September 26, 2018

A Prayer for the New Year

I pray that I will find humility
When I’m sure I am right.

I pray that I will find compassion
When my heart feels indifference.

I pray that I will find energy
When my body tires.

I pray that I will find serenity
When my mind races too fast.

I pray that I will find music
When my day has no melody.

I pray that I will find courage
When my conscience is tested.

I pray that I will find the right words
When all I hear are the wrong ones.

I pray that I will find humor
When my spirit is broken.

I pray that I will find holiness
When it is most hidden.

I pray that I will find love
When my heart can barely see it.

I pray that I will find me
When all I can see is you.

New York Times Publishes a Rejection of Yossi Klein Halevi’s Plea for Reconciliation

If you want to better understand why peace between Israel and the Palestinians is a hopeless illusion, read Raja Shehadeh’s response in The New York Times this week to Yossi Klein Halevi’s soulful and conciliatory “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.”

Instead of responding in kind, Shehadeh falls back on the tired trope of chronic victimhood that has served only to perpetuate Palestinian misery. In this narrow view, every Palestinian woe is Israel’s fault; and Palestinians are a weak people with no agency just waiting for big, bad Israel to “withdraw from the territories it has occupied and leave us to go on with our lives.”

Shehadeh, who’s an author and an intellectual, knows better than to simplify such a bedeviling conflict whose complexity Halevi tried to honor. He knows, for example, that on the very day the IDF would abandon the territories, terror groups like Hamas and ISIS would jump to try to fill the vacuum and massacre Palestinians, just like Hamas did in Gaza.

But such complexity plays no role in Shehadeh’s takedown of Halevi’s offer to embark “on a journey of listening to each other.”

Shehadeh acknowledges that Halevi recognizes the importance of a Palestinian “counterstory,” one of “invasion, occupation and expulsion,” a history of “dislocation” and “humiliating defeats.” But how does he respond to such humility and contrition? By blasting Halevi for being “condescending” and for focusing so much of his book on trying to help Palestinians understand the Zionist story that is ingrained in Halevi’s soul.

Shehadeh also knows better than to casually dismiss Israeli offers of peace rejected by Palestinians as “old and discredited narratives.” He can’t even bring himself to admit that Palestinians are partly responsible for the absence of peace. The furthest he will go is to say, “I was involved in the Oslo negotiations and I can tell you that Israel shares plenty of responsibility for their failure.”

Everything else in his piece is a hodgepodge of polite aggression disguised as sophisticated lamentations. He claims that, “To make peace possible the Palestinians are not required to become Zionists,” as if Halevi ever asked for that. Betraying his intent to undermine Halevi’s book, he twists a plea to “understand us” into a demand to “become Zionist.”

Perhaps the deepest sign of his bad faith is when he admits to having zero interest in Israelis understanding his narrative: “Unlike you,” he writes triumphantly, “I will not demand that you see the Nakba, the catastrophe that Israel’s founding caused for my people, in the same way as I see it.”

Why? Because “You couldn’t.” Shehadeh is so drenched in smug victimhood that he can’t possibly imagine a Jewish neighbor being able to understand his narrative—not even a neighbor who has already made a genuine effort to do precisely that.

What he wants is that Israel recognizes its responsibility and “put a recognition of that culpability on the agenda for negotiations when the time comes for arriving at a settlement between us.”

But that time will never come if the Shehadehs of the Palestinian world continue to treat Palestinians as hopeless victims who are too weak to ever understand the authentic longings of their Jewish neighbors.

Richard Greene: How One or Two Words Can Change Your Life

One of the world’s leading experts on public speaking, Richard Greene, explains why people fear public speaking more than death, and discusses the abuse of language in the era of Trump. Visit his website.

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Rabbi Mordecai Finley: A Deep Dive Into Happiness

What is the Jewish take on happiness? It’s probably not what you think. Rabbi Mordecai Finley discusses his provocative essay in the Jewish Journal where he argues that Job was the happiest character in the Bible.

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Moving & Shaking: Bet Tzedek Justice Ball, Movable Minyan Anniversary

Photo courtesy of Bet Tzedek.

Legal aid agency Bet Tzedek’s New Leadership Council held its 22nd annual Justice Ball on July 14 at Poppy in West Hollywood. The Justice Ball raises funds to support the work of Bet Tzedek, which provides free legal services for those in need.

A sign reading “Bet Tzedek Justice for All” was displayed on the wall of the packed nightclub as more than 700 young professionals danced the night away to the sounds of the electrofunk DJ duo Chromeo.

Attendees included Bet Tzedek President and CEO Jessie Kornberg, Vice President of External Affairs Allison Lee and Development Operations Coordinator Zoe Engel; 30 Years After President Sam Yebri; and JQ International Assistant Director Arya Marvazy.

Kim Chemerinsky and David Mark are co-chairs of the New Leadership Council, a volunteer group consisting of young professionals dedicated to supporting the work of Bet Tzedek.

The law firms of Alston & Bird and Seyfarth Shaw and Skadden, as well as Beach Point Capital Management, served as the evening’s top sponsors.

Based in Los Angeles, Bet Tzedek was founded in 1974 as an all-volunteer agency fighting for Holocaust victims. Today, the organization provides free legal services for low-income individuals and families in Los Angeles.

From left: Author Howard Kaplan, Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief David Suissa, writer/director Daniel Zelik Berk and L.A. Jewish Film Festival Director Hilary Helstein enjoyed the L.A. premiere of “Damascus Cover” at the Museum of Tolerance. Photo courtesy of the L.A. Jewish Film Festival.

The Los Angeles premiere of the film “Damascus Cover,” a political thriller, was held July 12 at the Museum of Tolerance.

The program featured Jewish Journal Publisher and Editor-in-Chief David Suissa moderating a discussion with Daniel Zelik Berk, the film’s writer and director, and Howard Kaplan, author of the 1977 novel on which the film is based.

The event was organized by the Jewish Journal, the Museum of Tolerance and the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, whose director, Hilary Helstein, was in attendance.

Set in late 1989, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, “Damascus Cover” follows a Mossad operative attempting to smuggle a Jewish chemical weapons scientist out of Syria. Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars in the film as Mossad operative Ari Ben-Zion. The film’s co-stars are the late John Hurt, who gave his final screen performance as Ben-Zion’s boss at the Israeli intelligence agency, and actress Olivia Thirlby, who plays an American photographer.

The film opened in theaters on July 20.

Gabrielle Birkner, co-founder and executive editor of Modern Loss, delivered the keynote lecture on Tisha B’av at Temple Beth Am. Photo courtesy of Twitter.

Members of Temple Beth Am, IKAR, B’nai David-Judea and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills gathered on July 22 for prayer, learning and song in commemoration of Tisha b’Av, the Jewish holiday marking the destruction of the holy Temples in Jerusalem and other tragedies in Jewish history.

“We are creating a space first as a community and then inviting God into that place,” Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn of B’nai David-Judea said in her welcoming remarks. “The partnership between the Jewish people and God is what will bring that comfort.”

Thomas-Newborn introduced keynote speaker Gabrielle Birkner, co-founder and executive editor of Modern Loss, an online community and content platform geared to young adults living with loss.

After Birkner’s father and stepmother were murdered in a home invasion, she found that “grief found a way to make itself known,” she said.

“Jerusalem is a fitting metaphor for how to explain grief,” Birkner said in her speech. “When the worst has happened, we build communities of caring.”

The event included breakout sessions that focused on different aspects of grief, comfort and consolation. Matt Shapiro, interim associate rabbi at Temple Beth Am, spoke on “The Spirituality of Giving and Receiving Comfort.” Temple Beth Am Senior Rabbi Adam Kligfeld explored “The Deep Meaning of the Root ‘Nachem.’ ” And Sarah Bassin, associate rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, engaged her group in a discussion of grief stages, Jewish texts and personal stories in “Seven Weeks of Comfort: When Prophets Stop Chastising.”

In addition to the four participating synagogues, the Our House Grief Support Center was a sponsor of the event.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Members of Movable Minyan celebrated the volunteer-led congregation’s 30th anniversary on July 15 at the Institute for Jewish Education. Photo by Edmon Rodman.

The Movable Minyan celebrated its 30th anniversary on July 15 at the Institute for Jewish Education, where the group meets for services.

Thirty people turned out to commemorate the occasion, including five who were present at the volunteer-led congregation’s inaugural Shabbat, on Dec. 19, 1987, in the living room of Edmon and Brenda Rodman.

“Over the years, we have laughed, prayed, celebrated and mourned together as a community, and we have become close friends,” Edmon told the Journal.

The event was titled “A Night of Lameds.”

Living up to its name, Movable Minyan, over the course of three decades, has met at 49 locations. It has held nearly 700 Shabbat meetings, given out 3,300 aliyot, raised more than $300,00 and davened for 28 high holy days. The anniversary celebration marked these accomplishments and more.

The self-described “small cooperative synagogue” convenes on the first and third Shabbat morning of every month for a participatory, musical service and Shabbat dairy potluck lunch and on the fourth Friday of each month.

From left: Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel of Chabad at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Chabad on Campus Executive Vice President Rabbi Yossy Gordon; Supreme Council of ZBT International President Norman Waas; ZBT Executive Director Laurence Bolotin and Rabbi Mendy Fellig of Chabad at University of Miami attended a gala honoring Chabad on Campus. Photo courtesy of Chabad on Campus.

Chabad on Campus International received the Richard J.H. Gottheil Award from the Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT) fraternity on July 14 at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.

The Gottheil Award is presented to individuals and groups that have advanced human understanding among all people. The award is named for the late American scholar, Zionist and founder of ZBT, the world’s first Jewish college fraternity.

Chabad on Campus was named the winner of the award based on its work that gives Jewish students a place of belonging. Chabad on Campus engages college students in Jewish life and serves the needs of the campus community on a social, educational and spiritual level.

Chabad on Campus International Executive Vice President Rabbi Yossy Gordon, who accepted the award from Supreme Council of ZBT President Norman Waas, credited the work of the organization’s 264 campus centers.

“Chabad’s approach to living is about intellectual awareness,” Gordon said. “To make a decision based on an understanding, a clarity, and to be able to know the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, and inspire others to make a decision based on thinking rather than emotionally reacting.”

Attendees included Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel from the Chabad at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Rabbi Mendy Fellig of the Chabad at the University of Miami in Florida and ZBT Executive Director Laurence Bolotin.

Rabbi Aaron Lerner: How Bad Is It for Pro-Israel Students at UCLA?

UCLA Hillel Rabbi Aaron Lerner shares the ups and downs of being a pro-Israel activist on one of the world’s most famous college campuses.

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Chabon’s Criticism Backfires

Celebrated author Michael Chabon caused a stir last week with his sharp criticism of Israel in his speech to the graduating class of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. His criticism was not new. Chabon has already gone on record as saying, “The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is the most grievous injustice I’ve ever seen in my life.”

His May 14 speech had some deep and eloquent moments, but on the subject of Israel, Chabon seemed to throw that depth away. This disconnect was captured in a Journal op-ed last week by Morin Zaray, a graduate student who attended the commencement ceremony.

“Chabon, as eloquent as he was, viewed Israel in black-and-white terms,” Zaray wrote. “He condemned Israel’s security wall, proclaiming, ‘Security is an invention of humanity’s jailors … putting up the separation barriers and propagandizing hatred and fear of people on the other side of the wall. Security for some means imprisonment for all.’”

In response, Zaray wrote: “Unlike Chabon, I lived in Israel throughout the Second Intifada, and know that the security wall is not a prison. It is a lifeline. I know that the fear of people on the Israeli side is not driven by fake fear or government propaganda, but by constant terrorism that we experience and the loved ones we have lost. I know that the same wall he said he despised enabled me to live a normal life and to use the bus as a young girl.”

Chabon’s criticism was so one-sided that it just fed into the polarized verbal food fights that characterize much of the political debate today.

Zaray’s decision to walk out with her family after the speech added fuel to the controversy, and it became a national story in the Jewish world. JTA characterized Chabon’s criticism, which included a questioning of the mainstream mission of in-marriage among Jews, as a “diatribe.” An online initiative began circulating asking HUC-JIR leaders to issue an apology for inviting Chabon.

In an op-ed in JTA, HUC-JIR administrators responded to the criticism:

“As both an Israeli and American institution, belonging to two proud democracies defined by lively civil discourse, it does not occur to us at HUC-JIR to quash or vilify political criticism of Israel out of a pre-emptive fear of controversy,” wrote Rabbi David Ellenson, the interim president and chancellor emeritus, and Joshua Holo, the dean of the Los Angeles campus of HUC-JIR. “On the contrary, we know that the confidence to invite challenging ideas both defines and validates democracy in the first place.”

As a free speech junkie, I fully endorse Chabon’s right to criticize Israel and HUC-JIR’s position not to “quash or vilify” this criticism.

My problem is not with the criticism per se, but rather, with the nature of the criticism itself. Chabon’s criticism was so one-sided that it just fed into the polarized verbal food fights that characterize much of the political debate today. Chabon may sincerely believe that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is “the most grievous injustice I’ve ever seen in my life,” but how much does that add to the conversation?

Has Chabon, for instance, ever considered the possibility that Palestinian elites benefit from the continuation of the conflict, which may explain why they so often have rejected peace offers?

As Ben-Dror Yemini writes in his new book, “An Industry of Lies”:

“The Palestinian refusal to accept any peace proposal is not only due to historical reasons or a sense of injustice. It is not about more or less concessions. It stems from the fact that the Palestinian elites only benefit from the continuation of the conflict. The Palestinians have become not only the ultimate global symbol of a ‘victim’ and an ‘oppressed people,’ who are supposedly fighting against colonialism and occupation. They have become global celebrities.”

I wish Chabon would have met the Palestinian I met once in Ramallah who was terrified that the minute Israel left the West Bank, terror groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and ISIS would swoop in, destroy Fatah and start murdering thousands of Palestinians. You rarely hear such complications from self-proclaimed moral arbiters who rail against Israel.

Incorporating complicating factors to enrich debate is precisely what an institution of higher learning should do, especially at an event such as a commencement address.

Indeed, the danger of Israel critics like Chabon is that their one-sided takes reinforce the erroneous perception that the conflict is all Israel’s fault, which is exactly the narrative promulgated by Israel’s enemies and the BDS movement.

Incorporating complicating factors to enrich debate is precisely what an institution of higher learning should do, especially at an event such as a commencement address. No, not all criticism is created equal. Self-righteous diatribes that just pile on and repeat tired tropes are not as valuable as criticism that urges people to consider the complexity of an issue.

As Zaray wrote: “For someone who presents himself as an intellectual — steeped in nuance — Michael Chabon has a remarkable ability to present a one-dimensional reality in which the Jews are evil oppressors and the Palestinians are powerless victims, with no agency, no responsibility and no blame.”

Maybe she should be next year’s commencement speaker.

Letters to the Editor: Prager, Jerusalem Embassy Move and Middle East Issues

A Rational Approach to Religion

My anxieties over David Suissa’s ascendency to the Journal’s throne were relieved after seeing it was accompanied by the disappearance from its pages of Dennis Prager’s predictable aggravated assaults against liberal thinking. Now Prager has commandeered last week’s cover and the attention of Jonathan Kirsch for his book “The Rational Bible” (“A Rational View of the Torah,” May 18).

Being one of those aberrant liberals who keep trying to find good in Prager’s thinking, I couldn’t help but note from Kirsch’s review how widely Prager is followed, perhaps by everyone except liberals. Maybe it’s because his so-called rational approach to religion reaches out to the millions disillusioned these days by conventional religion. Good for him.

So what is it that fires his virulent attacks on liberals rather than using his platforms to gently coax us to make adjustments based on his criticisms, some of them quite legitimate? My fear is that an answer lies in his embrace of President Donald Trump, many of whose followers worship him because of his multifaceted outrageousness rather than in spite of it. Dennis, don’t give up on trying to reach us too, “not by might, nor by power, but by thy spirit.” (Zechariah 4:6)

Roger Schwarz, Los Angeles


Israel and the Democratic Party

Ben Shapiro stated in his column (“No-Shows in Jerusalem,” May 18) what everyone knows but that the mainstream media seem to be ignoring:  The Democratic base has moved in a significantly anti-Israel direction over the past two decades. According to the Pew report, as of January, 79 percent of Republicans sympathized more with Israel than Palestine, while just 27 percent of Democrats did. It makes little sense that Democrats who profess to be supportive of the rights of minorities refuse to acknowledge that Israel is the only true democracy in its region and, in particular, is the only country in its region that allows serious religious diversity. However, for Democrats, the values of a democracy take a backseat to intersectionality and race grievance values.

This should be no surprise, given that the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee is Keith Ellison, an avowed Jew hater. The Democrats just assumed that they own the Jewish vote, no matter how badly they malign Israel and elevate Jew haters to prominent positions in the Democratic Party. This will not go on forever. We Jews are not as naïve as the Democrats assume we are.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills

In your May 18 issue, columnist Ben Shapiro asks an interesting question about fading support for Israel on page 10. He gets a direct answer two pages later on page 12 from Israeli columnist Uri Dromi. I hope Shapiro read Dromi’s column.

Martin A. Bower, Corona del Mar


Synagogue Dues Model

Read the article about the new dues structure that is in effect at Adat Ari El synagogue and think it is very progressive (“Adat Ari El Shakes Up Dues Model,” May 18). As a longtime member for 38-plus years (and who got married there), I believe this new format will be the norm rather than the exception in the future of synagogue dues and membership structures.

Synagogues now more than ever must realize that maintaining members and reaching out to new members is a priority rather than expecting members will automatically renew, because there are more choices out there for where you can worship as a family.

Also, those synagogues with day schools attached to them are having the parents pay extra for both dues and school tuition. Because the cost of tuition is very high these days, a dues structure like this makes a lot of sense. I’m hoping to see the membership grow larger in the future at Adat Ari El because of this and our school will benefit greatly.

Jeffrey Ellis via email


The Wisdom of the Ages

Just as the Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) teaches, age 70 is the time to embrace “the fullness of years.” As Sydney Alderman Perry states at the conclusion of the article, “I don’t wish my life and the things I value to contract, but rather to take on new dimensions.” What does that mean? (“Age 70 Is No Time To Slow Down,” May 4)

To me, the latter years in our lives are best spent applying one’s life experiences and knowledge to make this a better world. When I retired, I decided to have a second career and to become involved in my community.

As my second career, I chose poker. I found the mental challenge and stimulation of the game, as well as the social interaction, to profoundly help my aging brain.

About 20 years ago, I created a seniors  poker group at a senior citizen center. Starting with six members, it quickly grew to more than 200. Having kept in contact with many of them over the years, I found it remarkable that (to the best of my knowledge) not a single one has developed Alzheimer’s disease.

Recently I was evaluated for memory health by a team of experts at UCLA. My score: 100. Wow! Especially considering that I’m 91. As far as being involved in the community, I recommend that retirees consider joining one of the many senior citizen centers in Los Angeles. I have found the exercises and classes, as well as other activities a big plus.

George Epstein via email


Embassy Move to Jerusalem

The world should salute President Donald Trump for following through on his commitment to move the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Kudos also to the president’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman for their assistance in bringing this about.

Although what happened last week was momentous, in retrospect, it should not have been all that remarkable. After all, the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act of 1995 declared Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and mandated that the U.S. Embassy be transferred to Jerusalem no later than 1999. However, Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, although making promises that they would follow the law, did not.

To his credit, Trump — who has now shown himself to be perhaps the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House — was not deterred by the many predictions that the Arab world would unite behind the Palestinians in resisting this move and that America’s geopolitical interests would suffer.

Last week’s events came at a particularly opportune time. The message of firm U.S. support for Israel after eight years of Obama wilderness was unmistakable and cannot but dissuade Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from thinking he can continue to fashion a fictive Palestinian narrative and sell it to an amen corner in the White House. It is also a message to Iran and others that the U.S. stands behind its allies and is not concerned about political correctness.

Brian J. Goldenfeld, Woodland Hill


Middle East Issues

Some of the media seem to be delighted when Islamic children die from uprisings and conflicts involving Israel. Last week, it was reported that an 8-month-old Palestinian infant was killed during Israel’s current defense of her border, which is not a protest but an armed invasion. My first reaction was why was an infant anywhere near the fighting? Someone would have had to bring the infant to the battle site. Hamas is known for using civilians, including children, as shields. I saw nothing in the media reports deflecting any blame from Israel. Not surprising.

Michael Gesas, Beverly Hills

One can’t help but notice the irony of 57 Islamic nations calling this week for the creation of an international force to protect Palestinian Arabs after their recent human shield abomination in Gaza. Hamas openly has admitted it offered its people as cannon fodder and confirmed that most of the dead were terrorist combatants hiding among civilians paid or coerced to be there.

For 70 years, despite their daily genocidal threats, a billion Muslims haven’t been able to destroy the Jewish state or protect their brothers in four declared wars and tens of thousands of acts of terrorism. The military threats have been supplemented by a highly successful anti-Israel disinformation campaign funded with hundreds of millions of petrodollars. Now they want the rest of the world to help them.

Only the most obtuse individual wouldn’t notice there’s something wrong with this picture. Despite the conspiracy accusations against the United States and a supposed cabal of wicked, controlling bankers (read: Jews), Israel’s adversaries might have to face the fact that it is here to stay. Which is just as well because its humanitarian, educational, scientific and moral contributions to the well-being of the world are unequaled per capita.

Perhaps reason will miraculously spring forth from the hateful brains that spew hatred toward the Jewish people. Perhaps not.

Desmond Tuck via email

I am an old Reform Jew who spent my teen years agonizing over World War II and the Holocaust. I joined the free world celebrations when it destroyed the Nazis and created the State of Israel. David Ben-Gurion’s declaration of independence promised that all residents would have equality, making it a true democracy.

It is my understanding that on April 30 the Knesset voted on an updated version of the “Nation-State” bill. Nowhere in the legislation is Israel defined as a democracy.

It is pathetic, but quite understandable, because the population of Orthodox voters has grown. They believe that God gave the Jews all of the Holy Land.

So what is Israel’s next action regarding the 5 million Palestinians that they control on the West Bank and Gaza Strip? The righteous, unilateral creation of a Palestinian state? Stupidly, the Palestinians rejected partition, but there are about 2 million non-Jewish Israeli citizens. I think it is possible that a Palestinian state could become an important ally of Israel.

Martin J. Weisman, Westlake Village

When the Timely Fights the Timeless

What do the riots at the Gaza border have to do with the Jewish festival of Shavuot? What does the dramatic and historic move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem have to do with the custom of baking cheesecakes for Shavuot, or the ritual of learning Torah all night?

One of the dilemmas of Jewish journalism is what to do when the timely interferes with the timeless. We decided several months ago that Shavuot would be our cover story for this week. Since the festival commemorates the receiving of the Torah at Sinai some 3,300 years ago, it coincided perfectly with the release of Dennis Prager’s new book, “The Rational Bible.”

So, that was the plan — we would honor a holiday of Torah by reviewing a new book about the Torah.

And then, of course, reality intruded. The timeless Torah got ambushed by the timely news.

In fact, rarely do I recall a time period with so much consequential news — from the U.S. backing out of the Iran nuclear deal to the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem to the violent riots at the Gaza border, and, yes, even to Israel’s victory at the Eurovision Song Contest, when 200 million viewers watched Netta Barzilai take home the grand prize with an irresistible song that featured the memorable line, “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy.”

As we shoot down the rapids of this never-ending news cycle, Judaism comes to remind us that there are little coves on the side of the river that are waiting for us to pitch a tent, light a fire and appreciate the beauty and complexity around us.

Can a cover that commemorates an event from 3,300 years ago survive so much hot news? I can think of at least three timely cover stories we could have done instead of the one on Shavuot.

And yet, we decided to stick with the Shavuot cover. Why? For one thing, it reminds us that there’s more to life than news. News is sexy. It’s an adrenalin rush, a sugar high. I have a few trusted news sites that I know will give me a news hit every 15 minutes or so.

And when I don’t go to them, they come to me, either through a Twitter feed or an email blast or any other number of digital bursts.

All day long, I get hit with news items, mostly about politics, the Jewish world and Hollywood. And here’s the crazy part — I don’t complain. I’m used to it. It makes me feel like I’m always in the know. When I meet people, I feel empowered because I know “what’s going on” about the important issues in the world.

How can a 3,300-year-old story compete with all those hot news stories, especially an ancient story that offers us the same traditions and rituals year after year, without fault? Is there value to a story that is always there, a story that is rooted in eternity?

One of the best metaphors I ever heard about the challenge of parenting was, “Give your kids roots and wings.” As I interpret that statement, the “timeless” provides the roots and the “timely” provides the wings.

In a crazy world that keeps going faster and faster, the timeless is what keeps us grounded. Perhaps the best example is Shabbat, that ancient ritual that compels us to slow down and reconnect with our roots and our humanity.

Maybe that is one essential question of Shavuot — trying to understand why and how a news story can still be newsworthy after 3,300 years.

At the recent Milken Global Summit, I was immersed in a throng of high-achieving innovation junkies who offered smart and sophisticated answers to society’s ills. It was impressive. And yet, one of the most popular panels was one about life longevity — how to slow down and learn habits that will increase both the quality and length of your life.

When I spoke to one of the panelists, Arianna Huffington, after her talk, one of the first words out of her mouth was, “Shabbat.” She told me that her new movement, Thrive Global, is eager to start a “Shabbat track” because this Jewish ritual of weekly renewal is just what the world needs right now.

The news will keep coming at us, whether we like it or not. We’ll celebrate when the news is good, we’ll be sad when it’s bad, we’ll be confused when it’s good and bad, we’ll argue over whether it’s good or bad, and then we’ll all wait for the next hit.

As we shoot down the rapids of this never-ending news cycle, Judaism comes to remind us that there are little coves on the side of the river that are waiting for us to pitch a tent, light a fire and appreciate the beauty and complexity around us.

One of those little coves is the festival of Shavuot, when we recall that day when our ancestors gathered in a desert and accepted a book that we still study today. Maybe that is one essential question of Shavuot — trying to understand why and how a news story can still be newsworthy after 3,300 years.

Hot Take: Shmuel Rosner on the volatile situation in the Middle East

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Israel: We’re Not Your Toy, You Stupid Haters

Photo from Twitter.

Netta Barzilai’s exhilarating song, with the memorable hook, “I’m not your toy, you stupid boy,” is an empowering anthem to all those who are demeaned for not fitting the mold.

About 200 million viewers from around the world watched Barzilai perform the song and take first prize for Israel at the Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday night in Lisbon. Considering the abuse that Israel continues to receive in international circles— the great majority of United Nations condemnations go against the Jewish state; a BDS movement that is relentless, and so on— the victory couldn’t come at a better time.

Why? Because Barzilai’s message is also Israel’s message to the world: We’re quirky, we’re not perfect, but we’re fearless and we love life. Oh, and one more thing for all you anti-Semites: We’re not your toy that you can easily abuse. All those condemnations won’t shake our confidence or our love of life.

“My message is that you don’t have to fit the normal standard model of how a person should look, think, talk and create in order to succeed,” Barzilai said in an interview. “We’re only here for a minute — we better enjoy the ride.”

Most Israelis instinctively understand that their country is treated unfairly; that no Israeli sin can justify the over-the-top global obsession with condemning their country. They get it. That’s why they keep their mojo; that’s why the BDS movement has failed to make a dent in their self-esteem.

Most Israelis know, as well, that their country does plenty of good; that, for example, no country has done more to fight the humanitarian crisis in Syria. They know that in 2016, Israel launched Operation Good Neighbor with a field hospital at the Syrian border and a medical staff around the clock, and that in 2017 alone, 685 Syrian children received critical medical care.

Israelis know that the keys to their success are not to wallow in victimhood, not to let failures demoralize them, and not to allow a dangerous neighborhood take away their zest for living. They know they fight wars because they have to, not because they want to.

Yes, of course, Israelis would love to be loved by the world—who wouldn’t? But Israelis have learned to take the world’s hostility in stride. Since they know they deserve better, they’re not paralyzed by self-hatred or guilt.

On the contrary, instead of whining, they’re too busy living their lives, which includes doing amazing things like writing irresistible songs that remind stupid Jew-haters not to mess with them.

Shmuel Rosner: In the Mideast, a dangerous summer ahead

Jewish Journal Political Editor and New York Times contributor Shmuel Rosner helps us make sense of a Middle East that is getting more dangerous and complicated by the day.

Check out this episode!

Letters to the Editor: Iran Deal, North Korea and Natalie Portman

U.S. Scraps Iran Nuclear Agreement

Let’s start with the proposition that Iran is a very bad actor. Let us also agree that without vigorous monitoring, Iran will not strictly adhere to any agreement. That being said, it is a terrible mistake for President Donald Trump not to recertify the Iran nuclear accord.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent dog-and-pony show was long on accusations but short on specific evidence. The binders and computer discs onstage with him aren’t proof that Iran is failing to honor its responsibilities under the nuclear deal. What Netanyahu and the various authors of the commentaries and articles that support scrapping the accord conveniently overlook is that there is a large element in the Israeli intelligence/military establishment that while acknowledging it’s not a perfect accord, it is working and is good for Israel.

It is also interesting to note the other signatories to the Iran nuclear accord say Iran is honoring its obligations. The only naysayers are Netanyahu and Trump.

Andrew C. Sigal, Valley Village

Kudos to the Jewish Journal for exposing the secrets and lies of the Iranian nuclear deal. The cover story would be enough to tell it all (“What Happens Now?” May 4). Dayenu. Beyond that, the articles describe in detail the lies that were foisted on Americans that were particularly painful for American Jews.

David Suissa gave some Trump haters and, in particular, Jewish Trump haters something to think about (“Why Tyrants Must Hate Trump,” May 4). Admittedly, Trump is brash and a rude tweeter. When it comes to foreign tyrants, as Suissa stated, Trump is just what the doctor ordered. As much as we all value decency, for 16 years the United States got burned by two very decent presidents — first by George W. Bush’s trillion-dollar fiasco in Iraq, and then by Barack Obama’s naïve deal with Iran that empowered the world’s biggest sponsor of terror.

We need somebody like Trump to stare them down and back out of the disastrous Iran deal if Iran does not make further concessions.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills


The North Korean Dilemma

I disagree with David Suissa’s assessment in his column “Why Tyrants Must Hate Trump.” If President Donald Trump’s bluster had worked with North Korea, then it would have stopped testing its long-range ICBMs right away. Instead, despite Trump’s threats, they continued testing until they had proven to themselves that they had a missile that could reach most of the United States. The North Koreans offered to talk only after they had tested enough missiles to prove that their missile program was ready. Listen to the speech that Kim Jong Un delivered to his own country. This was his original intent.

Rabbi Ahud Sela via email


The Natalie Portman Issue

In her column (“Portman’s the Messenger, Not the Problem,” April 27), Danielle Berrin introduces the premise that the effect of Portman’s rejection of the Genesis Prize will lead to increased Jewish disunity on congregational matters, including political problems. Berrin warns that one of the problems is the collapse of peace talks and the promise of a two-state solution.

I have three questions for Berrin.

Does Fatah want a two-state solution?

Does Hamas want a two-state solution?

Does Hezbollah want a two-state solution?

Bernard Schneier, Marina del Rey


How American Jews View Israel

Danielle Berrin claims to rely on, but fundamentally misunderstands, Leon Wieseltier’s advice that the merit of a view “owes nothing to the biography of the individual who holds it” (“Should American Jews Criticize Israel?” May 4).

Wieseltier did not invent this notion. It is his way of restating the classic fallacy of the ad hominem attack: A good argument can’t be refuted because the speaker is bad. Nor can a bad argument be improved because the speaker is good. I have no doubt Berrin has deep love for Israel. But that does not mean her opinion has any merit just because it comes from a good place.

No, what Wieseltier is saying is that an argument — and criticism — must be judged solely on its own merits. What nuanced and insightful advice does Berrin offer for the complex military and diplomatic conundrum Israel is faced with? What is the “truth” that Berrin claims her “holy chutzpah” impels her to tell Israel? I honestly would like to know, but I’ll gladly take the advice of someone who may not love Israel as much as Berrin but has answers to challenges such as: the military land-bridge Iran is constructing through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon to threaten Israel; the tens of thousands of Hezbollah missiles aimed at Tel Aviv; the tunnels being burrowed under the desert to snatch Israelis in their sleep; and the diplomatic and propaganda war waged against Israel by the United Nations, the European Union and nearly every American university campus.

Perhaps Berrin’s Israeli friend really meant that Israel does not want for critics but that if you are going to criticize, don’t assume that your love substitutes for sound analysis. Contrary to Berrin’s claim, film critic Pauline Kael was not respected “because everyone knew she loved” movies. Many people love movies. Kael was respected because she was a true expert on movies.

But even Kael wasn’t good at making movies. What Israel really needs, more than well-intended critics, is smart, practical and realistic solutions to massively complicated problems.

What is the role of love in all of this? If Berrin’s love for Israel drove her to develop these kinds of solutions,

I’m sure everyone, especially her Israeli friend, would be very grateful. But love alone, Wieseltier teaches, does not a helpful opinion make.

Ben Orlanski, Beverly Hills


Leftism’s Misguided Values

Karen Lehrman Bloch’s compelling column “The Golden Calf of Leftism” (May 4) exposes a new crisis among American Jews.

We’ve all been shocked by the increase in Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism at Democratic rallies, leading to feminist organizers’ recent praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. But many Jewish Democrats still support former President Barack Obama’s white-washing of Palestinian rejectionism, terrorism and contempt for Israel. Some Jewish feminists support Linda Sarsour, despite her anti-Semitism and reported endorsement of Sharia law. Wealthy Jews, many in the Hollywood community, are bankrolling Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions promotion.

It’s a cruel irony that while thousands of French Jews make aliyah to escape rising Muslim terrorism, Jewish “progressives” are abetting the terrorists and condemning Israel, the victims’ only refuge.

Rueben Gordon via email


History Lessons in the Journal

Thank you, Jewish Journal and David Suissa for your excellent publication.

I know a “lot” about Israeli and Jewish history up until about 70 B.C.E. I knew very little after that. Therefore, a few years ago, I decided to learn more about Jews and Israel today. I’d like to be as familiar with you and your culture as I am with my own English-American culture.

Recently, I discovered the Journal: It’s like Christmas, my birthday and Yom HaAtzmaut (a term I learned in the Journal) rolled up into one. Every article I read — even the advertisements — is interesting, informative and educational.

The one major problem I have with the Journal is that I’m not finished reading it before the next issue comes out. Oy vey!

Jerald Brown, Sylmar

Israel with a Side of Goosebumps

Imagine that you are living 400 years after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D., and your parents are trying to convince you that the Jewish people must never stop praying to return home to Zion; that we should never lose hope.

I don’t know about you, but I might say something like this: “Hey Mom/Dad, no disrespect, but it’s been four centuries! Can’t we get a hint? This ain’t happening.”

Now, you can replicate that scene 400 years later, and 400 years after that. Indeed, for 1,878 years, one Jewish generation after another had to believe beyond all hope that the Jewish people would one day return to the land of their biblical ancestors. That eternal yearning was grafted into the very prayers and texts that sustained these generations through their nomadic journeys, which often included pogroms and persecution.

Fast forward to our own generation. My grandfather, who had a thriving business selling teas in Casablanca, was a religious man who was well aware of the Jewish yearning to return to the Holy Land. When his large family moved to Israel in the early 1950s, they went through severe hardships. Still, he kissed the ground and said, “I’m never leaving.” Israel for him meant coming home.

If we look at our disappointments in isolation — whether from the right or the left — we won’t feel the soul of Israel.

In our hip and cynical world, there’s little room for this kind of sentimentality. We much prefer hard-nosed analyses, hard-nosed criticism or hard-nosed talking points to promote one side or another. We’re not inclined to incorporate what I call the “goosebumps” of the Israel story.
A more sophisticated term for what I’m talking about is “context.” As Herb Keinon wrote recently in The Jerusalem Post, “Everything needs context. Nothing can be judged fairly if it is seen standing alone, isolated, disconnected from the past, from its surroundings. Nothing. Not a person, definitely not a state.”

Yearning to return home for 19 centuries is emotional context, and it’s easy to overlook. As Keinon writes, “We get so caught up in the daily news — the terrorism, the wars, the corruption — that we lose sight of the bigger picture.”

Keinon concedes that “Sovereignty, independence, running a country, developing an economy, fielding an army and fighting war after war is a messy business” and that “perhaps we haven’t lived up to our own lofty expectations.”

But if we look at our disappointments in isolation — whether from the right or the left — we won’t feel the soul of Israel.

I felt that soul a few weeks ago when I walked out of my Tel Aviv hotel on the morning of Yom HaZikaron. Beachgoers, taxis, pedestrians, security guards and merchants were busy making the urban noises of a bustling and vibrant town. Then, at exactly 11 a.m., a long siren sounded. Everyone froze. Drivers got out of their cars. People stood at attention. For two long minutes, Israelis throughout the country froze in place to honor the more than 25,000 souls who have sacrificed their lives to build and protect the state.

As I reflected on that scene, which overflowed with emotion, I couldn’t help thinking of Jewish activists in the United States who constantly demonstrate against Israel, usually in reaction to how Israel deals with the Palestinians.

These demonstrations have failed to influence Israeli policies. They are utterly devoid of context. They’re disconnected from the past (such as Israeli peace offers that were rejected) or the present (the desire of groups such as Hamas to invade and destroy Israel). In isolation, these protests look more like PR stunts to make protestors feel good about themselves.

Yearning to return home for 19 centuries is emotional context, and it’s easy to overlook. As Herb Keinon writes, “We get so caught up in the daily news — the terrorism, the wars, the corruption — that we lose sight of the bigger picture.”

But they’re missing more than political context; they’re also missing the emotional context of what it means to come home after 1,900 years. When you feel that emotion, the criticism can’t help but be more loving, more measured.

The idea that Jews of more than 100 nationalities can gather in their ancient homeland and create a thriving sovereign state — with all of the blunders and flaws that come with creating any sovereign state — is a miracle that Israel’s critics should keep in mind when they criticize. Not as an afterthought that precedes a “but,” but as a deeply ingrained thought that permeates any fair and nuanced view of the Israel story.

Criticism of Israel goes much farther when it comes from a loving place. When it devolves into bitterness and anger, it’s got nowhere to go but to a choir of like-minded critics. It’s got no chance to open minds, let alone change them.

For too long, critics of Israel in the Jewish community have hidden behind the cliché of “tough love.” But tough love that hides the love is only tough.

We don’t have to tell our kids anymore to keep praying for the return of Jewish sovereignty. We made it. The 1,900-year dream has come true. When you feel those goosebumps, it’s a lot easier to criticize with love, and to make others feel that love.

Amanda Berman: Can progressives also be Zionists?

Amanda Berman, founder of the Zioness movement, discusses the opposition liberal Zionists have faced within the progressive movement, and how her new movement is working to change that.

Check out this episode!

Why Tyrants Must Hate Trump

If you’re a Never Trumper, you probably don’t see many redeeming features in our brash and rude tweeter in chief. But hang with me for a minute as we consider how that brashness and rudeness may be just what the doctor ordered for a certain brand of foreign leaders.

In a brave essay on the NBC News website, veteran White House reporter Keith Koffler laments that we live in “a dangerous world, dominated by outsized personalities who act aggressively on behalf of their nations, including not hesitating to threaten — and even engage in — war.”

But then he adds: “Fortunately, one is President Donald Trump.”

Koffler’s claim is that Trump’s flaws — “self-indulgent, megalomaniacal, a bit paranoid, driven by self-interest and implacably domineering” — make him uniquely suited to deal with the other great tyrants of the age.

These tyrants, Koffler adds, are driven more by raw power and ambition than ideology.

“Not too long ago,” he writes, “the struggles among great nations were defined by ideology, as democracy and communism competed for allegiance around the world. During that age, a relatively non-ideological, nonintellectual man like Trump might have had trouble understanding the thinking animating Russian and Chinese communists, hampering his ability to confront them.”

Some useful things can come out of a deeply flawed president, just as bad ones can come out of a decent president.

Today, by contrast, “the president will have no problem understanding the motivations of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and the other tyrants he faces, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, newly anointed Chinese President-for-life Xi Jinping and Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.”

Koffler concludes that Trump “has the outsized strength of personality to combat them.” In other words, it takes one to fight one.

When I read the essay, it reminded me of a game I used to play with my Never Trumper friends during the presidential election. I would ask them: “If you had to choose one person to negotiate a nuclear deal with Iran, who would you pick, Barack Obama or Donald Trump?” Invariably — and grudgingly — they would pick Trump.

When I asked why, they would concede that “Trump wouldn’t be afraid to walk away,” or, simply, “He’d make them sweat and get a better deal.”

Recently, I played another game. I know Trump haters who love Israel but who criticized Trump for “hurting the peace process” when he announced the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. When I asked them if they would have had the same reaction had President Obama made the decision, they admitted that, no, they probably would not. That’s how deep the contempt for Trump can go.

Indeed, it’s a difficult task to separate emotions from outcomes. If you hate a president, it’s hard to love anything he does, no matter how worthy that thing is. I have sympathy for those who have trouble seeing past Trump’s character flaws. After all, if having a decent character is essential in our own lives, how much more so for the leader of the free world?

And yet, we must recognize the reality that some useful things can come out of a deeply flawed president, just as bad ones can come out of a decent president.

Koffler’s claim is that Trump’s flaws — “self-indulgent, megalomaniacal, a bit paranoid, driven by self-interest and implacably domineering” — make him uniquely suited to deal with the other great tyrants of the age.

When Obama first ran for president, I remember being seduced by his classy demeanor and decency. But I wondered: Would he be tough enough for our dangerous world? I rationalized away that concern by assuming (hoping) that Obama had a silent killer instinct that would earn him the respect of the bullies he’d have to deal with. In retrospect, this was wishful thinking. No dictator ever feared Obama. They saw right through him. Obama was a gentleman who could never call a tyrant’s bluff.

Trump seems energized by tyrants. He must identify with their passion for power. It’s a brutal, primal game he knows well.

As Maureen Dowd wrote last week in The New York Times, “President Trump’s peculiar form of diplomacy — a combination of belligerence, bluster, name-calling and ignorance of history — has somehow produced a possible breakthrough in North Korea that eluded his predecessors.”

Koffler doesn’t deny that Trump’s indignities are the “crass work of an uncouth man.” But he thinks voters in the last election “eschewed elegance because, they calculated, a blunt and even predatory individual is what the country needed at this moment. A man who, Kim, Xi, Khamenei and Putin will all suspect, might just be brutal and dark enough to stand his ground against them and counter their own ruthless agendas.”

As much as I value decency, I also know that, for 16 years, America got burned by two very decent presidents — first by George W. Bush’s trillion-dollar fiasco in Iraq, and then by Obama’s naive deal with Iran that empowered the world’s biggest sponsor of terror.

I doubt that our brash and rude president would have been suckered into those deals. How much is that “outcome” worth? We’ll find out soon enough.

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.

Dr. Micah Goodman: Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Israeli scholar Micah Goodman weighs in on the world’s most intractable conflict — and his ideas for a solution. He explains it all in his bestselling new book, Catch 67, which uses philosophical insights to tackle the Israel–Palestinian conflict.

“Everyone always talks about solving or not solving the conflict. What about shrinking the conflict?” -Dr. Micah Goodman

 

David Suissa and Dr. Micah Goodman in the studios

From left: David Suissa and Dr. Micah Goodman

Check out this episode!

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