Calendar May 17-23
SAT/SUN | MAY 17/18
BIG SUNDAY WEEKEND
Big Sunday Weekend continues with every possible volunteer opportunity, from hosting kids-in-need on a harbor ride to repainting and planting gardens at Bethune Middle School to making new friends at a Beverly Hills retirement home. Everyone can participate, and everyone gets lots of nachas in return. Sat. and Sun. All day. Free. Various locations. (323) 549-9944. SUN | MAY 18
CELEBRATE ISRAEL FESTIVAL
Begin the day with Israel solidarity by participating in the Celebrate Israel Walk, assembling at 9:30 a.m. at Motor Avenue and Pico Boulevard. Then, stay and enjoy the all-day Celebrate Israel festival, complete with marionette and reptile shows for kids, performances by Jewish day-school choirs, Israeli folk-dancing with David Dassa and, of course, tons of great food. Finishing off the day are special performances by Automatic Toys and The Idan Raichel Project. You’ll enjoy the many community organization booths, including the Jewish Journal’s, with special appearances by our staff. Sun. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. $5 online, $10 at the door. Cheviot Hills Recreation Center, 2551 Motor Ave., Los Angeles. ” target=”_blank”>skirball.org.
LAG B’OMER BEACH BONFIRE
Nashuva invites you to this spiritual beach-side celebration. A holiday that remembers a landmark moment for the practice of kabbalah, the evening will include a bonfire, drum circle, music, and hot dogs and marshmallows for roasting. If you want to hang out before settling under the starry night, come early for Frisbee-throwing and kite-flying! RSVP requested. Sun. 7 p.m. Free. Dockweiler State Beach, between lifeguard stations 52 and 53, 12501 Vista del Mar, Playa del Rey. MON | MAY 19
“HIDING IN A CAVE OF TRUNKS”
In Ester Benjamin Shifren’s historical saga, the members of a prominent Jewish family live in Shanghai until World War II takes away their century-long privileged lifestyle, forcing them into a POW camp for five years, until their relocation to Hong Kong and then Israel. Shifren, who was born in China, has gone on to become an author, musician and international public speaker. Light refreshments will be available. Reservations requested. Mon. 12:30 p.m. Free. Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA, 405 Hilgard Ave, Los Angeles. (310) 825-4836. WED | MAY 21
“HUMANITY, NOT: CAPTURED EMOTIONS OF THE HOLOCAUST”
In his new book, author Ari Babaknia thoroughly examines through words and images some of the emotions of victims, perpetrators, bystanders and survivors of the Holocaust. “Humanity, Not” includes drawings by Ardeshir Mohasses, a leading and internationally recognized cartoonist and graphic artist; a selection of his drawings will be on exhibition. Babaknia, a Johns Hopkins-trained physician, is also author of “The Holocaust,”a four-volume series written in Farsi. He will be signing copies of his new book following the program. Wed. 7 p.m. Free. RSVP required. The Museum of Tolerance, 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 553-8403. ” target=”_blank”>israeliamerican.org.
THU | MAY 22
Maybe you’re one of the rare people who has everything together and always feels a calming sense of balance. But if you’re not, “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” is a book from which you could benefit. Schulte, a Washington Post staff writer, explores why Americans, despite growing technology meant to simplify life, are living chaotic day-to-days. More important, the author has some solutions. Thu. 8 p.m. Free. Reservations recommended. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500.
There’s no app for humanity
Every time I turn around, I hear about a new app that promises to make my life easier, get somewhere faster, find things quicker. This is the golden calf of the digital era: speed. We’re desperate for any clever gizmo that will make things go quicker — including our brains.
But where is the app that will help me slow down and go deeper — the app that will help me appreciate complex ideas and encourage critical and creative thinking?
Apparently, that app will have to wait, because we have entered the post-thinking world.
In this blurry new world, the majority of people don’t read, so much as scan and skip; they don’t write, so much as tweet and text; they look down at their devices more than up at people’s faces; and yes, they think, but they think very, very quickly.
“We live in a society inebriated by technology, and happily — even giddily — governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency and convenience,” author and literary editor Leon Wieseltier said in a speech to the graduating class of Brandeis University last month. “The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer practical questions to questions of meaning — to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work.”
These “astonishing” new machines, he said, “represent the greatest assault on human attention ever devised: They are engines of mental and spiritual dispersal, which make us wider only by making us less deep.”
“In the digital universe,” Wieseltier added, “knowledge is reduced to the status of information. Who will any longer remember that knowledge is to information as art is to kitsch —– that information is the most inferior kind of knowledge, because it is the most external?”
Our smartphones may well be dumbing us down. It’s little wonder that one of the more popular subjects of conversation these days is … technology. We’re spending much of the time we save from time-saving apps kvelling over time-saving apps.
In defending that endangered species of academia called the humanities, Wieseltier asked: “Has there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities were cherished less, and has there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities were needed more?” He urged the graduates to “uphold the honor of a civilization that was founded upon the quest for the true and the good and the beautiful.”
Wieseltier’s address championed the deep intellectual pursuit that makes the humanities so crucial to society, but there is another, quieter pursuit that also suffers from our enslavement to technology.
It is the daily, personal pursuit of humanity in our own lives.
How often in this techno-crazy world do we truly pay attention when we converse with someone? How often do we listen carefully to their words, feel their body language, respond thoughtfully, all with the expectation that our undivided attention is being reciprocated?
How many of these human moments can we really hope for when we all have grafted onto our hands these little weapons of mass distraction? When we’re always on edge knowing that these weapons can detonate, at any moment, something more interesting or “urgent” than our real-life conversation — a news item about a tornado, a Facebook message from a prospective lover, an urgent text about dinner plans, an update on our Apple stock or simply a reminder from your daughter not to forget her ballet slippers.
It’s easy, I know, to criticize excess. It’s a given that we derive enormous value and pleasure from today’s technology, and that pleasure, like any good drug, can easily lead vulnerable people into excess.
The problem arises when that excess, that abuse, becomes the norm. When the excess, and not just the technology, becomes ubiquitous.
Here’s a simple test: Next time you’re in a restaurant, if you notice that more than half of the customers are looking at their smartphones instead of at the people they’re dining with, well, that’s as good a sign as any of excess becoming the norm.
The golden calf that sucked in our gullible ancestors 3,300 years ago at Sinai glittered like a precious metal. All that glitter evidently blinded the Israelites to God and to what really matters.
Our modern-day gizmos and apps glitter, too, and they can blind us and dehumanize us if they become objects of worship. Don’t kid yourself. Every generation has its glittering golden calves — it’s just that in our generation, the fool’s gold seems to invade every inch of our living space.
Maybe what we need, then, is an anti-app that will encourage us to look up at the faces of God’s children rather than down at our tiny screens; to look for ideas rather than icons; to roam in nature’s space rather than cyberspace; to seek knowledge and not just information.
You can call it the humanity app.
It’s an app that couldn’t care less about speed or convenience. An app we can download from our own brains any time we want to liberate ourselves from machines.
An app that reminds those very machines that being an astonishing tool is not the same things as having a human heart.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at email@example.com.
The Power of Love
“Why not just give up hope? I mean, really, do you think that we human beings can ever get it together enough to make the world as we dream? What makes you think that we have any chance of making a difference, let alone succeeding in the task of tikkun olam, of creating a fair and decent world where all people, and I mean all people, have access to food, water, medicine, shelter, are free from war, oppression, occupation, violence, hatred, where children can go to school and learn, come home and play, and people can really feel like we have made it?”
“Well, rabbi, are you going to say anything?”
We sat together for a bit longer and then I told this person, who had come to see me and opened with this messianic vision question, that I am comforted by the words of this week’s parsha, Nitzavim-Vayelech. This is essentially what I said.
I believe in the goodness of humanity, the hope that we can actually make the changes he was speaking of, because of a combination of verses that we read in Nitzavim. There is just a cacophony of incredible verses teaching us how to create a better world.
This parsha is replete with hope: love, repentance, awareness, life and Torah. The theme of returning, teshuvah, comes in Deuteronomy 30:1-10, where the root shuv appears seven times. I am moved by verses 2-3: “And you return to Adonai your God, and you and your children heed God’s command with all of your heart and soul, just as I call you this day; then God will restore your fortunes and take you back in love….” No matter how far we have drifted, how far we have fallen, how ugly and terrible things have gotten, God will help us come back, return to a path of goodness and righteousness, justice, peace and love.
How? That is what the man in my office was seeking to know.
I see God as the power of love in our world, the power that opens our eyes to the fact that every human life is sacred, every human life is holy and deserving of love, compassion and mercy. When we realize that fact, when our hearts are cracked open with the pain that we are causing, then we will be able to create the world of our dreams, what some call the messianic age. My friend and teacher, the Rev. Ed Bacon, preached recently that a world that lives with the acceptable idea of collateral damage is dead to humanity. When we treat others with love, then God takes us back in love. When we realize that God is love, we will treat others with that love as well.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose centennial we observe this year, continually taught us that we are in partnership with God, sharing the burden of creating a world that merits the Divine presence. Sometimes we don’t feel like we have the power to do it all alone, but as Psalm 27, the psalm of this season, reminds us, “Adonai is my light and my help, whom shall I fear?” When we seek support, God is there; when God seeks action in the world, we are there. Together, we become echad, the true oneness of a holy world.
And then there is the notion of how hard it is to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God, as the prophet Micah famously taught. The other section of this week’s parsha that helps me to understand what needs to be done says, “Surely this mitzvah which I teach you today is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach. It is not in heaven…. No, the word is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14).
I once heard Shimon Peres speak, saying how easy it was to make war, but how hard it was to make peace. I had always soundly believed that, until recently when I read something from Rebbe Nachman of Bratslav, commenting on these verses from Devarim. On the words, “but the word is very near to you,” the great Chasidic master teaches, “Only the way to Gehinnom is arduous and difficult. I see people spending their days and nights plotting how to go about sinning, and afterward, they regret their actions bitterly. But the way to the Garden of Eden is an easy one, and pleasant for those who walk it” (Iturei Torah).
And maybe he is right.
How much easier would it be to build a world of love, compassion, justice and peace than the continued path of war and violence? How much cheaper would it be to end poverty, provide health insurance for all people, educate and feed the world and foster peace? We see what we get for the trillions of dollars that are spent on war and domination. Maybe we ought to try a different path. No matter how far we have fallen, how ugly and terrible things have gotten, God is always ready and waiting to take us back in love, showing us how the world can be different.
Teshuvah is possible, always. Maybe it is time to heed the call of the end of this parsha, “See, I set before you this day life and goodness, death and adversity” (Deuteronomy 30:15). This moment, this Shabbat, this Rosh Hashanah, let us choose life, choose love, choose peace. This is how I keep my hope alive. Shabbat shalom and Shana Tovah.
Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater is the spiritual leader of the Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center. He serves as the Corresponding Secretary and Social Action co-chair for the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, on the national board and as Los Angeles chapter chair of Brit Tzedek V’shalom, and recently helped to found Jews Against the War. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yes on Measure H: a measure of humanity
Has anyone else noticed that the only difference between your local Starbucks and your local homeless shelter is the shelter has a faster turnover?
Every Starbucks I visit these days, from Koreatown to Santa Monica, has its own homeless population. Calling these men and women transients is actually wishful thinking. They come for the coffee and stay for the restroom and heating.
I don’t blame them, or Starbucks; I blame us. In a city of enormous wealth, we’ve allowed enormous numbers of poor and disabled men, women and children to fend for themselves. With 40,000 people asleep on the streets or in cars each night, Los Angeles has the largest homeless population of any city in the country.
At the same time, the homeless have become about as hip a cause as Sacheen Littlefeather. Sure your bar or bat mitzvah kid may throw a few dollars their way for a social action project, but obviously that’s a few billion short.
According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) survey, there are 88,000 homeless residents in L.A. County on any given day, and only 17,000 available beds.
Our government officials, prompted in no small part by a series of excellent stories by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez, have sought to crack down on downtown’s Skid Row. But I was there last week, and it’s hard to see that the actual denizens got the message. The LAHSA survey found that there are 5,700 shelter beds for the row’s 20,000 “residents.” You can take people off the sidewalks, but where are you going to put them?
So now comes Measure H on the Nov. 7 ballot, which seeks to alleviate the symptoms of homelessness and address some of the root causes.
What’s interesting about Measure H is that it offers no single simple solution. About half the people on skid row are the chronic homeless — people who have mental or other disabilities, or addictions. But the others, according to LAHSA Commissioner Douglas Mirrell, are people who have fallen on hard times and simply can’t find their way into affordable housing in Los Angeles’ tight and pricey market. Mirrell said he still can’t forget visiting one shelter downtown and seeing people lining up for beds “wearing suits and carrying briefcases. They were working minimum-wage jobs as clerks and secretaries.” Any humane approach seeks to add more beds and services on Skid Row while enabling the working poor to get a foothold in Los Angeles’ skyrocketing housing market.
Measure H would enable the city to issue $1 billion in bonds to provide about 10,000 new homes and rental units over 10 years. These funds would be placed in the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and divvied so that $250 million would help working families buy their first home, $350 million would help build rental housing affordable to low-income working families, $250 million would build housing for homeless people, and $150 million would to be allocated for rental or homeless housing based on future needs.
The city administrative analyst reported that Measure H would cost the owner of a home with an assessed value of $500,000 another $73 a year for 30 years. The measure’s supporters include Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief Bill Bratton, the Rev. Gregory Boyle and the Progressive Jewish Alliance, as well as for-profit and nonprofit builders and developers who would, of course, get some of those home- and apartment-building funds. (Developers provided most of the money for the measure’s recent television ad campaign.)
The organized opposition is a smaller group that includes Jon Coupal, president of Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. They’ve raised concerns that another bureaucracy may not act efficiently to get the monies where they’re needed. Opponents also claim that there are existing programs to help homebuyers and that Measure H is a payday for developers and builders.
Well, sure, but Jimmy Carter can’t do everything. Yes, somebody will make some profit in the course of providing more places for people to live. But in a city where even a postwar fixer-upper near Balboa Park will set you back $1 million, government has to play a role. Nearly 90 percent of those who live in Los Angeles can’t afford to buy a home here.
“We built affordable housing downtown, near the Harbor Freeway and Wilshire,” said Thomas Safran, a large manager and developer of affordable housing. “We had 2,700 applications for 73 places. The market never has solved this problem, never will.”
Safran, a Measure H supporter, has worked all sides of the housing market — starting his career in the Johnson administration at HUD, founding his own successful company, and volunteering for Menorah Housing, which builds low-income units around the city. He points out that people who decry taxpayer subsidies receive one every time they write off their mortgage interest. Measure H asks people to give back a little of the money they save on mortgage interest.
“Look,” he said, “I’m no great fan of super liberal Democratic policies, but the government and private sectors need to work together on this. It may not solve the problem completely, but the first step is the first step.”Or, I suppose, we can always hope they build more Starbucks.
And don’t forget to vote Nov. 7.
Loyalty to Jews or to humanity? There is no ‘either-or’
The question is whispered and must be answered in a forthright manner: Darfur or Israel? Is your loyalty to your people or to humanity? Is your loyalty to Judaism or to mankind? Are you essentially a Jew or a human being?
Be wary of the framing of the question, because it forces a stranglehold on us, a hard disjunctive either-or choice. It is like the question my aunt asked me as a child: “Tell the truth, dear. Do you love your father or your mother?” That is a cruel option.
For a Jew, to love Judaism is to love humanity. That is basic Jewish theology. God of Israel is global, not tribal. The traditional formula for our liturgy reads, “Blessed are Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe.” Melach ha-olam. We are the custodians of the world and its inhabitants.
The righteous indignation of the Jewish prophets was not restricted to Jews or Judaism. The prophets' call to repentance was not for Israel alone. In Judaism, the defense of human dignity never was, or is, for Jews only. When we open the Bible, we learn that the first Jew, Abraham, first defended not Jews but the pagan citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah and confronted God: “Shall the Judge of all the world not do justice?” Abraham spoke to God in passionate defense of the people of Sodom, none of whom were Jews.
On Yom Kippur, we read that the prophet Jonah was sent to prophesy to the people of Ninevah, none of whom were Jews. They repented for their transgressions, and God repented for his punishment.
The prophet Amos addressed God's concern not only for Israel but for the people in Damascus, Gaza, Tyre, Edom, Ammon and Moab.
Do you love your people or humanity? We reject the premise.
To be a Jew is to love humanity. To love God is to love His creation. On Rosh Hashanah, we do not celebrate the birth of any of our Jewish patriarchs — not Abraham nor Moses. Our High Holy Day calendar does not celebrate the birth of a Jewish messiah or the accomplishments of any of its Jewish prophets. The Jewish calendar is calculated not as 2006 C.E. or sixth Century B.C.E. but commemorates the birth of the universe and of all humanity.
In the beginning, God created Adam. Adam has no race, no ethnicity and no creed. Adam is each man and each woman and each child created in the image of God. So, in the first chapter of Genesis, we read: “And God created the human being in God's image, male and female, created He them.”
When the sages ask “from what continent? From what corners of the earth — south, west, east or north — and from what color earth was Adam formed?” they reply, “Adam was formed from every corner of the earth and out of black, white, red and yellow dust.”
If you hurt my brother or my sister — black, white, yellow, red — in Europe, Asia, Africa or America — if you humiliate, torture, torment them, you rip apart the image of God. It is my flesh, soul and heart that you wound. It is my flesh that is pierced and my tongue you cut out and my eyes you make blind.
The God of the universe did not create Islam or Christianity or Judaism. God created Adam, the human being, who through his religious choice cultivates religious culture, conscience and compassion.
Wise people repudiate the making of false either-or choices. The choice is not either-or: either our own or others; either we shed tears for our family alone or for the other families of the earth.
Compassion and justice are not like pieces of pie. Cut a slice for yourself; you take away from the other. Your pie is too small. Your god is too small.
True love and mercy are inclusive, expansive, embracing, enlarging. So, our sages taught “mitzvah goreret mitzvah” — one good deed leads to another. Love of the Children of Israel leads to love of all the children in God's world. The moral choice is not either-or. The Jewish response is “both-and.”
Like charity, love begins at home, but it must not end there. If it ends at home, it is not love and charity but tribal narcissism. Therefore, in our tradition, we are mandated to care for the poor, the pariah, the diseased, the murdered of all humanity. We are mandated to feed the hungry of the stranger, together with the hungry of Israel. We comfort the bereaved of the alien, together with the bereaved of Israel. We visit the sick of the nations of the world with the sick of Israel.
Above all, Jews and non-Jews must not fall victim to the humiliating game of “one downsmanship” — “my genocide is worse than your genocide.” Your blood is not as red as my blood. Genocide, no matter its color, ethnicity or religion of any fabric is the ultimate blasphemy to the image of godliness.
Loyalty to Jews or humanity? The Torah teaches a kinship of suffering, whether the victims threatened are in Judea, Armenia, Chad, Bosnia, Rwanda or Darfur — all souls are threatened. And on Yom Kippur, we fast for all who are afflicted with drought and famine.
It is a false choice: Do you love your children or the children of others? On the contrary, because we love our children, we love other children. Because we love our families, we love other families. Because we mourn our Holocaust, we mourn the holocausts of the world.
It is perilous to abandon the particular in order to love the universal. It is equally foolhardy to abandon the universal for the particular.
As the philosopher George Santayana noted: “You cannot speak in general without using any language in particular.” Judaism is our particular language through which we address humanity. From out of the depth and memory of our own pain, we cry to alleviate the pain of our brothers and sisters.
State of Humanity Forum: ‘Darfur silence is lethal’
In opening the inaugural State of Humanity Forum, held Oct. 17 at Valley Beth Shalom, Marcy Rainey, VBS chair of Jewish World Watch (JWW), spoke of the atrocities in Darfur, proclaiming: “Silence is lethal, and meekness is inexcusable.”
Despite the brutality of the genocide, in which roving bands of the Arab terrorist group, known as Janjaweed, have taken the lives of 400,000 Darfurians and displaced roughly 2 million others, the theme of the evening was to acknowledge and honor the efforts of nonprofit organizations like
The Grit Behind the Glamour of L.A. Life
Despite having a population of far more than 3 million and a cultural and economic diversity rivaled by very few places, Los Angeles is not quite viewed as a real city by much of the outside world. Ever since large-scale irrigation and the movie business put the city on the map in the first decades of the 20th century, Los Angeles has been romanticized — and reviled — for its iconic lifestyle: sun, surf and the casual debauchery of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. It is a city that has always lived much more vividly in the imagination than on the ground, even to its natives, and the best-known pictures of it tend to reflect that eternal tension between aspiration and reality, dreams and dreck, shiny self-invention and tawdry self-destruction. That tension created the noir that Los Angeles is also known for, yet that element, too, quickly became as mythologized as the sun and surf, a comic-book approximation of Los Angeles’ darker side that was immortalized in stylish movies (of course) like “Blade Runner” and “L.A. Confidential.” Entertaining as those movies were, Los Angeles the city has pretty much gotten lost in so many translations. I gave up looking for a good one long ago.
Joe Schwartz’s photographs, on view at the Skirball Cultural Center, restored some of my faith that Los Angeles can be clearly seen. Schwartz is a self-described folk photographer who pointedly calls his exhibit “L.A. Unstaged” — that is, it looks at L.A. beyond the overly familiar, irony and Hollywood-ized images, and into the streets where people actually live. This retrospective spans 30 years, from the 1950s through the 70s, and through it Schwartz also gives a sense of local history that we almost never see. Interestingly, many of the 53 photos on display are set on the Westside — Venice, Santa Monica — but a wholly ordinary, blue-collar Westside well before it was established as a bastion of political elitism and beachside chic. That documentation alone is worth the price of admission (which, by the way, is nil — the exhibition is displayed on the walls outside the Skirball café, before you even get to the admissions desk. Nice touch.).
As you might suspect, Schwartz is a photographer with a bent for social justice; he was once a member of a photography collective that included luminaries such as Dorothea Lange and Weegee. But revealing the social and economic injustices of Los Angeles is a more nuanced matter than revealing those of the Dust Bowl Midwest or New York, where they were stark and longstanding. Los Angeles is relatively new, and its lines of fortune blurrier, especially 40 years ago. Schwartz wisely acknowledges this. He doesn’t try to create false divisions or over-sentimentalize the poor, ethnic and working class. He simply chooses his subjects and shoots them with care, allowing the larger context of Los Angles’ myths and contradictions to fall where they may.
Sometimes context and reality align, and the results — far from being noir — are buoyant, if only for a moment in time. In “Acting Out,” a shot from the 1960s, three young Latina girls in East Los Angeles strike a playful pose that can only be called movie star. “Synanon Rehabilitated Residents” is a generically titled shot, also from the 1960s, depicting a black man on the Santa Monica boardwalk cradling his infant child (Schwartz has several photos related to Synanon — it is this exhibition’s favorite motif of transformation).
Yet it’s the specifics, including the L.A. context, that make for contrasts and elevate a competent photo into an eloquent commentary: a black man battling drug addiction sitting at the white-sand beach with a few carefree sunbathers and the endless Pacific in the background. This photo reads as less tragic than hopeful: The man is nattily dressed, he is sitting upright, and it is a brilliantly sunny day, not foggy as Santa Monica is inclined to be; the ocean is close to him, not eternally beyond his reach. “Angeles Child” echoes that optimism with a portrait of a young black girl on a Watts schoolyard in the ’60s. The girl’s smile is as wide and inviting as any child’s — or movie star’s — and we get something very different from, and oddly complementary to, the racial isolation and urban grit that became almost synonymous with Watts even before the riots of ’65 put it on the map of L.A. imagination.
Schwartz is after inequality, but also humanity, and he captures both in most of the work here. He has the no-nonsense eye of a journalist and the inclinations of a poet, and in the end both things prove necessary to render L.A. fully, to show the glittering ounces of truth in the clichés and the pounds of truth everywhere else.
Schwartz also has a sense of humor, something no serious chronicler of this city should be without. “Only in L.A.: Stocking Factory” is an irresistible shot of a giant stocking atop a building, a little-seen example of the architectural kitsch that once existed all over town, not merely in the exclusive environs of the Brown Derby. Nor does Schwartz resist L.A. celebrity-ism, though he does it with a common touch: “Henry Miller and Friend” has the famous writer chatting with a young woman in a nondescript place in the 1970s; he looks tired and she looks half-bored, half-amused — noncommittal in an L.A. kind of way.
“Perfume Model” from the 1950s depicts a woman of no celebrity at all, a department-store working stiff who nonetheless projects an aura of glamour and possibility that is uniquely and stubbornly L.A. Ultimately, Schwartz finds our glamour useful, even in the smallest moments where his subjects are doing nothing more than hunting for their glasses, clambering atop street signs or moving their belongings on a makeshift dolly. “Thirty Years of Folk Photography” is a testament to the transcendent powers of dreams and of spirit that still make Los Angeles a destination for so many, a place to come to rather than simply be from. We have not lived up to that promise, Schwartz cautions, but the promise is here.
“L.A. Unstaged: Three Decades of Folk Photography by Joe Schwartz,” is at the Skirball through April 2: noon-5 p.m (Tuesdays-Saturdays); noon-9 p.m. (Thursdays); 11 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sundays); closed Monday. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 440-4500.
Erin Aubry Kaplan is a regular Op-Ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times.
Unspeakable Acts, Incredible Pictures
A large, striped blue-and-white flag bearing the phrase, “Liberation!” greets visitors at the Museum of Tolerance exhibit, “Liberation! Revealing the Unspeakable,” about the Allied soldiers and the starved, dying and dead Jews they discovered while liberating concentration camps.
In a hallway there is a row of photographs of soldiers who became the saviors of survivors. Then, down a set of stairs to the main exhibit area, one gallery wall features a 1945 poem written by an unnamed survivor upon learning of Hitler’s death:
I have outlived the fiend
My lifelong wish fulfilled
What more need I achieve
My heart is full of joy
Such a bitter jubilation captures much of the exhibit’s poignancy; the photos show the relief of being rescued by American and British soldiers, and the agony of the just-ended genocide. There are photos of Japanese American soldiers helping camp survivors through the German snow, and of African American troops proudly standing near the artillery used to gain ground to, unknowingly, liberate camps. There is also a photo of four smiling U.S. rabbis at the bimah of a bombed-out German synagogue.
The exhibit includes a review from the late Susan Sontag’s 1977 book, “On Photography,” in which she wrote that “some limit had been reached, something went dead” in the Bergen-Belsen camp photos.
“The text is kept to a minimum; the photos speak for themselves,” said museum director Liebe Geft.
She said the museum’s many high school visitors learn more from photos than long text.
Most of the black-and-white photos are from military archives but some are soldiers’ snapshots: one group of shots has a photo of the Alps near Ebensee, Austria, followed next by shots of the Ebensee concentration camp.
The Museum of Tolerance is home to more than 50,000 artifacts, though less then 10 percent ever are on public display. The “Liberation!” exhibit opened May 8, V-E Day, and closes in late September.
“There are very few liberators and survivors that are amongst us,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Museum of Tolerance and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “When we celebrate the next anniversary, let’s say the 70th anniversary 10 years from now, there were will be very, very few.”
Hier said the “Liberation” exhibit speaks to the ongoing war on terror because, like totalitarian fascists of decades before, today’s terrorists “prefer death over life. How do you reason with such evil men? You waste your time trying to talk to Al Qaeda out of its evil. There are tough choices that generations have to make. The choice is either to confront them or to give up civilization as we know it, and yet in a world of terrorism today there are some who have a sort of na?ve notion that you can sort of talk down the bad guys.”
Los Angeles has hosted other recent Holocaust and Shoah-related exhibits. In the third- floor hallway of the UCLA Hillel, there is a long row of photos of Danish Jews and their rescuers. The black-and-white shots show weathered faces of elderly Danish clergy, journalists, clergy resistance members and, above all, fishermen who during two weeks in September 1943 ferried virtually all of Denmark’s 8,000-member Jewish community to neutral Sweden. The exhibit, “Humanity in Action; Resistance and Rescue in Denmark,” are portraits taken mostly in the 1990s by photographer Judy Ellis Glickman.
At the University of Judaism’s Platt/Borstein Gallery, the white walls have been hosting the stark photo series, “Polish Jewry Before WWII: Warsaw, Cracow and New York.” The five-week exhibit closes July 17; the photos by Roman Vishniac, Jacob Riis and Arnold Eagle are unforgiving in their scenes of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe’s Jewish poverty, such as peasants in the Ukraine or a tiny basement Polish apartment. But amid this shetl misery there are also smiles; a grinning yeshiva teacher in 1938 Russia and men chatting outside a synagogue court in 1938 Lithuania. In the gallery’s comment book, a Valley Village woman wrote, “Beautiful + sad.”
At the Museum of Tolerance, a security guard recounted how he recently escorted an elderly Jewish couple through the “Liberation!” photos. So distraught did the couple become that the guard quietly helped them leave the exhibit, and in doing this he found himself choked up, too.
Tsunami Leaves Us Awash in God Talk
Last December, as the world tried to grapple with the devastating scope of the tsunami that hit South Asia — at last count, the death toll stood at nearly 300,000 — the tragedy became fodder for fatuous religious discussions, focusing on an ancient question: How can a just, good, all-powerful, all-loving God allow evil to happen and innocents to suffer?
“Very hard to square with an involved deity,” John Derbyshire wrote on National Review’s Web log, The Corner. “I can’t do it myself, yet I am constitutionally unable to not believe in that deity. I think I’ll go lie down for a while.”
Perhaps due to a different constitution, I can’t really relate to his dilemma. My own agnostic view is that if there is a deity, he, she or it probably isn’t a hands-on manager of the world’s day-to-day operations; this spares me the need to grapple with Derbyshire’s paradox. Which is not to say that the post-tsunami God debate hasn’t been enlightening.
For one thing, it should — but won’t — lay to rest the notion that the mainstream media treat faith and its adherents with scorn, and that talk of God is somehow marginalized in our secular public square. In fact, in the aftermath of the tsunami, religion held a distinctly privileged place in America’s public discourse. Numerous papers around the country ran stories on post-disaster soul searching about evil, suffering and the meaning of life that usually gave only passing mention to nonreligious philosophies.
On the op-ed pages and on the airwaves, there were plenty of voices representing various faiths, with little if any input from humanists, agnostics or other secularists. On CNN, Larry King convened a panel composed of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Albert Mohler Jr., left-wing Rabbi Michael Lerner, best-selling guru Deepak Chopra, a Catholic priest, an adviser to the Muslim Public Affairs Council and a Buddhist monk. On MSNBC’s “Scarborough Country,” a similarly ecumenical gathering generously included a token atheist who could barely get a word in.
What did all this faith-based commentary offer to — as Milton put it — “justify the ways of God to man?” Most of it amounted to well-worn banalities: God’s ways are mysterious and cannot be fathomed by the human mind; we know God loves us, because he told us so in the Bible. There were a few half-veiled suggestions that the tsunamis were a punishment from God.
Evangelist Anne Graham Lotz, daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham, made a more startling (and more original) claim on the Fox News show, “The Heartland”: “Maybe in the Muslim world … people would see that Americans are not, perhaps, what the wicked propagandists would say, but they were good people and a caring people, and we’re going to help them. So God, you know, He has a greater purpose.”
God committed mass slaughter just to give America an opportunity to improve its image abroad?
Some Jewish writers offered more thoughtful answers to the question of God and evil. Jeff Jacoby of The Boston Globe and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, writing in The Jerusalem Post, noted that in the Jewish tradition, it is entirely acceptable and even righteous for human beings to challenge and argue against God’s injustice, as Abraham, Moses and Job did in the Bible. (Boteach, the sometimes-smarmy author of “Kosher Sex” and spiritual adviser to celebrities, emerged as one of the sanest and most dignified figures in this particular debate.)
I wanted to cheer when, on “Scarborough Country,” he ripped into a panelist who had talked of God’s wrath against sinners. “God,” the rabbi said, “is not a terrorist.”
But it’s not entirely clear what such an approach means in practical terms, in a world where people don’t routinely converse with the Supreme Being — unless you count Heather McDonald’s satiric suggestion in Slate that people should stop donating to religious institutions and attending services in order to show their displeasure to the man upstairs.
In any case, it really shouldn’t take a mass catastrophe to raise all these hard questions about God’s power and mercy. Even leaving aside human-perpetrated evils that can be said to reflect free will, untold numbers of innocents around the world, including children, die from disease and accidents every year.
When God is thanked for answering a prayer with a miraculous deliverance, it raises the inevitable skeptical question: What about all those who likewise prayed but perished nonetheless? Is the idea of a deity cherry-picking those who will survive a deadly disaster really comforting?
After Sept. 11, some credited God with ensuring that there were far fewer people than usual both in the hijacked planes and in the targeted buildings. You’d think that God could have simply tipped off the FBI.
Yet in a supposedly secularist culture where conservatives gripe that you’re not allowed to talk about God anymore, mainstream public discourse rarely questions boilerplate rhetoric about God’s higher purpose and the mystery of His ways.
When an American soldier serving in Iraq was killed in a helicopter crash while flying home for his mother’s funeral after her sudden death from an aneurysm, newspaper accounts reverentially repeated a minister’s assertion at the double service that God surely had a plan for mother and son.
Of course, when you think of the things people want to hear at a time of great tragedy, “we live in a cold and indifferent universe, and then it kills us” isn’t very high on list. A great tragedy like last December’s tsunami might not be a good time for any kind of philosophizing, religious or secular — particularly philosophizing by safe and well-fed people about a disaster that doesn’t touch their own lives. All we can do, as human beings, is help victims and try to prevent future catastrophes.
In his Jerusalem Post opinion piece, Boteach wrote, “The human imperative is not to reckon with God’s secrets but to promote those values which He conveyed as being supreme, leading with the defense of human life.” That’s one message both the religious and the secularists should be able to embrace.
Maybe, when we work to make the world better, it’s the spirit of God working through us; and maybe it’s the spirit of humanity. In the end, does it make a difference?
Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine and a columnist at The Boston Globe.
Of Worms and Greatness
A teacher wanted to demonstrate the evils of liquor to his fifth-grade class. He conducted an experiment with a glass of water, a glass of whiskey and two worms. The teacher put the first worm in the glass of water. The worm wiggled about, happy as can be. Then he put the second worm in the whiskey. It writhed painfully, sank to the bottom and died.
“Now, what lesson can we learn from this experiment?” he asked the class.
One bright student responded, “Drink whiskey and you won’t get worms.”
One often sees the world through the lenses of his or her own leanings. Our powerful intellects can serve to justify and spin most anything. Ultimate truth, goodness and our essential purpose can become casualties of our own bias. But what are we to do, how can we possibly escape our very humanity?
A simple answer emerges from our Torah portion, Tazria. In it, the Torah states that if one has a white blotch on one’s skin, he may have tzaraat, a dreaded metaphysical disease (often poorly translated as leprosy) which our tradition links to seven social sins, most prominent among them being lashon hara (malicious speech). The expert Kohen (priest) is empowered as the ultimate arbiter to determine whether one possesses tzaraat. Forced isolation, among a host of other consequences, awaited the confirmed tzaraat recipient’s fate. The consequent fiscal repercussions, coupled with the social shame, made this disease anathema at worst — and simply very unwelcome at best.
But what if a Kohen has the symptoms of tzaarat himself? Can he self-diagnose?
“All blemishes may one assess,” the Mishnah proclaims unequivocally, “save for his own.”
Thus, the law cautions that the expert in parsing and evaluating the minutiae of tzaraat may not examine himself; rather, even he must seek another expert’s authority.
Perhaps the simple but critical point that the Torah is teaching us is that to emerge from our own natural biases, we must never be too big to consult — the teacher, the sage, the friend; we must be humble enough to seek out that unvarnished opinion.
And, yet, a troubling question arises. Does Judaism not trust its adherents? Is it not the case that any Jew sufficiently familiar with ritual law may deem his or her chicken kosher — and then eat it too? One may even decide personal questions of family purity. Incredibly, one may even determine that his money is “kosher.” Apparently, even in the face of fiscal, physical or material bias, Judaism optimistically asserts that we can be true to ourselves, assess our biases and compensate accordingly. Why then may the expert Kohen not decide his fate?
Perhaps the solution lies in the following story.
In the court of the Beit Halevi, (Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, 1820-1892), two litigants shouted and cursed each other. Even as the litigation ended, the degree of enmity and vehemence did not dissipate, nor did it seem commensurate to the relatively small disputed amount. The losing party left with a few choice words for the members of the court. Beit Halevi’s son, Reb Chaim Soloveitchik, was stunned: How is it that this very same loser, just a few weeks earlier, had accepted with much greater equanimity the declaration that his animal was nonkosher, resulting in a far greater fiscal loss?
The sagacious Beit Halevi turned to his son and responded: “A decision about the kosher status of an animal does not reflect personally upon the inquirer. If the animal is not kosher, the questioner is not offended nor insulted. In a litigated monetary dispute, the inference of a rendered decision is an implication of misbehavior.”
In other words, as long as I’m not wrong, I don’t mind paying!
In our service to God, it’s never really about the money; we can and often do transcend our material selves. However, the moment that our character, our foibles, our very selves are thrust under the microscope, we begin to weave a complex web of defense mechanisms to avert the painful truths that necessitate real personal introspection. It is in this realm that we are paralyzed by personal bias and must rely upon the insight of others.
Which leads us to one of the great and humbling truths of the spiritual seeker: If we are not ready to face introspectional pain, there will be no spiritual gain.
Asher Brander is the rabbi of Westwood Kehilla, founder of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and long-time teacher at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High Schools.
Kobe Bryant. OJ Simpson. Robert Blake. Scott Peterson. Michael Jackson.
The list goes on — a roll call of the disgraced.
Rapists and murderers and molesters, oh my! What hath California wrought. (I can safely say this because I’m writing from the smug and secure East Coast.)
And what hath so-called journalists done to themselves as they pry into bedrooms and love nests, poke down dark alleyways and bright boulevards, cozy up to prosecutors and defense attorneys, analyze DNA with the cockiness of whiz kid grad students and generally turn once-in-a-while respectable journalism into a three-ring free-for-all that’s better left to latter-day Walter Winchells or Hedda Hoppers?
When we’re not down in the dumps about Al Qaeda or about another four years of Bush & Co., then we’re moping about our country’s obsessions with scandals and the sorry condition of the reporters who earn their wages by them. These people have raised voyeurism to a new level. They poke around, usually not invited and occasionally undesired. They listen to others’ worries and woes, prodding them into revealing their deepest secrets and intimacies. They’re delirious with anticipation of the stories they’ll be telling and the headlines they’ll be seeding.
But there are many dangers when burrowing your way into other people’s business. You can’t seem overeager, or people will treat you like a lovesick puppy. You can’t seem too reluctant, or people will think you don’t give a damn. You can’t hang around too much, or people will tire of you quickly. You can’t remain in the background, or people won’t remember you.
This is especially true if an editor back at the home office is hounding you to get the goods — and get the dirt. But even a reporter who’s under the most grievous pressure has to maintain his humanity and his decency and be a mensch. He can’t succumb to expediency and convenience. A certain prophet who is not studied in journalism school (not that any of them are) alluded to the qualities of a mensch. “He hath shown thee … what is good,” Micah said, “and what doth the Lord require of thee: to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
Journalists may not think about God (unless, maybe, they’re on the religion beat), but their calling card should be justice, mercy and humility. If it was, maybe more people would trust them. And maybe journalism, in general, would have a better reputation, especially in the current 24/7 news cycle.
I have a certain familiarity with the dance of manners and ethics involved in covering a sensational story. While writing a book about Fred Neulander, the New Jersey rabbi convicted for hiring a hitman to kill his wife, Carol, I had to comport myself with the finest delicacy, not as a ploy, but as a way to preserve my own humanity in the face of Neulander’s monstrosity. I allowed myself only so much emotional trespassing. While I wanted to hear their story, I never imposed myself on the rabbi’s children. They’d suffered too much to put up with an outsider like me.
I also didn’t wish to impose myself on Carol’s three siblings. Their pain, too, was incalculable. But they were in a slightly different category than the Neulander children — while also contemptuous of the rabbi, at least they didn’t have to wrestle with the double horror of their father killing their mother. What developed was a relationship that was respectful, yet wary; they understood my purpose in telling this story, and they cooperated — to a point. Beyond that, they kept their own counsel, as well they should, for certain pains are too personal to be entrusted to anyone, especially a virtual stranger.
There was a third tier of people with whom I needed to talk: detectives, lawyers, neighbors and jurors, friends who’d known Neulander or his wife since childhood; congregants who’d sat through Neulander’s sermons, bared their souls to him in his office or trusted him to transmit Jewish values and Jewish ethics to their children.
This tier was the easiest to crack. These people were the least personally involved with the case. With them, I could use the journalist’s usual frontal assault: introduce yourself on the phone and hope for the best. That worked most of the time.
Primarily, I learned, as a writer, that if you live with a crime long enough, it seeps into you. You cry at the trials. You hug the siblings of the victim, and they hug you. You keep your distance. You know that the best thing most of the time is just to keep your trap shut and let people talk when they feel it is safe for them to talk — or when they feel they can do nothing but talk.
In the end, you become nothing but present: you are in this moment because, as awful as it may be, there is no other moment. You may still be an intruder, but perhaps not as much as you’d initially feared. Your refusal to leave the story to go onto happier, more buoyant enterprises, brands you with legitimacy and a dedication that draws people to you, even those whose privacy you were so careful not to “violate” at the outset of your work.
True, I was in a separate category than the daily journalists who follow murders and fallen celebrities. With time on my side, I could slowly and gently cultivate tips and sources. That’s the relative luxury of book writing vs. a daily deadline. But the underlying dynamics of justice, mercy and humility should apply across the board. Without them, we succumb to the unruliness of ambition and the insularity of our egos.
Arthur J. Magida’s “The Rabbi and The Hit Man” (HarperCollins) has just been released in paperback. He is writer-in-residence at the University of Baltimore.
For the Kids
We Love to Laugh
Jews have always used humor to get themselves through difficult times. And you better believe that Jews have had difficult times! Maybe our humor is what has kept us alive as a people for more than 5,500 years. Certainly, our humor has been used to teach the world a great deal about humanity.
Some of our very own Jewish comedians have this to say:
Q: What do you get when you squeeze
A: Fresh Jews!
Sent in by Raquel Rosen, 12,
Religions Hold Mix of Justice and Mercy
Religion did not begin with compassion. The gods of the
ancient Near East were not exactly epitomes of goodness.
In the flood story of the Gilgamesh Epic, the gods destroyed humanity not because they
were reacting to unbridled violence and sin, as in the biblical (and quranic)
versions, but because humans were making too much noise and disturbing them.
The ancient gods were worshipped but not out of love. They
were worshipped out of fear.
In the old polytheistic systems of the ancient Near East,
the gods fought each other and their competitors’ human worshippers. People
made offerings to the gods to placate their anger. They bribed them for their
The gods acted out the birth, maturity, decay and death of
nature in their own cycles of violence. Some exhibited the attribute of stern
justice observed in the Bible, but one hardly observes compassion among the
gods of old.
The idea of a compassionate God is an innovation of monotheism.
Only when the one God of all life became manifest could humanity conceive of a
divinity that combined both justice and mercy. The innovation was the
compassion. But the old attribute of stern justice did not disappear.
That combination of justice and compassion (din and rachamim
in Jewish religious parlance) offers a broad repertoire of divine responses to
human behaviors. While we may resonate with the stories of compassion in the
Bible, we must not ignore the cases in which God brings mass destruction upon
Israelites and non-Israelites for the sins of the few. Not all the children
killed in God’s plagues, fires and wars were guilty.
Like the Bible, the Quran portrays God in terms of justice
and mercy. God is al-Jabbar, “the powerful,” sometimes even understood as “the
oppressor,” whom no one can resist, but God is al-Rachman as well, “the
merciful.” God is also al-Salam.
Islam displays the same broad spectrum between the poles of
harsh justice and compassionate mercy that we observe in Judaism. All the
options are available, and the huge compendium of religious literature in Islam
attests to a long and venerable history of struggle (which is the meaning of
jihad) with applying the Quran and its interpretations to the exigencies of
Different methodologies are used to plumb the depths of the
divine will. As a result, some schools of interpretation tend to be harsher,
some more lenient on a variety of issues.
I know of no criteria by which one can accurately judge a
religion as more just, loving, hateful or compassionate than others. Every one
of these attributes is found abundantly in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Because the range is there, religious interpreters find
themselves attracted to what resonates with their own human experience. There
are cruel Muslims, to be sure. There are also cruel Christians, Hindus and,
yes, cruel Jews.
Particularly since Sept. 11, we hear Muslim spokespersons
stand up and claim that those who engage in certain behaviors or
interpretations of the Quran are not really Muslims. According to this
argument, cruel individuals who consider themselves Muslims are only cruel
individuals. They cannot be Muslims, because Islam teaches reason and
Islam does indeed teach reason and compassion. But Islam can
also express passionate anger and violent aggression. The claim that cruel
Muslims are not Muslims is disingenuous and abdicates responsibility for the
behavior of religious compatriots who are acting immorally against others.
There are indeed religious Muslims who engage in terrorism
in the name of Islam. These are true Muslims.
They may practice expressions of Islam that are neither
normative nor commendable, but “normative” and “commendable” are subjective
terms. Terror in the name of religion fits historically within the broad range
of options that must be considered authentic to Islam, and it must be
acknowledged as such by Muslims.
It is certainly true that the current trend toward militant
and violent radicalism carried out in the name of Islam is a hearkening back to
pagan, pre-Islamic Arabian values. It is also true that these values were not
successfully purged by the softening overlay of religion.
We observe the same tensions playing out in Christianity and
Judaism, of course, but by our generation these religions seem to have been
more successful than Islam in neutralizing the excesses of human nature. At the
very least, it is much more difficult today for cruelty to be acted out through
religious channels within the broadest parameters of Judaism and Christianity
In the final analysis, neither pre-Islamic Arabian standards
nor Islamic or other religious values create human cruelty. The inclination for
cruelty comes from somewhere else in the complex tangle of what is the human
psyche. Cruelty is not Islamic, Jewish or Christian.
On the other hand, in every case I know of human cruelty on
a public and mass level, the perpetrators claim to find justification by
association with some norm or value that is thought to provide legitimacy.
Sometimes the false legitimacy is religious. But this is only an attempt at
justification. Religion or culture is not a cause.
Then again, if pseudo-legitimacy for human cruelty can be
hung easily on a great religious system like Islam, there is a problem. That
problem can be fixed, but only when alternative channels for aggression and
alternative means for resolving disputes are stressed within the system.
And that’s where America comes into the picture. In the
free, open and safe society that is America, I observe American Muslims
engaging in a new jihad. This jihad is an open struggle to stress the Islamic
values of reason, tolerance and nonviolent means of resolving disputes. I see
this jihad being played out every day in the Muslim community of Los Angeles.
There are other voices in the American Muslim community as well –Â some that
are quite problematic, in fact — but this is the way it should be in an open
The struggle of the American Jewish community to integrate
the best of Jewish values with the best of American values can be a model. Here
in America, the voices of reason and compassion can prevail because Americans,
whether Muslim or Christian or Jew, will not allow threats and intimidation to
win the day. Â
Reuven Firestone is professor of medieval Judaism and Islam and the director of the Edgar F. Magnin School of Graduate Studies at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
Every American Deserves Health Care
Following is an abridged version of the address given by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky at the UCLA College of Letters and Sciences commencement ceremony on June 13.
First, let me congratulate each of you and your families on this milestone in your lives.
I vaguely remember my own commencement here on campus some three decades ago. If my memory serves me correctly, the commencement speaker was the foreign minister of the Ivory Coast, and, frankly, I don’t remember a damn thing he had to say. I hope you won’t have that same experience.
When I was a student here at UCLA between 1967 and 1972, I got a job as a referee for the intramural basketball league for $2.27 an hour. It was a serious job. After all, these teams were made up of John Wooden’s rejects.
Before the first game, our adviser brought in a Pac 8 basketball referee to give us some advice — there were only eight teams then. After all these years, I remember only one thing the ref said: "If you make a bad call during the game, whatever you do, don’t ever admit it after the game, because you’ll never live it down."
Well, that may have been good advice on the basketball court, but it’s not necessarily good advice in life. Many a bad turn in history stems from the stubbornness that prevented a decision-maker from changing course, once he knew he was on the wrong course.
In her seminal work, "The March of Folly," the historian Barbara Tuchman defined folly as "a perverse persistence in a policy demonstrably unworkable or counterproductive." Tuchman deliciously speculates about how different the world might have been if decision-makers throughout world history had chosen change rather than folly as a course of action.
Would we still be singing "God Save the King" if George III had dealt more intelligently with the frustrations and aspirations of the American colonists? Would the Vietnam War have been averted or shortened if our leaders had not ignored evidence and their own instincts that our policy was unworkable or counterproductive?
On the other hand, how different would the world be today if Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin had not decided in 1977 to junk a perverse policy that had spawned 30 years of conflict between Egypt and Israel? Or if Mikhail Gorbachev had not decided to abandon a decades-old policy of domination over Eastern and parts of Central Europe in 1989, as the Berlin Wall began to crumble?
Each of us as individuals is called upon daily to confront these kinds of choices in our professions and in our personal lives. Whether we step up as individuals says a lot about us as individuals, and whether we step up as a society says a lot about the kind of society we are.
We don’t have to look half way around the world or 200 years back to find challenges we need to confront or choices we need to make. In this regard, I want to single out one of our country’s most persistent challenges: health care. It is the preeminent domestic social issue of our time, and to say the least, we have not stepped up.
In America today, nearly 20 percent of all Americans go to bed each night without health insurance. Here in Los Angeles, a county of 10 million people, nearly 2.5 million of us are without health coverage — that’s one out of four county residents, including 800,000 children.
In the 1960s, we made the decision as a society to insure all of our elderly, but the rest of us were left to fend for ourselves. As a result, in Los Angeles, one out of three people under the age of 65 is uninsured — no HMO, no PPO, no student health service, nothing to cover the costs of health care when they’re sick.
If L.A.’s uninsured were their own county, they would be the third largest county in the United States; only Los Angeles and Cook County (Chicago) would be larger. In a society as rich as we are, this is not only inexplicable, it is unconscionable.
The adverse impacts of this gaping hole in American social policy fall most heavily on the working poor and their kids. The social implications of this failing are self-evident. Children who grow up without health care coverage are statistically less likely to ever participate in a ceremony such as this at UCLA or any other university. They will be less likely to get a decent job, and they will be more likely to develop medical problems earlier than the rest of us and more likely to die young.
Over the last century or more, our society has determined that every child is entitled, as a matter of right, to a K through 12 education. And, we have determined that every adult citizen is entitled, as a matter of right, to vote and elect his or her representatives. The time has come for our nation to guarantee that every American, as a matter of right, deserves quality health care.
Without a doubt, when it comes to health care policy in our country, the course we have been on is not the right course. This road has led to private and public hospitals downsizing and even closing. Counties like ours are being forced to shutter clinics and mothball trauma centers.
Public health is fighting for its life — even at a time of heightened concern over bio and chemical terrorism. Most Americans are finding it more difficult to get access to the right doctor in a timely manner, while paying more for what shamefully has become a privilege.
The historian, Tuchman, argues that "there is always freedom of choice to change or desist from a counterproductive course if the policymaker has the moral courage to exercise it." Indeed, America and each of us as Americans need to summon the moral courage to change course and concede the obvious: health care should be provided to every American as a matter of right.
It is no sin — indeed, it’s a virtue — to admit mistakes; to recognize that persistence in a failed policy is often more costly than conceding that change is necessary. In your careers and in your personal lives, you will find that summoning moral courage will, in the short run, be the harder choice. It will come at considerable risk to you professionally and often personally. You will be inundated with charts, graphs and rationalizations to justify the easy way out. But in retrospect, summoning the courage to do right will reveal itself as having been the easier course — just because it was right!
In your personal and professional decision-making, be a human being, and be guided by your own humanity. Whether you become a screenwriter, or a business executive, or a teacher or a county supervisor, walk a mile in the shoes of those who will be affected by your decisions, and then see if you agree with your original call.
Our instincts and common sense dictate that health care, like voting and education, should be a right, not a privilege. Yet, as simple and as obvious as this may appear to most of Americans, America has yet to concede that it’s been engaged in a counterproductive and unworkable policy. More importantly, unless we concede that change is necessary, we can never summon the courage to make it.
At some point, each of you will have the freedom to choose whether to persist in or change a rotten policy. What road you choose depends on whether, in Barbara Tuchman’s words, you "have the moral courage to exercise" that freedom. The choice is yours, and the rest of us will be watching with great anticipation.
Congratulations and good luck!
Take It to the Church
The church is not a place that one typically associates with Chanukah. But that will change on Dec. 6 when members of Los Angeles’ Jewish and African American communities come together at the West Angeles Cathedral. The Crenshaw District institution — with a new $60 million cathedral that makes it one of the largest African American churches in the western United States — will play host to a joint Chanukah service that will be led by the cathedral’s Bishop Charles Blake and Rabbi David Baron of Temple Shalom for the Arts.
For Blake, the match is a natural one.
"It is a statement of our common humanity and our brotherhood," Blake said. "There has been a historic relationship between blacks and Jews because both races have been historically excluded, discriminated against and persecuted. By celebrating their heritage, in a sense we celebrate our own biblical heritage."
For five years, the 40-member West Angeles Gospel Choir has performed at the temple’s annual "Shared Heritage of Freedom" service. However, this is the first time such an evening will be staged in a cathedral. The final day of Chanukah celebration will include performances by the West Angeles Church of God in Christ Gospel Choir and the Beverly Hills High School choral group, led by Joel Pressman. Singer Nell Carter, star of the popular ’80s sitcom, "Gimme a Break!" will sing "Rock of Ages."
The idea of bringing both communities together is not new for Baron, who started organizing such cultural crossovers 20 years ago, when he and then-Cantor Judy Fox joined H.B. Barnum, composer of "Your Arms Too Short to Box With God," for a program at Westwood’s Wadsworth Theatre. Over the years, relations among various Los Angeles communities have hit some highs and lows, with economic strife and municipal politics often occurring along racial lines.
"While those differences exist, I haven’t sensed any negativity or hostility or pulling away," Baron said. "It’s always been very positive."
Blake is looking forward to the Chanukah program.
"I’m quite excited about it," he said. "We get so bogged down in our own community that we sometimes do not take time to get involved with others. But we are just one community. If we fail to recognize other communities, communication will break down and misunderstandings will occur. I know that it’s going to be the most unusual eighth night of Chanukah I’ve ever seen."
The Chanukah service will take place at 8 p.m. on Dec. 6 at the West Angeles Cathedral, 3045 Crenshaw Blvd., Los Angeles. Parking is available on site. For more information, call (310) 444-7500.
An Eye for Modernism
On March 5, 1936, Julius Shulman was awestruck when he saw the Hollywood Hills home designed by legendary California Modernist architect Richard Neutra.
A free-spirited 26-year-old photographer, who was unsettled on a career, Shulman casually snapped six shots of the mansion with his Vestpocket Kodak camera. “I had never seen a house like this before,” he marveled.
Neither had the public. What Shulman could not foresee at the time is that those six shots would usher in the beginning of a new genre in the fine arts: architectural photography.
“Julius Shulman in the 1930s was the first person to document the stuff,” said Eric Chavkin, who with his wife, Alison Pinsler, runs the architectural bookstore Form Zero in downtown Los Angeles. “His images were the images that defined Modernism in Southern California. Julius captured the love of California and nature, even though its a manmade nature, nature is part of the shot.”
On a recent November day, a downpour drenched Shulman’s glass-walled studio, nestled on a lush two acres in the Hollywood Hills off Mulholland Drive. Wearing a bright red shirt and tan slacks secured by matching tan suspenders, Shulman, a 92-year-old who could pass for 65, talked by phone to a San Diego public television executive, who wanted 186 of Shulman’s photos for an upcoming book project.
Just days before, Shulman had contributed prints — including a shot of Wilshire Boulevard Temple and the rarely seen backside of Notre Dame in Paris — to an architecture book on places of worship.
“This is the secret of my life,” Shulman told The Journal. “I’ve become more and more involved.”
He recalled an item he once read about a German prime minister who was still active at 91. “And here I am 92. I look at my desk, and it’s cluttered with projects.”
Shulman, whose photography has been featured in LIFE and in dozens of architecture magazines and who recently finished a series of photos for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, can be found amid the clutter of a busy life: stacks of oversized prints, vertical sculptures, cameras, golf clubs, funky ’70s-style lounge chairs and shelves filled with architecture books. A poster of the cover of his Taschen-published 1998 autobiography, “Julius Shulman: Architecture and its Photography,” hangs behind one of two messy desks in the studio.
Born in Brooklyn to Russian immigrant parents, Shulman grew up in Connecticut, where his father moved the family in order to pursue farming. In 1920, the Shulmans again relocated to Boyle Heights, where Shulman’s father started a store, New York Dry Goods, on Brooklyn Avenue and Chicago Street.
Shulman had his bar mitzvah on Oct. 13, 1923, at the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights. After Shulman’s father died in 1923 at age 39, New York Dry Goods was run by his mother, two brothers and two sisters. Shulman’s brothers later ran Shulman Brothers Appliances. Shulman said, “They died too young,” like his father, in their pursuit to make money.
But that was never Shulman’s interest. He entered UCLA in 1929 to study electrical engineering. That lasted only two weeks. He spent the next seven years auditing courses at UCLA and UC Berkeley, where he shared a $25-a-month pad with pal Milton Goldberg (who founded Camp Max Strauss).
All that changed when he returned to Los Angles in 1936 and met Neutra, an architect famous for his sleek, modern style in which plate-glass walls and ceilings turned into deep overhangs that seemingly connected the indoors with the surrounding outdoors.
Their meeting came about through the six shots that Shulman snapped of the Neutra home. Shulman sent them to one of the architect’s apprentices, whom he had befriended. Neutra saw the photos and immediately hired Shulman.
“He would analyze each composition,” Shulman said. “He was the only architect looking over my shoulders 24 hours a day.”
Unlike others who had worked with Neutra, Shulman wasn’t fazed by the demanding designer, who, Shulman said, was a lousy photographer. Neutra’s wife, Dione, once told Shulman, “Julius, you would die if you saw his pictures. He was lucky if he had five or six pictures to show,” Shulman said.
But Shulman’s photographic eye combined with Neutra’s architectural vision sparked a new form of photography. Shots of Neutra’s Kauffman home in Palm Springs for a 1949 edition of LIFE helped place Shulman’s work in dozens of architecture magazines, where they had an impact on the field.
Once, Shulman explained, he was driving Arts & Architecture editor John Entenza to his home when New York-based Entenza looked out the window and told him to stop.
“He inquired about a coffee shop, next door to Schwab’s drug store,” he said. “It was very extreme, even for Modernism.”
Shulman wound up snapping shots of Googies coffee shop, the 1950 John Lautner creation that once stood on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights boulevards, now the site of the Laemmle Sunset 5 gateway. His photos of Googies ran in Arts & Architecture, and helped popularize the funky West Coast retro-futuristic look of diners and bowling alleys throughout California and Nevada, which is called “the Googie style.”
However, things did not always run smoothly for the photographer, according to Chavkin. During the 1950s, he said, Shulman was ensnared in a backlash against Modernism.
“Most of the proponents of Modernism — Neutra, Schindler, Gregory Ain — were Jewish,” Chavkin said. “I don’t think that sat well with the country club set back East. A lot of the East Coast magazines stayed away from publishing L.A. architecture. They weren’t allowed to be exhibited. And now, of course, L.A. is where the world’s architecture starts from.”
Today, Shulman’s Modernist home is a rhapsody of rectangular geometry in steel and glass. Shulman has often photographed his home, which he acquired in 1947 from Raphael Soriano, a pupil of Neutra. Through Shulman, Soriano wound up designing the Jewish Community Center of Boyle Heights. Through his photography, Shulman also befriended Neutra’s peer, Rudolf Schindler (“very bohemian”), who, like Neutra, was a Viennese Jew who cemented his reputation in California via Modernism.
As a Jew, Shulman is proud of his contributions to photography.
“We as a people, whether it’s God blessing us or overseeing us or nurturing us, we are blessed,” said Shulman. “My religion is nature. I’m truly a pagan.
“The Jewish people have produced some of the most elegant moments of humanity. We contribute to the humanities, the sciences, film and entertainment, cartoons, you name it. We’re not disintegrating, we’re becoming stronger because we continue to inscribe into the history of mankind certain elements which make for better lives for all people.”
For the last three years, 57-year-old Judy McKee, Shulman’s only child from his first marriage to his late wife, Emma, has been his business partner, in charge of dealing with the day-to-day minutiae of Shulman’s book deals and appearances. Shulman remarried in 1976. His second wife, Olga, died in 1999. He has a 25-year-old grandson from McKee.
Like the Jewish people, the tenacious Shulman does not intend to quit anytime soon.
“My life is full,” Shulman continued. “I’m blessed with the fact that after 66 years, I can go another 20 or 30 years. And I will.”
Julius Shulman will sign copies of Wolfgang Wagener’s book, “Raphael Soriano,” at Form Zero, 811 Traction Ave., in downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 26 from 7-9 p.m. For information, call (213) 620-1820.
In these parshot, Moses wraps up all he has to say to the Israelites. When he is done speaking, he will take leave of them and die. He says: “Please remember all I have instructed you to do, so that you will lead happy and fulfilled lives.”
As Labor Day approaches (Sept. 2), we think of all the people who work hard to feed their families. Jews have always been very involved in helping those in need. They have established labor unions; they have fought for fair wages; they have led movements to improve factory conditions. This is what Moses is talking about. There is an expression in Hebrew: “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh” (all of Israel is responsible for each other). That is good. But it is even better when Jews prove that they feel a responsibility toward the rest of humanity and the world.
Ethics and Warfare
This week’s Torah portion opens with a fascinating topic: the psyche of a soldier at war, and the ethical boundaries that even a soldier must observe.
KiTetze la’milchama: "When you go out to war … and you take captives and see among the captives a beautiful woman…."
The Torah is so keenly aware of the soldier’s necessary aggression. It recognizes that the soldier is fighting for his life, that any moment could be his last and that he is naturally experiencing many powerful emotions and desires. The results of what soldiers do to captive women is evident in all kinds of military conflicts — from the pervasive and horrific reports of rape during the conflict in Yugoslavia, to all of the fatherless children left behind by American soldiers in war zones like Korea and Vietnam.
The Torah not only acknowledges, but confronts this difficult reality of war. It allows the soldier to take this eishet yefat toar (captive, desired woman) as a wife, but only after a month’s time. She is to spend that month in his home, removing the trappings of beauty that initially enticed him, mourning her separation from her own family. If, at the end of that time, he still desires her and she is willing to convert, he is allowed to marry her. If his passion abated during that time, he is strictly forbidden to sell her or keep her as a servant and must set her free.
In other words, the Torah allows the warrior his aggressions, but denies him the right to act without keeping his morals, his very humanity, in check.
"Ethics of warfare" sounds like an oxymoron, but in fact it has been a relevant and significant issue since the creation of the State of Israel. It is not only a recurring subject discussed in military forums, but tohar haneshek (purity of arms) is studied by young men and women as part of their high school curriculum. Israel’s bravest and finest are prepared at the outset for the moral challenges they will inevitably face as soldiers actively engaged in mortal combat.
Countless stories are told, and documented, that show how this "antiquated" rule of war is very much alive and well in our generation. During the summer months of the war in Lebanon, when Israeli troops were putting their lives on the line protecting Northern Israel from Katyusha rocket attacks, they came across fertile fields blooming with cherries. One battalion unit in particular refrained from eating any of the enticing fruit. Never mind that they were hungry, exhausted and fearful. Never mind that the produce belonged to a nameless, faceless enemy. They simply felt that they had no legal or moral right to take what wasn’t theirs. They acted according to their moral compass, overcoming the natural emotions of a soldier at war.
When the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) entered the Palestinian Authority-controlled towns in the West Bank after suicide attacks in April, their mission was to root out terrorists and destroy terror factories. This could have been accomplished with air strikes, and the soldiers involved would have been safe from snipers and booby traps. But the army chose instead to send in ground troops, despite the greater risks and inevitable loss of soldiers. Never mind that the terrorists hid among the civilians. Never mind that even the children on the other side could carry out deadly attacks. They made the moral calculation that it was better to put themselves in greater danger if it meant that they could minimize the danger to the civilian population on the other side. The IDF acted according to their moral compass, overcoming the natural instincts of soldiers at war.
An unbelievable report surfaced a short time ago telling of the Palestinians’ refusal to accept donations of blood — Jewish blood — that the army had provided for their wounded. Instead of leaving the "enemy" to suffer the consequences of their refusal, the army used their own money and manpower to acquire blood from Jordan. Never mind that an army is going above and beyond its obligations to provide any blood at all, let alone an alternate source. Never mind that the enemy was stubbornly and stupidly risking the lives of its own people. IDF soldiers value life, no matter whose life it is. The army acted according to its moral compass, overcoming the natural instincts and emotions of soldiers at war.
The Torah teaches us that we must protect our integrity, even in the midst of a brutal war. These and countless other examples of the high moral standards that are standard for the IDF give me one more important reason to take pride in the work of our young men and women who bravely defend our homeland and act as "a light unto the nations." If soldiers can maintain their values and ethics in the heat of the battle, then I am hopeful that peace has a chance, and that the battle can be won.
A Swift, Immediate Reaction
Watching the second tower of the World Trade Center crumble into dust on Tuesday, I was able to imagine the horror of the survivors of the Titanic as they witnessed their vessel sink into the Atlantic Ocean. A symbol of human progress and ingenuity, a monument to economic strength and power, the Titanic was regarded as indestructible. So too the World Trade Center represented, more than any other edifice in the United States, America’s sense of its own power and invulnerability. Rising more than 100 stories high, these towers once so effectively dominated the New York skyline that in the air they could be seen from 150 miles away. When a 1993 car bomb failed to destroy them, the sense of invulnerability may have also given way to a sense of complacency.
Yet, fortune does not always smile on its most blessed sons. When terror struck, with a magnitude never experienced before, there was not a citizen in this country who was prepared for it. With thousands of deaths, a shut down of cities and a halt to financial activity throughout the country, it has delivered the kind of paralyzing blow that we only read about in books or see in movies. Never has it been internalized as such a genuine threat to the American way of life.
There are good reasons for this. For two centuries, the United States mainland has stood aloof from depredations in other parts of the world, its stateside population certain in the knowledge that time, distance and deterrence would save it from invasion or attack. But the average U.S. citizen has never reckoned on the reality of foreign suicide bombers who could hijack commercial airplanes and turn them into missiles that target centers of American finance and defense.
Yet the world is changing and with the Sept. 11 hijackings, no one should now doubt that the bombings represent a watershed in history. The attack was correctly characterized by the American president as an attack on freedom. But it is much more than even that. It is an attack on our very concept of humanity and represents a clash of civilizations and worldviews that cannot be bridged through peace talks, appeasement or negotiation.
Just ask the Israelis. Over the past 10 years, they have absorbed scores of suicide bombings. In Israel, a country of six million, the death of 20 people is the equivalent of 3,500 in the United States. The recent frequency of these attacks has pounded its way through the consciousness of a people who no longer believe in Yasser Arafat’s empty gestures of peace, but see him as an aider and abettor of Islamic terror. That was confirmed on Tuesday when television footage showed Palestinians celebrating in the streets of Nablus and Gaza City. The Israeli assessment is identical in tone to what many analysts and commentators on the right have said for years: Muslim extremists and the radical Arab regimes that harbor them represent the gravest peril to safety and security in western civilization.
That being the case there is no time to waste in lengthy debates on the failure of the intelligence agencies or setting limits on the level of retaliation. The U.S. government must act immediately and decisively to close down the offices of Islamic fundamentalist organizations in the United States. It must move to block their financial pipelines by freezing assets; it should identify the bankers of these terrorists and force them to divest. It should make clear to the international community that there is no sitting on the fence in the war against terrorism. You are either a soldier in the war, or you are an enemy. That includes Switzerland, who often acts as a conduit for terrorist funding.
Moreover, those who harbor Islamic fundamentalists and perpetrators of terror should be made to feel the full force of American economic and military retaliation — Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and the Palestinian Authority, to name just a few. It should not be forgotten that even if arch-terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, the most likely culprit of the Tuesday bombings, are eliminated, there will be others to take their place. Emasculating the ability of these terrorists to lord over their global network is the first step in interfering with the kind of intricate logistics that made Tuesday’s bombings possible.
The New York landscape may well have changed, but so has the psychological landscape of the United States. Much like the German sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States stands on the brink of decisive and historic action. But failure to make clear to the rest of the world that this American tragedy is in truth the entire civilized world’s, may hamper this action and give encouragement to the perpetrators of terror.
Israel Under Siege
On the news it’s easy to find sickening
evidence of the terrorist war being waged against Israel; harder to
find, but no less real, are other insidious assaults that are growing in
number and venom. This week, the United Nations World Conference Against
Racism, which convened in South Africa, was transformed into a
forum for vicious anti-Israel accusations. And in Israel itself, the
Temple Mount is the focus of a relentless archaeological
attack designed to rewrite history.
Months ago no one anticipated that Arab nations
would hijack the Racism Conference and use it to defame Israel. But by
just last month, delegates were busy debating language that
equated Zionism and racism. Although that language has now been
rejected,provocative new proposals emerged that are just as
damaging.Arab countries, for instance, want the
Conference to find that Israel has committed “crimes against humanity.”
If the Conference made this ludicrous finding, the next step could be to
convene war crime tribunals.
Israel is also accused of perpetrating a new
“kind of apartheid.” And while Sudan, Afghanistan, and Serbia have well
documented records of violent human rights abuses, Israel is the
only country singled out as an aggressor state. Other proposals include
insisting that the Holocaust be written with a lower case “h” to
lessen the magnitude of the tragedy, and condemning Israel’s Law of
Return. Arab nations have abused the Racism Conference
as a platform for denigrating Israel and eviscerating its moral standing
in the world.These attacks must be denounced in the
strongest possible terms.
At the same time, the historical integrity of
the Temple Mount is facing a dire threat. Over the past year, the
Palestinian Waqf,the Muslim religious trust that oversees the area, has
dug a gaping hole more than 164 feet long, 82 feet wide, and 40 feet
deep in the southeast corner of the Temple Mount. Recent tests by
the Israeli Antiquities Authority suggest that the excavations may have
damaged the foundation of the southern wall of Temple Mount.
The Temple Mount is at the crossroads of world
religion. It is outrageous that the Waqf and the Palestinian Authority
have not been held accountable for this desecration. The
Kidron Valley garbage dump, which is now filled with over 1,500 tons of
earth from the site, is reportedly strewn with artifacts from the
Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Temple periods dating back to the 6th
century. The world’s indifference to this devastation
resembles the unwillingness to denounce Palestinian destruction of
Joseph’s Tomb last October. It is also in stark contrast to the valiant
international effort to deplore the destruction of ancient Buddhist
statues by Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are
engaged in an effort to undermine the founding principles of Israel’s
establishment and existence. They seek to dehumanize the Israeli
people and make them legitimate targets for terrorism.
The United States and the world Jewish
community cannot be silent in the face of these threats. Israel is by
far America’s closest ally in the Middle East and the tragic murder of
American visitors and residents of Israel throughout this conflict only
underscores our vested interest in Israel’s stability and security.
We must lead the fight to condemn anti-Semitic
vitriol unleashed at the U.N. World Conference. We must bring an end to
the Palestinian Authority’s degradation of the holy sites
in world religion. We must stand in solidarity with the Israeli people
and support Israel’s right as a sovereign nation to defend its
Righteous Rescuers Honored
Though certainly one of the most bitter memories of history, the Holocaust was also a time of true heroism and great humanity. On Sun., May 6, Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Simi Valley dedicated a grove of trees to the non-Jewish heroes who risked their lives to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Lidia Furmanski of Pasadena, a rescuer from Poland, and Bert Lerno of Simi Valley, a Jewish Dane who was rescued, were guests of honor at the dedication ceremony.
"Mount Sinai’s mission is to provide solace and honor human spirit," said Arnold Saltzman, general manager of Mount Sinai Memorial Parks. "The Grove of the Righteous Rescuers is an eternal testimonial to the thousands of non-Jewish rescuers whose courage and respect for their fellow men and women set a high standard for us all."
The Grove of the Righteous Rescuers is the first of its kind in this country and consists of 20 olive and almond trees. An additional 18 Jerusalem pines were donated by the Jewish National Fund, best known for planting more than 210 million trees in Israel. Through the grove winds a path among stone plaques acknowledging each of the 38 countries where citizens, at their own peril, protected Jews. In addition to a commemorative plaque, the centerpiece of the grove is a fountain of water surrounding an eternal flame. Dr. Edward Kamenir noted that the "combination of fire and water represents two extremes that can live in harmony." Kamenir worked as a volunteer to develop the new cemetery and was inspired by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust memorial, to create a memorial to the heroes of the Holocaust.
"In front of [Yad Vashem] is a grove of trees dedicated to the righteous gentiles of the world. It impressed me that they had a place," Kamenir said. "Wherever we memorialize those who were sacrificed by the Nazis there should also be a memorial for those who sacrificed themselves to save them."
Simi Valley Mayor Bill Davis spoke during the ceremony and worked with local school children to plant a few trees in the grove.
Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom, the ceremony’s keynote speaker, focused on the importance of remembering our history. "One thing is more powerful than death itself — memory," Schulweis, said, adding that "memory is a subtle art. You have to know how to remember."
Schulweis, the founder of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, noted that if you leave people with only a melancholy memory, that memory could turn to cynicism. "Remember evil and do not forget goodness,"he said.