We need to understand hatred better if we’re serious about fighting anti-Semitism


The recent surge in antisemitic hate crimes in Europe was, unfortunately predictable.  This much we know about antisemitism: since the collapse of the Camp David peace talks in 2000, whenever violence in the Middle East involves Israel, hate crimes against Jews and Jewish-linked property increase, dramatically, particularly in Europe.

In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen attacks at synagogues (mob-like), attacks on individual Jews, attacks on Jewish-linked property, refusal of a business to serve Jews, and the shuttering of Jewish museums for fear of attack. France, Norway, England, Ireland, Turkey, Belgium, Ukraine, you name it.

We also know that because the shooting between Israel and Hamas has stopped for the moment, and with it the cessation of fresh images of dead Palestinian children, the hate crimes in Europe should likely deescalate too. Until the next time.

But other contemporary antisemitic-linked challenges remain: the rise of the far-right in Europe, the full-throttled import of classic antisemitism into the Muslim world, and the vilification of Israel as the stand-in for the classic Jew, to name but a few.

We seem to be loosing this battle. There are many reasons for this disturbing trend, but the most significant one is a matter of insufficient imagination and not enough serious thinking.  

We fight antisemitism in many ways. Some ways are probably somewhat effective, as far as they go, but are really seat-of-the-pants, we’ve-always-done-it-that-way strategies. Not a single means of countering antisemitism is rooted in academic research, let alone testable theories, to tell us if what Jewish NGOs choose to do will be effective, and if effective, moreso than something else they could choose to do. Too often they do things because they’ve done them before, they sound “strong,” and “determined,” and – not coincidently – can be used as centerpieces for fundraising.

There are five major tools in the current anti-antisemitism arsenal: attitudinal surveys, political pressure, education, legal approaches, and press releases.

The purpose of this essay isn’t to delve deeply into each approach, but rather to give a hint of their limitations.

§  Press releases (and blogs) put Jewish organizations “on the record” when an antisemitic act occurs (so they don’t appear unconcerned or uniformed), and are useful for fundraising more than for effecting any significant change.

§  Educational programs, largely targeted to high school students and frequently using the Holocaust as a centerpiece, expose teenagers to important issues, but there is no convincing evidence that they result in long-term attitudinal changes. And, in any event, there are many well-educated antisemites.

§  Legal tools, such as hate crime legislation and training, are important, but also limited in what they can accomplish, and attempts to use legal tools against speech (on campus in the U.S., against Holocaust denial in some other countries), are actually counterproductive as they change the debate from antisemitism to “free speech,” and/or give a disincentive for political leaders to speak out against antisemitism (because, they claim, a case is before the courts).

§  Political pressure, especially applied abroad, to speak out against and crack down on antisemitic crimes, political parties, or incidents, is, while important, of limited effectiveness, and ironically at times, works because of antisemitic stereotypes (a belief by some leaders who want access to the U.S. government, that the U.S. Jewish community holds the keys to Washington, DC).

§  Attitudinal surveys tend to look at classic antisemitic stereotypes, and then classify people as antisemitic or not, when antisemitism isn’t a black-and-white issue (most people are probably somewhat antisemitic, like most are somewhat racist). Further, most surveys fail to address all contemporary forms of antisemitism, and very few employ any comparative analysis: if x percentage of people believe Jews have too much power, is that a small number or a large number compared to what people think about other groups?

The current approach has limited effectiveness because it largely looks at antisemitism as if it were an isolated phenomenon, and not – as we must – a subset of a larger human challenge: hate.

Looked at as separate from the human capacity to define, and then dehumanize and demonize some “other,” we can see only a small hint of what antisemitism is, and that frequently out of context. This blindness also limits our ability to identify what to do to curtail it. (The same can be said about other hatreds too – sexism, homophobia, racism, Islamophobia, etc.) It’s as if we look at it through a peephole, when, in order to see the object clearly, we need to use a wide-angled lens.

How narrow is our lens? We tend to default to “common wisdom” answers focusing on Jews or antisemitism alone, with little or no evidence to support these strategies. Holocaust education, as mentioned. Knowing about the Holocaust is important, but there is little evidence knowing about the Holocaust reduces antisemitism – in fact, some who apparently have received that education use the vocabulary of the Holocaust (“ethnic cleansing,” for instance) as weapons to vilify Jews in general and Israelis in particular. And what makes us think that teaching about Auschwitz is going to change the way a young Muslim male in France thinks of Jews, especially when he sees pictures of Israeli soldiers with weapons, trained on his co-religionists?

Another piece of narrow “common wisdom,” frequently reflected in blogs and press releases, is to combat antisemitism by noting what Jews, individually and collectively, have accomplished. We’re smart. You wouldn’t have cures for polio or the latest computer gadget without Jews. There’s some academic-based evidence to suggest that it is difficult to hate and have empathy at the same time, but that’s quite different from suggesting that admiration (or jealousy?) or gratitude is an antidote to hate.

And another is the questionable notion that antisemitism – particularly for Israelis from Palestinians – can be countered with economic prosperity. There is little evidence to show that having the capacity to buy more consumer goods because Jews have lifted the economic boat in Palestine can somehow remove a more powerful thought: that people who you perceive as your religious inferiors have an upper – and heavily armed – hand in a land you (and God) believes – belongs to you, alone.

These pat strategies of questionable effectiveness for combating antisemitism are endorsed because no one is demanding an investment in testable theories, based on understanding how human hatred works, to define what to do instead. And we can no longer afford the luxury of such ignorance.

Interestingly, after World War II, inspired by the antisemitism of Nazism, there was an attempt to go to the academy for insights about prejudice and hatred. Theodor Adorno wrote “The Authoritarian Personality.” Social psychologist Muzafer Sherif conducted the “Robbers Cave” experiment, concluding that people (in this case summer campers) were likely to have prejudiced views of competing groups, but that when they had a common challenge which involved a superordinate goal, these views diminished.

There is much in evolutionary and social psychology that suggests that hatred isn’t something that’s learned – it is hard-wired (although we need help figuring out whom to hate, and sometimes how to find and identify “others” in creative ways – for example, a study noted that Greek and Turkish Cypriots identify each other by the brand of cigarettes smoked). And academics such as James Waller have made compelling cases that most of us, in the right circumstances, have the capacity not only to hate passionately, but also act on that hatred.

Sociologist Kathleen Blee, writing on women in the Ku Klux Klan, found that her subjects explained their racism and antisemitism differently. They could recount an interaction with a black person that they believe sparked their animus, but with antisemitism it was more of an “aha” moment, about secret forces and how the world really worked.

But while research in various fields offer some insights into how humans identify and dehumanize others, including Jews, there are very few multi-disciplinary efforts to pull together insights from these various fields – psychology, social psychology, law, religion, anthropology, economics, political science, history, and many others – to enable us to look at the many moving parts of any hatred simultaneously – how hate operates on the individual, group, societal, national, international levels, all at the same time.

By expanding the academic study of hatred, so that we understand better what motivates people to hate, what effectively controls hate, and how our institutions should have a better understanding of how they may intentionally or unintentionally impact hate (such as the unintended but foreseeable consequences of political actions, such as in Iraq), testable theories would emerge about what to do, and what not to do, to impact growing antisemitism.

Antisemitism, after all, isn’t really a problem for Jews, it’s a problem largely about how others think of Jews, whether they be Islamic extremists, neo-Nazis, or the less violent, but still disconcerting, more “normal” percentages of various populations (including those living in places where there are no Jews as neighbors).

To understand what they think about Jews, and why they think what they do, and how they are motivated to act on those beliefs (such as voting for antisemitic parties in parts of Europe), we need to energize the academy to produce new interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary theories and research tied into how human beings intersect with hate – as individuals, groups, societies, nations.

The starting point of analysis must be from the macro – that humans hate, why they hate, how hate impacts them, those around them, and their institutions – and then to the micro – that some humans hate Jews (and then how Jew-hatred manifests itself).

Sometimes the most important questions (and answers) will have nothing to do with Jews directly. For instance, when Jewish groups spoke with leaders of various European governments over the last two decades about the antisemitism of the far-right, rather than speaking about just about Jews and the importance of “tolerance” of Jews to democracy, might it not have been wiser to draw those leaders’ attention to research, such as that of Professor Terri Givens at University of Texas – Austin, documenting the specific actions mainstream parties should undertake (and avoid) to maximize the probability that extremist parties remain marginal? (She argues that when mainstream parties make clear they will never join a coalition with extremist parties, those parties tend to lose votes in subsequent elections.)

One complicating factor to developing an approach to antisemitism grounded in a better understanding of the human capacity for hate is that the Jewish community usually insists that antisemitism is “unique.” And of course in some ways it is – it is one of the longest hatreds, it is one that occurs on the political left and the right, and it is one fueled by ideology and theology, usually packaged in conspiracy theory.

There are, of course, some logical reasons why the Jewish community leadership insists on antisemitism’s uniqueness. Politicians – especially in some European countries – have too many times tried to eliminate antisemitism from an articulation of their concerns, even while Jews are under attack. Isn’t it ok, they sometimes ask, to speak out against racism and xenophobia, isn’t antisemitism covered by the implicit “etcetera?” But this attempt to back-burner antisemitism (recall French officials in the early 2000s blaming “hooliganism” rather than antisemitism when synagogues were torched – but if this was “hooliganism,” why were synagogues, and not churches and mosques, being “hooliganized?”) is the problem of people who want to avert attention from antisemitism. The answer to them is not to ghettoize antisemitism further into a dark corner of limited thinking. It is to emphasize that hatred is a huge human problem – just look at all its manifestations every day in the news – and that to understand any subset of it better (including antisemitism), we have to expand our thinking. Maybe empirical research about how best to respond to hatred, rather than raw political pressure from Jewish groups, will provide recalcitrant politicians convincing evidence of the need (and the benefit to them) to call any hate by its name, quickly and loudly?

To know why people hate Jews, we have to know first why people hate. For as long as there have been human beings – no matter where, when, what the major religion, economic or political system – people have divided themselves into “us” and “them,” and then found ways to identify the “other” as not only alien, but a danger.

Antisemitism, it has been said, is in some ways like a disease. Each disease is different, but doctors who specialize in researching any particular disease all start from the fundamental departure point – the knowledge that people get sick. They may know how brain cancer differs, say, from heart disease, and their research may delve deeply into minutia. But their starting point, and overall framework, is predicated on the understanding that their particular disease is a subset of something that impacts the human body. We need a similar comprehensive approach to know everything we can about hate if we are ever going to understand everything we must about antisemitism.

Kenneth S. Stern is an attorney and author who has written widely about hatred and antisemitism.

Univ. of California president defends Farrakhan appearance on campus


University of California President Mark Yudof defended Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s right to speak at the university’s Berkeley campus.

Farrakhan’s speech Saturday was billed as being about black empowerment, but was also peppered with anti-Semitic and hate speech, students told The Daily Californian student newspaper.

A petition circulated after the speech by Jewish student leaders, which opposed Farrakhan’s speech and character, but not the Black Student Union’s right to bring him to campus, garnered more than 350 signatures, the student newspaper reported.

“Louis Farrakhan is a provocative, divisive figure with a long history of racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic speech,” Yudof said following the speech, which was part of the Afrikan Black Coalition Conference. “It was distressing in the extreme that a student organization invited him to speak on the UC Berkeley campus.”

“But as I have said before we cannot, as a society or as a university community, be provoked by hurtful speech to retreat from the cherished value of free speech,” Yudof said.

The remarks come two days after Yudof condemned the disruption of an event on the University of California, Davis, campus featuring two visiting Israeli soldiers.

“I condemn the actions of those who would disrupt this event. Attempting to shout down speakers is not protected speech,” Yudof wrote in an open letter.

Boycott Borat?


Does comedy nullify hatred? Does comedy grant allowance to bigotry, racism and, most of all, anti-Semitism?

Nov. 3 began the opening weekend of the acclaimed “most hilarious movie ever”: “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Khazakstan.” After rushing to the movie theater on Saturday night, I was greatly displeased to find the show was sold out. But since nobody I knew got in either, I soon realized I could still see the show with my friends the following weekend.

After much anticipation, I finally saw “Borat,” and for most of the movie I was almost dying of laughter. However, at a few points my laughter came to an abrupt stop. One scene replaced the Spanish tradition of the Running of the Bulls with “The Running of the Jew.” During this scene, Kazakhs chase two huge, green-colored caricatures of Jews — one a man with an unnaturally large nose and long payot and the other a woman with a large nose and a hideous face. When the crowd erupted in laughter at these famous stereotypes, I felt as though I had traveled back 65 years to when anti-Semitism was openly rampant.

Another scene shows Borat staying at a bed and breakfast run by a Jewish couple. Thinking that the owners had metamorphosed into cockroaches, Borat throws money at the insects and flees the house in great fear. The implication that Jews are “cheap” was displayed and made fun of in front of millions of viewers all over the world. Throughout the film, Borat reinforces stereotypes of other minorities, as well as of Jews. One scene includes Borat sagging his pants and speaking in a mocking African American dialect. Practically throughout the entire film, Borat pokes fun at “hicks,” a term many of us in our own bigotry have used to categorized everyone living in Middle America.

This display of clearly anti-Semitic scenes, in combination with various other scenes offensive to minorities, truly tore my decision in half regarding whether I should support this movie. Do I side with my teenage perspective that says it’s hilarious? Or rather, do I side with my grown-up, more critical side that deems the film offensive and anti-Semitic?

Before making any judgments, we must reconsider Sacha Baron Cohen’s, a.k.a Borat’s, true motives for making this film. Certainly, Cohen is not serious in this anti-Semitism — he’s a Jew. Rather, Cohen successfully attempts to evoke the stupidity of anti-Semites — and all racism, for that matter — through his character, Borat. By making brash, racist remarks, Borat’s exposes the audience to the irrationality and “craziness” of any form of baseless hatred.

The movie also uncovers the very prevalent anti-Semitism in America. This anti-Semitism is something Diaspora Jews tend to forget about, for we assume it is improbable that such views still exist in this civilized, democratic country. This portrayal of reality truly is the genius and motive behind the movie.

Although Cohen’s objectives are correct and pure, many people are still sensitive to any form of racism for whatever reason. For example, my parents saw the movie and, for the most part, thought it was funny. Even with the understanding of Cohen’s intentions, they were still deeply offended by the anti-Semitic scenes. My parents found the sight of the non-Jews sitting next to them laughing at Jewish stereotypes especially disturbing. Furthermore, for those who don’t know Cohen’s true intentions, the movie could perpetuate and enhance prejudice. The Anti-Defamation League had something to say, as well, regarding the fragility of interpretations of Cohen’s film and actually wrote a letter to Cohen himself.

In summation, the letter stated, “We are concerned, however, that one serious pitfall is that the audience may not always be sophisticated enough to get the joke, and that some may even find it reinforcing their bigotry.”

After reviewing all possible interpretations and resulting occurrences, I believe that Borat should not be boycotted, and not even changed, for a variety of reasons. First, I trust that the majority of American audiences possess the intelligence to differentiate between true racism and a clear mockery of racism.

Second, changing or cutting out scenes of this movie would be the most racist thing to do. How can we take out scenes offensive to Jews but leave the rest of the movie, which is replete with scenes offensive to all the other minorities?

Maybe by attacking all minorities, Cohen tested our society even further. Who thinks their minority’s self-respect is above those of others?

Adam Deutsch is a sophomore at YULA.

Speak Up!
Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the February issue is Jan. 15; Deadline for the March issue is Feb. 15. Send submissions to julief@jewishjournal.com.

Monk Could Be Way to Mideast Peace


Next week, I am sponsoring a group of Israelis and Palestinians to spend a few weeks in a small village in southern France with a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. These two disparate groups of people do not know each other, but often feel hatred toward each other. Some of them have been hurt in the war.

But by the end of the two weeks, under the guidance of the monks, the Israelis and the Palestinians will learn to listen to, understand, forgive and maybe even like each other. They will be at peace.

Could this work on a larger scale for their respective countries? I think so.

There are only two ways to ever make peace in the Middle East, and both are extreme. One is for one side to obliterate the other in a military conquest. The other, far more favorable approach, is for an unrelated third party to broker peace. For this to succeed, this person must come with absolutely no agenda — not one of country, religion, politics or money. Just peace.

That’s the one we are going for, because we have found such a person.

Nhat Hanh is a world-renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, scholar, poet and peace activist who lives in Plum Village, France. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace prize. He has written almost 100 books. All over the world, he teaches what he calls mindfulness — peaceful, joyful living.

He is in a unique position to help the world now. We are trying to help him.

I met him because I read one of his books and it really helped my life as a movie producer. I learned to listen more, scream less, appreciate everything around me and focus. I even learned to “de-multitask.” And now I get more done, and am happier and calmer about it.

I figured if it worked for me, it could work for my friends in the entertainment business, who could sure use his help. So I offhandedly suggested he do a seminar in Hollywood.

Three months later, he called and said, “How’s next Tuesday?” I had Nhat Hanh and 15 monks over to my house to meet about 50 agents, producers, directors, studio executives and actors. I love these people, but they would stab themselves in the back if they could.

In one night, he changed some of their lives. Nhat Hanh does not try to convert people to Buddhism or get them to shave their heads. He teaches them how to listen to others and appreciate life more.

I thought it amazing what he did in Hollywood, but there are people with a lot more to be angry about than their TV series getting cancelled. He has done this for senators, cops, prisoners, people battling AIDS, victims of prejudice and hate crimes. And for Palestinians and Israelis.

Every summer people come from all over the world to Nhat Hanh’s retreat center in France to learn from him and his spiritual sidekick, Sister Chan Khong. A few years ago, they invited some Israelis and Palestinians — a few severely wounded in their war with each other. They forgave.

That gave me the idea to try this on a larger scale, and to tell the world about it. If everyone sees what can happen next week in Plum Village, it could then be done on a much larger scale. I wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do, so I asked friends, advisers and mentors — some of whom run charities. What really convinced me was their answer.

They all said, “No, don’t do it.”

They said don’t bother. It will never happen. They hate each other too much. It’s too late. One person even argued that if it cost a Palestinian more to fly to France than an Israeli, it wasn’t fair. Everyone was so far into their anger they didn’t even want to try.

That convinced me that we have to.

Nhat Hanh has no agenda other than peace. He has a great expression: There is no way to peace; peace is the way.

Something extreme must be done and will be. I vote we try extreme peace before the other alternative.

I hope the world watches what happens at Nhat Hanh’s village next week. Who better to do this, who could be more agenda-less than a peaceful Buddhist monk with unique gift for teaching people to listen and be mindful, who has no country, no desire for wealth, no stake in politics?

This is not about who is right or wrong or who started it or who is hurt the most. It is about peace.

It can happen.

Watch.


Film producer Larry Kasanoff is chairman and CEO of Threshold Entertainment.

Not the Next ‘Passion’


A widely circulated Internet report that Steven Spielberg was planning to produce a trilogy of films exposing Christian brutality has been denounced as a hoax and "mean prank" by the filmmaker’s chief spokesman.

The report, headed, "Spielberg Fights Fire With Fire," quotes him as preparing a movie on the Christian Crusades of the Middle Ages, in response to the supposedly anti-Semitic slant of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ."

"I will show Christian brutality in a realistic and most graphic and gory way," Spielberg is alleged to have said.

If successful, the Crusades movie would be followed by a film on the Spanish Inquisition and a subsequent picture, "Hitler and the Pope: A Team Formed in Hell," the Internet message continued.

Spokesman Marvin Levy described the story as "vicious" and "absurd…. Anyone who knows Steven would know that he is dedicated to doing what he can to rid the world of hatred and intolerance, wherever it exists," Levy said.

He added that "It’s a shame that Internet messaging has become a means of spewing anything that fits [the sender’s] distorted agenda."

At a press conference last week to mark the DVD release of his film, "Schindler’s List," Spielberg said that he would not comment on "The Passion" until he had seen the movie.

If and when he views it, "My first call will be to Mel Gibson," Spielberg said.

A Little Light Seeps Into Dark Times


It is hard to recall such despairing times.

A young Tel Aviv man spat three times on Yitzhak Rabin’s memorial — the same number as the bullets that felled him — in front of a Channel 2 news crew a few days before the anniversary of his murder. Glaring swastikas were found splashed across the site on the morning of the yahrzeit (anniversary of his death). Both of these events bring to the surface some of the toxic undercurrents running through this country.

It is hard to believe, eight years later, that this national day of grief becomes an opportunity for some to demonstrate their despicable, baseless hatred. But maybe that is the point, as suggested by many since that terrible night, and in retrospect, we will remember it as the beginning of the destruction of the Third Temple. But just when you think we have sunk as low as we can go, more than 100,000 people turn out to honor Rabin in a memorial rally in the huge square that bears his name and to voice a collective "yes" for peace that hasn’t been heard here in the last three years or more.

It may be wishful thinking to say so, but the positive energy galvanized to express support for Rabin’s way — a political track, a sustained and determined peace process — might well signal, at last, the return of Israel’s "peace camp."

For three years, once-hopeful Israelis have been stunned into silence by suicide bombings and have lapsed into an acquiescent majority that nods its assent to both prolonged military occupation and aggressive responses to terror that are not accompanied by any serious, creative political initiative.

Oslo, it was concluded, did not work, period. Ehud Barak and his generous Camp David-Taba offer did not persuade the Palestinians to negotiate for peace, proving that they do not want a peaceful compromise. So muscle is the only answer.

But after three years and nearly 1,000 Israelis deaths, compounded by the sinking realization that a strong economy and an endless conflict do not go hand in hand, the level of frustration and trepidation about the future has reached an all-time high.

This loss of hope is best illustrated by the sheer apathy of the Israeli voter in the recent local elections. Figures showed 41 percent came out to vote for their mayor, compared to 57.4 percent who voted in the last round of municipal elections, making this the lowest voter turnout in Israel’s history. The gloomy economic statistics released the day before the elections, plus a runaway government deficit and looming Histadrut (labor union) action that has already been tagged the "mother of all strikes," all put the country in a miserable mood.

The numbers were overwhelming: close to 11 percent unemployment, with towns across Israel rating as high as 27 percent (Kseife) in Arab and Bedouin towns and 12.4 percent (Acre) in Jewish towns; 300,000 families (triple the 1988 figure) living below the poverty line, meaning that one in every three children in the State of Israel is living in poverty.

By staying home, the voters made clear that they have lost faith that the political system can do much to remedy the grim situation. What does this augur for Israeli democracy?

Still, national security issues dominate the public agenda.

As support grew within the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for an easing of restrictions on the Palestinians, the remarkable admission to the press by Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon that Israel’s failure to have done enough in that area not only contributed to the fall of Mahmoud Abbas but, in fact endangered Israel dominated the headlines and rocked the establishment.

Ya’alon, who was identified as the "high-ranking IDF officer" quoted in the explosive article written by Nahum Barnea in Yediot Aharonot, said, "The ongoing curfew is causing damage to Israel’s security: It destroys the agriculture, it increases hatred for Israel and strengthens the terror organizations."

Public criticism, first by pilots who refused to take part in air force attacks on civilian population centers, then by the grieving parents of soldiers killed in the territories and, finally, by the army’s top brass, is making life increasingly uncomfortable for Ariel Sharon.

To top it off, the prime minister was grilled for seven hours by police investigators over corruption charges. Sharon’s main line of defense, according to press reports, was that he knows nothing of these matters and the police should talk to his son, Gilad — a rather cynical response considering that Gilad, all along, has been "pleading the fifth."

All of this was accompanied by the announcement of the Geneva accords, the joint U.S. tour of Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh, the Israel Democracy Institute’s first public discussion of a 50-page paper examining Israel’s departure from the settlements and the mass turnout at Rabin Square.

The Histadrut strike hasn’t materialized, at least for now, pushed off by a late-night Labor Court order. And, as it turns out, some cracks of light have appeared in the government’s dark refusal to talk to the Palestinian Authority, when Shin Bet chief Avi Dichter met with Jibril Rajoub — former head of preventative security in the West Bank — and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met with Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad.

With a full 71 percent of the Israeli people supporting a renewal of political negotiations with the Palestinians (according to the latest Steinmetz Center poll released Nov. 5), a final glimmer of hope comes from the unsubstantiated rumor that Sharon and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei will meet this weekend — bringing us back full circle to Rabin and his way.

If nothing else, let them talk.


Roberta Fahn Schoffman is an expert in U.S.-Israel relations and Diaspora Jewry and founder of MindSet Media and Strategic Consulting.

Reflections After the Fire


On May 7, at about 6:30 a.m., I was awakened by a call informing me that an incendiary bomb had been thrown through the stained-glass window of our sanctuary at Valley Beth Shalom. I rushed to the temple, only to find that our custodians, uninstructed by any temple official, had themselves rushed into the sanctuary, opened the ark, removed the scrolls of the Torah and deposited them safely in another room. A spark of holiness penetrated the darkness of our mood. Here were men and women who take care of the grounds of the synagogue, clean and prepare the classes, seminars and programs of our congregation, people mostly Hispanic and Catholic, not of our faith or our catechism, who would not stand idly by and observe without action the violation of a people’s sanctuary. We must acknowledge Marcial Cano, Martha Arelleno, Irma Buenelo and Carlos Crespian, custodians lovingly supervised by Sigfredo Barker and his daughter, Noemi Lasky. Here are people who realized in their lives the potentiality of God’s image invested in every child of Adam and Eve.

Where do you find the sparks of decency in tragedy? In the response of men and women of all faiths who, on the very next evening, gathered together in a prayer of solidarity at St. Cyril’s Catholic Church just two days after the fire-bombing. Men and women, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Baha’i, Armenian clergy, who sang and prayed and heard each others’ anguish and each others’ resolve to stand together to offer each other their houses of worship to those sanctuaries which were violated.

"How do you struggle against causeless hate?" the late Rabbi Abraham Kook asked. He answered simply, "You answer causeless hate with causeless love."

What can we learn from such incidents? Hatred is indiscriminate. It destroys synagogues, churches, mosques and ashrams. No one is exempt and everyone is responsible to protect each other. We have an antidote with which to counter the toxicity of hate. Vigilance, care, the sacred embrace of love that transcends one’s own sanctuary and enters the sacred space of our neighbors. We are Adam and Eve’s children and we share in common tears and fears and hopes. We cannot always prevent the violence, but we can always light up each other’s night.


Harold Schulweis is senior rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

The Irrelevance of Arab Hatred


The consensus view of the intifada among Israelis, Diaspora Jews and American conservatives — that it’s caused by Arab hatred and rejection of Israel — is nothing but a lousy excuse. An excuse to say Israel is wholly blameless in this affair, and there’s nothing Israel can do except plod on, dying and killing. It’s an excuse to block out any doubt, and to go on with this bleak worldview that does, at least, offer the comfort of certainty.

So let’s introduce a little doubt. If all this terror is caused by Arab hatred and rejection of Israel, how do we explain Egypt? Egypt’s armed forces haven’t fired a single shot at Israel in over 25 years. Does Egypt hate Israel any less than the Palestinians do? Are its newspapers and bookstores and general public discourse any less loaded with anti-Semitism? Does it have any less abhorrence for the idea of a Zionist state across its border?

Egypt is the biggest, strongest country in the Arab world, an incomparably greater threat to Israel than the Palestinians ever could be. Its society is rampant with Islamic and Arab nationalist militancy, and hatred of all things Jewish. Yet even though the Egyptian "street" erupts in war cries, the Egyptian leadership resists.

If Arab hatred and rejection of Israel is the reason for Palestinian violence, why has Egypt been so thoroughly nonviolent toward Israel for so long?

The same question could be asked about Jordan. Jordan hasn’t touched Israel in 35 years. As a matter of fact, most Jordanians are themselves of Palestinian origin; do they hate or reject Israel any less than do their brethren in the West Bank or Gaza? So why hasn’t Jordan joined the intifada?

Remarkably, we can even raise this issue regarding Syria. Except for when Israel went galumphing through Lebanon in the early 1980s, Syria hasn’t mixed with Israel since the last of the Yom Kippur War.

Which leaves, among Arab nations on Israel’s borders, Lebanon. Here we have to place an asterisk. Hezbollah is without question fighting Israel. But another unquestionable fact is that since the Israeli army pulled out of southern Lebanon over two years ago, Hezbollah has fought Israel with only a small fraction of its previous intensity.

Israel shares borders with five different hateful Arab nations. It has formal peace with two of them: Egypt and Jordan. It has de facto nonbelligerency with a third, Syria. With a fourth, Lebanon, it has a limited border clash. Only with the fifth and smallest neighboring Arab nation, the Palestinians, does Israel find itself in an agonizing war with no end in sight.

What’s special about the Palestinians? Not their hatred of Israel, not their rejection, not their fearlessness and certainly not their strength. What’s special is that they are the one Arab nation whose rightful country — the West Bank and Gaza Strip — has been usurped by Israel.

Every other neighboring Arab nation can tend to its own affairs without any Israelis around, but the Palestinians have 220,000 Israeli settlers, and many thousands of Israeli soldiers, staring them in the face, lording it over them.

This is the way it’s been since 1967. Even in the "good old days" of the Oslo accord, when the "peace camp" was running Israel, the West Bank settlers kept taking more and more Palestinian land. Palestinians still had to pass through Israeli army and border police checkpoints on their way through the West Bank, and the more candid Israeli soldiers, not to mention human rights organizations, can tell about the frequent brutalities and humiliations that went on there.

It’s true the Palestinians turned down a good-faith Israeli offer of land-for-peace at Camp David to launch the intifada, which puts most of the blame for the current bloodshed on them. But not all the blame. For three and a half years, between the bus bombings of 1996 to the outbreak of the intifada, the Palestinian Authority effectively put down Hamas and provided the Israelis with pretty good security. But in return for delivering three and a half years of a decent approximation of peace, the Palestinians didn’t get much more land — only 13 percent more of the West Bank in that fairly quiet period. Meanwhile Israeli settlements and bypass roads kept eating away at what Palestinians and the rest of the world thought was supposed to become their state. So while the Palestinians are guilty of starting the intifada, Israelis can’t say they were innocent of any prior provocation.

It’s also true the Palestinians killed the chance for peace with their demand for the right of return, and for exclusive Islamic rule over the Temple Mount. They’re going to have to drop these demands if the fighting is ever to end. But why is it unimaginable that the Palestinians might change? Egypt provoked the Six Day War, and later joined Syria to attack Israeli forces on Yom Kippur 1973, killing 2,600 of our soldiers. Who would have thought that four years later Egypt’s leader Anwar Sadat would be cheered wildly on the streets of Jerusalem, and that one-quarter century of peace would ensue? A cold peace, even freezing — the important thing is that no one gets hurt.

The Egyptians would love to be rid of Israel. So would the Jordanians, Syrians and Lebanese. But they don’t dare try it, because they’re afraid of Israel’s superior power. As long as Israel leaves them alone, the Arabs, with the minor exception of Hezbollah, don’t do anything more than mutter. And if Israel leaves the Palestinians alone — if it gets the settlers and soldiers out of the West Bank and Gaza — there’s no inherent reason why the Palestinians shouldn’t eventually come around and join the other neighboring Arabs to hate and reject Israel, but to leave them in peace.

Your Letters


Homeland Insecurity

In his editorial (“Homeland Insecurity,” July 12), Rob Eshman suggests that the availability of legal guns in the United States should be seen as a problem when considering Muslim terror.

When the Hutu and Tutsi tribes were slaughtering one another in Rwanda, half a million people were murdered with machetes, yet no one is obtuse enough to suggest that there was a “machete problem” in Africa. It was a function of human evil. During the Cambodian genocide, 1 million souls were murdered using only plastic garbage bags. Cambodia did not have a “garbage bag problem.” It was, as it always is, a problem of human evil.

Muslim terrorists will kill with box cutters, with Boeing 707s, with nails and screws and rat poison and with guns, because they are barbarians intent on murder. To suggest, even tangentially, that the Muslim terrorist attack at LAX could have been avoided by gun control is an obscenity.

Robert J. Avrech , Los Angeles

Ed. Note: The editorial intended no such suggestion, tangentially or otherwise.

What in heaven’s name does it matter whether the horrendous act is called crime or terror? What matters is that a beautiful young woman, with her whole life ahead of her, and a lovely family man in the prime of life were killed by a man wielding a semiautomatic pistol and a magazine of bullets in his pocket. What matters is that we here in America never know when some idiot will pull out a gun and shoot, whether we are at the airport, the mall, a community center or an office.

I can’t recall that The Jewish Journal has ever written about the proliferation of lethal weapons in our country. This is thanks to the powerful National Rifle Association spouting its interpretation of the Second Amendment. If guns where not so easily accessible here, thousands of people would still be alive. That’s what matters.

Ruth Prinz, Santa Monica

Happiness Turns to Grief

Some may avoid labeling this a “terrorist act,” so as to feel as though America got through Independence Day safely (“Happiness Turns to Grief,” July 12). Yet, it is naive to deny that Hesham Mohamed Hadayet was most likely driven by a hatred for Israelis and pro-Israel America; hatred shared with the Egyptians and the Saudis who attacked us on Sept. 11. If the FBI is unable to realize that this was a crime of hate committed by a terrorist, then our intelligence services are in need of far more than a Cabinet reorganization.

Brian Goldenfeld, Woodland Hills

Unwanted: City Breakup

Rabbi Mark Diamond’s comments (“Unwanted: City Breakup,” July 12) are most insulting. To say that those of us in the Valley who are pro-secession do not care for the poor is, at best, insulting. Does the rabbi think that only anti-secession people donate time and money to charity? This demonization of the pro-secessionists is totally without merit.

However, it is not new to Wendy Madnick’s writings: “To the extent that anti-Semitism exists, it doesn’t make sense to separate,” noted Ruth Galanter. “It’s better to be part of one large community and reach across the greater Los Angeles community to build relationships.” (“Valley Secession: Better for Jews?,” March 29). Why weren’t these remarks challenged? I assure you that the Jewish community is not divided in any way shape and or form when it comes to anti-Semitism. I assure you that when our brothers and sisters in Los Angeles are harmed by anti-Semites, Valley Jews will be there, shoulder-to-shoulder, in solidarity with them.

Rabbi Don Goor said, “Don’t separate yourself from the community, Al tifrosh min hatzibur.” This is a monumental misuse of the Talmudic dictum for his political self-interest. I appreciate the rabbi’s point of view on secession, but to misuse Talmud in this way is inappropriate. I can assure the Jewish people of the Valley that a vote for secession will not violate “Al tifrosh min hatzibur,” rather, it will bring you closer to the ideal suggested by the sages of our tradition.

To suggest that the people of the Valley who are pro-secession will become morally bankrupt once secession succeeds insults our intelligence.

Larry Ruby, Woodland Hills

Missing in Action

Amram Hassan’s opinion piece (“Missing in Action: The Community,” July 12) shamed me terribly as it should everyone in our community. Not a peep was heard from most of us, nor did our leadership call for the mass demonstration the occasion demanded. In stark contrast, the African American community imported leadership from across the country and demanded attention for an incident, although important and serious, that was not half so grievous as the hate crime terrorism that we, as a community, endured. Can you imagine what demonstrations would have taken place if it had happened to their community?

It is not too late to come together and memorialize the two who gave their lives for us. Yes, for us. For their deaths should alert us to the hate and dangers that perpetually surround us. We should demonstrate that those who preach hate should be pariahs in this community. This event should not pass unnoticed and unchallenged.

Dr. James Hangman , Los Angeles

Kudos

Until recently, The Jewish Journal might have been a “Journal about Jews and Israel,” but items consistent with a “Jewish” Journal were rare. Recently the content of The Journal and, in particular, Managing Editor Amy Klein’s columns (for example “For These Things, I Do Weep,” July 5) have a very different character.

The writings draw on the traditional Jewish calendar — Shabbat, Purim, Passover — and the classical sources — the Tanach, the liturgy and the Talmud — to make fresh arguments and to express deeply held and deeply Jewish reactions and emotions. I do not always agree with the points being made, but the writing is rich, the knowledge of and feel for the sources is profound, and the style is appropriate if this is truly to be a “Jewish” Journal.

 

Jacob Alex Klerman, Los Angeles

Stroke of Halacha

Since Miranda Pollack (“Stroke of Halacha,” July 5) worked in a nursing home and a VA hospital, she should have known better than to blame halacha or Jewish law or the rabbis for her mother’s plight. The Jewish Journal is also remiss in not providing perspective. She and her sister (and their mother) were negligent in not providing for a living will and/or advanced directives for an 80-something-year-old woman, and then procrastinating when a Do Not Resuscitate order was proffered by hospital staff.

Based on past experiences as a physician involved in similar cases, Jewish law does not require that ventilatory support be provided in a case where recovery from the offending condition is remote. However, once a patient is on a ventilator and life is dependent on that machine — one is not permitted to “pull the plug” according to halacha. This is true regardless of one’s own or the hospital bioethics committee’s interpretation of a “good quality of life.”

There are physicians, Jewish and non-Jewish, who recuse themselves from a patient’s care where the family or the hospital insists on “pulling the plug.” This unfortunate situation was entirely preventable and should serve as a cautionary note to others who care about living a Torah way of life in a modern, technologically advanced society.

Dr. Howard Winter, Beverly Hills

Corrections

The eulogy for Dr. Pauline Glanzberg Rachlis (Obituary, June 21), should have said she graduated from Vienna Medical School and was survived by her son, Rabbi Arnold Rachlis.

Don’t Circle the Wagons


The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) just issued a report headlined, “Anti-Semitism on the Rise,” announcing that “a strong undercurrent of Jewish hatred persists in America.” The report cites data on anti-Semitic attitudes virtually unchanged from a decade ago, but slightly higher than four years ago.

To most of us — especially Jewish urban dwellers — the report’s findings and its dire warnings are counterintuitive. The majority of Jewish Angelenos and Jewish Americans, especially those under 50, haven’t encountered anti-Semitism in their lives and do not relate to it as an issue that puts them at risk — with good reason.

Among the numbers cited with greatest concern are those regarding anti-Semitism in the African American and Hispanic communities. Among Hispanics, the polling data among new immigrants are disturbing, but they are never compared to the attitudes of new immigrants from other countries with strong, doctrinaire churches and relatively few Jews. Among blacks, the current study reveals, although not noted in the press release, a near doubling of those in the “not anti-Semitic” category since 1992.

There is also virtually no effort to square the glum “spin” of the report with the fact that less than two years ago, an Orthodox Jew was nominated for the vice presidency of the United States and his Jewishness had no perceptible negative impact on the viability of his candidacy. Nor, for us Californians, is there even a footnote to acknowledge that we have two female, Jewish United States senators — a nonissue here for nearly a decade.

As Leon Wieseltier recently wrote in a brilliant piece in The New Republic, “There is nothing, nothing, in the politics, the society, or the culture of the United States that can support” comparing today’s anti-Semitism to the 1930s, as the ADL did recently. Wieseltier warns of the inappropriateness of the ethnic panic that we seem all too prone to. “For we are the luckiest Jews who have ever lived,” he writes. “We are even the spoiled brats of Jewish history. And so the disparity between the picture of Jewish life that has been bequeathed to us, and the picture of Jewish life that is before our eyes, casts us into an uneasy sensation of dissonance.”

Currently, the forces that are most vocal and energized in our community tend to encourage that dissonance. This is not the result of malevolence on the part of many ethnic and religious leaders (in numerous different communities, not just ours), but rather, because of the difficulty of discarding a mind-set developed over decades. That mind-set promotes ethnic panic and a concomitant inner focus.

As a significant part of the Los Angeles community, the most diverse on earth, we, as Jews, should be especially concerned about how diverse communities relate to one another, the degree of balkanization and the extent to which we share, or don’t share, a common sense of citizenship. These are critical matters for us all, but almost always ignored, except for noteworthy anniversaries and the de rigueur annual “Brotherhood Week” celebrations.

However, of all the aspects of our daily lives, none has more impact on how we live and feel than the quality of human relations in our city. Whether we live in fear of those we don’t know and areas we “dare” not visit, or whether we engage in the world around us speaks to how we feel about the world.

But Los Angeles, unlike many other major urban centers, provides very few opportunities for contact across racial, ethnic, or socio-economic lines. We do not ride public transportation or walk the streets together — rather we sit hermetically sealed in our cars and ride over and around communities with which we simply have no contact.

There are those all too brief periods when we do come together and experience what it is like to feel a sense of shared citizenship. In the weeks following Sept. 11 we felt a shared fate across this country, millions of flags reflected that unity.

But those moments are fleeting and we soon forget what it’s like to share a common experience with strangers.

We in the Jewish community are as guilty of insularity and fear of the unfamiliar as any group in Los Angeles. Too many of us operate in our comfort zones, and never vary one iota from what we’ve always known and been acquainted with.

For not only do we share the concerns of many other Angelenos regarding perceptions of crime and fear of the unknown, our anxieties about leaving our comfort zones are stoked by historical, if not almost genetic, concerns regarding anti-Semitism in the communities around us.

There are facts to nourish some anxiety about anti-Semitism. Some of the anti-Semitism data in the polls are troubling, even if not revealing a “strong undercurrent of Jewish hatred that persists in America.” They do not justify the withdrawal to parochial concerns and fear that are all too present today. We are not under siege. Tolerance has become the mantra of America and such extremists as persist are ostracized and subject to ridicule.

With a realistic view of where we truly are and where the real dangers to our success as active and secure participants in society lay, a recommitment to our full community and to participating in it is in order.

These efforts can’t be the anachronistic “dialogue groups” that seem to run out of steam even before they begin. Rather, we must focus on real projects that involve folks in dealing with real issues — transportation, job training skills for young people and access to education and services.

The 20th anniversary of the L.A. riots, in 2012, is too long to wait for the general public’s — and the Jewish community’s — attention to be focused on these issues.

Now is the time, Los Angeles is the place.



David A. Lehrer is the head of comUNITYadvocates, a new human relations organization dealing with issues of diversity, tolerance and fostering common ground. He served with the ADL for 27 years, and was its director in Los Angeles from 1986-2001.

Poles Remember Massacre


Sixty years after hundreds of Jews in a Polish village were slaughtered by their neighbors, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski offered an apology.

"For this crime, we should beg the souls of the dead and their families for forgiveness," Kwasniewski told about 3,000 people gathered in the pouring rain at a ceremony in the village of Jedwabne.

"This is why today, as a citizen and as the president of the Republic of Poland, I beg pardon," he said. "I beg pardon in my own name and in the name of those Poles whose conscience is shattered by that crime."

Joined by government officials, Jewish leaders, survivors and relatives of Jedwabne victims, Kwasniewski walked in silence from the village center to the site of the barn in which as many as 1,600 Jews were burned to death on July 10, 1941. Other Jews already had been butchered in a frenzy of violence.

At the site, New York cantor Joseph Malovany said "Kaddish." Jedwabne-born Rabbi Jacob Baker led prayers, and a new wood-and-concrete monument to the victims was unveiled.

For decades, a smaller monument on the site had attributed the slaughter to German Nazis and the Gestapo.

This was removed in March after a book, "Neighbors," by Polish American scholar Jan Gross — followed by a documentary film and other on-site research — revealed that the massacre was carried out by local Poles.

"I learned about the massacre as a big secret, as a child," recalled Marta Kurkowska-Budza, who was born in Jedwabne and is a young social historian at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University.

"Neighbors" — and the ensuing debates and media attention — exploded these taboos. For some, it was a catharsis. For others, it was a valuable key to rethinking history. For still others, it provoked further denial.

"To contemporary Jedwabne inhabitants, but also Poles in general, the murder of Jews is this kind of traumatic, undomesticated history; the public debate is painful, but was inescapable," Kurkowska-Budza has said. "Public discourse is a battleground."

Many considered the controversy healthy. Even one of the policemen shepherding the crowds said he thought it was a valuable process. "We must talk about the Holocaust," he said, fumbling for the words. Over and over again, Poles urged outsiders to recognize that the country has changed, and that Jews should now feel welcome.

As the crowd streamed from the ceremony site to the place where the barn once stood, villagers, more curious than angry, watched from their windows or from within their gardens.

On Tuesday, three young Israelis were among the victims’ relatives at the site, brought there by their grandfather. They were carrying an Israeli flag, a poster listing the names of 40 victims and one honoring the villagers who rescued the few Jews that survived the massacre.

The rain, described by Baker as tears from God, soaked their white shirts, and the wind unfurled their flag as other family members laid flowers and stones on the monument. For a few moments, all the controversy was forgotten.

New Jersey Jewish News Staff Writer Elaine Durbach contributed to this story.

A Time to Mull


So it turns out that the Arabs of Judea and Samaria really hate the guts out of us Jews.

For seven years, Israel had been engaging in confidence-building steps. Israel even gave Yasser Arafat weapons to build a police force and agreed to patrol in “joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols” to maintain the civility of the polity in Judea and Samaria. For peace, Israel pulled back from Jewish holy sites and ceded land she rightly could have claimed for eternity.

Arafat never quite softened his rhetoric, still speaking of gun battles for Jerusalem, still praising violent Hamas bombers at their public funerals. Arafat’s television stations and newspapers continued spewing anti-Jewish vitriol. His first lady told the media that Jews were poisoning Arab wells. His summer camps kept training children in his land to kill Jews, and new textbooks kept teaching them the same lessons of anti-Jewish hate in more formal classroom settings.

We wanted so much to believe that Arafat would become more temperate once saddled with the responsibilities of government and of civil administration. We hoped, somehow, that he would stop the terror once he would be stuck with budget-balancing, HMO policies, questions of affirmative action, school vouchers and capital gains taxes – whatever it is that keeps politicians busy and off the streets, out of harm’s way.

So we chose to focus wistfully on the future, seeking to build confidence with concessions for peace. Yet we were troubled that Arafat never did seem to honor his part of so many key promises he had signed in Oslo. We slowly accepted the novel premise that Israel unilaterally could build confidence after generations of mistrust and animus – without insisting on reciprocity. The very word – reciprocity – was condemned as an Israeli provocation.

Arafat was supposed to turn over to the Israelis the terrorists within his borders who murdered Jews. Instead, he consistently moved them furtively out of the spotlight by hustling them before quickie tribunals, ultimately tossing them into jails pending their release or “escape.” He never did turn over a terrorist to Israel.

There was something about the Palestine parliament abrogating from the Palestine Charter objectionable paragraphs calling for the destruction of Israel and the expungement of Zionism. Something like that, or at least something about Arafat forming a blue-ribbon committee that would report back with recommendations for revising the Charter. But we never followed up on that one either. We stopped being picky about Oslo numerical limits, while that “police force” grew into the size of an army. We stopped monitoring the types of weapons they were importing. We disregarded reports of their military maneuvers.

In time, everyone got into the mood of peace. Benetton published a magazine about Arabs and Israelis in love, kissing cousins. The Europeans started treating Arafat like a statesman. Even the Nobel Peace Prize committee awarded a medal to Arafat, along with his partners in peace, Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. It was a careful, cautious confidence-building affair. Seven years of hopes. Seven years of promises. Seven years of building trust. And now we see that, at bottom, it was seven years of smoke and mirrors. The confidence was more a game and a racket. Yasser Arafat – confidence man.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was created in 1964 to liberate Palestine. Jordan held Judea and Samaria, and Egypt held the Gaza Strip in 1964. Yet no effort was made by the PLO to liberate either region for a free Palestine. Holy al-Quds, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aksa were in Arab hands, but the PLO made no effort to set up a Palestinian official presence in the city. Rather, the PLO fought through those years to liberate Palestine by trying to drive the Jews out of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Only now do we begin to “get it”: Those nice people want Jews out of there. All Jews – out of all of there.

During the three weeks since Ariel Sharon took a walk at a Jewish holy site over which Israel actually is sovereign – at least meantime – those partners in peace have kidnapped three Israeli peacekeepers in the north even though Ehud Barak, Israel’s “Mr. Security,” had quit Lebanon. They have stabbed Israeli soldiers to death, defenestrated at least one like so much trash, pummeled and mauled and dragged by car and burned Jewish corpses, beaten and stabbed the daylights out of any Jewish motorist unfortunate enough to take a wrong turn on a road in Jewish land, and have burned down sacred Jewish sites like Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem and the ancient synagogue of Jericho. They have alternately released and secured dozens of convicted Hamas bombers as moved by the spirit of the moment, have ambushed and shot at Jewish funeral processions and at Jewish hikers, have prevented humanitarian medical evacuations, have turned their police stations into lynch zones, and have filled the atmosphere of their towns with the reverberating chants of “Itbakh al Yahud!” – “Death to the Jews!”

As American, European Union, and Security Council eyes move from a deconstructed cease-fire summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh and beyond an Arab summit in Cairo, the Jewish mind’s eye remains fixated on Ramallah. The image of those two crimson hands, gleefully displaying with fanatic ecstasy that thick Jewish blood to a frenzied crowd warming up to shred the corpse and then to drag it by car to the town square for a public trash incineration, shall not be forgotten in Israel for seven years and then for seven years. How much Barak was prepared to give them! How much they have lost!

‘Hatred Is a ‘Process’


The tragedy that has engulfed Littleton, Colorado, is in fact a wakeup call for America — too many of our schools have become killing fields. The question is whether we have gotten the message, and what our response should be.

Undoubtedly, over the next few days and weeks, a national debate will take place over what the Columbine High School massacre tells us. Some say teachers need more training in early detection to be able to recognize loners and students with extremely low self-esteem who could be walking time bombs. Others point a finger at parents, who should know if their garage is being used to build pipe bombs or if their children are obsessed with the thousands of hate sites on the Internet.

Last August, the federal government distributed a guide on safe schools, recommending smaller facilities and classes. Following the massacre, Attorney General Janet Reno said there was a need for more counselors to be placed in our schools. Other experts insist that the answer lies in beefed-up security and doing something about the huge arsenal of handguns accessible to students.

While most of the above have merit, I do not believe that they speak to the heart of the issue. As The New York Times editorial page commented, “It’s not what we keep from a child that will save him, it’s what you put into him in the first place. “

The question we have to ask ourselves is: what kind of an education do we seek for our children? Webster’s dictionary defines “educate” as “to develop mentally or morally by instruction.” America’s schools certainly develop our children mentally. But do they develop them morally as well?

In the late 19th century, Herbert Spencer wrote, “Education has for its object the formation of character.” Spencer was right. An education should be more than just a grade and a school should be more than just a place that dispenses it.

In January 1942, 14 men attended the Wannsee Conference at a mansion outside of Berlin. The purpose of the meeting was to figure out the best method of murdering the world’s Jewish population. Eight of the men present at that meeting that plotted Hitler’s “Final Solution” against the Jews held doctorates, graduates of Germany’s finest universities. They had the education, but were void of any trace of human character.

What happened in Littleton was not spontaneous. The bullets and bombs that went off last Tuesday were really set off years before. Hatred is a process, a malignancy that grows. Unchecked, it can eventually take over a young person’s mind.

Following the Littleton massacre, I wrote to President Clinton asking him to take the lead in calling for the establishment of a tolerance and sensitivity curriculum to be put into place in America’s schools. The time has come to pay some attention to character by making sure it is as important as math and science in the development of a young person’s learning experience.

Schools should not have to shoulder the responsibility of parents but neither should they be exclusive clubs that engage the mind while ignoring the heart.

Education must be about the formation of character.

It is more than just exposure to brilliant ideas and the ability to analyze data and reconcile contradictions. It must also be about life experiences that have a lasting impact on the soul of the students.

When I was a student in high school, a revered sage, the Ponevicher Rav, Rabbi Joseph Kahaneman whose students and family were wiped out in the Holocaust, addressed us one day. He leaned forward, his voice barely audible. He spoke less than 30 minutes, but I never forgot his message. “I stand here before you,” he began, “for probably the last time in my life. I am sure that I will not be back here again. So please be so kind as to pay attention to these final remarks that I have for you.” He went on to cite references from the Talmud regarding our responsibility to the world and to each other. This was not Einstein’s theory of relativity and it wasn’t a Shakespeare sonnet, but it was sincere and honest and touched every student in the beis medrash and had a lasting impact on my life.

Schools have a responsibility to expose their students to cognitive as well as emotional enrichment. The impact from such a dual exposure can be gleaned from the unforgettable story of Littleton coach David Sanders, the father of four who herded his students off to safety and took two bullets to the chest. As he lay mortally wounded, his students took out his wallet so that he could gaze at the faces of his family he would never see again.

That coach was a master teacher. His lessons will never be forgotten. Not even by thousands of young people who never knew him or sat in his class.

It is exposure to that kind of well-rounded education, “to develop mentally and morally,” that might prevent future Littletons.


Rabbi Marvin Hier is the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.