Kobe Jewish?

The story regarding Kobe Bryant saying that he “wouldn’t mind” being Jewish was pointless and inane. An off-the-cuff remark all of a sudden becomes a possibility in the minds some people. In addition, the story was filled with inaccuracies as to the number of Jewish athletes in the major sports.

On opening day there were 10 Jews on Major League rosters this season (13 played last year), the NFl had seven Jews on the gridiron last seaso and the NHL started with four Jews on the ice this season.

Ephraim A. Moxson
Jewish Sports Review

The “Real Plague”

While the contemporizing of the Ten Plagues (in Hebrew) was a neat idea, the inclusion of Jack Abramoff in the company of Osama bin Laden, Hamas and the Iranian Ahmadinejad, the new Hitler, was not only offensive and stupid, but betrayed the real 10th plague: Moral Equivalency, the same philosophy that has de-legitimated Israel, by equating Palestinian homicide bombers with Israeli citizens and defense forces; the same philosophy that refers to terrorists as “militants,” “insurgents” and “activists.” (Modern Causes Add Meaning to Seder,” April 7) Perhaps the genocide in Sudan or the oncoming avian flu might have been better candidates.

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles


Kudos to Joe Hicks for emphasizing that there is nothing illiberal about distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration (“Border Protests Not Fight for Civil Rights,” April 7).

Paul Kujawsky
Democrats for Israel, Los Angeles

Jews for Jesus

Unfortunately, David Klinghoffer did not take the time to learn about the Reform movement’s position before writing that “the Reform movement agrees with Jews for Jesus in affirming patrilineal descent” (“A Tenuous Claim as a Jew for Jesus,” March 31). In fact, the Reform movement’s policy states that a person with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother may be considered Jewish only when confirmed “through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people.” (CCAR, 1983) No learned Jew — Conservative, Orthodox or Reform — would consider David Brickner (who publicly proclaims his faith in Jesus) a Jew.

Klinghoffer also fails to understand the nature of patrilineal vs. matrilineal descent in Jewish tradition. First, he is simply wrong about the history. Contrary to Rabbi Meir Soloveichik’s assertion, both the Torah and the sages of the Talmud were very clear that lineage is traced through the father (see Numbers 1:2 and Bava Batra 109b). Just as importantly, the Reform movement has decided that it was offensive to exclude the children from half of mixed-marriages simply due to the gender of their Jewish parent.

Jews for Jesus is a dangerous, deceptive organization that preys upon our least knowledgeable Jews. They are outside the pale of anything Jewish. Patrilineal descent, on the other hand, is both an important link to our tradition and a vital step towards inclusion and the long-term health of our Jewish community.

Mark Miller
Los Angeles

Derisive Impression

Alice Ollstein’s comments (“Propaganda for the Insipid,” March 31) about the annual AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference were insensitive and profoundly na?ve. The fact that the Jewish community has nurtured and grown AIPAC into the vibrant and effective organization it is today is nothing short of a miracle. To be able to garner the respect, attention and participation from the nations’ highest ranking governmental leaders regarding the U.S.-Israel relationship is something the Jewish community can never take for granted.

During this year’s conference, as always, AIPAC meticulously showcased both Democratic and Republican voices in each segment of the program, contrary to Ollstein’s statement. Also, if she cannot draw a parallel between the vitriolic words of Hitler and Iranian President Ahmadinejad, let the rest of us not be in denial.

It is clear that America could have saved countless lives during World War II, but American Jews did not have the political influence at that time. Imagine the world with a vital AIPAC prior to the Holocaust — how many lives could have been spared. So let’s remain hopeful that other high school students will join the ranks of AIPAC, defending the U.S.-Israel relationship and protecting the safety of future generations.

Donna Bender

Al Franken

Once again Al Franken resorts to lies and distortions when he quipped, “The last time I saw that many angry Mexicans, the United States had invaded Mexico and was fighting Santa Ana, looking for weapons of mass destruction.” (“Sectarian Violence,” March 31).

It was Santa Ana who killed every Texan soldier in the Battle of the Alamo when Texans (including many Mexicans living in Texas) sought freedom and cessation from Mexico. And it was Texans who sought American statehood. Franken and his ilk profess to love America, but their deeds of besmirching our history and our leaders prove otherwise. Far from being proud Americans, they are the enemy from within. Kudos to Ann Coulter for taking him on.

Shari Goodman


Border Protests Not Fight for Civil Rights

Speaker after speaker at the recent immigration march in Los Angeles told the 500,000-strong primarily Latino crowd that racism and anti-immigrant sentiments lie behind the debates on Capitol Hill about border enforcement. This was the focus at the march and subsequent student walkouts, even though the House and Senate have debated competing immigration reform legislation, which has included discussions of some sort of guest worker or amnesty plan.

Nonetheless, speakers ignored the nuances of the debate, concentrating instead on angry allegations that any efforts to deal with illegal immigration status amounts to “anti-immigrant bigotry.” Many pundits have argued that we are seeing the rebirth of the civil rights movement. As a longtime participant in that struggle and one who has consistently opposed nativist sentiments, I dissent.

There is something quite troubling about these protests, which charge that attempts to control the flow of immigrants into America are “anti-Latino” and thereby “racist.” To justify these claims, activists argue that there is a generalized hostility to Latinos that is best represented by opposition to illegal immigration.

This claim, however, is hard to substantiate in an era of diminishing racism throughout society, with interracial marriages on the rise, Hispanic businesses growing faster than any others and Latinos viewed as the new political power in many parts of the nation. What precisely are the injustices that this “new civil rights movement” will address — other than the view that there should be no distinction between “legal” and “illegal” immigration status?

There are other reasons to resist the claim that recent protests are a rebirth of the civil right movement. America’s civil rights movement fought the denial of voting, employment, public accommodations and education rights to black Americans who were, in fact, citizens. It can hardly be argued that Hispanic Americans or legal immigrants from any other area of the world are today being denied rights guaranteed under the Constitution. Nonetheless, we are told by immigration activists and their allies in the leftist political community that it is racist to restrict entry only to legal immigrants and enforce laws against those here illegally.

Let me be clear: I would never favor the inhumane treatment of anyone, including illegal immigrants. But I don’t support turning a blind eye to illegal entry in a way that mocks the rule of law. And it’s neither just nor accurate to call that position “anti-Latino.”

Of particular concern is the degree to which Latino youngsters have embraced the rhetoric of the Latino left, arguing as they did, in the midst of school walkouts, that Latinos suffer the weight of a “racist American system.” Marching with the ever-present Mexican flag, students chanted, “Si, se puede!” (yes we can), proudly declaring that they had hit the street in support of “la raza” (the race).

The civil rights movement of old was clear about its priority: the freeing of black Americans from the suppression of white supremacist ideology. But the classic civil rights movement, at its best, also seized the high moral ground by asserting, as King did, that participants were about making America a better nation for all of its citizens, regardless of skin color, religion or national origin.

Only later, when Black Power figures began to jockey for leadership, did raw ethnocentrism and anti-Semitism emerge in ’60s-era black politics. The narrow nationalism of Black Power politics turned off most Americans, and the ethnocentrism of Latino activists will do likewise.

We can all agree, I hope, that there are those around the edges of the immigration battles who are distasteful nativists, people opposed to immigration of any kind, legal or otherwise. But conversely, those who argue that a desire to control America’s borders and enforce immigration laws is “anti-immigrant” only make sense in the realm of leftist and extremist political thought. This view actually asserts that people in other nations have a right to come here, no matter what our federal laws say is the proper order of things.

In line with this perspective, a recent Zogby International Poll, conducted on both sides of the border, found that a majority of Mexicans say the U.S. Southwest “rightfully belongs to Mexico,” and that Mexican citizens should be allowed to come to the United States freely, without U.S. permission. By contrast, the majority of Americans said they want to restrict immigration and don’t support granting amnesty to illegal immigrants currently in the country, as President Bush has advocated via his guest worker plan.

If nothing else, the recent demonstrations and student walkouts have dramatically ramped up the national debate on this issue. It is no longer possible to ignore the elephant in the middle of the room, the estimated 11 million to 20 million illegal residents. Where we go from here depends on the ability of this nation’s political leadership to craft effective and fair public policy.

Yes, we must deal in a humane fashion with those who have come here looking for a better life. We also must finally address the concerns of a distressed populace — and here I am talking about those American citizens who are negatively affected and rightly troubled by our porous borders.

Joe R. Hicks is a social critic and vice president of Community Advocates Inc. He is the former head of the L.A. branch of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.



Orthodoxy’s Role

I was disappointed but not surprised with Rabbi Tzvi Hersch Weinreb’s and the Orthodox Union’s flat rejection of Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky’s suggestion that the Orthodox community move beyond “traditional parameters” in its discourse with other denominations (Letters, Dec. 23). As an Orthodox participant in Rabbi Kanefsky’s interdenominational study groups, I have yet to find that these interactions blur denominational boundaries or threaten belief in Torah Min HaShamayim. In addition to creating a positive forum for the mutual desire to promote communal Jewish unity, they foster mutual understanding as well as respectful disagreement on fundamental matters of faith.

Rabbi Weinreb refers to Havdalah, where we delineate the distinction between Israel and the nations of the world. I doubt that being Mavdil between Jewish denominations is the intent of the prayer, unless one considers non-Orthodox denominations theologically equivalent to non-Jewish religions. Who can claim the moral authority to distinguish holiness among Jews? Historically our enemies have not been so discerning.

Gil Melmed
Los Angeles

The letter from the Orthodox Union (OU) spurning Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky’s well-reasoned argument in favor of increasing dialogue with the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism (“Orthodoxy Has Chance to Reshape Role,” Dec. 9) is worse than small-minded. It slanders and betrays some of the greatest leaders of both Orthodox and North American Jewry — who, fortunately, had both the good sense and remarkable ability to step forward for the benefit of Klal Yisrael.

One does not have to think back too far to recall Rabbi Israel Miller, who was active until the day of his death in 2002, as chairman of the Material Claims Conference, after holding the highest Jewish offices, including chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and an officer of the Jewish Agency for Israel, the World Zionist Organization and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. In all these roles, Miller, a senior vice president of Yeshiva University, worked closely and with mutual respect with Conservative and Reform rabbinic counterparts, who consistently responded to his wisdom, guidance and dedication by repeatedly electing him to represent them all.

In Canada, a similar role was played by Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, a past president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America, who founded the Toronto Rabbinical Fellowship together with Rabbis Gunther Plaut and Stuart Rosenberg, representing the Reform and Conservative streams respectively. Sadly, today, the Toronto Board of Rabbis is bereft of Orthodox members.

Ironically, one of the most popular and dynamic leaders of Orthodox Jewry at this moment, Richard Joel, was appointed president of Yeshiva University precisely because of the reputation he gained as the director of a revitalized Hillel Foundation — and as a direct result of his working primarily with Conservative and Reform rabbis, men and women, who served as directors of campus Hillels across the country.

Tragically, the attitude of today’s OU leadership will ensure that Modern Orthodoxy will be marginalized, to the detriment of its own movement and future generations of American Jewry.

Buzzy Gordon
Los Angeles

Slop Sink

I am responding to Rob Eshman’s editorial “The Slop Sink” (Dec. 31) as one who has been married for 40 wonderful years to an immigrant from Russia and has devoted an entire career to working at an institution that is staffed by beautiful souls from every corner of the globe. It is true that some of our society’s most vital institutions would not last even one day without foreign-born labor. We owe these people extreme gratitude and reverence.

However, we are sobered by two realities: 1) There is a difference between immigration and human trafficking. We have crossed that line. 2) Our society simply cannot absorb everyone who wants to be here. Greedy capitalists who thirst for cheap labor and twisted leftists who think that Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and Wyoming are “occupied territory” have come together to become very strange bedfellows.

Unenforced immigration law threatens to become the most defining issue of the coming years unless common sense prevails.

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Van Nuys

‘Munich’ Message

The recent venom against Steven Spielberg surrounding “Munich” frightens me (“‘Munich’: The Missing Conversation,” Dec. 23). Artists like Spielberg profoundly influence culture without bullets and bombs. Surely he is not anti-Israel. He is pro-peace and has a deep passion, I’m sure, for his Jewish heritage and surely for human suffering.

Rick Lippin
Southampton, Pa


Making Dreams of Israel Come True

In the international terminal at New York’s Kennedy Airport, the luggage carts sag under the weight of bulging suitcases, and it seems as if every family moving to Israel on this group flight is accompanied by a 10-person entourage to see them off.

Despite the El Al security guards screening passengers, all semblance of decorum is missing from the scene: children holding small suitcases run under the ropes as their mothers try to quiet them; grandparents dab their eyes with crumpled tissues, some sobbing unabashedly; everyone hugs and says goodbye with smiles, blessings and tears.

In the center of this confusion is a table strewn with informational packets from Nefesh B’Nefesh, a relatively new organization, whose name means Jewish Souls United and whose sponsorship of this trip stems from its mission to encourage families to make aliyah (move to Israel) by aiding them financially.

As the crowd makes its way to the boarding area, they pass supporters holding signs that read, "We are the future of Israel" and "road map home." Others hand out blue-and-white badges that say, "I’m making aliyah" and "aliyah revolution."

This is the third group aliyah flight that Nefesh B’Nefesh has sponsored since last summer, when it loaded an El Al plane with 519 North American Jews who wanted to move to Israel. Since then, Nefesh B’Nefesh, which calls itself an "aliyah revitalization organization," has helped more than 1,000 North American Jews move to Israel. Its ambitious goal is to help send 100,000 to Israel by the end of the decade.

The group’s determination to encourage Jews to move to Israel comes at a time when tourism to the country is at an all-time low, devastated by almost three years of the intifada. (The conflict has also caused a drop in immigration from 377,000 in 1991, when Russian aliyah was at its peak, to 7,692 in the first five months of this year.) At the same time, the intifada has also sparked emigration, with some Israelis seeking sanctuary on calmer shores.

The willingness of so many people to leave their comfortable lives in America to move to a country beset by violence and political turmoil reflects a bond stronger than current events.

"We did a little bit of market research, and we saw that across the gamut the dismal number of Americans making aliyah annually was not a true reflection of people wanting to go," said Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, who founded the organization with Florida businessman Tony Gelbart. "The interesting comment that we were receiving was that people would love to do it, but couldn’t because they had no nest egg to pay for relocation."

Israel grants zechuyot (rights) to people making aliyah, such as a reduced-rate mortgages, subsidized rent, free health insurance and the ability to import a tax-free container of household goods. (These rights have been curtailed with the recent budget cuts.) Even so, the privileges often do little to alleviate the harsh economic realities of life in Israel.

As a result, Fass and Gelbart started providing grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 to help singles and families make aliyah. They also provided them with a support system to ease their transition into Israeli society.

Nefesh B’Nefesh helps their olim (immigrants) find jobs and housing, and they introduce them to other North American families who have made aliyah. On the group flights, the organization cuts through Israeli red tape by having representatives from the Interior Ministry process paperwork on the plane so the olim don’t have to spend hours waiting in line at government offices.

On this July 23 flight, the atmosphere on the plane is mildly chaotic, like one big party. Journalists try to interview olim, Nefesh B’Nefesh staffers walk the aisles, making sure everyone is being treated right, and the olim say hello to friends they met at Nefesh B’Nefesh meetings and talk about the joys of moving to Israel.

"No more yeshiva tuition fees!" says one man, excited about the heavily subsidized religious education available in Israel.

Reuven Ashenberg, a 33-year-old special education teacher from New Jersey, makes his way to Gelbart and says, "Thank you for making my dreams come true."

A Los Angeles couple, Shifra and Donny Weltman, tell The Journal that they are looking forward to moving because "it’s a mitzvah."

When the plane touches down in Israel after a 12-hour flight, the olim are greeted by Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, MK Ehud Olmert and a parade of 150 Israel Defense Forces soldiers waving flags.

"This is a good start," Peres tells The Journal. "What can create a momentum is the way they will be absorbed, the letters that they will send back home. What we have to do is not to make more speeches but to see that the people will get jobs and houses."

There’s an old joke that the best way to cure people of Zionism is to have them live in Israel. The question is not whether Nefesh B’Nefesh can bring people to Israel, but whether the people will stay.

On this flight, most of the idealistic families are motivated by a conviction that they are fulfilling a biblical commandment, some also they can contribute to Israeli society, thereby helping the world Jewish community. (The organization says that 79 percent of the olim are Orthodox, 14 percent Conservative, 4 percent Reform and 5 percent are unaffiliated.) But will their idealism last once the realities of daily life set in?

With this in mind, Nefesh B’Nefesh only grants money to people they think will have a good chance of making it in Israel (i.e., people who are professionals and who have a strong commitment to the land). Also, the grants are vested over a three-year period, and must be returned if a family does not stay.

Of the 519 Nefesh B’Nefesh families who moved to Israel in 2002, 99 percent have stayed and and 93 percent have found jobs. But one year is often too early to tell, especially since olim from economically secure countries like the United States may leave after a longer period — five to seven years — often for economic reasons, and more recently, due to the violence in the region.

"However much we talk about absorbing these people and making their klitah [absorption] as successful as possible, one of the things that they are going to learn over time is that they need to have the ability to get away from here because it is so overwhelming," says Kelly Hartog, an Australian olah who moved to Israel 10 years ago and would now like to leave for an unspecified amount of time.

Yet the organization’s founders are optimistic that they will change Israeli society by bringing a substantial number of North American olim.

"It was difficult to explain to people what we were trying to do," Gelbart says. "And nobody believed us, because what Jews are moving to Israel in times of such turbulence?"

"But today aliyah is a reality," he adds. "Maybe the 2002 plane was a fluke, but the two planes we had this year aren’t — and the people who are coming later aren’t either."