My Jewish Credo

About 20 years ago, a Jewish publication in Australia invited me to make a list of my basic Jewish beliefs. I found the exercise much more difficult and much more significant than I had anticipated. I have come to believe that all those who consider themselves thoughtful individuals should draw up a list of their fundamental beliefs — not only religious ones, but political, social and moral as well. At least as much as our psyche and our nature, our core beliefs are what make us who we are.

Unlike my list of 20 years ago — which I have not looked at in preparing this list — I have appended a “therefore” to each belief. The reason is that the “therefores” are even more important than the beliefs themselves. They are the consequences of the beliefs, and the consequences of any belief are what matter.

Here, then, are one Jew’s core Jewish beliefs.

1. There is a God who is the Creator of the world.

Therefore, life is not a meaningless coincidence, but has ultimate meaning — even if we humans are not fully capable of knowing what that meaning is.

2. This God is a personal God — meaning that God knows each of us.

Therefore, God matters and we matter. If there is a Creator God who does not know His creations, He doesn’t matter and we don’t matter. That is why there is no meaningful difference between belief in a God who does not know us and atheism.

3. “Personal God” does not mean that God necessarily intervenes in the life of each of us.

Therefore, we humans should be more concerned with what God wants from us than what we want from God.

4. This God is known as “the God of Israel.”

Therefore, those who say they believe in God but are unwilling to identify this God as the God of Israel believe in another god than believing Jews and Christians do.

5. God is moral and just.

Therefore, God judges all men and women.

6. There is ultimate justice.

Therefore, there is an afterlife. If there were no afterlife, God would neither be good nor just, since there is little justice in this life.

7. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.”

Therefore, the secular West has produced a plethora of foolish, often dangerous, substitutes for God-based religion. These include substitute religions such as socialism, feminism and environmentalism, and evils such as communism and Nazism.

8. The Jews are God’s Chosen People, which means they have been chosen to bring humanity to God and His ethical standards (ethical monotheism).

Therefore, (1) the most evil regimes and doctrines of each generation focus their hatred on the Jews and, (2) there is transcendent meaning to the Jews’ existence and even to the Jews’ suffering.

9. Most Jews do not understand the meaning of chosenness.

Therefore, the greatest Jewish tragedy is that few Jews engage in this mission of the Jewish people. The Jews who talk to the world rarely live or advocate Judaism; and the Jews who live Judaism rarely talk to the world.

10. God blesses those who bless the Jews and curses those who curse the Jews (Genesis 12:3).

Therefore, America, which has blessed the Jews more than any nation in history, has been uniquely blessed; and the Arab world, which curses the Jewish state and Jewish people, is benighted. Conversely, should America abandon Israel, it will cease to be blessed. And only when the Arab world abandons its hate-filled preoccupation with the Jewish state will it begin to leave its benighted state.

11. God cares about goodness more than He cares about anything else. “The holy God is sanctified through righteous conduct” (Isaiah 5:16).

Therefore, God is not sanctified when Jews place law above goodness or when Christians place faith above goodness.

12. Human beings, not animals, are created in God’s image.

Therefore, human life is infinitely more valuable than animal life.

13. God, not human beings, is the author of the Torah.

Therefore, even when the Torah’s laws are time-bound— for example, the temple sacrifices or the potion drunk by an accused adulterer — its values are eternal even when unpopular (for example, man-woman marriage, taking the life of murderers, honoring a parent one does not love).

14. At the present time, conservative Christians — such as Evangelicals — and conservatives generally — such as Wall Street Journal columnists and talk radio hosts — are Israel’s, and therefore the Jews’, best friends. Meanwhile, universities throughout the Western world are centers of Israel hatred.

Therefore, most Jews ought to be suffering from major cognitive dissonance. That which they most distrust — Christians and conservatives — are Israel’s greatest defenders; and that which they most venerate — the universities — are Israel’s greatest antagonists.

15. The Israel-Arab conflict is the morally clearest dispute in our time.

Therefore, anyone who sides with Israel’s enemies or who works to delegitimize Israel has a broken moral compass, is to be feared, and is to be fought by all good people.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project is the Internet-based Prager University (

To sleep-away camp … perchance to dream

Going to overnight camp for the first time. It is — in many circles — a Jewish rite of passage. Unlike becoming a bar or bat mitzvah, however, the perfect timing for transitioning from day camper to overnight camper is not preordained; on the contrary, it can vary significantly from child to child.

With no magic age to rely on, how do we determine whether or not our little camper is ready to take the sleep-away plunge? By taking a deep breath, separating our own conflicted emotions from the question at hand and looking for the following overnight camp readiness markers in our child (adapted from guidelines by Chris Scheuer, director of camping for YMCA camping services of Greater New York):

  • A desire to go to overnight camp. True, some kids require gentle nudges to get them into the sleep-away state of mind. But if you notice your child turning a ghastly gray every time you broach the topic of bug juice or s’mores, chances are you should wait another round of the calendar before bringing them up again.
  • Successful experiences away from home. Generally speaking, kids who spend the night with friends without 3 a.m. pleas for pick-up — or survive a week at Grandma’s with minimal trauma — are probably ready for an extended stay at overnight camp.
  • Adaptability to new routines. Every child takes a little while to settle into new schedules and routines, but some kids become prohibitively anxious in the absence of familiar protocol. Simply put, if you believe your child may wig out if he doesn’t have his favorite Scooby-Doo mug of water and crushed ice delivered to his bedside every night, sleep-away camp may be a Scooby-Don’t for now.
  • Ability to interact with other children. Your child needn’t be a social debutante, but a basic knack for integrating into a group, relating to other kids and forging friendships is vital for group/bunk life.
  • A handle on hygiene basics. While overnight camp provides an excellent forum for promoting hygienic independence in kids, a child who has yet to nail down the basics (e.g. face and body washing, hair and tooth brushing, nose and tuchis-wiping) can quickly become disheveled, malodorous and embarrassed.
  • Ability to express needs. Plenty of shy kids thrive in a sleep-away setting, but profound hesitance to communicate personal needs — especially when a child is not feeling well, needs help learning a skill, or isn’t sure where an activity is taking place — can compromise a camper’s physical and emotional well-being.
  • Ability to make basic decisions. Overnight camp provides a steady stream of choices: Tennis or archery? Macramé or batik? Top bunk or bottom bunk? Consequently, campers who excessively grapple with run-of-the-mill decisions are liable to feel overwhelmed and frustrated.
  • Willingness to experience the outdoors. No matter how expensive an overnight camp might be, it is not going to be the Ritz. On the contrary, bugs, spiders, snakes, rain and mud are part of the overnight camp fabric. Most kids take well to the opportunity to connect with nature on such an intimate level. Some kids, however, do not.
  • Respect for adults. Enjoying a bit of parent-free abandon is part of the fun of overnight camp. Still, basic kavod, or respect, toward counselors, specialists and other authority figures, and a willingness to adhere to adult-initiated boundaries, are sleep-away camper prerequisites.

Finally, if after careful consideration, you determine that your child is not quite ready for prime-time overnight camp, don’t despair. Embrace the coming months as an opportunity to help your child reach these readiness milestones, and reassess the situation next year.

Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally-syndicated Jewish parenting columnist whose work appears in more than 50 publications; an award-winning educator; and a mother of four. Her Jewish parenting book, “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah?” will be released by Broadway Books in 2007. Peers give Orthodox teens lesson in drug use and abuse

Foundation to Stop Funding Hate Groups

In a stunning reversal, the Ford Foundation has admitted it erred in funding anti-Israeli Palestinian groups and has vowed to establish tough new guidelines to stop its funds from being used for anti-Semitic action anywhere in the world.

The foundation said it was "disgusted" by anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation action taken at the 2001 U.N. Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which the foundation helped finance.

"We now recognize that we did not have a clear picture of the activities, organizations and people involved," conceded foundation President Susan Berresford in a letter this month to U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

In addition to establishing new funding guidelines, the foundation’s letter said the group promises to cease financing of pivotal anti-Israel groups and even recover funds, where the grant’s intent was violated. The foundation’s wide-ranging announcement was detailed in a five-page, single-spaced letter to Nadler.

Nadler had circulated a petition signed by 20 members of Congress demanding that the Ford Foundation halt its funding of anti-Israel hate groups. Nadler’s petition and the foundation’s letter came in the wake of a four-part Jewish Telegraphic Agency investigative series, "Funding Hate," which documented how foundation grantees were using the prestigious organization’s money to foment virulent anti-Israel and anti-Semitic agitation in the Middle East and worldwide — and in some cases advocacy for armed revolution in Israel.

The series prompted immediate congressional calls for an investigation from Nadler, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Senate Finance Committee chairman. There were also indications from the Internal Revenue Service, State Department and Justice Department that officials would review the Ford Foundation’s funding.

In her letter to Nadler, Berresford wrote, "Recent media stories have raised questions about the conduct of certain Palestinian grantees who participated in the 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, and the adequacy of the foundation’s oversight of grantees. In response, foundation officers and trustees have discussed these stories with concerned individuals, making clear the numerous steps that the foundation takes to ensure the proper use of its funds."

"Having reassessed our own information on the Durban Conference," the letter continued, "and in continuing talks with others, we now recognize that we did not have a complete picture of the activities, organizations and people involved. Although some Ford-supported grantee organizations repudiated the bigotry they witnessed in Durban, questions remain about others. More troubling still is the fact that many organizations among the large number at the conference did not respond at all."

"We deeply regret that foundation grantees may have taken part in unacceptable behavior in Durban," the Durban section of the letter concluded.

Nadler and representatives of Jewish groups, with whom foundation officials had met after publication of the JTA series, praised organization’s response. Foundation officials could not be reached for comment.

However, Berresford promised more than just apologies. She pledged to take sweeping, new preventive and monitoring measures to address revelations in the JTA investigation that Ford Foundation grantees were openly refusing to sign U.S. government funding guidelines designed to ensure that charitable donations in the Middle East don’t end up in terrorist hands.

In a section of Berresford’s letter titled, "Prevention of Funding for Terrorism," the Ford Foundation said it regularly checks approximately 4,000 active grantees against a State Department list to identify any that might be on the State Department’s proscribed list.

However, the letter continued, new measures will help ensure that funds will not be passed through one organization to another, or that Ford Foundation grantees use other independent monies to promote violence or terrorism.

In addition, Berresford said, the foundation will require additional measures "to make explicit our intolerance for unacceptable activity by any grantee organization."

She said the foundation’s standard grant-agreement letter, which grantees worldwide must sign to receive funds from it, "will now include explicit language requiring the organization to agree that it will not promote violence or terrorism. This prohibition applies to all of the organization’s funds, not just those provided through a grant from the Ford Foundation. Organizations unwilling to agree to these terms will not receive foundation support."

The Berresford letter also contained a section titled, "Prevention of Funding for Bigotry and the Destruction of any State," which declared that organizations promoting the delegitimization or destruction of Israel would be ineligible for funding.

"Grantees refusing to sign this agreement will not receive foundation support," the letter said. "We will never support groups that promote or condone bigotry or violence, or that challenge the very existence of legitimate, sovereign states like Israel."

Addressing questions raised in the JTA series about monitoring of funds to grantees, the Berresford letter included a section titled, "Financial Oversight," in which the foundation announced a major new auditing initiative.

Meanwhile, in a special section specifically addressing the Durban conference, the Berresford letter completely reversed the earlier position of its vice president, Alexander Wilde. In statements and letters to the editor, Wilde had insisted, "We do not believe" that the events at Durban "can be described as ‘agitation.’"

In her letter, Berresford said, "Ford trustees, officers and staff were disgusted by the vicious anti-Semitic activity seen at Durban, and we were disappointed that it undermined the vital issues on the meeting’s agenda. The foundation has reviewed its own information to establish whether Ford grantees took part in unacceptable, ugly and provocative behavior."

"To ensure that we receive a complete picture of grantees involved in the Durban conference, foundation officers and outside advisers will seek out attendees whom we, American Jewish leaders and others concerned about anti-Semitism and hate speech think should be heard on these matters," the letter said.

Promising action, Berresford’s letter also said, "If the foundation finds allegations of bigotry and incitement of hatred by particular grantees to be true, in conformance with normal foundation policy, we will cease funding."

In that vein, Berresford’s letter announced that the foundation "has decided to cease funding LAW, a grantee that has been the subject of criticism." LAW, whose full name is the Palestinian Committee for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, was a special focus of the investigative series. The group was a principal player in the anti-Israel agitation in Durban. An audit concluded it misappropriated millions in philanthropic funds.

Meanwhile, Jewish community leaders applauded the foundation’s dramatic turnabout.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said, "We welcome the statement by Ford that they will stop funding groups that have been promoting hatred of Israel and the delegitimization of Israel. We look forward to seeing these changes implemented and hope that other foundations that may have engaged in similar conduct will also make the necessary corrections."

Foxman said he welcomed the "the sincere effort by the current leadership of the Ford Foundation to deal responsibly with the past and to put into place safeguards so that these things do not recur."

Edwin Black is the author of the
newly released “War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create
a Master Race,” which investigates corporate philanthropic involvement in
American and Nazi eugenics. The entire JTA investigative series on Ford
Foundation funding can be read at

New Standards for Fair Coverage at NPR

As the world turns its focus once again to events in the Middle East, this is an opportune time for National Public Radio (NPR) and all media outlets to examine the way in which we cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to talk to our listeners about the steps we take to ensure objective and accurate coverage.

Like most leading American media outlets, NPR’s coverage of the Middle East is closely scrutinized by listeners across the political spectrum. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is one of the most emotionally charged subjects in the world today, and we recognize that our coverage will never please all people, all of the time — nor should that be our goal. Our goal should be to produce the most comprehensive, balanced and accurate reporting on this difficult matter, a goal we strive toward with each story.

As a primary source of news for almost 21 million Americans each week, NPR News works tirelessly to adhere to stringent standards of excellence in all our news reporting, including coverage of the Middle East. NPR has earned every major award for American journalism, including 41 George Foster Peabody and 18 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University awards. Recently, our seven-part series, "The Mideast: A Century of Conflict," received the Overseas Press Club Award and the National Headliner Award for distinguished reporting.

NPR, a listener-supported network, seeks transparency and values feedback from our listeners and our member stations. We are proud of our reporting, but we also recognize that no news organization is perfect. And, as with any organization, we are constantly working to improve our reporting and to communicate more openly with our listeners.

Toward that end, NPR has undertaken a number of initiatives as part of an ongoing effort to help our listeners understand our reporting, as well as to help NPR understand the ideas and thoughts of our listeners. Some of these initiatives are already under way, while others are currently being implemented.

First, NPR has developed a document titled, "Middle East Reporting Guidelines," which establishes standards for our coverage and terminology. The guidelines are a blueprint for our reporters and editors; they explicitly discuss the way NPR sources and attributes events and people, the manner in which we lead into reports ("intros"), the language we use when questioning interviewees, the balance of commentaries between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian voices and the terminology we use when reporting on this very complex topic.

We encourage listeners and all interested parties to read these guidelines on our Web site (

Second, for listeners to have an informed opinion on our coverage, it is important that they have access to all of NPR’s stories in their entirety. That’s why we post on our Web site all stories dealing with conflict in the Middle East. These stories show that our coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is unique in its comprehensiveness and scope.

Third, NPR has begun conducting formal self-assessments of our Middle East coverage every six months. The purpose of these self-assessments is to help us evaluate and improve our coverage.

In our most recent report, we found that in 60 Middle East-related pieces that aired on NPR in the first three months of 2003, Israeli voices were heard 65 times and Palestinians (and other Arabs) were heard 49 times. In addition, Israelis were quoted (but no tape played) 61 times and Palestinians (or Arabs) were quoted 57 times. Self-assessments will continue regularly and will be posted on our Web site.

Fourth, we have added a section to our Web site that allows listeners to submit story ideas on the Middle East. While there is no guarantee that these will result in news stories, this Web page provides an additional avenue for listeners to present their own ideas on potential Middle East stories.

Fifth, NPR employs the nation’s only radio network ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, as the listeners’ advocate. A veteran news director, Dvorkin receives more than 45,000 inquiries annually about our coverage. Approximately half of them express a broad range of opinions on our Middle East coverage.

As our ombudsman, Dvorkin is an independent voice, free to evaluate and critique our reporting as he deems appropriate. His columns, including his independent evaluations of NPR reporting, can be found on our Web site.

Sixth, NPR executives have met with numerous representatives from both the Jewish and Arab American communities during the past several months to better comprehend the diverse perspectives about the Middle East conflict. We will continue this outreach effort to community leaders and will hold regularly scheduled meetings in our corporate headquarters in Washington, D.C., and around the country.

Additionally, I have personally traveled to Israel and made more than 40 trips across the United States to meet with listeners and discuss the rigorous standards of our internal editorial practices.

Seventh, NPR is currently organizing a series of symposiums in major cities across the nation to create an open dialogue on the issues of accuracy, fairness and balance in reporting on highly emotional and contentious topics, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Participants will include NPR News representatives, our member stations, journalists and academics.

We are dedicated to increased transparency and communication between NPR and listeners. Honest and open dialogue is a cherished right and the cornerstone for a thriving and vital democracy. I can personally assure you NPR will always take that first step toward opening the doors of communication, and we will continue to live up to the high journalistic standards we set for ourselves as a news-gathering organization.

Kevin Klose is president and chief executive officer of NPR. Prior to joining NPR in 1998, Klose was an editor and national and foreign correspondent for the Washington Post. He has also served as director of U.S. International Broadcasting, overseeing the U.S. government’s global radio and television news services, and as president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Schools Adopt Guide to Block Sex Abuse

A national group representing more than 700 Orthodox day schools recently adopted sexual abuse prevention guidelines that were developed by a department of the Jewish Family Service (JFS) in Los Angeles.

Nearly all of the two dozen Orthodox schools in Los Angeles had signed on to a similar policy last year aimed at preventing and reporting verbal, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Torah U’mesorah, The National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, adapted its new policy from the one implemented in Los Angeles.

“We need to develop a culture of creating safety,” said Debbie Fox, director of Aleinu Family Resource Center of JFS, which wrote the guidelines. “It’s not only, ‘don’t abuse the child,’ but watch the way you talk with them, watch the way you correct them or encourage them to change, watch the teasing that goes on.”

A version of the policy will be discussed at a training session for camp directors next week, and Fox encourages parents to ask camps whether their counselors have signed on to the guidelines.

Last summer, when the abuse policy was in its final draft form, David Schwartz was accused of molesting 4-year-old boys at an Orthodox day camp in Culver City. He is currently serving one year in a residential facility, after which he will be on probation for five years.

The Schwartz case was one in a string of abuse incidents that has rocked the Orthodox community over the last few years. Locally, Rabbi Mordechai Yomtov is currently on probation after serving a year in prison for molesting boys at Cheder Menachem school in the La Brea area.

Nationally, an Orthodox Union report found Rabbi Baruch Lanner guilty of widespread and long-term sexual, physical and psychological abuse of teens in three decades of work at the National Conference of Synagogue Youth. Lanner is free pending an appeal after being sentenced last June to seven years in prison for sexually abusing two girls when he was principal of a New Jersey yeshiva in the 1990s.

The Lanner case, in particular, opened up Orthodox channels of communication regarding the abuse issue and led to an increased vigilance among institutions.

The high-profile cases went along with what Fox was seeing through the lens of Aleinu’s caseload. When Fox came three years ago, the Orthodox Counseling Program, which recently changed its name to Aleinu, had 11 cases. Today it has about 50 clients and a program of placing social workers in schools, through which it serves about 150 children a week.

In addition, Aleinu runs Nishma, a hotline that was initially conceived as a spousal abuse line, but, like Aleinu, has broadened its mandate after receiving a wider range of calls.

“What we deal with every day are the problems, but that is not an indication that the Orthodox community has significantly more problems than anyone else,” Fox said. “It is an indication that we are creating an environment where we can face these issues and invite them to come forward, so we can deal with them as well as we can.”

One of the issues she saw was sexual abuse. Early last summer, Fox convened a meeting with the Halachic Advisory Board of Jewish Family Service and the Rabbinic Council of California’s (RCC) Family Commission, two groups that work closely together.

With input from parents, educators, mental health professionals and the scrutinizing panel of rabbis, plus endorsement from leading halachic authorities, Aleinu developed the Conduct Policy and Behavioral Standards for Orthodox Schools.

The policy goes further than forbidding sexual contact or even the use of explicit language, materials or sexual innuendo. It warns teachers and staff never to be secluded with a child. There is strong wording against the use of physical force and any unwelcome physical contact, as well as against making any comments about a student’s body or clothing.

Teachers and staff are warned against denigrating students or attempting to manipulate students through psychological means, and they are forbidden from instructing students to keep secrets from parents or administration.

All teachers, staff, administrators and clerical and custodial staff are required to sign the guidelines.

When abuse is suspected, either at home or in school, Aleinu guides the family through the legal system and makes sure all their needs are met — from finding a Jewish foster home, if necessary, to making sure a carpool is arranged to going into the school to talk with teachers, principals and other students.

Rabbi Berish Goldenberg, principal of Yeshiva Rav Isaacsohn-Toras Emes and chair of the RCC’s Family Commission, noted how far the Orthodox community has come in tackling difficult issues openly.

The embrace of an Aleinu social worker and the adoption of the abuse guidelines at Toras Emes — where much progress has been made in the last few years away from an old-school style of education — are indicative of the community’s newfound willingness to combine modern psychological sensibilities with a strictly observant mindset.

Goldenberg attributes the leap to the growing roster of problems today’s families face and an awareness that professional help is neither treif (non-kosher) nor a shandah (humiliation).

“And there are many Orthodox people in the mental health professional world today, so there is more trust,” Goldenberg added.

The advisory board rabbis, who themselves go through psychological training, are available around the clock to answer halachic questions and counsel clients. In one instance, a rabbi sat in on a counseling session to answer a 16-year-old girl’s question about whether testifying against her father violated the mitzvah of honoring your parents. Another time, a rabbi and social worker together counseled an abused wife who wanted to know whether she was required to go to the mikvah to perform the ritual bathing that would make sex with her husband permissible.

When Schwartz was sentenced, both Goldenberg and Rabbi Gershon Bess, one of the most respected rabbis in the city, spoke in court to offer support to the victims. When Schwartz is released in February, he will be — willingly or not — in the jurisdiction of the RCC’s beit din (rabbinical court), which might impose limits on where he may go to shul, which simcha (celebration) he may attend and whether he may enter public restrooms alone.

Like all of Aleinu’s programs, even the beit din’s monitoring will most likely have a restorative angle, guiding Schwartz through therapy, for example.

“The beauty is that the rabbis are so sensitive to mental health issues and to understanding what we do so clearly, that their response is very sensitive to the issues of the person,” Fox said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

For more information on Aleinu or to sign up for “Keeping Our Campers Safe,” on Thursday, June 26, 9-11 a.m. at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, call 323-761-8816.

Defusing Tension

While violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians have captured the headlines in recent weeks, Jewish and Arab leaders in major American cities are working quietly to forestall confrontations between their communities.

Their efforts are marked by some common guidelines.

Don’t try to solve – or even discuss – the basic issues roiling the Middle East. Acknowledge deeply felt differences and go on from there. Condemn any act of violence by their co-religionists in the United States. Build on the trust established in previous years in joint battles against discrimination.

In Jewish communities, the efforts are spearheaded by both mainstream and liberal organizations and are most fully developed in Detroit, Los Angeles and New York, cities with the largest Arab and Muslim populations.

“We started establishing contacts with the Arab community after the signing of the Oslo accords seven years ago,” says Allan Gale, assistant director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit. The area holds some 200,000 Arab Americans, twice the number of Jewish residents.

“We have worked on such issues as discriminatory immigration laws, racial stereotyping and ethnic profiling at airports.

“We’ve had some incidents and some vociferous Arab spokesmen, but on the whole relations are good,” add Gale. “The Arab community here is reticent to act in an unlawful manner.”

In Los Angeles, some 10 Jews and five Arabs met Oct. 17 in the sukkah of one participant. Although all were aware of the Mideast tensions, the meeting had been scheduled some time ago as one in a series of monthly meetings by the “Dialogue Group.”

The group was established more than a year ago, when representatives of the two communities signed a code of ethics in a public ceremony.

“We try to keep open our lines of communications open and learn about each other’s culture and faith,” says Elaine Albert, the urban affairs director for the Jewish Community Relations Committee.

The lines of communication do not include anything as dramatic as secure hotlines or red phones in case of threatening confrontations, “but we are constantly in touch with each other via e-mail or phone,” says Albert.

Jewish membership in the dialogue group include the mainstream Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, represented by Albert, and individual members of the Orthodox and Reform communities. Not surprisingly, the group has a strong liberal representation.

One member is attorney Gideon Kracov of the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA), who says, “We have a joint interest in dealing with hate crimes and maintaining an attitude of mutual respect.”

Douglas Mirell, the PJA president, observes that “we’re in a period when it’s easy to be carried away by emotions and to say things that we may come to regret later. We need to curtail the level of rhetoric here and the level of violence in the Mideast.”

Another liberal activist is Rabbi Allen I. Freehling of University Synagogue in Brentwood, who says, “We will experience more difficult times, but I’m optimistic that we can maintain a relationship of trust and respect with the Arab-American community.”

A leading Arab voice within the dialogue group and on the Los Angeles scene is Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee.

Al-Marayati tends to attract controversy. A year ago, his appointment to the National Commissions on Terrorism was rescinded under pressure from mainline national Jewish organizations, which described him as an apologist for terrorists.

Many Los Angeles Jews who have worked with al-Marayati took issue with this description, and his organization strongly condemned the recent destruction of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus by rampaging Palestinians.

“Our dialogue with the Jewish community is working,” says al- Marayati. “We are both free communities, and if we can’t talk to each other, how can you expect Palestinians and Israelis to talk to each other? At all times, we must show zero tolerance for violence and hate crimes.”

Phone calls to other leading Arab organizations in Los Angeles, New York and Washington, such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Arab-American Institute, went unanswered.

Al-Marayati said that the lack of response did not indicate a reluctance to talk to the Jewish press, but simply that for the past few weeks, Arab spokesmen have been inundated by media calls. “I only get to answer one in 10 requests,” he said.

In New York, Michael S. Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, is one of the key figures in the “Coalition of Concerned Arab-Christians, Jews and Muslim New Yorkers.”The coalition will meet next Monday and recently released a statement, noting, “Although the tensions that currently exist in the Middle East can intensify emotions here in New York, we can not allow these events to divide our city.”

In addition, “isolated incidents must not be used as an excuse for scapegoating or reason to condemn entire communities,” the statement noted, adding,” By working cooperatively, this coalition can serve as a model for our children and a shining beacon guiding other groups toward resolving their differences.”