of great meat recipes in the past, has gotten into the real- food Passover spirit with a story titled, “Can Passover Food Liberate Us? Vegetable Dishes That Steal the Seder.”

She writes: “The seder is a perfect time to re-evaluate priorities and to detoxify our environment in the hopes of gaining a better way forward in all aspects of our lives. And what better way to start anew spiritually than to begin to rethink not only what comes in and out of our lives but what physically goes into our bodies?”

You’ll find four pages in this week’s issue of Wood’s celebration of some of her favorite vegetable dishes.

In “An Eight-Day Love Affair With Vegetables,” Wendy Paris writes:

“This spring-cleaning holiday, this festival of liberation is the perfect time to free ourselves from what can be mindless, unhealthy eating habits — the chewy granola bars in the car, the Cinnabon at the airport. Eating more vegetables is a way to care for our bodies, a mitzvah itself. Cramming ourselves with chocolate-covered potato chips and processed products with names like “Smokey Flavor Xtra Long Snack” is not a mitzvah, even when they’re kosher for Passover.”

The holiest and most spectacular food items in the world require no rabbinic supervision and are “kosher for Passover” all year long.

For her story, Paris interviewed local chef Jeremy Fox, who is a master of farmers market cooking and the author of the recently released ode to things that grow, “On Vegetables: Modern Recipes for the Home Kitchen.”

Paris writes: “For your own vegetable-based Passover dinner, Fox advises thinking in terms of a mezze-style meal of many small plates. … Include a variety of textures, and consider the flow of flavors across the whole evening.”

One of the things I love about the Jewish tradition is that we can inject our own personal meaning into the Jewish holidays. If Passover is about not eating leavened products, why can’t it also be about eating real foods?

So feel free to get into the spirit. Although we do have some terrific recipes in this issue, you can create your own. The point is to use this time of year to free ourselves from the things that harm us and embrace the things that nourish us, spiritually as well as physically.

It’s amazing to think that we can come out of this year’s Passover holiday with a renewed appreciation for the foods that best nourish and sustain our bodies. Talk about liberation.

See you all at the farmers market.

Why We Can’t Talk About Trump


CELEBRITY APPRENTICE -- Red Carpet Event at Trump Tower -- Pictured: Donald Trump -- (Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

I have a dear friend who feels nauseated anytime she hears the word “Trump.” It’s a physical reaction. She feels so disgusted by the man that she’s unable to consider whether he’s capable of doing anything good. Her Trump Derangement Syndrome is rooted in the man’s character flaws — all of the offensive, impulsive and mendacious behavior that has dominated American airwaves for the past two years.

The truth is, we’ve never had a president like Donald Trump. It’s not even close.

In May 2017, I wrote a column quoting historian Max Boot: “The problem with writing about Donald Trump is that the outrages come so fast and furious that it’s hard to keep up.”

My point was that Trump was still mired in the “emotional staples of reality television, the junk food of entertainment, where cat fighting, backstabbing and manufactured drama rule the battle for ratings.”

Having been the star and executive producer of “The Apprentice” for 14 years, Trump couldn’t seem to shake the habits of a world where the greater the chaos, the higher the ratings. “That was the lesson Trump inhaled from reality TV,” I wrote. “Outrage is not just the norm, it’s the key to success.”

This is an issue with conversations in the Trump era — the character flaws of a reality TV star have drowned out rational talk. It’s hard to get past the personal stuff, the craziness, the chaos, which is unrelenting.

Of course, it’s one thing to act like a narcissistic loudmouth when the stakes are television ratings, and quite another when the stakes are the welfare of your nation and the world.

Whereas his old antics might have offended a character or two on his reality show,” I wrote, “today, those same antics could lead to nuclear war …  and other such unpleasant things.”

In fact, for many months after I wrote that, there was talk of Trump’s impulsiveness triggering a nuclear war with North Korea. Even my hairdresser — who never talks politics — asked me if we were headed for a nuclear war.

On the food chain of Trumpian nightmares, a nuclear war takes the crown.

So, you can imagine the cognitive dissonance last week when we got word that North Korean President Kim Jong Un might be interested in negotiating nuclear disarmament. Talk about a reversal: from fear of a nuclear war on Rosh Hashanah to hope for a peace meeting at Passover.

Needless to say, we’re still far from success. As you’ll read in our in-depth analysis by Larry Greenfield in this week’s cover story, there are many complex questions to consider, among them:

“Did the North Korean regime commit to a pre-summit conditional freeze on launching missiles or to a firm promise to negotiate denuclearization of its weapons program, or was the South Korean national security adviser’s representation of Kim Jong Un’s oral offer a bluff?”

“What would a ‘good deal’ look like with an adversary who does not share Western morality? … Even if the regime relinquished its ‘treasured sword,’ the nuclear program it believes guarantees regime survival — would North Korea continue its brutal human rights oppression, illicit global drug activity, supplying of chemical-weapons-production materials to Syria and others, and counterfeiting of currencies?”

“How can we ‘trust but verify’ future inspections of closed reactors and the promised cessation of weapons production and testing, when North Korea has previously cheated on prior framework agreements?”

So yes, it’s complicated, but it’s still far better than the nuclear brinkmanship we had a few months ago. As Greenfield reminds us, Kim Jong Un must have paid attention to Trump’s policy of maximum pressure through “increased sanctions, cyberhacking, freezing of North Korean assets in foreign banks, aggressive military drills led by the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier along with the South Korean navy, stretching from the Yellow Sea to the Sea of Japan, and plenty of bluster (‘rocket man’ on a ‘suicide mission’ who will face ‘fire and fury’).”

Maybe Trump’s unpredictability was just what was needed to get a brutal dictator’s attention. Maybe it takes a coarse bully to scare off another coarse bully. But now that he’s got Kim’s attention, will Trump have the tenacity and patience to follow through? And if he does pull off the ultimate deal, how will Trump haters react?

Talk about a reversal: From fear of a nuclear war on Rosh Hashanah to hope for a peace meeting at Passover.

When I bring up “positive outcomes” with my Trump-hating friend, it makes little difference. Her disgust precludes her from entertaining any positive thoughts about Trump, even a Trump who would pull off a near-miraculous deal to disarm North Korea.

This is an issue with conversations in the Trump era — the character flaws of a reality TV star have drowned out rational talk. It’s hard to get past the personal stuff, the craziness, the chaos, which is unrelenting.

And yet, having said all that, it would still be amazing to see Trump pull off a deal to denuclearize North Korea. And, while he’s at it, it’d be equally amazing if he could renegotiate the Iranian deal that currently allows an evil regime to build nuclear weapons at the end of the agreement.

When the stakes are so high, it’s OK to hope for results, even from a rude and impulsive TV star who craves ratings.

Letters to the Editor: Gun Violence Debate, Phil Rosenthal and More


Gun Violence Debate

The underlying argument of gun law reform: Public safety will be achieved through legislature (“When Will It End?” Feb. 23). In light of the Florida school shooting, this argument is shaping the modern U.S. political and sociocultural landscape. However, the dialogue on gun control has diverted the public from the underlying cause of shootings: pathology.

In Europe, multiple acts of terror have taken place through the use of cars. By driving through crowds of people, terrorist attacks have killed people in masses. Even in the absence of legal gun purchases, assuming black market sales are somehow nonexistent, pathological individuals can find means to fulfill their destructive motivations.

While empathizing with the victims of this tragedy, this conversation lacks this simple empirical observation: Pathology is a problem of being; it is not a problem of legislature.

Mahmut Alp Yuksel, Los Angeles

Former President Barack Obama and the left are partly responsible for the Parkland, Fla., shooting. Obama’s Promise Program lowered Parkland’s juvenile arrest numbers from 3,000 to 600. Then it lowered the number of children disciplined and expelled; it reduced the treatment of problem children; it lowered the number of children arrested. So when the killer attacked, the police did nothing because they were part of the Promise Program.

Robin Rosenblatt, Sebastopol

What a great column by Danielle Berrin (“In America, Life Should Come Before Total Liberty,” Feb.  23)! Thank you so much for bringing up the essence of the prophetic words of Isaiah Berlin. Having lived for 33 years in a society that believed in the absolute ideal of socialism, I experienced firsthand the truthfulness of his words: Everything is justified by the goal of attaining an ideal society. I would add only this: The more noble the ideal is, the more paranoid and fanatic the society becomes. Total liberty is possible only if a single person lives on an isolated island. If two or more people are to live together as a family, society, etc., then total liberty must be replaced by other values that put life at the center of everything.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angles

It seems to me that Ben Shapiro is a tad defensive about his hardline interpretation of the Second Amendment (“The Parkland Dilemma,” March 2). He harshly criticizes the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) for becoming strong advocates for gun safety. How dare they criticize Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for his support of lax gun safety measures? In the very next sentence, he comes to the defense of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch, arguing that she cares “deeply about their (students’) safety.”

These MSD students experienced a horrific massacre. If some of them spoke in hyperbole, it is understandable. What is Loesch’s excuse for her screed at CPAC? She accused those of us who support strong gun safety laws of being ill-informed, ignorant of the Constitution and anti-American. Yet, Shapiro does not chastise her for these comments.

Andrew C. Sigal, Valley Village

In his opposition to gun regulations, Ben Shapiro says he refuses to give up his guns to “browbeating gun control advocates.” We’re not asking him to give up his guns if he feels that they truly give him a sense of security. What we are asking is for improved background checks, introduction of “smart” guns to reduce the likelihood of accidental shootings, and restrictions on assault weapons. If people like Shapiro would listen and consider such reasonable proposals, then we wouldn’t have to shout at one another.

John Beckmann, Sherman Oaks

The “tribalism” David Suissa describes arises from a failure to develop “team skills” (Trapped Inside of Our Tribes,” March 2).

The deepening political divisions and increase in violence, such as the murder of schoolchildren in Florida, have cultural and interpersonal roots. As our culture has become increasingly technological, individuals have become focused on their smartphones and video games at a young age rather than being encouraged to develop relationships with others. Developing and maintaining relationships with others is a skill that is becoming increasingly difficult for some growing children and increasingly difficult for many adults. Violence and primitive tribalism are the consequence of deep personal isolation.

William E. Baumzweiger, Studio City


Phil Rosenthal’s Modesty

Phil Rosenthal significantly understated the level of his and Monica’s generous philanthropy to Jewish and Israel-based causes (“Phil Rosenthal’s 3 Desires,” March 2).

Just a sampling: They supported the production of the award-winning 2008 documentary about the life and death of Hannah Senesh; Monica received the JNF’s Tree of Life Award; and the couple made a significant gift to underwrite the Department of Religious Services, in memory of Phil’s uncle, Rev. A. Asher Hirsch, at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Paul Jeser via email

There is at least a third trait that “Italians and Jews share”: We talk with our hands. Hence the Yiddish joke: “How do you keep a Jew from talking? Tie his hands behind his back.”

Warren Scheinin, Redondo Beach


The Truth of Deir Yassin

The deceitful and perverse Deir Yassin “massacre” fraud was a deliberate, manipulative propaganda effort by Palestinian leadership (“The Truth of Deir Yassin,” March 2).

Perhaps anticipating the sacrosanct status of the Palestinian narrative, Jonathan Swift wrote that “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” This would explain why professor Eliezer Tauber is still looking for an American publisher among those affiliated with the apparently now moribund “marketplace of ideas.”

Julia Lutch via emaill


What Protests Mean

Thank you, David Suissa, for writing “Obama and #IranianWomenToo,” Feb. 16).

Most of us are not brave enough to do what these women (and men) did, openly protesting an evil power —a real one, not from a movie or a novel.

I know this because I used to live in the evil empire, and I knew what an open protest would lead to. We did listen to Voice of America and Free Europe and knew of protests going on in front of the Soviet embassy, United Nations, etc. These people fought for our rights to leave, and for “refusniks” it meant a lot.

In light of this, the pretentious marches, resist movements, demands to remove old statues, and other political demonstrations seem meaningless compared with real issues of liberty (including women’s rights) that some societies face. It is very easy to participate in some march, feel good about it, then go home, knowing that there will be no consequences.

Andy Grinberg via email


A Rabbi’s Spiritual Journey

Thank you, Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, for poetically sharing your experience integrating yogic and Buddhist meditation practices with Judaism (“My Sabbatical Journey: Feeling the Drumbeat of Life,” March 2). In addition to spotlighting the enormous need for tikkun olam, meditation helps me to discern how best to use my God-given gifts to serve our world. None of us is expected to do it all, but each one of us is expected, even commanded, to do what we can. Whatever comes easily and naturally to us is exactly how to help, so go ahead, pick the low hanging fruit! What comes easily for you is difficult for others. Paralyzing guilt has no function in Jewish life.

Cathy Okrent via email


Listen and Learn

I strongly recommend to your readers a recent edition of “Two Nice Jewish Boys,” a Journal-associated podcast. It features Einat Wilf, a former Labor Party MK, who grew up supporting the two-state solution, but has since changed her mind.

It wasn’t just the failure of the Oslo Accords, the atrocities of the Second Intifada, ceaseless terrorism and repeated Palestinian rejection of good-faith offers that prompted her to “get real,” but her conversations with Palestinians themselves. She now believes, sadly, the Palestinian mindset makes a peaceful solution impossible.

Rueben Gordon, Encino


Inclusion at Sundance

Very glad to read about the Shabbat Tent at Sundance (“Sharing Some Light,” Feb. 2). I attended Sundance for 10 years — from 1998 to 2007— first as a programmer for another festival, and then as a filmmaker with a short that played Sundance in 2004. The only year I ever managed to participate in anything remotely Jewish was the year that “Trembling Before God” was an official documentary selection at the festival (in 2001). Very glad to hear that now there’s so much more, and that it is so welcoming and accessible.

Paul Gutrecht via email


The Power of Poetry

Thank you, Hannah Arin, for providing the lovely poetic parameters for wishing upon a star.

Charles Berdiansky, Culver City


New-Look Journal

Your new design format for stories is more conducive to reading all the material than the old design of presenting a starting story and continuing it on the back pages. Thank you for the change.

Ruth Merritt via email

Living in Ashkefardic Times


I remember the look on Rabbi Elazar Muskin’s face when I asked him if he could transform his very Ashkenazi synagogue, Young Israel of Century, into a Sephardic experience for one very special Shabbat morning — my son’s bar mitzvah.

To say that Rabbi Muskin’s synagogue is very Ashkenazi is like saying that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is Jewish. It’s Ashkenazi plus — and I say this as a compliment. This is a shul without an identity crisis. It knows exactly what it stands for and which traditions, rituals and melodies it enjoys.

But as much as I love the synagogue (I’m a member of several shuls so my kids can experience many traditions), I just couldn’t see myself abandoning centuries of my Moroccan tradition on my son’s special day, especially with an army of Sephardic relatives flying in from Montreal and other places.

So I knew I was asking for a lot. To show some accommodation, I mentioned that I could bring in a Sephardic chazzan who would lead Sephardic services using the shul’s own prayer books. After making a small grimace, the rabbi said, politely, “Well, David, I don’t think we’ve ever done that before, but why not? Let’s do it.”

Why am I telling you this story? Because of something that happened at the conclusion of the services, when longtime member Mark Goldenberg said, as part of his weekly remarks: “For years I thought we had the perfect shul, until I heard Sephardic davening and leining (Torah reading) this morning. Today we had the perfect shul.”

My ancestors could never have imagined a neighborhood like Pico-Robertson, where more than 40 distinct flavors of Judaism perfume the Shabbat air every week.

Maybe he was being polite because of all the out-of-town guests, but I do think Mark’s words speak to something I see more and more in the Jewish community — an embracing of Sephardic culture. It has become common for many of my Ashkenazi friends to serve Sephardic cuisine, sing Sephardic songs and inquire about Sephardic customs.

As you’ll read in our cover story this week on “The Sephardic Spirit,” for the past three years Rabbi Sarah Bassin of Temple Emmanuel of Beverly Hills has organized a celebration of a signature Sephardic custom — the Mimouna party on the night after Passover. Among other examples, Valley Beth Shalom in Encino regularly hosts Sephardic services on Friday nights.

There also seems to be a greater effort among Sephardic groups to reach out to the broader community. One of those groups is the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC), which is co-sponsoring a conference in Los Angeles next week featuring one of the premier Sephardic voices in the country, Rabbi Marc Angel from New York. Among the events will be a Sunday workshop at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to assist Jewish educators in incorporating more of the Sephardic intellectual, cultural and Torah tradition in Jewish education.

Rabbi Angel, as well as his partner at the conference, SEC leader Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, are examples of Sephardic rabbis who love their Sephardic tradition but also feel at home in the Ashkenazi world.

This duality exemplifies the two forces that animate the delicate notion of cultural exchange: the comfort of the familiar versus the thrill of discovering the new.

It’s human nature to get attached to one’s customs, especially when it comes to something intimate like prayer melodies. Melodies have the power to bring back cherished memories of years long gone. We feel a deep bond with rituals and liturgies that have been handed down from one generation to the next and have sustained us for so long.

And yet, we are living in radically different times. My ancestors could never have imagined a neighborhood like Pico-Robertson, where more than 40 distinct flavors of Judaism perfume the Shabbat air every week. In the Casablanca neighborhood where I grew up, there was a grand total of one flavor.

Maybe this is the essential point: All Jewish traditions, by the very fact that they are Jewish, belong to every Jew.

For many of us, this modern mingling is bound to disrupt our habits and ignite our curiosity gene. There are Ashkenazi melodies that bring tears to my eyes; Chassidic melodies that stir my soul. I get to taste them anytime I want. Many years ago, I had a group of Ashkenazi friends at our synagogue in Venice Beach who insisted that we pray Sephardic style on Yom Kippur. They couldn’t get enough of it. They were blown away that these melodies were part of their people’s story. They felt as if the melodies belonged to them as much as they belonged to me.

Maybe this is the essential point: All Jewish traditions, by the very fact that they are Jewish, belong to every Jew. Are the traditions different? How could they not be? Sephardic Jews, who are diverse in their own right, have a unique, rich and varied history, with their own cultural, geographical and religious influences. How could the customs and melodies not be radically different?

But walk into any Ashkenazi and Sephardic synagogue and you’ll discover something comforting and also extraordinary: No matter how radically different our melodies may be, the words themselves are pretty much the same. Just ask Rabbi Muskin.

Trapped Inside of Our Tribes


When push comes to shove, we often pick loyalty to a political party over loyalty to an idea or a truth. This is true whether we are on the left or right. Conforming to the views of our political tribe is the safe way to go. Criticizing your tribe in public, well, that’s a lot more risky.

Just ask conservative writer Mona Charen, who had the nerve to call out the hypocrisy of her own Republican Party last week at the CPAC convention. On a panel about the #MeToo movement, she said she was “disappointed in people on our side for being hypocrites about sexual harassers and abusers of women who are in our party. Who are sitting in the White House. Who brag about their extramarital affairs. Who brag about mistreating women. And because he happens to have an R after his name, we look the other way, we don’t complain.” She got a loud chorus of boos.

The hypocrisy works both ways. Don’t get me started about the liberal feminists who went easy on that serial sexual abuser Bill Clinton because of the D after his name.

I saw plenty of tribal loyalty during the heated arguments over the Iran nuclear deal. A pro-Israel friend of mine who is a die-hard Democrat confessed that he hated the Iran deal. So, why didn’t he speak up? Well, he hated Republicans even more. He couldn’t stand the idea of saying anything that might make them look good.

Blind loyalty is a bipartisan disease.

I also have blind loyalty — to the Los Angeles Lakers. Rain or shine, I’m a diehard fan. But I don’t just love my Lakers, I also hate the Boston Celtics. Those two sentiments go hand in hand. If you love the Lakers, you must hate the Celtics. It’s tradition.

I enjoy looking at both sides of an argument. It’s challenging. It opens my mind. When my views are locked in, that’s when my mind stagnates.

When friends ask me about my fanatical devotion to a sports team, I never know what to say, other than I love sports and I love rooting for my home team. I suppose if I wanted to get esoteric, it’s possible that, subconsciously, I’m using the Lakers to get tribal fanaticism out of my system. Then, when I’m confronted with something serious like politics, I’ll be more inclined to see both sides of an argument. Like I said, esoteric.

In any case, politics is not sports. The stakes in politics are enormous, and the views are fluid. I may like a party’s policy on one issue and another party’s on another issue. For me, it’s case by case, policy by policy, candidate by candidate. No reason to go all in with one party.

But there’s something else — I enjoy looking at both sides of an argument. It’s challenging. It opens my mind. When my views are locked in, that’s when my mind stagnates.

An open mindset is the animating force behind our new Roundtable email newsletter. It stands out from other newsletters because you get three different views on hot issues of the day curated from across the ideological spectrum. It’s an opportunity every morning to sneak out of our tribes and open our minds to a range of viewpoints.

But the Roundtable is an exception. If anything, the rift between left and right in America has grown wider than ever. In her new book, “Political Tribes,” Amy Chua writes: “The Left believes that right-wing tribalism — bigotry, racism — is tearing the country apart. The Right believes that left-wing tribalism — identity politics, political correctness — is tearing the country apart. They are both right.”

This is not the way America was meant to evolve.

“America is a super-group — the only one among the major powers of the world,” Chua writes. “We have forged a national identity that transcends tribal politics — an identity that does not belong to any subgroup, that is strong and capacious enough to hold together an incredibly diverse population, making us all American. This status was hard-won; it is precious.

“The destructive, fracturing tribalism that is seizing American politics puts this in jeopardy.”

The nasty fighting now raging over gun control is an example of this destructive tribalism. As Ben Shapiro writes this week in his Journal column, “There’s no way we’ll ever be able to find rational solutions if we shout at one another that our disagreements are evidence of our malice toward innocent children.”

An insult is not an argument. An emotion is not an idea. An attack is not a policy.

An insult is not an argument. An emotion is not an idea. An attack is not a policy.

Our obsession with tribal politics is bringing out the darker angels of our nature.

In 1780, four years after the Declaration of Independence, Founding Father John Adams wrote:

“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

Adams had no idea that 238 years after he wrote those words, a social media revolution would facilitate and magnify the very political evil he feared.

Since the theme of our issue this week is prayer, maybe we can pray for a day when more Americans will channel their tribalism toward their sports teams rather than their political parties. As for me, I can’t stand those Celtics.

Acting Through Our Anger


I was on the phone discussing a provocative story about the Jewish holiday of Purim when news of the Parkland, Fla., school massacre first broke. At the time, it was just “a shooting.” No one knew yet the extent of the tragedy. My phone conversation was barely interrupted.

Within a few hours, everything had changed. As news of the casualties kept dribbling out, my mind raced. This was the afternoon of Feb. 14. Our paper had gone to print a day earlier with a cover story on the looming crisis in Syria. What a shame, I thought, that we couldn’t have a story on Parkland while it was on everyone’s mind. That is the foible of print — you’re at the mercy of fate and the printer’s deadline. Well, if we couldn’t be topical, I said to myself, at least we could go deeper into the story for the next print edition.

In the meantime, there’s always online.

We quickly posted the story on our website and started planning the next print edition. Because our cover is glossy and needs to go to print earlier, we had to decide pretty quickly on a cover design. I recalled this haunting visual from our cartoonist Steve Greenberg showing a map of America delineated by guns. We went with that image, and a line that seemed to capture the mood of the moment — “When will it end?”

The issue of gun violence in America is so fraught with emotion and complexity we decided to get community reactions from a variety of voices. Senior reporter Danielle Berrin and I drew up a preliminary list to get diverse views. I also called our political editor in Israel, Shmuel Rosner, to see if he could connect us with an Israeli security expert who could share the Israeli perspective. He connected us to Oded Raz, whom we interviewed for our back-page Q-and-A. It’s worth reading what he has to say, especially about strategies to protect American schools from shootings.

On Friday afternoon, we got a lead on the Chabad rabbi in Parkland whose office is minutes from the shooting and who jumped into the chaos of the tragedy. We interviewed him on Saturday night and posted the story online the following morning. On Feb. 19, I heard that a Los Angeles rabbi, Shlomo Einhorn, had flown to Parkland with a few students to make shivah calls, and I asked him to write about it. You can read about his experience in the “columnist” section. All along, we had to juggle how to fit everything in with our regular coverage.

It wasn’t until Sunday, when I saw a heart-rending image of two mothers crying in Parkland, that it hit me — my heart had deadened since the news broke. I had become numb. Instead of feeling the unspeakable pain that had been unleashed on a community, I was thinking of how best to cover the story. I felt an odd, quiet shame: How could I be so callous? I reflected on the cold-bloodedness of a profession that leaves little room for emotion when a major story strikes.

Violence that destroys human lives triggers deep emotions, and anger is one of our deepest. When that violence keeps repeating — as with terror attacks in Israel or mass shootings in America — our anger becomes an emotional reflex.

And then I thought: Am I the only one? Was my absence of grieving only due to my profession?

I wasn’t a journalist when a terrorist plane struck the first of the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001. As this mass of glass and steel crumbled to earth, I thought: Maybe now the world will better understand what Israel is facing. What a narrow-minded reaction: Couldn’t I find one minute to grieve for the victims? But I was enraged at the terrorists — that was my primary reaction.

Maybe this is human nature and I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Violence that destroys human lives triggers deep emotions, and anger is one of our deepest. When that violence keeps repeating — as with terror attacks in Israel or mass shootings in America — our anger becomes an emotional reflex. This anger only grows as the story unfolds: How could we allow an unstable person to buy a semi-automatic rifle? How could the FBI and local authorities fail to act on the obvious threats? How could a school fail to protect its students? How could we live in a country with 300 million guns?

Ultimately, when faced with horrific tragedies, we have a visceral need to act, to do something, and so much of our action is fueled by anger. As David Brooks wrote in The New York Times, in the wake of the Parkland massacre, “The anger inevitably gets directed at the N.R.A., those who support gun rights, and the politicians who refuse to do anything while children die.”

However, Brooks continued, this kind of anger “may end up doing more harm than good. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it is that guns have become a cultural flash point in a nation that is unequal and divided. The people who defend gun rights believe that snobbish elites look down on their morals and want to destroy their culture. If we end up telling such people that they and their guns are despicable, they will just despise us back and dig in their heels.”

He concludes that if we want to stop school shootings, “it’s not enough just to vent and march.”

There’s certainly room for venting and marching, but let’s also leave room for calm, methodical, strategic voices such as that of Israeli security expert Oded Raz.

In retrospect, I’m glad I withheld my emotions long enough to find his voice.

Obama and #IranianWomenToo


The big news last week was the Iranian drone that entered Israeli air space and triggered a potential war between Iran and Israel. Israel shot down the drone and attacked Syria. Missiles were launched. An Israeli jet was shot down. Israel retaliated. A phone call from Putin to Bibi prevented an escalation. You can read all about it in our cover story by Shmuel Rosner.

But it’s not Iranian missiles or drones I want to talk about — those get enough media attention. What I want to talk about is Iranian women.

While the Iranian terror regime has been wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East, Iranian women have quietly suffered their own form of terror.

This oppression is not new. Two years ago, while the Persian mullahs were wooing the West for its nuclear deal, I wrote about Atena Farghadani, a 28-year-old Iranian artist who was sentenced to 12 years in an Iranian prison because she “insulted” members of Parliament with her art.

Last year, according to Human Rights Watch,  Narges Mohammadi, a prominent human rights defender, began serving a sentence of 10 years in prison on charges including “membership in the banned campaign of Step by Step to Stop the Death Penalty.”

While the Iranian terror regime has been wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East, Iranian women have quietly suffered their own form of terror.

And just last week, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), Iranian-American art dealer Karan Vafadari and his Iranian wife, Afarin Neyssari, were sentenced to prison for being Zoroastrians, members of a pre-Islamic ancient religion. Vafadari was given a 27-year prison sentence and will receive 124 lashes. Neyssari was given 16 years.

These are hardly random events.

Remember the woman who was all over social media recently because she decided to take off her hijab during the demonstrations? Her name is Narges Hosseini, and she’s now sitting in jail, facing charges punishable by up to 10 years, including “encouraging immorality or prostitution.”

In case you haven’t heard, it is a criminal offense in Iran for women not to cover their hair and bodies in public.

Hosseini is valiantly trying to fight back, but it’s not easy when you’re up against an entrenched patriarchy that treats women like second-class objects.

For now, all Hosseini can do from her jail cell is refuse to say she’s sorry. That’s all she’s got left to maintain her dignity — a refusal to kowtow to her oppressors.

We fool ourselves when we see these cool images of  “women of the revolution” and think it makes a difference. The images we saw last month of Hosseini and others were just that — images that came and went. After the cameras leave, it is the jail cells that matter. In Iran, that is where “women of revolution” end up.

And if you believe the latest Human Rights Watch report from 2017, there is little likelihood of change.

All of this makes a mockery of the hopes and dreams of many supporters of the Iran nuclear deal that the $150 billion in sanctions relief and the welcoming of Iran into the family of nations would somehow “moderate” an evil and theocratic regime. It didn’t. It made it worse.

As a famous man once said: “You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls.” That man was President Barack Obama in 2014, a year before he concluded a deal that empowered one of the worse oppressors of women.

When Obama made that statement, I’m sure he meant “successful” in a Western, democratic kind of way. But the definition of success varies by region and ideology. For the Persian regime, for whom success means dominating the region and cementing its theocratic power, oppressing women fits right in with its mission.

#MeToo also applies to women of the Third World who are jailed and stoned to death under brutal regimes. Let’s see a march devoted mostly to those women. And let’s see Obama lead that march.

So, if Obama is looking for a new cause to take advantage of his charisma and global notoriety, I can’t think of a better one than fighting for the oppressed women of the world, starting with Iran.

I know that in Donald Trump’s America, “women’s marches” are now all the rage. And I know that when I challenge my friends who march to stand up for the rights of Iranian women in jail who can’t march for themselves, they always tell me: “Yes, yes, we’re also marching for them!”

But here’s the problem — that’s not what comes across. As Time magazine reported, “The 2017 rally in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of similar marches created solidarity for those denouncing Trump’s views on abortion, immigration, LGBT rights and more.” And this year, the #MeToo movement gave the 2018 marches a new and justified injection of outrage.

But #MeToo also applies to women of the Third World who are jailed and stoned to death under brutal regimes. Let’s see a march devoted mostly to those women. And let’s see Obama lead that march.

Seeing the Whole Community


This is my 18th issue of the Jewish Journal as editor-in-chief, and, I have to say, these past few months have been exhilarating. One, I’ve never worked harder, and two, the reaction throughout the community has been incredible —  better than I could have imagined. Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve heard a similar refrain, “I love what you’re doing with the Jewish Journal.”

Of course, when I hear that, I have to say (as I wrote about last week), “poo, poo, poo.” But I also like to ask: “What is it that you like?” I’ve done this countless times with readers from across the spectrum — religious, secular, left wing, right wing, young, old, Jewish, non-Jewish, everyone.

So, in honor of our “chai” issue, I thought I’d recap the thinking behind the reimagining of your community paper, a paper I have always loved and am working to build upon.

First, we’re here to cover the whole community. That means I can’t allow content biases to get in the way. This easily can happen in publishing. If an editor-in-chief, for example, favors religion and spirituality, you’ll see too much of it. If the editor favors news and opinion, or culture and the arts, or community reporting, or Israel and political coverage, same thing — you may see too much of it.

The challenge is to balance everything to honor the diversity of the community and the diversity of Judaism.

The challenge is to balance everything to honor the diversity of the community and the diversity of Judaism. If we’re going to live up to our promise to “connect, inform and inspire” the whole community, we must keep everyone in mind and cover as much of the Jewish buffet as possible. If we focused more on the news, we would mostly inform; if we focused more on religion, we would mostly inspire; and if we focused more on the local community, we would mostly connect.

We must do all three equally. That’s why you see such a broad diversity of coverage.

You may see a pro-and-con debate on abortion, gun control or the Iran nuclear deal, but also a spiritual poem on the Garden of Eden.

You’ll see a dark story on neo-Nazis or the rise in anti-Semitism in the United States, but also one on the uplifting message of Hanukkah.

You’ll see reporting on Jewish outreach at the Sundance Film Festival, but also a cri de coeur from a Mexican “Dreamer” afraid of being separated from her family.

You’ll see hard coverage of the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement, but also a dialogue between a Reform and Orthodox rabbi on the true meaning of tikkun olam.

In other words, it is diversity, above all, that is imperative.

Does every page in the paper appeal to everybody? Of course not.

Some people like our ethereal poem page, others prefer our political analysis and commentary. Some like reading about the local Persian gay community, others prefer a story on how the Jews of Puerto Rico fared during the hurricane.

Some people like our Israel coverage, others are just tired of anything Israel and prefer local stories. Some like to see coverage of a new film, others prefer a commentary on how that film connects to Jewish values.

Our mission, then, is to reach everyone in a meaningful way. That also means a great diversity of voices. Over the past few months, we have added more than a dozen women’s voices, many of them local rabbis who contribute to our Table for Five page. We’ve gone out of our way to add more Sephardic and millennial voices. With op-eds, we look for opinion pieces that provoke thought, not anger.

But diversity is not enough if you don’t enjoy reading the paper. That’s why we’ve redesigned the paper to make it more visually engaging. We’ve also added a few special sections like “Image of the Week” and “20 (or 30) Years Ago in Jewish Journal.”

Online, we’ve increased our coverage of daily news on our website and launched the global newsletter “Roundtable,” which provides “fresh takes on hot issues” every morning.

Over the past few months, we have added more than a dozen women’s voices, many of them local rabbis who contribute to our Table for Five page.

In recent months, we’ve produced more than 20 online videos, ranging from interviews with Jewish leaders to light-hearted clips on the Jewish holidays. We’re now in the process of building a sound studio in our offices to produce a podcast network.

While we’re excited about all the new things we’re doing online, we never forget that the community paper is our pride and joy. There’s no substitute for a paper you can pick up at a local synagogue or café. You can feel the whole community as you flip through the pages. It’s hard to capture that feeling on an iPhone screen.

One comment I’ve been getting consistently is that the paper “looks great.” Why is that important? Because in publishing, beauty is more than skin deep. Clean, attractive layouts engage the readers with your content. This is smart business: If we make the content more visually appealing, you’ll be more likely to read the articles, and we’ll be more likely to connect, inform and inspire you.

Poo, poo, poo.

Letters to the Editor: Trump, Marriage, Partisan Divide on Israel and Women’s March


Trump and the Cycle of Violence in Israel

In the Jan. 19 cover story, “The Trump Gap,” Shmuel Rosner asserts that a “Trump-friendly” Israel “becomes an outlier” in the view of Israel and the Europeans — as evidenced in the U.N. actions of late. Is Rosner not aware that Israel’s existence has been as an outlier in the U.N. and Europe since long before the Oslo Accord? Or the U.N. Security Council’s continuous focus on destroying Israel? All of this predates the latest U.S. election by far.

Worse, in “Jerusalem, What Comes Next?” (Jan. 19), Joel Braunold argues that asserting Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem has surrendered the United States’ ability to broker peace, and that building grass-roots peace movements is the answer. What deluded bubble must one occupy to think that building communities “of collective humanity” will magically create an atmosphere of peace while our purported peace partners teach their children to become martyrs for the “holy” cause of killing Jewish women and children, and Arab supporters of peace are executed as collaborators?

David Zuckerman, Phoenix


Alternative Secrets to a Happy Marriage

Rabbi Benjamin Blech’s story was great, but I have my own three secrets to a happy and long-lasting relationship/marriage (“Three Secrets to a Long and Happy Marriage,” Jan. 19).

They are: 1) Always hold hands when walking; 2) Sit next to each other in a restaurant, not across; 3) Never watch TV after a date or after an evening out.

Robert Geminder, Palos Verdes


Nature and God

I read with interest “Why I Don’t Worship Trees” by David Suissa (Jan. 26).

He says that there is a difference between loving nature and worshipping God. This is interesting to me because, according to Spinoza, God and Nature are one and the same.

So, it depends on which philosopher you are reading, as to what is “true and correct” — or rather, “an adequate idea” in the words of Spinoza. I love and worship Nature, which to me is synonymous with God.

Debora Gillman, Los Angeles

I have great respect for, though not agreement with, David Suissa’s argument that Jewish tradition calls for transcending Nature and aiming for a higher place. It was such an argument that propelled the Amsterdam Jewish community to excommunicate Spinoza, who saw divinity in all of Nature, thereby incurring the anathema of being a “polytheist.”

The relevancy in our world today is that such a separation must now become anathema in order to preserve the only place in the universe we have to live. We must see nature and divinity as indivisible or risk continuing on the path that in an accelerating manner threatens to leave us as the “masters of nothing.”

Sheldon H. Kardener via email


Republicans, Too, Must Widen Their Views

Ben Shapiro, in his column “Partisan Divide Over Israel” (Jan. 26), only exacerbates that divide by insisting that only the Democratic Party has to “re-evaluate its moral worldview in the Middle East.” In fact, there are many Democrats, myself included, who strive to enhance the long-term security and prosperity of Israel by desperately working (sometimes it’s more like “hoping”) to leave the door open for a workable two-state solution. Additionally, we struggle to encourage Israel’s democratic institutions and pluralism, to reverse the increasing rejection felt by liberal Jews. Conservatives talk a good game when it comes to supporting Israel, but in reality their strategies have done more harm than good — none more so than President George W. Bush’s removal of Saddam Hussein’s counterbalance to Iranian expansion followed by his encouragement of an independent entity and “free” elections in Gaza, which led to the ascendancy of Hamas and the ensuing conflicts. It’s time for the Republicans to take off their blinders and widen their views of what will and won’t work in the Middle East.

John F. Beckmann, Sherman Oaks


The Women’s March

Thanks to Karen Lehrman Bloch for her brave piece “Why I Didn’t March” (Jan. 26). I hope her writing will open the eyes of many women who do not recognize the manipulative, anti-Zionist agenda behind the progressive movement. We can fight for human rights without allowing ourselves to become robotic pawns in a crowd led by the likes of the hateful Linda Sarsour. Let’s march for acceptance of thought and speech and let’s celebrate individual choice.

Alice Greenfield via email

I think mostly everyone can agree that our country is extremely polarized on issues concerning Israel, immigration, education, taxes, trade policies, health care, the environment, women’s rights and abortion. Very often, it’s only one issue that is paramount to the individual and it is so powerful that they will overlook positions on all the other important issues facing us. That’s why the Women’s March is so important. To assert that women were following the leaders of this march and were told what to think is absurd and demeaning. I never heard of Linda Sarsour before reading Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column and learned that she is anti-Israel and an anti-Semite. I marched with the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children in Los Angeles who are concerned about a multiplicity of issues and, like me, have no knowledge of Linda Sarsour’s political views.

Frima Telerant, Westwood


Parties Split Over Support of Israel

Danielle Berrin, who appears to be left-leaning, and Ben Shapiro, who is right-leaning, seem to agree on something: There is a lot of partisan division in politics in the United States and in Israel which affects support for Israel. According to recent Pew research data, 79 percent of Republicans say they sympathize with Israel and just 27 percent of Democrats say they identify with Israel. That should not be surprising given the fact that at the 2012 Democratic National Convention there was booing when the platform was amended to identify Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Now the No. 2 person in the DNC, Keith Ellison, is an avowed Israel-hating Jew hater.

Marshall Lerner via email


Tablets Belong in Our Schools

It was sad to read the uninformed opinion of Abigail Shrier on getting iPads out of our schools (“Smash the Tablets: Get iPads Out of Our Schools,” Jan 19). Hardly any student goes to college without a laptop or iPad these days. Not too long ago, the Yale School of Medicine gave each of its students an Apple iPad 2 for use in the classroom and their clinical responsibilities.

Litigators create their deposition outlines on iPads, and during depositions they typically have a separate iPad that’s linked to the court reporter. The use of this technology simply makes sense unless Shrier also thinks that attorneys’ brains are being compromised because of these technology tools.

The correlations she cites are just that — correlations — unproven statistical comparisons that may turn out to be false. The explicit intention of using iPads in the schools was to reach a rainbow of learners, which it accomplished, with or without the agreement of Shrier.

Joel Greenman, Woodland Hills


CORRECTIONS

The founder of Netiya was misidentified in a Jan. 26 story (“A Tu B’Shevat Question”). Rabbi Noah Farkas founded Netiya, a Los Angeles-based food justice organization; Devorah Brous was hired as its founding executive director in 2011.

The former name of de Toledo High School was misreported in the Jan. 26 edition (“De Toledo Goes Green”). It formerly was called New Community Jewish High School.

Pew, Pew, Pew


Jews have trouble with good news. That’s why Jewish grandmothers taught us the spitting sounds “poo, poo, poo” to ward off the evil eye anytime something good happens.

So much good stuff has happened to Jews in America that we might as well say poo, poo, poo all day long. This is the modern Jewish paradox: We suffered for centuries with really bad news, but now that we have really good news, we’re afraid to embrace it too tightly, lest we lose it.

The poo-poo-poo mindset expresses itself in different ways, sometimes by minimizing good news (“Joey got into Harvard — poo, poo, poo”), other times by maximizing bad news (“Is it true a neo-Nazi was stalking our shul?”).

There’s something endearing about a people who are always watching their backs. Jews can never trust too much, get too comfortable or too happy. That’s what 2,000 years of persecution buys you: We never know when some evil force will come and take all this good stuff away.

This mindset also keeps us sharp. Let’s face it, when you see threats around every corner, you’re less likely to get ambushed by reality.

The Jewish community is especially good at seeing threats around every corner. Surveys from the Pew Center have become the evidence par excellence. If you want bad news about “the new generation,” Pew will deliver. No doubt this is helpful for fundraising: If Pew says young Jews are assimilating at an alarming rate, what better set-up for philanthropists worried about the future of their people?

In short, bad news is good for the Jews. It keeps away the evil eye, keeps nonprofits in business and enlivens conversations. Poo, poo, poo.

So much good stuff has happened to Jews in America that we might as well say poo, poo, poo all day long.

This is even more true in journalism. Bad news is our lifeblood. I will confess: I was electrified when I heard last week that a man with neo-Nazi connections was suspected in the Orange County slaying of a gay Jew, Blaze Bernstein. I thought of finding an enterprising reporter to infiltrate and expose the neo-Nazi group and create a national story. I had no time for sadness. I was just thinking of the story.

I go out of my way to include some bad news in every issue of the Journal. Last week, we were able to provide two good pieces of bad news: a mezuzah that was removed from the doorpost of an office at UCLA, and a binational, Jewish same-sex couple who were suing the U.S. over parental rights. This week, all we have is the neo-Nazi story.

I imagine that the simplest way to provide bad news every week would be to have regular columns quoting Pew studies. One of the more fascinating Pew findings is the growing divide between American Jews and Israeli Jews. In surveying Jewish adults in both places, Pew found sharp differences. For example, while 39 percent of Israeli Jews quoted “economic problems” as the most important long-term problem facing Israel, only 1 percent of American Jews did. This may help explain the greater obsession with the peace process among American Jews — it’s the luxury of not living in Israel and facing everyday problems.

In terms of Jewish identity, there’s more bad news: 53 percent of American Jews identify as Reform or Conservative, compared with only 5 percent of Israeli Jews. No wonder so many divisive religious issues have flared up in recent years, among them the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. The two camps are living in different realities.

The Jewish community is especially good at seeing threats around every corner. Surveys from the Pew Center have become the evidence par excellence.

If you bring a bad-news mentality to such findings, you will use them to nourish the crisis narrative of Jewish communal life. We’re all familiar with this narrative. It’s a lot more energizing to talk about a crisis than to do a calm analysis that will help us better understand the issues.

This, then, is the dilemma: How do we handle bad news without letting it drown us and define us? If bad news is the surest way to raise funds or get media attention, how do we keep it in its proper place?

It’s clear that bad news gives us a sense of purpose, a direction to improve the world. But if we focus so much on the bad that we lose our sense of joy, what good is living? If we become so good at complaining that we lose the ability to create and imagine, what kind of future is that?

This past Saturday night, I bumped into a group of French Sephardic Jews at Shiloh’s restaurant. I knew many of them. They all spoke French. I could tell they were having a really good time. They had come out of a Torah class given by a rabbi from Paris. It seemed as if all they talked about was good news, as if they were looking for good news, or at least things to laugh about.

I should have said poo, poo, poo.

Letters to the Editor: Racism, Trump, Jerusalem and Suissa


Label a Person Racist When It’s Deserved

We must agree to disagree about the premise of Shmuel Rosner’s questions (“The Rush to Racism,” Jan. 19). There are more than two criteria to label someone a racist.

President Donald Trump has a history of denying leases to African-Americans 40-plus years ago. He accepted, after denying he knew former KKK member David Duke, Duke’s endorsement during the campaign. His words have emboldened haters like no president before. His policy to deny people who are not white entry to United States and most recently his “shithole” comment all point to the same conclusion.

If you act/feel like a racist, you quack like a hater/racist and you call neo-Nazis “good people,” you are a racist.

Warren J. Potash, Moorpark


Trump’s Comment About ‘Developing’ Countries

I (and I suspect many other Journal readers) take umbrage at Karen Lehrman Bloch’s assertion that we are all shitholers (“We are All Shitholers,” Jan. 19).

That and similar terms aren’t ones I use. I was born in the United States. Yes, my grandparents came from Russia and Poland, as did the ancestors of many people.

And I disagree strongly with her assertion that the leftist media get hysterical over everything President Donald Trump says and does.

I’m not sure which media outlets she is referring to as leftist — does she mean legitimate news outfits like The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC? Reporting on presidential outrages in word or deed is not hysterical, it’s legitimate reporting.

At least Bloch appears to understand that Trump’s bigotry is un-American. She should also point out that it violates biblical injunctions, too.

Daniel Fink, Beverly Hills

In the past few decades, I have traveled to nearly 50 countries, mostly as a negotiator on deals to sell American products in places such as China, South America and Europe but also (more recently) as a tourist.

Most of these trips were to “developing” countries that President Trump called “shitholes.”

Yes, I have been to some rough places in the world: I went to Syria to help a Texas mom whose 12-year-old daughter was kidnapped by an ex-husband and was being held near Damascus. I discovered an international criminal group in Europe on a case I was working on (that had bilked U.S. investors out of $1.5 million) and had to go “undercover” for a while.

But the only place out of 50 countries I have been to, where my life was really in jeopardy, was in the United States — in East Texas — when I was kidnapped by a white guy. Not Nigeria. Not South Africa. Not Asia. True story. All of these events are documented in my book “Better Times Ahead April Fool.”

So don’t call nations “shitholes,” Mr. Trump, because I found great people in the worst of places, and some terrible people in the “best” of places.

Michael Fjetland, via email


Zioness Organization’s Time Is Now

Thank you for your wonderful story about the Zioness organization (“Zioness Movement Joins Women’s March,” Jan. 19). This is an organization whose time is long overdue. There is a strong need on the left for this type of organization. We Jews on the left have been slammed with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate speech and actions. Occasionally, it comes from other Jews and Jewish organizations.

I’m writing because of an Israel-bashing Muslim woman who spoke at the Women’s March. This marred an otherwise inspirational event, and was so unnecessary. I would say that almost all people at the march had multi-ethnic and multiracial sentiments.

This Israel bashing is nothing new. It seems always to be lurking in the mass movements on the left. My first exposure to it was in the women’s movement in the 1970s. Then it was in the LGBT movement. Then it was in the anti-Iraq War movement. Now, here it is at the Women’s March. I will always be a progressive because I put people’s lives first. There’s nowhere else for me to go.

Let’s hope the Zionesses become powerful and strong!

Sue Roth via email


Jerusalem as Capital of Israel

Last month, President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem the capital of Israel, yet I did not see any positive comment that I know of from rabbis with the exception of Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob, who asked the members to send letters or email to thank Trump. Even though Jerusalem belonged to Israel for 2,000 years, Trump was the first president who promised and delivered. Thank you, Mr. Trump.

Benny Halfon via email


Suissa’s Hits and Misses

Thank you, David Suissa, for an outstanding column (“Abbas Fails His People —  Again,” Jan. 19)!

Mahmoud Abbas and his friends appear to be the “fundamental obstacle” to peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He retains power by focusing on the presumed “victimhood” and the misery under which his people live, claiming Israel is the oppressor. Abbas’ argument: Israel is to blame for all the hardships Palestinians are suffering.

Prediction: Just as is happening in Iran, one day the Palestinian people will wake up and realize the truth, and get leaders who truly want to help their people to enjoy a better life. Then they will welcome Israel as a partner rather than the enemy.

Meanwhile, Abbas enjoys his share of the billions of dollars donated from around the world — just as Yasser Arafat did before him. Furthermore, he uses much of those funds to reward and encourage terrorism. And the U.N. condones it all, blaming Israel for the plight of the Palestinians. In this regard, let’s wish for lots of luck for U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and President Donald Trump.

George Epstein via email

The publisher and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal is on a trip to the land of Oz! Suissa is dreamy and nostalgic for the smells of the land that decreed Jews’ station in this land to be dhimmi: to face humiliation from birth to death (“A Hunger for Memory,” Jan. 12).

Perhaps if Suissa wasn’t daydreaming about the good old days in a country that held its Jews in humiliation and bondage, he might have remembered to speak up for the Jew Robert Levinson, who is believed to be rotting in the mullahs’ gulag. But then, how could Suissa be expected to remember Levinson when he’s dreaming about the good old days living the dhimmi. All the space in this not-for-profit Jewish weekly showing concern for the protesters in Iran and not a bloody word for the Levinson. Perhaps Levinson is in a cozy gulag in his Muslim cell.

Jerry Daniels, Marina del Rey


Why Israelis Like Trump More Than Americans Do

Shmuel Rosner clearly explained why Israeli Jews like President Donald Trump more than American Jews do (“The Trump Gap,” Jan. 19). I would like to add one more element to his explanation: What is good for America is good for Israel. The Israeli euphoria should be dampened by the fact that his erratic attempts of diplomacy have alienated him from our (and Israel’s) natural allies and greatly diminished American leadership in the Middle East. Thus, despite his rhetoric, he has lost America’s ability to act as an honest broker in future peace negotiations and give political cover in international relations.

At home, his attack on American institutions already is causing greater division and rivalry among our population. If not reversed, this can cause a weakening that will reflect in our ability to influence world affairs, and particularly support for Israel.

Michael Telerant, Los Angeles

Why I Don’t Worship Trees


The more I learn about trees, the more I am blown away. These specimens of nature are the gift that keep on giving. They produce oxygen, reduce smog, suck up greenhouse gasses to fight climate change, reduce stormwater runoff to reduce floods, provide natural air conditioning, preserve and filter rainwater to fight droughts, and on and on. There are studies that show that trees can slow heartbeats, lower blood pressure and relax brain wave patterns. They can even help lower crime rates.

I can understand why in ancient times pagan societies worshipped the gods of nature. They revered the miraculous elements that sustained them — rain, fire, trees, the wind, the sun, the earth, the moon. They also must have trembled in awe at the power of nature to sustain and destroy. So, when they encountered the all-powerful God of Genesis, the God that created nature and is outside of nature, it must have been a shock to their system. How can any force be bigger and more powerful than nature itself?

In this brave new world that the Jewish Bible brought to humanity, nature may be miraculous, but only God is divine.

The holiday of trees, Tu B’Shevat, which is the subject of this week’s cover story by Rabbi Zoë Klein Miles, brings together nature and the divine. Because God is so invisible, it’s natural to focus on the concrete, on what we can see, feel, touch and smell.

This is how we approach most rituals — we focus on the physical. In the case of Tu B’Shvat, the tradition is to sample a diversity of fruits that come from trees. In recent years, the holiday has expanded to honor not just trees but all of the wondrous benefits of Mother Nature. Tu B’Shevat seders have become all the rage for nature lovers and environmental activists.

Nature itself is so valuable, so miraculous, so powerful, it’s easy to get carried away and give it a sense of godly divinity. My Jewish tradition, however, pushes me to transcend my deep attachment to nature and aim for a higher place.

Nature is so valuable, so miraculous, so powerful, it’s easy to get carried away and give it a sense of godly divinity. My Jewish tradition, however, pushes me to transcend my deep attachment to nature and aim for a higher place.

As the late Italian Jewish scholar Umberto Cassuto, professor of Bible at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote about Genesis: “Relative to the ideas prevailing among the peoples of the ancient East, we are confronted here with a basically new conception and a spiritual revolution. … The basically new conception consists in the completely transcendental view of the Godhead … the God of Israel is outside and above nature, and the whole of nature, the sun, and the moon, and all the hosts of heaven, and the earth beneath, and the sea that is under the earth, and all that is in them — they are all His creatures which He created according to His will.”

Genesis challenges us to separate love from worship. I love nature, but I worship the God that brought us the Ten Commandments, the Torah, Shabbat and all the traditions that sustain us spiritually and communally. A crucial part of that tradition is to care for nature.

As Rabbi Klein Miles writes in our Tu B’Shevat seder, “Even in times of war, Torah tells us, we shouldn’t cut down fruit trees. In the Garden of Eden, God told the first humans to serve and protect the land. Yet, each year humans destroy more than 5 billion trees in tropical rainforests — ecosystems that are essential to sustaining life on Earth. Countless species are threatened with extinction. The world gives so much to us … yet we have forgotten our obligation to be stewards of this precious world.”

One way to remember our obligation to our precious world is to partake in our Tu B’Shevat Seder, and use it as a discussion guide. The rabbi has a knack for bringing intimacy to rituals, for asking questions that help us define who we are and what moves us.

She writes: “In the tradition of the mystics, choose a variety of fruits: hard outsides / soft insides (banana and kiwi); Soft outsides / hard insides (peaches and plums); entirely edible (figs and starfruit). Which one are you? Do you wear a protective shell around a tender heart? Are you vulnerable, with a strong core? What do you hope to peel away this year, and what weight do you want to dislodge?”

Eating the fruit is the ritual, and finding meaning in the act is the spiritual. This is the Jewish way: We’re called upon to aim higher and go deeper. Just as we transcend rituals to find meaning, we transcend our natures to refine our characters. A refined character understands that while we don’t worship our miraculous trees, we’re certainly obligated to take care of them.

Happy Tu B’Shevat.

Abbas Fails His People — Again


When Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas described Israel as a “colonialist project that is not connected to Judaism” — as he did in a speech last week that was littered with anti-Semitic overtones — the natural reaction from the pro-Israel community was to condemn the lies and defend the truth.

Abbas’ libelous speech, in fact, was condemned across the political spectrum. Even J Street released a statement saying there was “no excuse for calling into question either the Jewish connection to, or Palestinian recognition of, the state of Israel — or for language and proposals that are justifiably earning widespread condemnation.”

Moderate commentator Ben-Dror Yemini on Ynetnews characterized the speech as “More hallucinations. More illusions. More rejectionism” — adding that Abbas’ real problem is not with the creation of Israel in 1948 or the expansion of the state after 1967 but the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that first supported the Jews’ right to a national home.

The reason Abbas is obsessed with the 1917 recognition of Jewish sovereign rights is that it undermines his faux narrative that Israel is a colonialist state rooted in European guilt after the Holocaust. As long as he can position the Jewish state as an artificial project that punished Palestinian Arabs, he can claim the mantle of victimhood and continue his diplomatic war against the legitimacy of Israel.

This addiction to victimhood is also crucial to his retention of power. Put yourself in Abbas’ shoes. His people live in misery while, next door, the hated Jewish state thrives. Doubling down on victimhood means he can blame every Palestinian hardship on Israel.

It also justifies saying no to every peace proposal, as Palestinian leaders have done for decades. After all, if Israel is the result of Jews stealing Arab land, what is there to negotiate? There is only one thing a thief must do, and that is return the stolen goods in full — and maybe even throw in a penalty for emotional damages.

If Palestinian leaders ever conceded the 3,000-year Jewish connection to the Holy Land, it would explode the edifice of lies they have told their people. It would force them to acknowledge that Jews also have sovereign rights, which would force them to accept compromises. It would mean they’d have to admit that their problem with Israel is not with the settlements that came after 1967 but the settlements that came after 1917. It would mean they’d have to accept at least some responsibility for the miserable state of their failed society.

Even for those who tend to blame Israel for the absence of peace, it’s hard to deny the fundamental obstacle of one party completely denying the legitimacy of the other.

The minute Abbas himself concedes the legitimacy of the Jewish state, an avalanche of pressure would descend upon him. All of a sudden, he would have to look at the hated Zionist state as a partner rather than a thief and start caring for the welfare of his people. All of a sudden, he’d have to actually produce results.

Compare that to the status quo. By sticking to his narrative of exclusive victimhood at the expense of Jewish oppression, Abbas is celebrated around the world. He continues to cash in on “humanitarian” aid that fills his coffers and that of his cronies; he continues his diplomatic and legal war against Israel at the United Nations and international criminal courts; and, above all, he’s off the hook to make any compromises for peace.

For a corrupt liar who has contempt for Zionism, this status quo is, well, heaven on earth.

There is, of course, one complication in this whole picture — the Palestinian people. The day they realize they have been lied to for so long by their own leaders is the day those leaders will abandon their villas in Ramallah and hop on their private jets to any country that will take them.

That day may come sooner than they think.

According to a poll conducted in the summer of 2016 by the reputable Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research and published in Al Monitor, 65 percent of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip want Abbas to resign.

Among the reasons cited, journalist Ahmed Labed from Gaza City told Al Monitor: “President Abbas, who has been in power for 11 years, has been illegitimately occupying the presidential office. His mandate expired in January 2009. Moreover, throughout the period of his presidency, Abbas hasn’t accomplished any noteworthy achievement for the Palestinians.”

His major “accomplishment” has been to malign and undermine the Jewish state and instill hatred in his people for their Jewish neighbors, all while pretending to be a “moderate” to the world.

Even for those who tend to blame Israel for the absence of peace, it’s hard to deny the fundamental obstacle of one party completely denying the legitimacy of the other, especially when that party has an interest in maintaining that lie.

Israel has made its share of mistakes. Its biggest, perhaps, is that it never had a long-term strategy for handling the territories captured in 1967, especially in Judea and Samaria. This has allowed Palestinian leaders to place all the blame for the absence of peace on the growth of Jewish communities in these territories.

Never mind that Palestinian leaders have rejected every peace offer made by Israel without ever making a counteroffer. As bad as those rejections have been for Israel, they’ve been even worse for the Palestinians.

A Hunger for Memory


Meme Suissa, bottom left, with her parents and siblings at a pilgrimage in Morocco, circa 1934.

Why would my mother serve an Arab kid before serving her own hungry children? I was about 6 years old, and my family was on one of those pilgrimages to visit the gravesite of a Jewish holy man on the anniversary of his death. Along with hundreds of other Moroccan Jews, we would camp out for a few days in some type of wilderness location, not far from the gravesite. For kids, it was a chance to ride on donkeys, play a little soccer and have some “camping fun.” For the grown-ups, it was a chance to pray and bask in holiness and blessings.

As my father was pitching the tent and we got settled in, I recall my mother cutting up slices of a megina, a type of omelet pie, to feed her four hungry kids. But before serving the first slice, she noticed a young Arab boy sitting off to the side, his eyes fixated on the pie. Quietly, she took the first slice and brought it to him, and then came back to serve us. She didn’t say a word about it — no “teachable moment” about caring for the stranger, etc. — and neither did anyone else. It was one of those innocuous moments that has lingered silently in my memory for decades, not dramatic enough to ever discuss, but not routine enough to ever forget.

Years later, when my Jewish journey triggered the memory of that moment, I brought it up to my mother. She had no recollection. Evidently, she had just followed her natural order of things — she felt the hunger of a kid, and she gave him some food.

It is a different type of hunger — a hunger for memory — that has triggered our cover story this week by my friend Aomar Boum, assistant professor of anthropology at UCLA. Aomar is a practicing Muslim who was born and raised in the southern province of Tata, Morocco. From what I’ve been told, my ancestors were also from the south of Morocco, and were called the “people of the Sous” (hence my last name).

Aomar and I share more than geography in common. We both love Moroccan culture. We both love holiness. And we both love memory.

Aomar’s story brings these three loves together. It’s the story of Muslims who for centuries have cared for the Jewish holy sites throughout Morocco. At our Shabbat table last Friday night, he elaborated on this unique attachment between Muslims and holy Jewish sites. But as he has written in the past, this is only one chapter in a larger, more complicated story.

By the late 1980s, about 240,000 Jews had emigrated from Morocco, many to Israel (we moved to Canada). Today, fewer than 3,000 Jews remain. In his book, “Memories of Absence,” Aomar explores how the Jewish narrative in Moroccan history has largely been suppressed. A good part of his scholarship is devoted to reviving that narrative.

He writes: “Called ‘people of the book’ (dhimmi) by Muslims, the majority of Jews lived under the protection of the Moroccan king.

My mother recalls the unique coziness of growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in a Muslim country… and the holiness of Jewish gravesites that perfumed the Moroccan air.

“The Jews had ambivalent relations with their Muslim neighbors. Although Jewish communities resembled Muslim ones in language and custom, Jews faced occupational and social restrictions, such as in farming, and were mainly artisans, peddlers, and merchants.

“Rabbis and wealthy leaders who enjoyed special ties with Muslim authorities administered the Jewish community’s internal social, legal, and religious affairs. Around 1862, the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) built schools in the coastal cities and later in the hinterland, enabling many Jews to integrate into the wider world beyond Morocco.

“Around the same time, however, political Zionism began to make inroads among the Jews of Morocco, and a century later, in 1956 after Moroccan independence, Jews were affected by the new government’s Arab-Islamic policies and a widely celebrated national Arabization program. Zionist movements began to encourage Jews to move to Israel, and many people of Jewish descent left.”

In this story of gradual physical absence, pretty much all we have left is memory.

“Moroccans are left with the memories of a Jewish life that once existed,” he writes. “The great-grandparent and grandparent generations continue to discuss nostalgically the richness of Jewish-Muslim life in the past; the younger generation demonstrates narrow and misinformed perspectives of Jews.”

My mother belongs to the grandparent generation, from the Jewish side. She may not recall an anecdote of serving an omelet slice to an Arab boy, but she recalls a lot more. She recalls the unique coziness of growing up in a Jewish neighborhood in a Muslim country, the textures of an Arab culture that infiltrated Jewish life through food, music and language and, maybe above all, the holiness of Jewish gravesites that perfumed the Moroccan air.

It’s true that memory can play tricks on us — that we have a tendency to exaggerate the past, whether in a positive or negative light. It’s also true that we hunger for memories that can nourish our present.

Maybe I’m blessed that the trauma of the Holocaust did not contaminate my childhood memories, as it did for many of my Ashkenazi friends. I’m left with a nostalgia for a past I barely knew but still remember, a past that I now see through the lens of others who tell me story after story of what life was like for the Jews of Morocco.

As my own Jewish journey has progressed, I have found myself constantly looking back to my Moroccan heritage for some kind of spiritual nourishment. I want to learn more about my ancestors, my bubbes and zaydes, and I want to hand down these things to my own children.

I especially love that it’s a Muslim friend who is helping me on this journey, just like my mother helped that Muslim kid.

Where’s #MeToo for Persian Victims?


For the crime of shaking hands with her lawyer, cartoonist Atena Farghadani was forced to undergo a “virginity and pregnancy test” prior to her 2015 trial in Iran on a charge of “illegitimate sexual relations.”

Commenting on her case, Said Boumedouha, deputy director at Amnesty International, said, “The Iranian judicial authorities have truly reached an outrageous low, seeking to exploit the stigma attached to sexual and gender-based violence in order to intimidate, punish or harass her.”

Seeing the waves of protests that have broken out in recent days throughout Iran, I thought of all the other Persian women who must be praying to be liberated from such insidious oppression.

Why are they not part of the #MeToo movement?

Well, for one thing, because in Iran, women pay a price for speaking up. Farghadani herself, in addition to her “illegitimate sexual relations” trial, was sentenced to 12 years and nine months in an Iranian jail because she drew cartoons that “insulted” members of Parliament.

As I wrote back in July 2015, “Farghadani is not alone. There are thousands like her languishing in Iranian prisons because they had the nerve to oppose an evil and oppressive regime. How oppressive? According to Human Rights Watch, ‘In 2014 Iran had the second highest number of executions in the world after China, and executed the largest number of juvenile offenders. The country remains one of the biggest jailers in the world of journalists, bloggers, and social media activists. ’ ”

Since then, after the 2015 nuclear deal that empowered Iran with billions in sanctions relief, the oppression has only gotten worse.

According to Amnesty International, “Iran continued to execute children in 2016,” including hanging 17-year-old Hassan Afshar because of homosexual activity. At least 49 inmates on death row were convicted of crimes committed when they were under 18 years old.

In March 2016, the United Nations Children’s Rights Committee noted that in Iran “flogging was still a lawful punishment for boys and girls convicted of certain crimes” and that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) children had been subjected to electric shocks to ‘cure’ them.”

The committee also reported that “the age of marriage for girls is 13” and that “sexual intercourse with girls as young as nine lunar years was not criminalized.”

That is what evil does — it grabs more power so that it can stay in power, even if that means jailing women, hanging gays and conniving the West into releasing billions, all in the name of God.

How is all of that for motivation to run on the streets and storm the barricades of theocratic despots who treat women and children worse than slaves?

Yes, those are the same despots who suckered the West into empowering their evil regime in return for an agreement that, at best, delays a nuclear Iran by a decade.

And they’re the same despots who have been wreaking havoc throughout the Middle East while remaining, according to the latest U.S. State Department report, “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism.”

“Who knows? Iran may change,” President Barack Obama said to Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in April 2015, around the time that Atena Farghadani was being sentenced to jail for her cartoons.

Of course, at the time, Obama was eager to conclude his legacy nuclear deal, which may also explain why he stayed so quiet when protests erupted on Iranian streets in 2009. Instead of betting on the Iranian people, Obama spent his two terms in office betting on the mullahs who were oppressing those very people.

Obama was as passionate about his deal with the mullahs as he was silent about those who were hanged for being gay or women who were jailed for speaking up.

In his zeal to promote his deal, he kept making hopeful comments that all those billions in sanctions relief would help the Iranian economy and trickle down to ordinary citizens. As he told Friedman, he hoped the deal would “harness the incredible talents and ingenuity and entrepreneurship of Iranian people” and empower the nonviolent forces inside Iran who’d want to “excel in science and technology and job creation and developing our people.”

Two years later, the only thing that’s trickled down to Iranian citizens is more oppression and misery. But why should that surprise us? Obama bet on evil, and evil bit him right back.

The Iranian evil includes blatant corruption. For decades, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accumulated assets of about $95 billion through an organization, Setad, that was created to help the poor but has morphed into a business juggernaut.

As detailed in a Reuters investigation:

“Khamenei’s grip on Iran’s politics and its military forces has been apparent for years. The investigation into Setad shows that there is a third dimension to his power: economic might. … Setad gives him the financial means to operate independently of parliament and the national budget.”

That is what evil does — it grabs more power so that it can stay in power, even if that means jailing women, hanging gays and conniving the West into releasing billions, all in the name of God.

It’s an unfortunate timing that this week is our annual Mensch issue, where we focus on human decency and goodness. Maybe the contrast between mensches and oppressors will spur people to launch a #ThemToo campaign, this one on behalf of desperate victims risking their lives right now on Iranian streets.

Letters to the Editor: Jerusalem, Hanukkah, Gun Control and ‘Wonder’


FROM FACEBOOK:

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

This article attributes wisdom to a president who does not deserve it. Donald Trump’s statements are not about what is good for Israel, or what is good for the peace process, or even what is good for the U.S. In some way, these statements serve only one purpose — Trump. It’s a shame so many Jews miss this critical point. And while we may clamor for the recognition of an empire, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

Brian Lichtman

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. We Israelis never doubted it. Even if someone argues that it was meant to be an international city, we know that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that can keep it as free and international while it’s also its capital.

Ora Cooper

The truth needs to be repeated that President Donald Trump’s speech contained much wisdom. He acknowledged the reality of Israel’s capital city being Jerusalem while stating that the final borders would be left up to negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That the Palestinians’ response was to declare multiple “days of rage” and their refusal of further meetings with U.S. representatives speaks volumes about their true desire for peace.

Bill Bender


How Jerusalem Decision May Impact Jews

David Suissa’s column “Can Jerusalem Be Good for All Religions?” (Dec. 15) was great! However, I believe this event creates an urgent need to ask a second (and more important) question: Can Judaism be good for most Jews? Obviously, to answer this question we must first define “Judaism” — so that most Jews (and especially, most young Jews and old rabbis) actually can agree about Judaism in 2018.

Aaron H. Shovers, Long Beach 

David Suissa’s Editor’s Note about Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel is outstanding. I was so impressed that I took it with me today to read to my daughter while she drove me to the Veterans Affairs/West Los Angeles Medical Center. He is an excellent writer and a brilliant man. And I have noticed a distinct improvement in the type and quality of the articles now being published for our community.

Keep up the good work.

George Epstein via email


Fond Memories of Hanukkah on the Go

The Hanukkah story by Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, “Stronger Together” (Dec. 8), is a heartwarming reminder that Jewish life and many of our holiday customs are both joyful and portable.

And they’re even better when we manage to share them with others, wherever and whenever possible.

I’ll add three of our Hanukkah travel tales: First, at California’s Yosemite National Park lodge when my children were young, the desk clerk allowed me to post my hand-drawn sign with an eight-branched menorah plus candles along with an open invitation for hotel guests to join us in our room to light and sing Hanukkah brachot/prayers together.

Among several couples and families who arrived, one couple turned out to be formerly unknown distant family relatives with roots in Western Europe, visiting from the American Midwest.

On another occasion, we managed to light Hanukkah candles at Los Angeles International Airport (not likely permitted today) while en route to Argentina to visit my wife’s family.

Another memorable time I lit a hanukkiah while traveling was while en route to Israel on a stopover at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on an American Professors for Peace in the Middle East faculty group study mission (an important U.S. and Canada faculty Israel support group founded in 1967). The two-hour layover before boarding our El Al flight was enough to allow the minimum half-hour needed for the candles to burn, per Jewish custom and law.

With permission from nearby boarding gate staff, I set up a menorah and three candles on the counter to light them, readily visible in the area. Others approached and while singing the prayers, together we recalled the living yet ancient “ages-old victory and miracle” (nes gadol hayah sham) while awaiting our flight to depart.

Again, as airport travelers en route to Israel, we joined in prayerful melodies and lights in a public reminder and joyful Hanukkah celebration of the Maccabees’ victory and our enemies’ defeat with God’s help — to restore the Temple in Jerusalem and enabling us to honor Jewish values and practices, thanks to this wonderful and supportive country, the United States, in which we have the privilege to live!

Allan Levine via email 


Gun Laws and Gun Violence in the U.S.

I read Danielle Berrin’s column about the need for gun control in this country (“The Great Gun Debate,” Dec. 15). First of all, homicides have gone way down from a high of nearly 20,000 over 10 years ago to around 12,000 to 14,000 thousand now. Of course, mass murders have increased, though.

The city of Chicago had very weak gun control laws years ago and had about 250 homicides a year. Now, with among with the strictest gun control laws in this country, the city has recorded more than 600 homicides this  year.

Gun control has never been effective in reducing homicides in this country and never will. Homicides may go up or down regardless of stricter gun control laws.

Lynda Wadkins, North Hollywood


Did Columnist See the Same Movie as Letter Writer?

How in the world could one possibly see the movie “Wonder” as “one big smack in the face at President Donald Trump and his politics of hate”? (“ ‘Wonder’: A Call to Our Better Angels,” Dec. 1.)

You not only printed a piece contending that protecting America is hatred personified, you made sure the whole point of Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column was mainly about that.

You’ve bought (and are now selling) the craziness of MSNBC journalist Rachel Maddow, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, comedian Kathy Griffin and the rest of the people who claim that all of the Trump supporters are a “basket of deplorables.”

Hasn’t that gotten a little old by now?

Steve Klein, Encino


Letter About Rohingya Was Misinterpreted

I am saddened by Usman Madha’s letter (“Muslim Wants to Dispel Distortions About Rohingya,” Dec. 15) misinterpreting the facts contained in my original letter regarding the Buddhist-Muslim strife in Myannmar (“Plight of the Rohingya Has Many Facets,” Dec. 8). I was clear in expressing sympathy for the innocent Rohingya at the outset of my letter, which focused primarily on the years of jihadist wars that have left indelible scars on the people of the Indian subcontinent.

This reality sheds light on the reactive behavior of Myanmar’s Buddhists to the Muslim Rohingya today. Madha admits he is well aware of the Jihadist problem in Islam when he proclaims he is a “practicing pluralist, non-jihadist Muslim.” Moreover, my letter did not focus on Jewish-Muslim relations but rather on Islamic-Buddhist relations, which lie at the heart of the Myanmar dispute.

I am a fan of moderate Muslim thinkers such as Zuhdi Jasser, who has called for a reform of Islam’s jihadist roots in a post-9/11 world. The recent rapprochement of Saudi Arabia and the moderate Arab countries with Israel, as well as the tone of Madha’s welcoming letter, give me hope for a better future.

Richard Friedman, Culver City

On Politics and Conversation


As we end 2017 and head into 2018, I thought I’d share some personal reflections on our modern political conversation, and how I see the Jewish Journal playing a role.

First, I may love politics and current events, but they do not own me. I like to follow the news, see what’s happening locally and around the world, study the threats to humanity’s future. Politics gets me pumped up. It builds up my outrage, makes me feel alive, as if I’m dealing with stuff that really matters.

So, why does the political conversation so often get on my nerves? Because I see what it does to people. It makes them hysterical. It breaks up relationships. It ignites anger and bitterness. At best, it keeps us in our silos and echo chambers, protected from views we cannot fathom.

My wish for 2018? To manage politics so that it doesn’t fray our communal bonds and bring out the worse in us.

Second, I know that politicians will never make me happy. My friends will make me happy. My family will make me happy. A great film will make me happy. Politicians will make themselves happy — with the perks and privileges that come with power — but they can never make me happy. Usually, they just disappoint me.

It’s true that politics plays a role in Judaism. Our tradition calls on us to make the world a better place. Since politics revolves around power, it follows that if we’re serious about repairing the world, we must engage with power. That’s why you see many rabbis address political issues from the pulpit. They see it as an expression of the Jewish imperative to pursue justice.

But that is not the whole story. We can do plenty of repair work on our own, without asking anything of politicians. This is called community engagement. The Jewish Federation system is an example of Jews taking control and responsibility for their communities. There are thousands of smaller examples of individual initiatives that aim to make the world a better place, politics or no politics.

Much of our community coverage at the Journal honors those efforts.

Third, the news doesn’t help us make sense of the news. Following the news, which comes at us fast and furious through our Twitter feeds, has become an addiction. At a gala dinner the other night, I couldn’t help looking at my phone when I received a piece of breaking news. The item was so juicy I had to share it with the person sitting next to me. This is not healthy.

I’m sure if we injected more news and current events in the Journal, we’d be more “juicy” and look more topical.

I want us to put politics in its proper place, to protect our friendships, to wallow in beauty, to find poetry in life, to have curiosity for the unfamiliar, to repair not just the world but ourselves.

But when you have a publication that comes out once a week, it’s silly to try to compete with the daily news you get every minute. This is not a problem—it’s an opportunity. It means we can focus on deeper stuff, on commentaries and analyses that help you make sense of the news, not to mention the world we live in.

Fourth, there’s so much more to life than current events. It’s a common technique among columnists to quote current events in the opening paragraph to grab your attention. I do it often. It’s a way of showing immediate relevance by dealing with “what’s happening in the world.”

Of course, the Journal will never stop running columns that deal with topical events. But here’s a confession: Very often, my favorite columns are precisely those that do not deal with the latest news. These are the columns that convey timeless ideas that are relevant on any day or week… or century.

Politics today colors so much of our culture we can easily lose sight of how beautiful and pure culture can be. I love art, poetry, literature, music, film and human stories that have nothing to do with the state of the world. Their innate beauty is what makes them relevant.

Fifth, yes, crisis sells, which is one reason Judaism is always in a state of crisis. Everyone knows it’s a lot easier to raise money when you convey a state of crisis. At a time when it’s more and more difficult to get people’s attention, there’s nothing like a good crisis to shake people up.

In media, crises help attract more readers. It’s a known fact that you can boost your online views just by putting up words like “anti-Semitism” in your headlines. This is human nature. We are attracted to conflict. All good entertainment revolves around drama and conflict.

I can’t help being aware of this when I make editorial decisions. If there’s a story, for instance, about a swastika sprayed on a synagogue, it’s deadly serious and there is no hesitation to publish it. But there’s also that little voice inside me that whispers: “The readers will eat this one up.”

One of our biggest challenges at the Journal is to earn your attention without the easy tricks of crises, conflicts and disasters. How do we get you hooked on an idea that elevates the spirit, on a poem that makes you dream, on a biblical story that takes you back 3,000 years?

How does an abstract poem compete with the drama of a terror attack? Or a neighborhood story with the prospect of a presidential impeachment? Or an inspiring view of Hanukkah with the latest sex scandal?

They don’t. They can’t. The drama of conflict will always win out. Yes, it’s human nature.

But at its best and deepest, Judaism helps us transcend human nature. We go beyond our immediate appetites. We read the Hanukkah fable, or the dreamy poem, or the neighborhood story, even though they’re not as sexy as the latest political scandal. This content nourishes our minds, but also our souls: We enjoy beauty for beauty’s sake, story for story’s sake, knowledge for knowledge’s sake, wisdom for wisdom’s sake.

In a sense, I am conveying a militant message. I want us to fight back against the insidious and sensationalistic “breaking news” cycle that corrodes our conversations. I want us to put politics in its proper place, to protect our friendships, to wallow in beauty, to find poetry in life, to have curiosity for the unfamiliar, to repair not just the world but ourselves.

Those are my wishes for our community, but they are also my wishes for the paper you are reading.

See you in 2018.

Letters to the Editor: U.N. 1947 vote, Roy Moore, PLO and ‘Wonder’


The Miracle of the UN’s 1947 Decision

While I enjoyed David Suissa’s editorial, I would correct one error: The date Nov. 29th is important enough to Israelis that streets are named after that date (“Homeless for 1,900 Years … and Then a U.N. Vote,” Dec. 1).

Louis Richter, Reseda


Where Does Truth Lie in Moore Controversy?

I see Ben Shapiro’s point in equating the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Al Franken and Judge Roy Moore (“Roy and Al,” Nov. 24).

However, Al Franken was photographed with his victim on that USO Tour — caught in the act, clearly a crime. He has acknowledged that interaction and apologized. Other accusers have come forward, citing a propensity for his behavior.

Roy Moore, who is running in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat, has vehemently denied any veracity to allegations by several accusers, 40 years after they supposedly occurred. His attorney requested to have the only tangible “evidence” — an autographed yearbook — belonging to accuser Beverly Young Nelson, be submitted for independent, forensic examination. The accuser’s attorney, Gloria Allred, has refused.

We have seen this mischief many times before.

Last year’s presidential campaign saw even The New York Times gather several women who had worked with Donald Trump. The slanted point of view of The New York Times was that Trump was a sexual harasser and unqualified for public office. The women, to their credit, immediately said that their comments were misconstrued and manipulated.

The current brouhaha with Moore was propagated by The Washington Post, another “leftist bastion.” After several statewide election campaigns in Alabama, why have these allegations of sexual impropriety against Moore not surfaced before? Why now, when Moore is leading in the race?

Allegations in the mainstream media grab attention, but where is truth?

Enriqué Gascon, Los Angeles


A Hanukkah Poem

Rock of ages
Mount Sinai’s thunders,
Angels whisper
Masada’s secrets of old.

Of freedom almost lost
In the City of Gold,
A Temple defiled
And Maccabees had restored.

The miracle of oil
A spark in our soul,
Liberty for all creeds
Letters on dreidels spins.

Holocaust’s nightmares
Never again shall repeat,
The promise of a rainbow
The waters that split.

The gathering of exiles
To their promised land,
Where mountains rejoiced
And bright stars tallied twelve once again.

Danny BenTal, Tarzana


How to Change the Mood in America

Another great editor’s note: “Make America Grateful Again” (Nov. 24). While reading it, I felt the uneasiness of David Suissa to “balance polarities.” And he is quite honest in describing the mood of this country. His first sentence is quite correct: “America is in a lousy mood.” I was myself in a worse than lousy mood for the past three years, so I can relate to that. And I know how difficult it is to get out of the “mess.”

I have always considered good journalists to be like the consciousness of the society and to be among its teachers. Yes, good teaching begins with asking questions. And the better teaching begins with asking the right or more important questions. For example: How can one change the mood for the better of a society of 300 million people?

I was born and lived most of my life in a socialist country. If most of my countrymen were grateful for and had faith in our leaders at that time, my country would have not changed toward democracy.

So, I am very grateful to live in a democratic society now.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles


Plight of the Rohingya Has Many Facets

Stephen D. Smith effectively shines the light on the plight of the innocent Rohingya living in Myanmar. However, he omits historical context which harshly judges the Buddhist government and fails to address its  legitimate  fears (“It’s Time to Speak Up for the Rohingya,” Dec. 1).

In the past millennium, approximately 80 million non-Muslims were killed by Muslim jihadists. Smith quotes the Polish Jew Raphael Lemkin and the 1933 Madrid conference, which tried to legislate against barbarity.

Ironically, Smith mentions the book “The Yellow Spot: The Destruction of the European Jews.” Smith seems unaware that Nazis borrowed the yellow Jewish badge from the Muslim practice adopted in the eighth century called the Pact of Umar, which relegated Jews and Christians to subservient class status beneath Muslims. Hitler heartily approved of the Muslim approach toward Jews.

Perhaps the words of history scholar Andrew Bostom best explain the current religious conflict in Myanmar: “The origins of the Bengali Muslim Jihad in Western Myanmar in the late 19th century through the World War II era, illustrates that it is rooted in Islam’s same tireless institution of expansionist Jihad which eliminated Buddhist civilization in Northern India.”

Richard Friedman, Culver City


PLO Hasn’t Changed Its Spots

The 1993 Oslo Accord recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole representative of the Arabs of Palestine. This terrorist group was supposed to change its spots, but it has not.

In return for ignoring other Arab leaders and factions, it was invited to set up headquarters in Ramallah and to begin a peace process with Israel. It pledged to prepare the population for life alongside Israel and to end violence and enticement to violence. It also pledged not to attack Israel in international forums.

Well, it lied from Day One. It has rejected every peace offer from Israel, even those offered by Barack Obama’a administration. It is apparent the PLO/Fatah has manipulated everyone. It’s time for them to leave the stage. With support of major Arab League players and the United States, the Palestinians can find new leadership. If not, they will remain the world’s major welfare recipients and others will determine their fate.

Brian J. Goldenfeld, Woodland Hills


Jews, Christians Share Love of Israel

As the holiday season nears, I’m reminded how grateful I am that tens of millions of American Christians strongly support the State of Israel. It’s a miracle that so many Christians have reversed nearly two millennia of anti-Semitism and joined Jews in our pride and love for Israel.

Because Christian loyalty guarantees continued American support, vital for Israel’s survival, they have become our true brothers and sisters under God, and I welcome them with love and joy.

Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!

Rueben Gordon, Calabasas


AND FROM FACEBOOK …

“‘Wonder’: A Call to Our Better Angels” (Dec. 1)

This is an excellent film. I find it sad and disgraceful that people use this film as the latest way to attack President Donald Trump. Why can’t we just enjoy a good film without someone dragging this nonsense into it?

Jay Lehman

“So many lessons to learn in this beautiful film. Well done.”

Marilyn Sommer

The Dazzling Idea of Hanukkah


“What is Judaism?” asks Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. “A religion? A faith? A way of life? A set of beliefs? A collection of commands? A culture? A civilization?”

It is all of these, he responds, but something more — a “constellation of ideas.”

Judaism values the power to think. The rabbi describes our tradition as “a dazzlingly original way of thinking about life.”

In our Twitter-crazy world of radical polarization, are we losing this power to think? It often feels like it. We seem to always be in combat mode. We want to catch our opponents in a mistake, crush them with our talking points. Instead of valuing ideas, we value clever arguments. Above all, we want to be right.

Great ideas, though, are not about being right. They’re meant to enlighten, not bludgeon. They seek to open minds, not change them. They inspire thought, not angry passion.

Great ideas are not about being right. They’re meant to enlighten, not bludgeon.

Among his favorite ideas, Sacks quotes the American Declaration of Independence and its key sentence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

While claiming that “this is arguably the most important sentence in the history of modern politics,” Sacks notes the irony that “these truths are very far indeed from being self-evident. They would have sounded absurd to Plato and Aristotle, both of whom believed that not all men are created equal and therefore they do not have equal rights.”

The transformational idea of human equality, Sacks explains, can be self-evident only “to someone brought up in a culture that had deeply internalized the Hebrew Bible and the revolutionary idea set out in its first chapter, that we are each, regardless of color, culture, class or creed, in the image and likeness of God. This was one of Judaism’s world-changing ideas.”

Yes, ideas can change the world, but they can also change us.

One of my favorite ideas in Judaism is how we extract deep wisdom from our holidays. Digging for meaning is integral to the observance of rituals. We don’t just fast, pray or sit around a festive table. We’re supposed to go deep, find life lessons, ask big questions: How can these rituals help us grow? How can they bring us closer? How can they add meaning to our lives?

In our cover story this week, Rabbi Yosef Kanesfsky goes deep to find meaning in the quirky holiday of Hanukkah. If there’s one Jewish holiday that can use such an excavation, it’s surely the festival that has been so trivialized by its modern playfulness — by the dreidels and gelt and jelly doughnuts and latkes and Adam Sandler songs and those nightly gifts for the kids.

Beyond the fun stuff — which we should never undervalue — there’s spiritual gold to mine, and Kanefsky goes digging for the gems. Some of those gems speak directly to issues our community is facing.

“If we listen closely to Hanukkah,” he writes, “to its story and its laws, we’ll discover several indispensable pieces of advice that it offers — advice about how to hold together a community of differences, and about how such a community can learn to live and sing together, despite not always agreeing about every issue that arises.”

In his search, Kanefsky explores why Hanukkah falls so late after the great victory it commemorates. Why did Judah the Maccabee and company specifically choose the 25th of Kislev as the day to rededicate the Temple, even though the Syrian-Greeks had been driven out of Jerusalem months earlier, during the summer of 163 C.E.?

If there’s one Jewish holiday that can use such an excavation, it’s surely the festival that has been so trivialized by its modern playfulness.

“Judah’s wisdom of waiting,” Kanefsky writes, “was the wisdom of recognizing that Jews interpret the world and God’s role in it differently, with resultant differences in how to commemorate and observe significant events. And he understood that the greater our ability to hear and honor many voices, the greater is the likelihood that we will be able to establish a calendar and to practice sacred rituals that unite us all.”

That’s just to give you a taste of the spiritual gems that lurk beneath the dreidels and latkes. They’re part of that “constellation of ideas” Rabbi Sacks speaks about when conveying the compelling nature of the Jewish faith.

“Too few people think about faith in these terms,” Sacks writes. “We know the Torah contains commands, 613 of them. We know that Judaism has beliefs. Maimonides formulated them as the 13 principles of Jewish faith. But these are not all that Judaism is, nor are they what is most distinctive about it.”

What is distinctive is a “dazzlingly original way of thinking about life.”

In this issue, we offer you a dazzlingly original way of looking at Hanukkah. But don’t worry, we also have some great food and gift ideas.

Happy Hanukkah.

Homeless for 1,900 Years… and Then a U.N. Vote


When I left for Israel recently for a quick one-week trip to visit my son, I didn’t expect I’d be experiencing a cross section of Israeli society. We started in a funky hotel in Tel Aviv, where we were surrounded by hipsters, healing spas and fusion restaurants. Then, instead of spending Shabbat in Jerusalem (as I usually do), we were invited by my cousin, the mayor of Dimona, to spend Shabbat in his little town in the Negev Desert.

If Tel Aviv is SoHo, Dimona is Sinai. This is a desert town that looks like a desert town — humble, simple, hardworking. The majority of residents have Sephardic or Russian roots. Building housing is a top priority — there’s construction everywhere. There’s also plenty of faith: In a town of 40,000, there are about 70 synagogues.

After Dimona, we drove north to the mystical city of Tsfat, where we visited the graves of holy men like Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Tsfat is one of those places where every day feels like Shabbat. But in the midst of its devout enclaves, you’ll also find hip art galleries that celebrate beauty and not just Torah.

At each stop, we tasted a different Israel. We could have visited countless other places throughout the country and experienced similar diversity. This is part of the miracle of Israel — it changes everywhere you go. How could it not? Jews have come from all over the world to populate the Jewish state, joining the indigenous Jews and Arabs and Bedouins who were already here.

Today, more than 100 nationalities are represented in this tiny country. There’s even a group of African-Americans known as the Black Hebrews, who believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites. Many of them live in Dimona, where I got to meet one of their leaders, Prince Immanuel Ben-Yehuda. The prince told me he grew up in Oklahoma, where his parents taught him the Old Testament and to love the land of Israel. (I filmed our interview and will post it on jewishjournal.com.)

The seeds of Arab rejection and animosity were planted from the very beginning.

In one short week, I tasted the multicultural miracle of Israel, a miracle that would never have happened had it not been for another miracle that preceded it 70 years ago — a vote at the United Nations. This seminal event, which is the subject of this week’s cover story by historian Gil Troy, is not without its complications.

On the Saturday night of Nov. 29, 1947, the newly formed United Nations General Assembly gathered in New York at the Queens Museum to vote on Resolution 181, which called for the partition of the British-ruled Palestine Mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state. After weeks of endless drama and lobbying for votes, the final tally was 33 member states voting in favor, 13 against and 10 abstaining.

The Jewish state was on its way.

But as you’ll see in our cover story, the drama was only starting. The seeds of Arab rejection and animosity were planted from the very beginning. This rejection was so loud and threatening that the resolution itself expressed concern:

“The [British] Government of Palestine fear that strife in Palestine will be greatly intensified when the Mandate is terminated, and that the international status of the United Nations Commission will mean little or nothing to the Arabs in Palestine, to whom the killing of Jews now transcends all other considerations. Thus, the Commission will be faced with the problem of how to avert certain bloodshed on a very much wider scale than prevails at present ….”

As the historian Troy writes, the resolution was “cursed” by the adamant Arab rejection of a plan that could have brought “70 years of peace.” Instead, it has brought 70 years of conflict that continues to this day. As fate would have it, Nov. 29 also marks International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, observed annually by the United Nations. Just last year, the General Assembly passed six resolutions condemning Israel and supporting the Palestinians.

It’s not a coincidence that the Nov. 29 vote does not rank as high as other dates in Israeli lore, certainly not as high as May 14, 1948, when Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion officially declared the State of Israel, or even Nov 2, 1917, when the Balfour Declaration called for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

If anything, the proximity of the 1947 vote to the Holocaust has only fed the false narrative that the creation of Israel came only because of that darkest horror, overlooking the 3,500-year Jewish connection to the land.

“The delegitimizing narrative claims Europeans sinned by killing 6 million Jews from 1939 to 1945, then exorcised their guilt by ‘giving’ Palestinian land to the Jews on Nov. 29, 1947,” Troy writes.

For those who cherish the Zionist dream, including the Black Hebrews from Oklahoma, Nov. 29, 1947, was a miracle indeed.

This delegitimizing narrative has fueled the lingering hostility toward the Jewish state, embodied today by the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

And yet, despite all the rejections and wars and condemnations and anti-Israel resolutions and terror attacks and calls for boycotts, here stands Israel — the little country that could, the little country that accepted the Partition Plan, the little country that is still standing, still thriving, still arguing, still creating, still struggling, still innovating, still fighting back, still making do with what it has.

Animosity or not, after 1,900 years of homelessness, the founders of Israel simply could not refuse an offer to return to the land of their ancestors. For those who cherish the Zionist dream, including the Black Hebrews from Oklahoma, Nov. 29, 1947, was a miracle indeed.

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