LETTERS: Torah Battle, Mormon Official, Ethics


Ethics Certificate

I heartily agree with David Suissa and his reservations about the new certificate indicating that Jewish businesses uphold labor laws (“Laboring for Ethics,” March 6). If the Rubashkin scandal [Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse] is what prompted the certification idea, it is hardly the most noxious scandal in the Jewish community.

Why are we not issuing certificates to money managers to avoid other Madoff-style swindles? Why do we not certify that rabbis in our community aren’t molesting children and avert scandals like the one that hit the National Conference of Synagogue Youth? Why single out the Jewish shopkeeper?

California has an exorbitant minimum wage, and aggressive labor regulation. If the rabbis involved in the certification movement believe that shops along Pico Boulevard are in violation of these regulations, they should report the store owner to the authorities, not engage in feckless, feel-good activism.

Janet Fuchs
Beverly Hills

Battle Over Torahs

Your article, “Public Court Battle Erupts Over Possession of Torahs” (March 13) is a horrible display of the decision making skills of your management and editing team.

I am a student of Rabbi Samuel Ohana. He is doing my wedding; his wife is catering it. I learn with him, and he has welcomed me into his home.

He has dedicated his life to serving the community and is a man of great moral and ethical standing. The slant on your reporting was not just slight, it was disgustingly obvious.

You offered a venue for lashon ha-ra (bad gossip) to be spoken about this man, and that makes you just as guilty as the person who is speaking it.

I do not care if the L.A. Times feels that this story is worth publishing, but how can we be a light unto nations when we will stoop down and publish the same filth and slander?

I do not know the details of the case, and as far as I can tell, it is just a dispute of ownership. What you and the lady involved have done is of greater notice and deserving of as much criticism. I hope that the community can see the misrepresentation that you have made.

Michael Sachs
Pasadena

Surviving Bernie

Yes Mr. Eshman, Bernard Madoff is a criminal and an evil man who hopefully will spend the rest of his life in prison (“Surviving Bernie,” March 13). Where, however, is the outcry against the people of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation in Israel responsible for investing its entire endowment, $14 million, with Madoff Securities that is now all gone?

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Different Religion

I was not at all disappointed to see professor David Myers attacked for his notorious right-wing views (“20th Century Zionist Asks: ‘Has Jacob Become Esau?’” March 6). For the record, however, we should note that Esau, as referred to by Myers and by Rawidowicz, was Christianity, not Islam. After all, Rawidowicz was writing in the first post-Holocaust years.

Michael Berenbaum
via e-mail

Money for the Arts

In this economic recession, I feel that Cheryl and Haim Saban should be embarrassed to donate $5 million so that their name will be on a theater marquee. (“Sabans Donate $5 Million to Theater,” March 13).

This money could be better spent: scholarships for children to receive Jewish educations, Jewish aged under the poverty line and housing for Jewish disabled. The list goes on.

Laurie Saida
via e-mail

Editor’s note: As our story made clear, the theater houses the Temple of the Arts synagogue, which Cheryl Saban credited with playing an important role in their lives.

ZOA Mormon Official

How wonderful to be able to read news about the L.A. Jewish community while I sit at my computer in Israel! (“Zionist Organization’s New Mormon Director: Q&A With Mark Paredes,” March 6).

The appointment of Mark Paredes to the directorship of the Zionist Organization of America office in Los Angeles is great news. I met him when he worked at the Israeli Consulate and saw this bright and inspiring man in action.

Chana Givon
Jerusalem

Building Bridges

On behalf of the American Muslim community, I applaud the efforts of Rabbi [Reuven] Firestone and The Jewish Journal in building bridges of understanding between the American Muslim and Jewish communities. (“An Appreciation of Islam: Q&A With Rabbi Reuven Firestone,” March 13)

Both Judaism and Islam have much in common — moral values emphasizing family ties and tending to the less fortunate, speaking up for justice and human rights and being good citizens of society.

While we may hold different legitimate political views, even within our own communities, let us continue to strengthen bonds between American Muslims and Jews, shun voices of extremism and together be a force of positive change in the broader society.

Munira Syeda
Communications Coordinator
Council on American-Islamic Relations,
Greater Los Angeles Area

Thank You Rabbi [Reuven] Firestone for your book presenting Islam to Jews and non-Muslims in a fair and more accurate manner.

Thanks to The Jewish Journal for being involved in this.

As a Muslim I always thought that there are much more things in common than differences between Jews and Muslims. I hope this will be realized by more people.

Majed Ibrahim
via e-mail

Bigots

Marty Kaplan’s “Stem Cell Slippery Slope Fallacy” (March 13) tells us that the world is full of bigots. Live and let live has been abandoned in favor of our way or the highway, leading to hatred and violence: the religious fundamentalism of ultra-Orthodox Jews disdaining all other denominations, Islamists stoning to death a 13-year-old rape victim charged with adultery and lots of Christians wishing to disenfranchise our gay population.

Then we have the haters of anyone not like them, including white supremacists, anti-Semites and animal rights advocates who feel that the lives of laboratory-bred rats are more important than the lives of human beings.

Now we know of evil greedy people who worship money and think nothing of stealing from the needy. What a world.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village

Ethics Plan Would Raise Sanctity of Business


An observant Jew was once brought before the judge on counts of tax fraud. Seeing the kippah-wearing Jew before him, the judge innocently asked, “Mr. Schwartz, you are clearly a God-fearing man. How do you explain your immoral behavior?”

Not missing a beat, Mr. Schwartz pointed his finger in the air and defiantly declared, “Your honor, religion is one thing, but business is business!”

Alas, we’ve witnessed several “Mr. Schwartzes” over the last few years, and each new headline evinces new winces of pain from our community. Rabbis have been beside themselves; for years, we’ve preached about the need to carry one’s Torah observance into the business place. Shockingly (as if), not all our parishioners were listening.

What’s more, an environment in certain industries seems to have developed where illegal business activity has not only been condoned but even considered the norm. The Jewish work ethic — what up until recently was the proud hallmark of pristine honesty and integrity — became tarnished.

L.A.’s Jewish community is the second largest in the country. We have much reason to be proud; we have established every imaginable organization or endeavor to dole out kindness and charity to those less privileged. Jews comprise a huge demographic of the righteous of our city.

At the same time, it’s been observed that life is like trying to make a bed using a fitted sheet that’s just a bit too small for the mattress. You pull one end of the sheet over one mattress corner, and the other end of the sheet pops off the opposite corner.

We all tend to focus on what we consider the important things in our lives at the expense of others. For some Jews, a focus on social action comes at the cost of Jewish literacy and ritual. For other Jews, a focus on ritual and Torah study comes at the cost of translating all that knowledge into action in the workplace.

Yet, the Talmud (T.B. Shabbat 31a) emphatically states that the first question a person will be asked when he or she ascends to heaven will not be, “Did you eat kosher food?” but rather, “Were you faithful in business?”

A group of rabbis and lay leaders, seeing this wound on an otherwise exemplary community continue to fester, felt that it was no longer enough to talk the talk. In order to really bolster awareness and education within the community, we needed to do something demonstrative that would raise awareness not only when in shul but also while shopping and doing business.

The Peulat Sachir: Ethical Labor Initiative is nothing new. Several years ago, a group of Modern Orthodox Jews in Israel founded an organization called, Bema’aglei Tzedek (On Paths of Justice), with the mission of addressing the moral and socioeconomic challenges facing Israeli society (you can learn more at their Web site, http://www.mtzedek.org.il/). One of their main projects is Tav Chevrati, which recognizes those businesses in Israel that provide minimum wage and other basic benefits to their employees. After launching an impressive marketing campaign, the Tav now boasts over 350 businesses that have the Tav seal hanging in their windows.

Using the Tav Chevrati model — with small modifications for the American business arena — our group realized that were we to attempt to redress all business ills we would be biting off more than anyone would be willing to chew. Under the direction of a team of attorneys, we instead chose to focus on the one area of business that has the most significant human impact, the area of labor law.

Peulat Sachir offers a covenant agreement to any business owner who complies with the six basic areas of labor law as required by the state of California: (1) minimum wage, (2) payment of overtime wages, (3) provision of meal and rest breaks, (4) leave policy, (5) workers’ compensation insurance and (6) discrimination/harassment policies.

Additionally, Peulat Sachir will host regular seminars on ethical business practices, which will be open to the general public.

Of course, one could argue: What’s the point of an attestation that someone is just obeying the law? In today’s world of Bernard Madoff rip-offs, kosher production scandals, subprime mortgage meltdowns and corporate greed, plenty. The simple public affirmation that I as a business owner comply with dina d’malchuta (the law of the land) is an important step toward the reformation of an unhealthy business culture.

One might also argue: Why focus so narrowly on this one area of business ethics? What about tax law? Immigration law? Clearly, there are many legal areas within the complex world of business that could and should be addressed.

For one thing, we’ve got to start somewhere. But it’s more than that; we believe that raising awareness about one area of ethics will positively spill over to others.

The employer who respects the law by meticulously paying overtime is more likely to report accurately on his tax return; someone who proudly procures workers’ compensation insurance for his minimum-wage employees is more likely to care about the needs of other underprivileged members of society.

The Peulat Sachir mission statement is thus twofold: To engender a new culture for Jewish businesses — one of commitment to the highest ethical and moral standards in all aspects of business — and to raise awareness of what we in the religious community expect from our vendors and, ultimately, from ourselves.

Those who appreciate what Peulat Sachir is trying to do will want to preferentially patronize those establishments that have signed a covenant. Those who don’t, won’t.

Peulat Sachir in no way penalizes or blacklists businesses that can’t or won’t sign on to the concept. Ultimately, it’s up to the public to decide the success of the Peulat Sachir initiative.

Who knows? Maybe Peulat Sachir will become a model for other communities. And just maybe, by elevating the sanctity of our businesses, we and our assets will all be blessed in the process.

If you are a local business owner and would like to receive more information, contact Peulat Sachir at info@peulatsachir.net.

Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin is rosh kehilla of Yavneh Hebrew Academy, director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union West Coast Region and a community mohel.

Education in the synagogue should aim for enhanced Jewish living


For professors in a university’s Judaic studies program, Jewish literacy appears to be a straightforward proposition. They can insist on prerequisites, delineate academic standards, articulate a curriculum, impose the extrinsic motivation of grades and design objective tests of students’ achievements. That is because their program is one of Judaic studies, as opposed to Jewish education, and their goal is to impart information, rather than influence behavior.

For synagogue rabbis, Jewish literacy is much more of a moving target. Jewish education in the synagogue aims for enhanced Jewish living, as opposed to striving simply for increased Jewish knowledge. It addresses the mind, heart and soul. It addresses children, adults and families – people at every stage of life, with varied backgrounds and divergent interests.

Nonetheless, it is possible, even desirable, for a synagogue to design and promote a systematic program of Jewish education and enculturation that moves its members toward Jewish literacy. For some Jews, it is sufficient motivation to know that we are commanded to engage in study as a lifelong endeavor – the mitzvah of Talmud Torah.

For other Jews, the synagogue needs to help them understand that active Jewish living will enhance their lives, that a vibrant Jewish community gives them a context for celebrating life’s joys and coping with its challenges, that Jewish texts and rituals give them a vocabulary for expressing the deepest yearnings of their souls and that learning for its own sake can be profoundly rewarding. Often, the greatest barrier for individuals is a lack of confidence and competence. A program that moves its members toward Jewish literacy fills this gap.

There are some Jews who will eagerly respond to such a program and have the time and inspiration to immerse themselves in regular, serious study. The synagogue is obligated to respond by providing opportunities for learning.

But most synagogue members are not prepared to study regularly. The synagogue must respond to this population, as well, by offering introductory programs and then helping it progress beyond the basic classes.

Synagogue membership that is diverse in background, knowledge, experience and interest also challenges synagogue leadership to be teachers of Judaism. That teaching must be guided by the conviction that Jewish literacy is not simply about book learning but also Jewish heritage and life.

To be Jewishly literate, a person need not know everything. Rather, he or she must be familiar with the basic aspects of the religion: the rhythms and cycles of the Jewish year; sacred texts; Jewish history, ethics and values, and the obligations and opportunities of being a Jew. Also, a person needs to know Hebrew – not necessarily to be fluent but at least conversant with the vocabulary of Jewish life.

Jewish literacy is a goal to be sought. Synagogues need to create communities of learning wherein members come to understand that it isn’t so much the attainment of that goal that is meaningful as the journey to get there. l

Rabbi Michael Weinberg is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, Ill., and a past president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education.

Judaism 101: everything we need to know


What is Jewish literacy? What does it mean to be Jewishly literate? Who is an educated Jew?

Paula Hyman, professor of modern Jewish history at Yale University, wrote in an issue of Sh’ma, “There has been no consensus on the issue of ‘Who is an educated Jew?’ for more than 200 years.”

Clearly, our definitions have changed over the centuries. But where are we today? What must we know to function as literate Jews?

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his introduction to “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History,” observes, “At a time when Jewish life in the United States is flourishing, Jewish ignorance is, too.”

He goes on to say that while large numbers of Jews of all ages are seeking Jewish involvement, in many cases, they are secretly “Jewishly illiterate.”

Modern Jews, Telushkin writes, are either vaguely familiar with or completely unaware of the most basic terms and significant facts about Jewish life and Jewish history.

The traditional definition of literacy is the ability to use language – to read, write, listen and speak. In modern contexts, the word means reading and writing on a level adequate for written communication and generally a level that enables one to successfully function at certain levels of a society.

For our purpose, the phrase “successfully function at certain levels of a society” is where we must begin. What do we need to know to function in or create a Jewish home, to function in the synagogue, to function in Jewish communal life and to function in the world as a knowledgeable Jew? What should we know, feel and be able to do to be considered a literate Jew?

Jewish educators wrestle with these questions on a regular basis. Whether working in a congregation, in a day school or in a graduate program in Jewish education, the questions are the same, although the answers may vary greatly from setting to setting.

Let’s begin with some basic categories: God, Torah, Jewish nation, Israel, holidays, life cycle and deeds. These categories, once briefly explored, will form the basis on which most Jewish learning, leading to Jewish literacy, is built.

  • God: It is in this category where ideas and concepts about Jewish belief are explored. Understanding God and spirituality is a process with which Jews must wrestle. Discussion encompasses questions such as: What is the nature of God? What is Judaism? What do Jews believe?
  • Torah: This category can be expanded to focus on the “words” – the ideas and concepts – of Jewish life. It includes not only the Hebrew alphabet and Hebrew language, common expressions and greetings, Jewish names and names for God, but it also includes: What is the Torah? What are Torah readings? What is in the Bible? What are prayers and blessings? What is Jewish liturgy? What are the basic Jewish texts? What is biblical history and modern Jewish history?
  • Jewish nation: Who is a Jew? How many Jews are there in the world? What are the movements in Judaism? Who are Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Oriental and Ethiopian Jews? What is “Jewish” food? Who are the patriarchs and matriarchs? Who are the prophets, the sages and the scholars of the Jewish people?
  • Israel: Why is Israel, the spiritual homeland of the Jewish people, important to all Jews? What is the difference between the Land of Israel and the State of Israel? Who lives in Israel?
  • Holidays: This area begins with a discussion of the Jewish calendar. How is the Jewish calendar the same and different from the secular calendar? What is Rosh Chodesh? What do we need to know about Shabbat and religious holidays? What is Yom HaShoah? What is Yom Ha’atzmaut? Which holidays are celebrated at home? Which are celebrated in the synagogue? What is the history of the synagogue?
  • Life cycle: What are the rituals and traditions that accompany each of the stages of the life cycle? Birth, naming and the first month of life are times of beginnings and celebrations. Bar and bat mitzvah and confirmation are milestones in a child’s religious education. Marriage begins a new Jewish home and family. Death and mourning have special customs to help the family and bring the community together. What does Judaism say about the afterlife?
  • Deeds: Ethics and ethical behavior are important Jewish values. How are we to behave toward Jews and non-Jews? What is tzedakah? What is meant by gemilut chasadim? What are the Ten Commandments? What does Judaism expect of us? How should we speak about others? What is lashon hara? How should we treat animals?

Judaism places great emphasis on caring for one another and the world around us. Jewish literacy requires that we be able to function successfully as knowledgeable Jews. If we accept that Jewish study is a lifelong pursuit, we will learn what we should know, feel and be able to do at each stage of our lives.

Jo Kay is director of education of the School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City and vice president of educational resources for the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education.

Circuit


The Reagan Library was the setting when more than 500 Jewish Republicans gathered to pay tribute to U.S. and Israeli armed forces.RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) set a powerful model of the necessity for firm resolve at this time of international crises.

Guests also heard from California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, Jewish Republican statewide candidate for insurance commissioner, and Tony Strickland, statewide candidate for controller.

After touring the library and taking photos on the impressive Air Force One at the musuem, guests enjoyed a kosher cocktail party and dinner.

Larry Greenfield, Republican Jewish Coalition’s California regional director, says what is motivating their membership is the quality of the conversation.”RJC members and guests consistently value an honest appraisal of the international situation and a realistic approach to a dangerous world that the Jewish community respects,” he said. “Support for a beleaguered Israel, concern about a UN that has broken its promises, and moral clarity about Islamo-Fascism all resonate with American Jews today.”

According to Greenfield, under RJC CA Chairman Joel Geiderman, the RJC would continue to focus on supporting Jewish college students and the need for “fair play.” The RJC has been working with other Jewish groups to confront anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism at universities.

“We have begun to mature as a Jewish political community. Those in attendance included current White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, past and present Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke; and former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

“Many thoughtful Jewish Republicans are making a strong contribution rooted in Jewish values, both as, and with senior access to, American policymakers,” Greenfield said.

The Great Statesmen

Van Nuys High School American government students enjoyed an informative Q-and-A with Stanley Sheinbaum and Mike Farrell on June 8. The event, titled “14th Amendment Equal Protection Under the Law,” was the first in a series of discussions produced by California Safe Schools.

The two celebrated statesmen in the social justice community have been recognized for their humanitarian efforts: Sheinbaum for the protection of constitutional rights, education, public justice, human rights and international peace efforts; Farrell for his opposition to the death penalty and children’s rights. Farrell is also well-known for his portrayals of B.J. Hunnicutt on the long-running series “M*A*S*H” and as veterinarian Dr. James Hansen on the NBC drama “Providence.”

“It was inspiring to see the students so well versed in national, international and environmental issues. We look forward to replicating these programs for other students throughout the State and Country,” said Robina Suwol, executive director of California Safe Schools.

Both men were honored at the event with the California Safe Schools Humanitarian Award for their decades of service. The office of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) joined in the celebration presenting additional awards to each. The event as moderated by David Allgood, Southern California director of the state’s League of Conservation Voters.

Fond of the New Rabbi

Native Angeleno Rabbi Devora Fond became the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Torah in Arcadia in July, following her recent ordination by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (UJ). Fond received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Santa Cruz in 1991, and a master’s degree in rabbinic studies from the UJ in 2002. She has served in a variety of capacities, including hospital chaplain at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, rabbinic intern at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley and educator and rabbinic intern at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles.

Fond feels called to serve God by helping Jews connect with themselves, others, God and Torah, and through working with people of all faiths to make this world a better place. Fond says she is enthusiastic about having the opportunity to build relationships with the people in her community: to touch other people’s lives and be touched by others. She is committed to reaching out to new members, leading spiritually meaningful and innovative services, and making Judaism come alive through creative programming and thought-provoking teaching.

All About Ethics

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo nominated Helen Zukin, a lawyer in private practice and an active member of the State Bar of California, to the City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

“Helen’s skill as a lawyer and commitment to the highest ethical standards will be tremendous assets to the Ethics Commission,” Delgadillo said. “Her counsel and insight will serve the Commission well as it takes up the challenge of interpreting and implementing changes to our campaign finance laws, as well as maintain its critical role as city watchdog.”

Zukin, who also serves as a temporary judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court system, served on the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for nearly a decade. She has a long history of community and professional involvement, including membership on the Board of Governors for the Consumer Attorney’s Association of Los Angeles and as a trustee of the Jewish Community Foundation.

A civil litigator, Zukin’s practice has an emphasis on toxic torts, product liability and environmental property damage.

In addition to the city attorney, the mayor, controller, city council president and council president pro-tem each nominate one member to the five-member Ethics Commission. Commissioners serve staggered five-year terms, and are subject to review by the City Council’s Rules and Elections Committee, and to confirmation by the full L.A. City Council.

The commission was established in 1990 as part of a comprehensive package of local government ethics and campaign finance laws.

Letters to the Editor 07-07-06


Converts
As a convert to Judaism, I was reassured to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). A lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967, and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130-year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room, and I was the only person who had had a first holy communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife, Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F. Rohde
Los Angeles

Kosher
From reputation and general veneration, I had always believed Rabbi Jacob Pressman to be an intelligent and reliable community leader. Reading his foolish letter June 16 convinced me I was wrong on all counts (“But Is It Kosher?” June 9).

Pressman would have us believe that there is some Orthodox cabal controlling the purse strings of the literally hundreds of kashrut supervising agencies; that a group of black-hatted, white-bearded rebbes control the bank accounts and policies of these “for profit” groups — this is America after all — shades of the protocols! And all that has to be done to properly fund day schools is to divert these funds to cover the schools’ budgets, how simple and how asinine and misleading. Shame on you Rabbi Pressman. You do know better!

Growing up in Los Angeles I know that neither Pressman nor his Conservative (and Reform) colleagues contributed one whit to kashrut observance in this city. There were no restaurants or widespread bakery products available while he was in his prime, so he has nothing to say.

As regards high and truly unbearable tuition rates in our city, there is a simple solution, one that both the secular rabbinate and The Jewish Journal oppose — vouchers. I and my fellow community members pay thousands in taxes to fund a public school system that we choose not to use. Can’t we get some credit?

Howard Weiss
Los Angeles

I enjoyed reading Rob Eshman’s article that detailed the controversy that followed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) with the Orthodox Union over kosher slaughter practices, and AgriProcessors’ questionable treatment of its own workers. Most interesting to me was the latter part of the article, which tried to discuss the nature of kashrut.

The article quotes scholar Meir Soloveichik as calling the nature of kashrut “mysterious and obvious … the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.” In other words, it is to let the non-Jew know that we are special and follow laws meant to “set us apart and elevate our souls.”

Then in the last breath of the article, Eshman recommends that “the kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.”

In other words, kosher should mean that universal standards of humane treatment are being met, standards that any reasonable person would want.

So, which is it? Do we follow kashrut to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world or to encourage the rest of the world to join with us? It can’t be both.

Les Amer
Los Angeles

Finkelstein Syndrome
Roz Rothstein’s article on the anti-Semitic Jew, [Norman] Finkelstein, highlights a major lapse in common knowledge about Jewish history (“Beware the Finklestein Syndrome,” June 9). While every effort is made to inform the world about the Holocaust, very little information is disseminated about the history of lies and hate against the Jews, or its relationship to the Holocaust. I have seen history books that devote two pages to Anne Frank but fail to mention that Jews were patriotic Germans and no threat to Germany.

Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the “blood libel” which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern-day Theobald?

Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors.

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angeles

DaVinci Code
Enjoyed your articles on “The DaVinci Code,” (May 19), but only the first three gospels of the New Testament (Mathew, Mark and Luke) are synoptic gospels. They are synoptic because they are similar to each other and different from the writings of the fourth gospel of John.

Brett Thompson
via e-mail

John Fishel
While the article titled, “A Private Man,” about John Fishel that ran May 26 was informative, it did not highlight one of Fishel’s key strengths.

Expert after expert has declared that a vital dynamic causing growth and change in 21st century Jewish life is directly proportional to the successful rise of entrepreneurial, Jewish, social venture startups. Jewish Los Angeles has spawned more of these new and creative organizations that address the myriad interests and needs such a diverse population requires than any other area outside of New York.

A great deal of these initiatives are being adapted and re-created in cities across the country, such as new spiritual communities, organizations that decry global genocide and serve the special needs of Jewish children among many others. Fishel has consistently taken the position that new organizations can and should arise and that their existence alone adds immeasurable value.

This is not true in most places. I believe the prolific number of creative ventures attest to the success of this position and must be noted.

Rhoda Uziel
Executive Director
Professional Leaders Project

 

Friedan: Universal Woman, Particular Jew


Betty Friedan was, like most ordinary mortals, a mass of contradictions.

She was loud and sometimes imperious, yet she could be charming, funny, gentle, kind and winsome. A public persona, at times her ego needed massaging, but she remained surprisingly unassuming and unpretentious.

Though she exuded self-confidence, her vulnerabilities were right out there for all to see. She could fix her eyes and set her jaw in a ‘take no prisoners’ position, but she could also listen to opposite views, change her mind, and soften at the distress of others.

Friedan, who died last weekend at age 85 at her home in Washington, D.C., was both universal woman and particular Jew. The word Jewish does not appear at all in “The Feminine Mystique,” her seminal work, yet every heartbeat was a Jewish one. Once, in her 50s, after fame, fortune and independence had filled her life, she asked one favor of friends — to find her a nice Jewish husband.

She wrote about the drudgery and mindlessness of family work, yet her family was the sustained love of her life. She was totally invested in her children and longed for grandchildren well before they came.

This complicated, complex woman changed all of our lives, even those who never read “The Feminine Mystique” or never heard of NOW, the National Organization for Women.

She spawned perhaps the most profound social revolution of the last few centuries without a drop of blood being shed. She will go down in history as one of the great change agents of modern history; and for us, she will be a continuing source of Jewish pride, characterized in our own history books as one of the contributions we made to the world.

How and why was her impact so great? For that matter, how was it that she changed my own life as a Jewish feminist — for I came from a very different place in the 1960s, from a community that offered women great satisfaction and sense of value in their roles as wives and mothers?

Her book seemed to be anti-family, anti-men. Though her chapter “Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available” carried some truths, mostly she managed to put down so many of the great women I knew, full-time homemakers and mothers. Moreover, as the women’s movement got off the ground in the ’60s, building on her book’s steam, it quickly became more radicalized. The rhetoric of family as locus of abuse and man as exploiter grew more shrill. I’d have none of that!

Yet along with the excesses of early feminism was the underlying idea Betty Friedan offered the world: gender equality. This meant much more than the women’s vote. It meant equal access, equal talent and brains, equal dignity of women — and all of it a matter of justice.

For me, she did not adequately answer the question of equal careers and who would make lunch for hungry toddlers, prepare for Shabbat dinner with guests or meet the school bus each afternoon. She could not, because someone had to do the drudgework that accompanied the peaks and joys of raising children and running a Jewish household — and society was not yet organized to split these roles. But once she implanted in our minds and hearts the idea of equality of genders, once she posited this as ethics rather than as a battle between the sexes, each of us would try to work out the details in our own lives.

More than that, she opened the door to broader application of the idea of equal access and dignity to other spheres of life. In 1963, I made no connection between feminism and Jewish religious life, the imbalances in traditional Judaism created by gendered religious roles, the prevailing limitations on women studying Talmud or even the real disabilities in Jewish divorce.

But others did. These were a handful of Jewish women of the 1960s, women of Ezrat Nashim, women of other denominations who were writing about or modeling the new values, women who mediated secular feminism into Jewish feminism. Once these pioneering Jewish feminists established the connections, I could apply them to my own community — not out of a sense of abuse for I still felt none, but out of a sense of ethics, of meeting the original biblical paradigm — male and female created as equals in the image of God.

Friedan taught us several other important lessons. Not content to rest with the mighty power of her pen, she understood the covenantal nature of organizational life: For a job to be done and the work to continue, one needed more than an idea, more than cohorts. One needed organizational structures that would allow others to find an address and to take up the work. Friedan went on to found or co-found NOW, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the First Women’s Bank and Trust Company. She co-organized the first protest march and the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970. In 1969, though already beleaguered by opposition to feminism, she was unafraid to publicly take on the abortion issue, founding NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League.

These organizational models and her writings spawned hundreds of others. A spate of books and periodicals followed hers, and many hundreds of independent feminist organizations were created on these shores and far distant ones. Thus, her work in the world was multiplied in the arenas of politics, domestic life, religion, economics, education and all of the professions. It was, I believe, more than some of her sisters in the movement would acknowledge in later years.

As for her Jewishness, Friedan wore it proudly. In 1975, Rabbi Isaac Trainin and I invited her to join a New York Federation Task force, then called Jewish Women in a Changing Society. She joined in an instant, as if she’d just been waiting for the Jewish community to invite her in.

At her first meeting, she spoke of how Jewish values of justice had influenced her feminism, indeed her entire outlook on life. Later, we would learn that being a smart, Jewish girl growing up in Peoria, Ill., would shape her sensitivities as an outsider and sharpen her abilities to engage confrontation, both of which helped her in the early feminist battles.

She also was concerned specifically about the Jewish family. Once, in the early 1980s, as she, Susan Weidman Schneider and I shared a panel in Chicago on “Feminism and the Jewish Family.” I quipped that I was a slow learner for I had read “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963 while pregnant with my second child but went on to have three more children. (In the book, she caricatures the woman with a vision of five children). Friends though we were by then, she took considerable umbrage at my comment for she disliked being associated with a decline in the Jewish birth rate.

She saw Jewish feminism as a logical extension of secular feminism; the same rubrics applied: access and education; the need for ‘outside’ or public roles as well as inside ones defined as women’s primary space; freedom to control one’s destiny in marriage and divorce.

In those years, the Task Force held conferences on the agunah (the problem of women who have trouble obtaining a Jewish divorce), on infertility, on the Jewish family. Though peripherally involved in those conferences, she remained curious and interested in their outcomes.

Friedan’s greatness also lay in her ability to rethink matters. In publishing “The Second Stage,” she recognized that she had gone too far in “The Feminine Mystique” in denigrating women’s roles in the home. She wrote of transcending the false polarization between feminism and family, between men and women. She addressed the realities of work in the home and the satisfactions of women who chose that as their primary role. She was criticized by some of her more radical counterparts for selling out the original vision, but then, as earlier, she held her ground.

She once acknowledged that some of her writing in “Second Stage” was influenced by her contact with Jewish women of the federation world who successfully put together family and service and who made sequential choices in their lives regarding family and career.

Jewish history is full of flawed models, sometimes more powerful because of their flaws, and certainly more accessible. Betty was straight as a narrow, totally transparent, nothing behind a veil. What you saw was what you got, including anger or bruised ego. But that made the love, the caring, the creative mind, the generous spirit and the passion for justice all the more precious.

Blu Greenberg is founding president of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and founding chair of One Voice: Jewish Women for Israel.

 

Abramoff Linked to Jewish Ventures


Reading the indictment against Jack Abramoff, one might not know that he was prominent in Washington Jewish circles. But in coming months, his ties with Jewish and Israeli organizations may emerge as a prominent piece in the lobbyist’s web of questionable activities.

Last week, Abramoff pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts in Washington and Miami as part of a settlement in which he agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their ongoing government corruption probe. In the Washington case, the 46-year-old lobbyist admitted defrauding at least four Indian tribes of tens of millions of dollars, enticing government officials with bribes and evading taxes. In the Miami case, Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud stemming from his purchase of a fleet of casino boats.

While Abramoff is best known as a political wheeler-dealer, he also was a player in the Jewish community of the nation’s capital, starting several short-lived, money-losing ventures to fill what he perceived as religious gaps in the city’s Jewish world.

He also used his largess to further Israeli businesses and charities that appealed to his conservative worldview. Some of these activities have come to light in connection with the cases outlined in the federal indictments.

Specifically, Abramoff allegedly using money from a Washington charity he oversaw to fund military-style programs in the West Bank. Indian tribes donated money to tax-exempt charities, believing they were supporting anti-gambling foundations, but the money was redirected to help a “sniper school” in the West Bank, operated by a friend of Abramoff.

According to congressional documents, Abramoff sought night-vision goggles and a vehicle for the sniper-training facility.

Abramoff also allegedly worked on behalf of an Israeli firm that sought to wire the Capitol for cellular phone use. While leading cell phone manufacturers in the United States settled on JGC Wireless to install antennas in repeaters in House buildings, an Israeli company with ties to Abramoff, Foxcom Wireless, ultimately won the bid.

The switch is allegedly linked to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration Committee, who accepted numerous favors from Abramoff over the years, and placed comments in the Congressional Record favorable to Abramoff’s ventures.

Foxcom didn’t pay Abramoff to lobby for the House job, but it did donate $50,000 to the Capitol Athletic Foundation, an Abramoff charity, the Washington Post reported.

Foxcom has changed its name to MobileAccess and moved its headquarters to Virginia. A spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Abramoff also has been tied to two rabbis, the Lapin brothers from South Africa, who aided his political and personal ventures. David Lapin was hired to run a Jewish school Abramoff created in suburban Maryland to teach his children and others.

Lapin also received close to $1.2 million to promote “ethics in government” to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, one of Abramoff’s clients. Officials on the island said Lapin did little for the money.

His brother, Daniel Lapin, is president of Toward Tradition. Abramoff allegedly asked him to create an award to bestow upon Abramoff to help his acceptance into Washington’s Cosmos Club. Abramoff suggested he could be a “scholar of Talmudic studies” or a “distinguished biblical scholar.”

Lapin said yes, according to e-mails obtained by congressional investigators, and asked whether Abramoff needed a letter or a plaque. Lapin told the Washington Post he meant the exchange to be tongue-in-cheek and never produced an award for Abramoff.

Two other Abramoff aides moved to Israel last year as investigators continued their probe. Sam Hook and his wife, Shana Tesler, both worked at Abramoff’s law firm and had been cooperating with investigators before moving to Israel in July, according to The Hill, a Washington newspaper. The Orthodox Jews had long planned to move to Israel, their attorney said last year.

Abramoff also made contributions to several Jewish lawmakers, among numerous congressmen Abramoff and his associates help finance. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) donated $7,000 — the amount he received from Abramoff — to charity last week.

A spokesman for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) did not respond to questions about his own donation from Abramoff — in the amount of $1,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

In Washington, Abramoff was well-known for the idiosyncratic use of his money. He shunned other religious schools in the area, choosing to open Eshkol Academy specifically for his children’s education.

The school closed within two years, and several teachers say they are owed back pay. David Lapin, the school’s dean, was not an active administrator, former teachers said.

Abramoff also opened several kosher restaurants that failed quickly. Stacks, a deli, was welcomed by the city’s Jewish community, but never made money. A more formal restaurant upstairs, Archives, never stayed open for more than a few weeks at a time.

Some Jewish professionals found it noteworthy that the Abramoff that appeared outside a Washington courthouse Jan. 3 — with a long, double-breasted black coat and black hat — resembled a devout Jew on his way to Shabbat services. In a New York Times interview last year, Abramoff compared himself to the biblical character Jacob, saying his involvement in lobbying was similar to Jacob’s taking the identity of his brother, Esau. A spokesman for Abramoff later told JTA his client was misquoted.

 

Why Scapegoat?


 

On March 31, The New York Times ran an astonishing page: a photo showing Christian, Jewish and Muslim clerics gathered in what the newspaper called “a rare show of unity.” What brought these sometime enemies together? The headline told the story: “Religious Chiefs Decry Gay Pride Fest in Jerusalem.”

Lorri L. Jean, executive director of the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center, sent the article out to many of us in the community with a short introduction:

“Finally, the way to peace in the Middle East. Uniting against us!”

Do we laugh or cry? The people in the photo would have us hang our heads in shame, but instead we shake our heads in disbelief. When I read further, I realized why they are afraid — the people they imagine us to be are not the people we are. They envision a scary “other,” a kind of “terrorist” actively seeking to destroy their way of life, while I picture people I actually know, people like me and my partner and my congregants — Jews who take Judaism seriously, living Jewish lives in a caring community. Like many who journey to Israel, we look forward to visiting Jerusalem in the company of others who would gather to study, to pray, to celebrate respect and appreciation for one another, earnest in our belief that we too are created in God’s image, and charged with the responsibility of making our world a better one.

This week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot, gives us the first of two verses in Torah that have been understood for generations as prohibiting men from having sex with other men: “You shall not lie with a male like lying with a woman: it is an offensive thing” (Leviticus 18:22). Along with Leviticus 20:13, the verse continues to be the source of much agony in our time as gay men and lesbians struggle for civil rights and for a place in religious communities. During discussions of marriage equality or who can be a rabbi, it is still the verse most commonly quoted.

In response to the three clerics who made the front page of The New York Times, in just one week several hundred clergy, mostly from the United States, signed on to a letter of support for WorldPride in Jerusalem, saying, among other things, that “Jerusalem, a living, holy city, a pilgrimage site for people of many faiths and many beliefs, increases in holiness when all are welcome within her walls.”

I am grateful to be hearing voices of other clergy speaking out. But I’m also saddened by the necessity of pitting ourselves one against another, spending our time and energies fighting each other instead of looking for common ground.

Acharei Mot begins with a different set of instructions before arriving at the litany of sexual prohibitions. God instructs Moses to instruct Aaron on the sacrifices of expiation to be offered on Yom Kippur. Therein we find the original scapegoat — an actual goat on whose head “Aaron shall lay both his hands … and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites” (16:21) before sending it off into the wilderness. Ever since this practice ended (or maybe before it began), individuals and groups have served as scapegoats — the declared cause of this, that and another ill that has befallen society or that prevents people or nations from being all they could be. Having invented the idea of scapegoat, Jews ironically are no strangers to serving as one. So we know the unfairness and inaccuracy of the practice, yet we ourselves also often manage to engage in scapegoating. Liberal Jews scapegoat Orthodox Jews and vice versa, to name but one example.

But as Aaron did with the original scapegoat, when we scapegoat human beings we also send them away into the wilderness. We banish them from our lives by describing them as enemies, by imagining we have nothing in common, by deciding to fear each other, by condemning or dismissing or blaming one another. All of which, of course, makes it increasingly unlikely that we will ever instead get to know one another, ever look for our common humanity, ever discover our shared respect for the values and ethics of our shared religions or our shared God.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Hagadol, the Shabbat before Pesach begins, a time to ready ourselves for this z’man kheruteinu — the “season of our freedom.” Wouldn’t it be a wonder if “this year in Jerusalem” we found both freedom of religion and the freedom that comes to each of us when we feel true respect for one another?

Chag Pesach sameach.

Lisa Edwards is rabbi at Beth Chayim Chadashim — House of New Life — in Los Angeles.

 

Principal for a Day, Lesson for a Lifetime


 

This Wednesday dawns as another tough, typical grind for the principal of the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies (SOCES). There’s the 7:15 a.m. arrival and the 10 p.m. departure. Then there’s the picket line set up by half the teaching staff. And later, the little problem of not having eye washes in science classrooms in case experiments go dangerously wrong.

It’s a lot more than Kenn Phillips could have bargained for when he accepted this gig as principal. Lucky for him, he doesn’t have to come back tomorrow.

That’s because Phillips isn’t the real principal, but merely principal for a day. Phillips is among more than 200 professionals who arranged to shadow principals as part of a Los Angeles Unified School District effort to create alliances between businesses and schools. Phillips is getting an early start with his mid-March stint. Nearly all of the other short-timers are serving on Tuesday, March 29.

At the Center for Enriched Studies, the Principal-for-a-Day ritual has a distinctly Jewish cast. Phillips, a 46-year-old businessman, is Jewish, and so is the actual principal, 56-year-old Robert Weinberg. SOCES, as the school is called, has a sizable contingent of Jewish students, an estimated 20 percent. He considers character education, often expressed through religious traditions, to be at the core of developing responsible young adults. His sign-off after announcements wishes students a good day and reminds them “character counts.”

SOCES, in Tarzana, is not a district trouble spot by any measure. Its test scores are among Los Angeles’ best; its students almost universally attend college. But that doesn’t make the principal’s job easy, as Phillips learns.

Not that Weinberg is complaining. He’s entirely immersed in his role.

“Most people, when they come to this school,” Weinberg says, “find it’s a magical kind of place.”

OK, it’s not so magical to find 35 teachers picketing, but they’re not mad at the principal, only upset over several years without pay raises. And the cause of the 10 p.m. departure is a concert, a special event that Weinberg is pleased lose sleep for. As for the eye washes — Weinberg can handle that, too. By day’s end, he decides to spend grant money to buy them. He’s got plenty of other potential uses for those funds, but safety, he concludes, has to come first.

Phillips’ visit quickly becomes an exchange of ideas, a sharing of experiences. Phillips has shadowed a principal seven times: “It’s important that I understand what Bob, the teachers and students are thinking, because when I meet with people at a very high level, they don’t know the pulse of what’s going on,” said Phillips, a director at the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley.

So, at 10:15 a.m., when Weinberg grabs his walkie-talkie and heads outside, Phillips, mobile phone strapped to his belt, follows. Phillips is dressed smartly, sleekly, in a business suit and gleaming blue tie. Weinberg, by contrast, is large — 6-foot-8 — and more rumpled. He’s known for occasionally dressing up as “Bob the Builder.”

Weinberg leans against a railing at the center of campus, while teachers and many of the school’s 1,750 students stream by. SOCES is known for a student body that ranges in age from 10 to 18. Little girls, dressed in pink, snack on bagels, while a high school couple walks past with arms draped around one another. A teenage boy sitting on a bench plays guitar.

“What are we doing?” Phillips asks.

“We’re doing supervision,” Weinberg answers. “If kids want to talk to me, they have access.”

“Hey, Mr. Weinberg,” says a redheaded sprout. “Have a peanut M&M. I bought them, so you could have one.”

Weinberg obliges.

The bell sounds and students dart in every direction. Weinberg stays in place, issuing tardy slips.

But he’s not just giving a demonstration in school administration. He wants to hear Phillips’ ideas on education. Businesses need students with better communication and teamwork skills, Phillips says, and with a stronger commitment to ethics. During part of the day, he will share these beliefs with a class of high schoolers.

Weinberg leads Phillips down a hallway, explaining that advanced students can take classes at Pierce College in Woodland Hills.

“Have you thought about adding a bungalow here, so that instead of kids going to Pierce, you’d have [the instructors] come here?” Phillips asks.

“No, but that’d be great,” Weinberg says.

As they walk through an outdoor cafeteria, Phillips asks, “Do you have an active PTA?”

Weinberg, in his fifth year here, says the school has no PTA at all, but he’d like to establish one.

“If you need help, I’ll see if we can make that work for you,” Phillips says.

He explains that a president of the association sits on his company’s board.

The two step into an auditorium blaring with music, where orchestra students rehearse for the evening’s concert. Weinberg points out how he renovated the place with contributions from corporate sponsors.

When it’s time for the two to part, Weinberg lumbers through one door to “do supervision,” while Phillips glides through a different one to return to his world of business.

Before he leaves, Phillips asked: “If you had all the money in the world, what would you do?”

Weinberg says he would reduce class sizes, add more time to the school year and get every teacher to believe that any student can learn.

If Phillips and his corporate associates could help accomplish those things, he’d be welcome to stand in as principal any day.

 

New Allegations of Forged Hahn Support


 

Several times over the course of this mayoral election season, acquaintances approached Yitzchok Bader, a Jewish studies teacher and volunteer for Hatzolah Los Angeles, and said they heard he endorsed Mayor James Hahn.

The problem was, he hadn’t.

Bader’s name was on an advertisement called “Our Community Leaders Agree! Re-elect Mayor Jim Hahn,” which appeared in The Jewish Journal just prior to the March 8 primary election. But Bader said he never gave permission to the Hahn campaign or its supporters to use his name.

“I have no understanding why in the world he put my name there,” he said. “I was not asked and I did not endorse [Hahn].”

A growing number of Jewish community members are saying that Hahn’s re-election campaign falsely claimed them as endorsers in that ad. Among these, four individuals insisted that their signatures had been forged after reviewing signed endorsement forms that the Hahn campaign provided to The Journal to justify the names on their advertisement.

Two types of accusations have surfaced, one that the Hahn campaign used names without permission and, separately, that individual’s names were forged on endorsement documents. Hahn’s campaign actually provided signed endorsement forms to The Journal for seven individuals in response to initial allegations that no permission had been given. The Journal reached four of the seven, and all of them called the endorsement forms forgeries. The forgery allegations were made by Rabbi Steven Weil of Temple Beth Jacob; Irving Lebovics, chairman of the Orthodox group Agudath Israel of California; Michael Rosenberg, president of the Hancock Park Residents Association; and developer Ira Smedra. Bader, the Jewish studies teacher, hasn’t seen his alleged permission form, but insists he gave no permission.

These prominent, respected members of the local Jewish community are just the sort of supporters the Hahn campaign would seek, especially during a tough reelection bid in which one of Hahn’s challengers was Jewish.

That challenger, Bob Hertzberg, just barely finished behind Hahn last week, meaning Hahn will face L.A. City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa in the May runoff. Hertzberg claimed strong Jewish support last week, but it was far from unanimous, and Hahn’s Jewish endorsements could have meant a lot to his campaign.

After the initial endorsement ad appeared in The Journal, six of the people mentioned in the ad wrote a letter of complaint to Hahn. The mayor’s campaign denied any ill intent and told The Journal that the controversy over Hahn’s endorser list was limited to the six people who complained, and that the campaign was holding signed permission forms for all the people on the ad. It was when the campaign provided some of those permission forms that the forgeries were uncovered.

But the problem goes deeper than these six people who signed the letter of protest.

More questionable endorsements are turning up, such as that of Jewish studies teacher Bader.

One of the confirmed forgeries is from one of the city’s leading developers, Smedra, someone who did not sign the letter of complaint.

“Not my signature,” Smedra told The Journal when he saw the form on which his purported signature appeared. “I have no idea who signed this. This isn’t even close.”

Hahn consultant Kam Kuwata denied any wrongdoing on the part of the campaign: “No one in the Hahn campaign would ever in this case or any other case forge documents.”

The Hahn campaign accounts for the forms by linking them to yet another mainstay of the civic and Jewish elite, businessman Joseph Klein, who died in June 2004. Kuwata said all the dubious forms were supplied by Klein, either by fax or in person. At the same time, Kuwata is quick to defend Klein’s honor.

“This campaign has unlimited respect and admiration and trust in Joe Klein,” Kuwata said. “If Joe Klein said something, that’s gospel truth.”

Until recent times, Klein was one of most powerful appointed officials in city government. He headed the Planning Commission as a Hahn appointee. He also was a leader within the Orthodox Jewish community, and an unabashedly enthusiastic Hahn supporter.

Klein, of course, isn’t around to defend his honor, but his friends are, including the ones who are angry about the endorsements. They are quick to praise Klein for honesty, compassion and impeccable ethics.

“Joe Klein [was] my good friend,” Weil said. “He never gave me anything to sign. He was a good man, a man of integrity. He didn’t do stuff like this.”

Bader, who also knew Klein, agreed. Asked whether Klein mentioned any endorsement forms during 2003 or 2004, the time period when the forms most likely originated, Bader said without hesitation: “No. Not once.”

“He was a very upstanding person,” said Stanley Treitel, Klein’s brother-in-law. “He would never [forge documents]. That I can tell you for sure.”

The reaction of Weil was typical of those who reviewed the endorsement forms.

“I am telling you that is a forgery,” he said. “That’s not the way I sign.” To back up his assertion, Weil brought in three colleagues at the synagogue who “have seen me sign my name 1,000 times.”

Mysterious Origin

The letterhead on all the forms is “Jim Hahn for Mayor 2005,” but they are all undated, meaning they could have been supplied at any point after Hahn’s first election in 2001.

One clue, however, suggests a much more recent vintage. That clue is a fax number that appears on the forms. Kuwata said this number first was used in connection with the Hahn re-election campaign in mid-2003. Assuming these forms were not altered after their initial creation, this fax number would mean the forms were created in mid-2003 at the earliest.

Klein’s connection to the Hahn campaign was strictly as a volunteer, friend and donor.

From 2000 to 2003, Klein contributed $10,000 to various Hahn-related causes including Hahn’s 2001 mayoral bid, Hahn’s legal defense fund and his 2005 re-election bid. Klein’s business interests included real estate and elder care, but friends also note that he was obsessed with local government, its relevance and its importance.

Close friend Michael Rosenberg said Klein was admitted to a hospital in March 2004 and died three months later. That means Klein would have supplied the forms between mid-2003 and his hospitalization in March 2004.

Smedra and Weil say they are certain that Klein, whom they also termed a close friend, never mentioned anything to them during this period about collecting or delivering signatures for Hahn’s 2005 mayoral bid.

“The only time he ever asked me for anything for Jim Hahn was when he first ran four years ago,” said Smedra. Smedra added that he saw Klein “all the time” in 2003 and early 2004 and can’t remember him ever discussing endorsement forms.

Klein was especially sensitive about behavior that could be judged unethical, said another friend, Rabbi Jonathan Rosenblatt. Rosenblatt noted that Klein, a Holocaust survivor and immigrant from Czechoslovakia, often tried to help people or synagogues deal with city government.

“And none of it was in any way underhanded. He was hyperconscious that if something unsavory was done by someone Jewish, that it would be blamed on the entire Jewish people,” Rosenblatt said.

Like other friends, Rosenblatt only remembers Klein’s involvement with Hahn’s 2001 campaign.

Some members of Klein’s circle suggest that the Hahn campaign is trying to pass off responsibility for the forgeries on a good man who isn’t around to say otherwise. They note that Klein would be a convenient scapegoat if one or more Hahn staffers actually created the false forms to cover their missteps after questions arose about suspect endorsements.

Names in Two Places

The furor began when a Hertzberg supporter happened to see the pro-Hahn ad and called Hertzberg outreach staffer Adeena Bleich. Why wasn’t Hertzberg also proclaiming his Jewish support in the press, the caller wanted to know.

When Bleich looked at the ad, she saw a list peppered with people she believed to be Hertzberg supporters.

“So I just started calling them and said, ‘Do you know that your name is listed [for Hahn]?'” Bleich told The Journal. “‘Should I take you off our Web site?'”

It was after Bleich pointed out their names that six of those listed decided to send a letter of complaint to Hahn. The six were Weil, Rosenberg, Lebovics, Rabbi Avraham Weiner, Aaron Litenansky and Walter Feinblum.

Shortly thereafter, the Hahn campaign provided The Journal with the endorsement permission documents, including the forms for all six letter writers. The forms specifically gave the Hahn campaign permission to “Use my name on a list of Jewish community leaders for Hahn.”

Could the entire imbroglio somehow be a tactic of Hahn’s opponents? If so, their timing was poor. The issue was not called to the attention of Journal editors until it was too late to publish a pre-election story. Moreover, Kuwata said he knows Klein provided the forms, and numerous people have vouched for Klein’s status as a true-blue friend of the mayor.

For what it’s worth, Bleich also knew Klein personally and joined the chorus of commendations. “He was a wonderful, wonderful human being,” Bleich said.

Endorsement-Gate, to coin a term, didn’t come to light in time to hurt Hahn or help Hertzberg, but it’s just one more ethics-related issue that the Hahn campaign has to explain to voters — in this case Jewish voters. His administration is under investigation for pay-to-play allegations linking political contributions to city contracts. And there’s the over-billing by public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard for city-related events that could be viewed as promoting Hahn’s political interests on the city’s dime. And just last week came new allegations related to Kuwata, Hahn’s veteran political adviser. Critics accuse him of improperly failing to register as a lobbyist and also question whether Kuwata’s city contract was handled properly. Kuwata and the Hahn administration deny any wrongdoing.

But a series of ethics-related issues could add up to an ethics problem in the minds of voters, and ethics matter to the city’s high-propensity Jewish voters.

 

What’s Next for Shalhevet?


 

Sitting at the back of a large multipurpose room packed full of students and staff at Shalhevet’s weekly town hall meeting, Jerry Friedman is kvelling at a level usually reserved for grandparents at a bar mitzvah.

Someone taps him on the shoulder, and Friedman reluctantly excuses himself to take a phone call.

A half-hour later, back in his office, he says that during the interval he nailed a $500,000 donation. It’s good news for a hand-to-mouth school that for the past few years has suffered an enrollment and fundraising slump.

Despite its fair share of controversy and assaults on its reputation, the school Friedman founded 13 years ago has established itself as an innovative, liberal Modern Orthodox high school with high academic standards, where kids for the most part really love the school.

Now, as it reaches the traditional age of maturity, Shalhevet is working hard to ensure its continuity, as it determines what role the man who gave birth to and still controls the school should play.

Friedman’s silver convertible Jaguar, parked right at the school’s front doors, sports “SHLHVT” vanity plates. He has been the head of school, the president of the board, the executive director and the main fundraiser — and he has never drawn a salary.

Friedman acknowledges that for the good of the school, he must allow others to take over critical tasks. This year, the school hired an executive director for the first time, taking all operational and financial issues out of Friedman’s lap. An active lay board has taken shape, and a nominating committee will soon tap a president so that Friedman can vacate that position as well. He says he will focus all of his energies on the educational and moral development of the students and, of course, still have his hand in some fundraising.

But whether those changes will be enough, and just how far Friedman is willing to pull back, could play a role in determining how the school faces some of the biggest challenges in its short history.

This year’s ninth-grade class represented the lowest number of applicants the school has received since it became firmly established. While there are between 50 and 60 students in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades, there are only 36 ninth-graders, and that number represents a significantly higher percentage of acceptances out of the total pool of applicants than in previous years.

Quality and quantity among applicants has improved for next year, according to Beatrice Levavi, director of admissions.

Friedman attributes the dip to years worth of communal lashon harah, or slandering. Shalhevet challenges local religious norms by being a coeducational yeshiva where girls learn Gemara, and some segments of the Orthodox community have been maligning the school since before it opened.

Teachers at the Orthodox feeder schools have actively discouraged students from going to Shalhevet. Parents and students report of hearing a teacher at a day school call Shalhevet girls “sluts,” and of getting the heart-to-heart from concerned teachers when a student professes interest in Shalhevet. One parent said his daughter’s eighth-grade mentor refused to write a recommendation when she wanted to go to Shalhevet, and others report transcripts being withheld.

All of this has put Shalhevet constantly on the defensive, but more telling than the communal bad-mouthing is the fact that former Shalhevet supporters have defected. A number of younger siblings of Shalhevet students have gone instead to YULA, a more traditional Orthodox yeshiva and Shalhevet’s primary competition.

How did a school that nearly everyone agrees fills a much-needed niche for a more open-minded Modern Orthodox education, and has been quite successful in secular academics, lose so many supporters — both in terms of donors and students?

Families who spoke to The Journal strongly support the school’s vision and philosophy from the nonjudgmental Modern Orthodoxy to the passionate Zionism to the focus on moral development where kids participate in democratic decision making. They said that their kids came out with a sense of confidence and respect for intellectual curiosity.

But, they said, the school was run so sloppily at every level that disorganization and flakiness dominated the operations and even some academic aspects of the school (most parents spoke on condition of anonymity, since some have students at school).

“What frustrated a lot of parents was that this was the only school with a mission we believed in, but the problems overwhelmed the mission,” said one father who sent a child to YULA after other children were already at Shalhevet.

Just how much of the disorganization can be attributed to Friedman’s omnipresence — and his reputed abrasiveness — is a matter of opinion. Friedman admits that operations suffered because he was spread too thin, and that he lacks the diplomacy sometimes necessary to stroke the egos of parents and big donors.

“After 13 years I’ve made a dozen or so enemies, but I’ve always been consistent on principles,” he said. “I understood that if we are building a school based on morality and ethics, then the greatest hypocrisy would be to say, ‘write a check and I’ll do what you want.'”

Several parents question whether the current changes are enough, as long as Friedman remains head of school.

“As a personal achievement for Jerry and in filling a community niche it is remarkable,” said one former parent, who is a prominent community leader. “But it is an institution dominated by one individual who can’t seem to let go or create an organizational structure that allows it to be a normal place. That is really the issue. Everything else is small. Everything else would fall into place if it were allowed to develop in a natural way.”

Friedman, a successful real estate developer and philanthropist, got his doctorate from Harvard when he was 50 with a thesis focusing on the moral development of day school kids. He came back to Los Angeles and poured millions of his own money into creating Shalhevet.

Students are passionate about the school.

“There are so many terrible rumors, but nobody sees how amazing Shalhevet is from the inside. Kids come to school, and they are happy and love being at Shalhevet,” said Sarah Honig, an 11th-grader who started an external-affairs committee to counter community badmouthing. She points to the plethora of opportunities in the arts and social action, and the mutual respect and caring among teachers and students.

“Certainly it’s not perfect and lots of kooky things go on in the school, but it really is a vibrant community where a lot of wonderful things happen,” said senior Leor Hackel, who plans to spend next year in yeshiva in Israel and then to go to Yale, were he got in early admission.

After so many parents complained — or just left — Shalhevet has worked to tame the atmosphere of a free-for-all, where classes were often canceled, rules were loose and changed often, and Judaic studies weren’t taken seriously, according to parents and students interviewed.

Two years ago, Friedman instructed general studies principal Sam Gomberg to tighten things up, and students and staff admit it took a while to find the right balance between having a disciplined atmosphere and maintaining the commitment to a democracy in which students play a role.

Judaic studies are also being beefed up, with more advanced classes, more Gemara and more demands in existing classes. The school is searching for a rosh yeshiva to end the revolving door of Israeli rabbis who have traditionally filled the position for two- or three-year stints.

Administrators acknowledge that admissions had gotten out of hand in the past few years, with Friedman not wanting to turn away students who might not get a Jewish education otherwise. He acknowledges that he let in students who were unqualified and handed out scholarships with little or no system.

This year Levavi, who has been on the administrative staff for seven years and is the mother of four Shalhevet graduates and two current students, is being very selective in admissions.

“We’re interviewing amazing kids,” she said. “I have every belief that we are going to have a remarkable ninth grade next year.”

New structures are also being implemented to tighten tuition collection and how scholarships are awarded. For years the school ran at a deficit and fundraising was a frantic pursuit, born out of starting out undercapitalized and then straining to buy the $6.8 million Westside Hospital building on Olympic Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue in 1999.

Four months ago, Ken Milman, who had been head of the collections department for IDT Telecommunications, was hired as executive director to put the house in order.

“If you come in and see stacks of bills not getting paid and check requests sitting there and teachers wanting books and things not getting fulfilled on time, it is a matter of putting in business processes to solve those problems,” said Milman, who handles all nonacademic operations and reports directly to the board, not to Friedman.

Friedman and others hope that empowering a lay board of 22 people — larger and more diverse than the school has ever had — will help take the focus off Friedman and put it back on the school.

“It is part of the maturation of the school that after some period of time the person who really is the school starts looking to others to take over responsibility, while maintaining the basic reasons for why the school was set up,” said Marc Rohatiner, a board member who has had three daughters at Shalhevet. “This is not a model that can survive as the school grows, where there is one person responsible for all aspects. There has to be checks and balances, formally and informally, and Jerry recognizes that because he is the one who initiated this.”

 

Your Letters


Jewish Cool

The torrents of ink on “Jewish hip,” “Jewish cool” and “Jewish pop culture” obscures a simple truth: Only Jews who take seriously Judaism — the religion — can count on having Jewish grandchildren (“From Jew to Jewcy,” July 23). This is because in an open society only Judaism provides a compelling answer to the question, “Why be Jewish?”

Other “Jewish” paths are dead ends, and literally sterile — they can’t reproduce. They have Jewish value insofar as they may be a person’s door into Judaism, and thereafter enrich one’s practice of Judaism.

The remaining question is whether the organized, “secular” Jewish community will include this insight into its outreach efforts before it’s too late.

Paul Kujawsky, Valley Village

Tisha B’Av Today

Dr. Aryeh Cohen (“Tisha B’Av Today,” July 23) has got one thing right — we do need Tisha B’Av today. Unfortunately, he has the reasons all wrong. His assertion that on this Tisha B’Av we must consider “how all our cherished hopes for ourselves as a community based on ethics and a commitment to social and economic justice can — and at times have — slipped through our hands” is misguided. Indeed, Tisha B’Av has nothing to do with confronting our inability to “create an ethical polity” or with being “allied with the forces of injustice.” Despite Cohen’s evident discomfort with the idea of Jewish victimhood, Tisha B’Av is, in fact, a day dedicated to the great tragedies which have befallen our people, including the ongoing calamity of the confusion of Jewish values with the politically correct agenda of the day. On Tisha B’Av, our thoughts should be directed toward bridging the huge gulf between God and the Jewish people, which is symbolized by the continuing absence of the Temples in Jerusalem whose destruction is the main focus of the day. That is what Tisha B’Av is about today, as it has always been.

Ben Taylor, Los Angeles

Test-a-Jew

I hate to burst Mark Miller’s stereotype-laden bubble, but my granddaughter has blond hair, blue-green eyes and a straight nose (both her parents are Jewish) (“Test-a-Jew,” July 30). Continuing to analyze my granddaughter’s family tree vis-a-vis Miller’s standards: My granddaughter has two Jewish parents. Her maternal grandmother (that would be me) has blond hair (natural, but now gray) and blue eyes; her three first cousins (on my side) all have blue eyes; and her paternal grandfather has blue-green eyes. Two of her first cousins on her father’s side have blue or green eyes.

Both of my parents (both Jews of Russian heritage) had blue eyes.

I think a higher percentage of Jews have blue or green eyes than people of any other faith.That study would be a ridiculous waste of time, but since Miller brought it up.

Name withheld by request, Los Angeles

Faith and Pork

I believe that Micah Halpern (“Balancing Acts of Faith and Pork,” July 23) is blind to the possibility that the State of Israel’s secular founding fathers are turning over in their graves by the monster they created by subsidizing Orthodox Jewish “students,” who now number in the scores of thousands (along with their enormous families). They are a burden on the economy, and have politically disenfranchised all non-Orthodox Jews. What kind of “democracy” is it that insists that all marriage and divorce for Jews be in the Orthodox traditions in order to be legal? In comparison, Ireland is a true democracy. Although about 88 percent of the citizens are Roman Catholic, civil marriage and divorce is quite legal. A Jewish state does not have to be a fundamentalist Jewish state.

Martin J. Weisman , Westlake Village

Reverse in Israel

Gideon Levy writes about a disabled Palestinian man killed during an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) house demolition and a Palestinian professor and son shot in their home and asks for our reactions if the situation were reversed (“If the Situation Were Reversed,” July 30). However, Levy admits that the IDF considered the death of the disabled man “a death that shouldn’t have happened.” In both cases, the aim of the IDF was not to indiscriminately kill Palestinians and that both cases are being thoroughly investigated to determine the cause of these tragedies and methods to prevent them in the future. One can quibble about how thorough and how serious the IDF are in these matters, but the fact is that they aren’t pinning medals on the soldiers responsible.

If the situation were reversed, for instance, after the bus bombing in Tel Aviv on July 10 that killed Maayan Naim, groups like Yasser Arafat’s Al-Aqsa Brigades proudly take credit for intentional murder. The perpetrators’ goal is to murder as many Jews as possible, and their communities hail them as heroes. These incidents will be studied by these Palestinian groups not to prevent them in the future, but to learn how to repeat them and to learn how to murder more Jews.

Dr. Steven Ohsie, Los Angeles

Correction

In “Presbyterians Ignite Divestment Uproar” (July 30), Rabbi Mark Diamond is the executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Justice or Character Assassination?


Rabbi Michael Mayersohn feels betrayed by his own professional association that provided "a loaded gun" to an accuser, who wielded it to take aim at his reputation.

Last month, what Mayersohn described as "a private torment" became a public embarrassment when a charge of sexual misconduct against him was divulged to a wire service by his accuser. The former congregant, Chavah Stevens-Hogue, also revealed a pending disciplinary decision against Mayersohn by the Reform movement’s rabbinical arm. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) story appeared June 15.

Ultimately, the board of trustees of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) on June 20 upheld its earlier reprimand, Mayersohn said, overriding the more severe censure recommended by the conference’s ethics and appeals committee.

Only the most egregious offenses that warrant expulsion and suspension are routinely disclosed in the conference’s newsletter.

Mayersohn, 51, said that Stevens-Hogue’s complaint is fiction and that even the most lenient professional reprimand is unjustified. Stevens-Hogue, 44, of Huntington Beach, is equally adamant that her allegation of "sexual boundary violations" has merit and criticizes the rabbinical association for showing favoritism to its members by failing to follow its own guidelines.

"After soul-searching, I had to put privacy aside," said Stevens-Hogue, explaining she took her accusations public only after the CCAR’s board tossed out the harsher punishment imposed by the ethics and appeals committee, which handles such charges. "I thought that was a fair and reasonable decision," she said of censure, which would require Mayersohn to undergo psychological testing, therapy and counseling for teshuvah (repentance).

The painful case reveals the vulnerability of clergy to character assassination as well as the difficulty for lay people in challenging a religious entity that keeps its decisions secret.

If the phone calls Mayersohn has received are an indication, his predicament is not uncommon. He has received a half-dozen sympathy calls from colleagues around the country who also described defending themselves against complaints they say were unjustified. In at least one other instance where a CCAR reprimand was issued, the colleague told Mayersohn the reproof was taken to pacify the complainant and resolve the issue. Under the Reform code of ethics, a reprimand is the least serious form of punishment and takes the form of a private letter to the rabbi and complainant involved.

"That suggests the pattern is when in doubt the CCAR issues reprimands," said Mayersohn, who contends Reform ethics policies need revision. "Don’t put a loaded gun in the hand of a complainant. The policy inadvertently betrays rabbis by informing the complainant of a reprimand. The complainant is a free agent; while they don’t want the complainant to go to the press, it must happen."

He is unwilling to file suit against Stevens-Hogue for libel.

Rabbi Paul Menitoff, the group’s executive vice president, defended the way the rabbinic conference handles complaints about members.

"Complaints are addressed extremely seriously," he said. "There are people who go through this and feel the resolution is too strict or not strict enough." Although he lacked statistics about the outcomes of ethics complaints or appeals of the ethics panel’s decisions, Menitoff said recent appeals were "mixed" and did not solely agree with the appellant.

Stevens-Hogue denies her intention in going public is to damage Mayersohn’s reputation. She felt compelled to raise an alarm because "he’s in pastoral counseling without supervision; to warn the public, the Jewish community, that there’s an issue out there. People need to know.

"I’m not doing this for me," said Stevens-Hogue, who might have brought suit against the temple, a recourse she chose not to pursue. "I feel like he will do it again. I expected the CCAR to keep the rabbinate safe."

The issue stems from a May 2002 complaint made by Stevens-Hogue, who alleged that Mayersohn made sexual advances during a closed-door marital counseling session when he served as rabbi of Westminster’s Temple Beth David. After 13 years, he unexpectedly quit the pulpit in February 2003, a resignation he says is unrelated to Stevens-Hogue’s complaint. He has resumed work, mostly teaching, but also providing pastoral counseling.

The counseling incident took place in December 1999, Mayersohn said, citing his own correspondence, dated Feb. 26, 2000, which suggests she "misunderstood" his expressions of concern and the nature of their relationship.

"I did the things you are supposed to do," Mayersohn said, describing reporting the assertions to the temple’s executive committee, the Reform movement’s congregational arm and to the chair of the rabbinical ethics committee in 2000, two years before Stevens-Hogue filed a formal complaint.

"This is a man’s life, career and reputation that is on the line," said Melanie Alkov, a Beth David trustee. "I must come to his defense."

"I applaud Rabbi Mayersohn for standing up for his rights — for appealing the reprimand that was injudiciously extended to him and I pray that my faith in Rabbi Mayersohn’s integrity will prevail," Alkov wrote in a letter to The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, which ran the JTA story in its June 18 edition.

Another defender is Joan Kaye, director of O.C.’s Bureau of Jewish Education. She hired Mayersohn to head up a new initiative that begins in September. The Jewish Academy of Growth and Learning will award certificates of recognition to students of communitywide adult education courses. Mayersohn’s principal role is as its student guidance counselor. Kaye’s confidence in him remains unshaken.

"Nothing has changed in the last two years," she said.

Stevens-Hogue, who changed her name to Chavah from Lori at a ceremony a year after joining Beth David, chose a Conservative conversion to ensure that her daughter would be accepted by most American Jews when it comes time to marry. She left the congregation and now sporadically attends services at Long Beach’s Orthodox Shul by the Shore, where her daughter attends Hebrew school.

"They have very strict rules about rabbis touching congregants," said Stevens-Hogue, whose husband of 12 years did not convert. "I’m still going through spiritual issues because of what happened."

She questions the fairness and probity of the CCAR’s ethics guidelines, which were adopted in June 2003. The ethics’ panel made its decision to censure Mayersohn that August. The board came to a different decision last December. Under the code, the board, before deciding on a complaint, is supposed to allow both the person making the complaint and the rabbi involved to make their case. In this instance, only Mayersohn was invited beforehand.

"They violated their own process," said Stevens-Hogue, who was permitted a 10-minute appeal by speakerphone on June 20. Earlier, CCAR’s president, Rabbi Janet Marder, of Los Altos, apologized, saying the board wasn’t "up to speed on the guidelines." Marder did not return phone calls seeking comment.

"When a religious body investigates its own members, they have to be scrupulous to avoid bias," Stevens-Hogue said. "This clearly shows bias."

She contends the CCAR’s board should look to how other religious denominations handle sexual misconduct allegations, including investigating the existence of similar allegations within the congregation. A seven-month investigation, which included rabbis and a lawyer on the investigative team, did not probe that far, she said.

Mayersohn, who has a CCAR pension fund, said he remains an "unhappy" CCAR member.

Dr. Laura Loses Her Religion


Controversial syndicated radio-show host and public advocate of Orthodox Judaism Laura Schlessinger — "Dr. Laura," as she is known to her 12 million daily listeners — confessed on air this month that she will no longer practice Judaism.

Although Schlessinger — who very publicly converted to Judaism five years ago — said she still "considers" herself Jewish, "My identifying with this entity and my fulfilling the rituals, etc., of the entity — that has ended," she said on "The Dr. Laura Schlessinger Program" on Aug. 5.

Syndicated nationally since 1994, Schlessinger has won over listeners with her hard-edged advice and razor-sharp tongue. Yet her brash style, not to mention her espousal of a strict "moral health" code — including controversial condemnations of homosexuality as "a biological error" — put her at odds with wide swaths of the Jewish community. Many found her moralist, black-and-white, you’re-with-me-or-against-me stance to be more representative of evangelical Christians than of Jews, who were often among her most outspoken critics.

Schlessinger’s office said she was unavailable for comment.

In her 25 years on radio, Schlessinger said she was moved "time and time again" by listeners who wrote and described that they had "’joined a church, felt loved by God’ and that was my anchor."

Schlessinger even hinted at a possible turn to Christianity — a move that, radio insiders say, would elevate her career far beyond the 300 stations that currently syndicate her show.

"I have envied all my Christian friends who really, universally, deeply feel loved by God," she said. "They use the name Jesus when they refer to God … that was a mystery, being connected to God."

Of her conversion to Judaism, Schlessinger said, "I felt that I was putting out a tremendous amount toward that mission, that end, and not feeling return, not feeling connected, not feeling that inspired. Trust me, I’ve talked to rabbis, I’ve read, I’ve prayed, I’ve agonized and I came to this place anyway — which is not exactly back to the beginning, but more in that direction than not."

Born to a Jewish father and an Italian Catholic mother, Schlessinger was raised in Brooklyn in a home that was without religion. Approximately 10 years ago, prompted by a question from her son during a viewing of a Holocaust documentary, Schlessinger, 56, began exploring her Jewish roots.

She underwent a Conservative conversion in 1997, and later decided to undergo an Orthodox conversion instead.

"I still see myself as a Jew," Schlessinger said on the air. "But the spiritual journey and that direction, as hard core as I was at it, just didn’t fulfill something in me that I needed."

Even Schlessinger’s detractors were shocked by the news. "I can’t tell you how significant this is," said fellow Jewish media star and "Kosher Sex" author Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who has sparred with Schlessinger over her comments on homosexuality.

"Dr. Laura always equated her morals and ethics with Jewish morals and ethics," he said. "That placed the American Jewish community in a real fix; on the one hand, she made Judaism very popular, on the other, she made it vilified and hated by many people."

"It seems incredible that an ethicist and moralist of her standing would invoke such shallow arguments," added Boteach, who was en route to an appearance on the syndicated television show "Blind Date." "I never got great applause for my work from the Jewish community — but my people are my people, whether they love or hate me."

Humanist Approach a Must in Medicine


Medical practitioners today are faced with onerous economics and an increasingly depersonalized and technically complex health-care system. This reality presents serious challenges to practicing humanistic medicine. It is therefore especially important now to value and re-emphasize the intrinsic connection between compassion and competence in the practice of good medicine.

In the early 1980s, I began to notice that my students seemed to be more engaged in science and technology than taking care of people. Why? Did medical students begin school with idealism, altruism, compassion and empathy, only to have it depleted during their educational experiences? Or, was the medical admission process simply selecting less-humanistic applicants?

Research examining the attitudes of 3,500 entering medical students from across the nation concluded that most were indeed empathetic and humanistic when they began their studies. Clearly, some time during medical school and the end of the residency experience, many caring young doctors change. Why do some students maintain a humanistic orientation while others lose it?

How can we teach medical students a more humane approach to medicine and promote a medical system that fosters relationship-centered care? Nearly 15 years ago, colleagues at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, philanthropists and community leaders co-founded a public charity, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, to create opportunities for meaningful ritual, recognition, role modeling and research, as well as national conferences, curricular change and building "caring hospital communities." These programmatic themes (the four Rs and three Cs) are customized for the four populations we serve: medical students, medical school faculty, hospital residents and the public.

Ritual and tradition are central to Judaism and to the work of the foundation. We encourage medical students to make a psychological contract — to incorporate compassion as part of their professional responsibilities through the public recitation of a professional oath. Foundation programs such as the White Coat Ceremony, a rite of passage for entering medical students, and the Student Clinician’s Ceremony, for third-year students beginning their relationships with patients, provide an opportunity for reflection and a renewed commitment to humanistic values.

The Hippocratic Oath, written 2,500 years ago, has been a keystone for physicians throughout history. Its admonition to "do no harm," treat patients with respect and to "lead lives of uprightness and honor" is taken seriously throughout Western medical education. Jewish tradition embraces these same ideas, as well as additional ethical and spiritual considerations. The Physician’s Oath and Prayer, attributed to Moses Maimonides, the 13th century physician and philosopher, articulates ancient Jewish values and goes beyond the Hippocratic Oath in delineating appropriate behavior and practice. In his prayer, Maimonides speaks about social justice in medicine: "May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain," acknowledging the potential biases of wealth, power and personality as barriers to equal treatment for all patients. It is important that all practitioners develop both skills and values that reflect these oaths.

Medicine is an apprenticeship profession, where humanism can be taught and behaviors associated with humanism can be learned. Medical students are quick to adapt to formal curricular expectations; they also absorb the attitudes, habits and ethics found in the cultural environment. In other words, students of medicine at all levels imitate role models, adjust to the culture in which they work and adhere to the values expressed or demonstrated by their teachers and peers. Therefore, if we teach the role model humanism as "the best medicine," we will create more humane physicians. Such competent caring will increase trust, enhance the healing process and result in better patient outcomes.

A growing focus on physician professionalism has instigated a strengthened interest in humanism and its role within the definition of "the professional." This bodes well for greater pressure within the medical culture to include the art and "habit of humanism" in its formal and informal curricula, and in accreditation criteria and standards. If we are to be successful in challenging the negative pressures from commercial and legislative interests, we will need an educated and vocal public to partner with like-minded professionals. We invite you to join us in this struggle to re-emphasize humanistic medicine.

In sum, what is the role of a physician? A humanistic physician demonstrates concern and respect for the values, autonomy and cultural and ethnic background of others, and provides skilled, compassionate and empathic help to someone with a problem or need.

Reprinted from the Journal Sh’ma, a service of Jewish Family & Life!


Dr. Arnold P. Gold is professor of clinical neurology and clinical pediatrics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Man as Creator


A woman who had taken fertility treatments became pregnant only to learn that she was carrying four embryos. Her doctors suggested multifetal pregnancy reduction, a process to eliminate some of the embryos so that the remaining ones would have a better chance of normal development. What does Jewish medical ethics advise her to do?

The above incident was one of the hypothetical scenarios put forth by Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Feinstein, who along with Dr. Judith Partnow Hyman, VBS congregant and psychotherapist, convened a panel of experts — a rabbi, a perinatologist and a medical ethicist — to discuss conception issues for the first of three Medical Ethics Beit Dein programs, "A Time To Be Born: The Creation of a New Life," examining modern medical issues from a Jewish perspective. (The second program, "Healing the Body, Soothing the Soul, The New Role of the Physician," took place on Nov. 21.)

Human beings are now called upon to make choices once considered "decisions that only God has the wisdom to make," Feinstein said. The series addresses the moral conflicts people face today as a result of advanced fertility technology.

Jews often face dilemmas surrounding conception because they generally marry and start families later in life, said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a University of Judaism professor and panel member who serves as vice chair of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. This makes them more likely to need such procedures as fertility treatment or in vitro fertilization in order to conceive.

The instance of multiple fetuses has grown dramatically with increased use of reproductive technology. The more fetuses present in the womb, the less likely each is to survive, said panel member Dr. David Braun, regional director of perinatal care for Southern California Kaiser Permanente. Those that make it to birth are prone to experience serious long-term health problems. In addition, having multiple fetuses increases the mother’s chances of experiencing life-threatening complications. "Because of that, we tend to recommend seriously considering reduction of the pregnancy to fewer babies," Braun said.

If the parents’ goal of undergoing these procedures was to have a healthy baby, "very quickly one reaches the question: How can they not do multifetal pregnancy reduction?" said the panel’s third member, Dr. Neil Wenger, chair of the UCLA Medical Ethics Committee and a professor of medicine. At the same time, Wenger said, couples and their doctors should clarify their goals and values ahead of time, discussing the likelihood of multiple pregnancy and how it would be handled prior to facing the situation.

"In Jewish tradition, God owns our bodies," Dorff said. "We have them on loan for the duration of our lives and we have a responsibility to take care of [them]." This means we are forbidden from mutilating our bodies, and at the same time we are obligated to take action to save our own lives, even if it means sacrificing a part of our body.

Thus in the case of the multiple pregnancies, Dorff said, "It seems to me from a Jewish perspective [the mother] would have the requirement to reduce the number of fetuses in her womb in order to save her own life and health as well as the [remaining] fetuses. There are stages in coming into life and … in leaving life. Your halachic status depends upon what stage you’re in in that process." Our tradition, he said, does not recognize the fetuses as full-fledged human beings.

In vitro fertilization presents its own set of ethical challenges. Dorff pointed out that potentially there can be up to five individuals involved in the conception — the couple wanting the child, an egg donor, a sperm donor and a woman to carry the fetus to birth. (To which Feinstein commented, "Practically a minyan.")

More problematic is the issue of screening the embryos for gender, disease or — if it ever became possible — personality traits. Dorff said that because the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply" is only fulfilled once a couple has both a boy and a girl, there may be religious grounds for allowing gender selection.

Wenger suggested looking at the broader picture. "There is something called a communal ethic, where each individual or couple has a responsibility to the rest of its social network." Selecting by gender could harm the community by ultimately swaying the population in one direction or another.

As for selecting for traits such as athletic ability or musical talent, Wenger said we have a responsibility "not to use science in such a way that our whim gets satisfied [at the expense of] society as a whole."

"Jewish tradition respects the power of human intellect and human imagination and human judgement," Feinstein said. "We’ve always been a pro-science community because we respect the power of human beings to make the right judgments."

The final program "A Time to Live, A Time To Die, Accepting the End of Life," will take place Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m at VBS, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. For more information, call (818) 530-4093.

Ethics and Ironies


At least Ann Landers admitted when she was wrong.

And while she may have used a pseudonym, Esther Pauline "Eppie" Lederer claimed only to offer one woman’s point of view — no more, no less.

Times, alas, have changed, and along with them, The New York Times, whose Sunday Magazine’s readers are offered the judgments of "The Ethicist." The bearer of that grandiose title also has a name — Randy Cohen — but his designation is clearly meant to imply gravitas.

Cohen is generally sensible and very often quite funny. On Oct. 27, though, he goofed badly. And, what is worse, he seems unwilling to own up to his error, not an encouraging sign for any honorable man, much less still The Ethicist.

The question in question came from a woman who had closed a deal with an Orthodox Jewish real estate agent. She became offended, though, when the otherwise "courteous and competent" man declined to shake her hand, explaining that touching a woman other than his wife violated his religious code of conduct. The offendee wanted to tear up the contract they had signed, and sought the columnist’s advice.

"Sexism is sexism," Cohen responded, "even when motivated by religious convictions." And, invoking Brown vs. Board of Education to argue that "separate is by its very nature unequal," he advised his supplicant to rip away.

Had he bothered to inquire, The Ethicist would have discovered that the Jewish religious prohibition at issue in no way "render[s] a class of people untouchable," to use his words; it rather disapproves of a behavior. And it does so in a decidedly egalitarian manner. Both men and women are equally bound by Jewish law to refrain from affectionate physical contact with members of the other gender to whom they are not married. Many Orthodox authorities consider even a handshake to be included in the prohibition.

With that stricture, halacha expresses not sexism, but rather respect for both men and women — respect, that is, for the power of sexuality that Judaism reminds us is an integral part of the human condition.

That power, according to Jewish thought, when properly used is a deeply holy thing. Allowed free reign, though, it is an equally destructive one.

In our sex-saturated — and in fact, as a result, sexist — society, men and women eschewing handshakes to avoid any semblance of misplaced sexuality might seem a bit much to many. But that says something only about our base and cynical times, not about deeper, timeless truths. And a good case could in fact be made that the morally confused times in which we live require us to exercise more caution than ever in the realm of physical contact between the sexes. A cursory familiarity with current events should suffice to reveal how easily "casual" interactions can devolve into less innocent, even abusive, ones.

Cohen, of course, may not see things that way. But even he, one imagines, would admit that imposing unwanted physical contact is wrong. And so, as one reader of Cohen’s column wryly noted: "’Touch me or you’re fired’" would seem "a perfect example of sexual harassment" — hardly ethical by any measure.

While hope springs eternal, The Ethicist, at least so far, refuses to budge. Responding to some who contacted him, he pronounced: "That the origins of [the halachic prohibition] seem benign make it no less sexist and no less contrary to the values of an egalitarian society." Creating "separate spheres for women and men," he insists, remains "a manifestation of sexism."

Asked if his gender-blindness extended to endorsement of unisex restrooms and dressing rooms, he admitted that "there are a few cases where gender distinctions might be justified."

In other words, according to The Ethicist, it all depends on what he happens to feel is ethical.

Cohen makes no claim to speak for Judaism — he was raised Reform but takes a "resolutely secular approach to ethics," as he explained in an interview — and indeed does not. But an ethical ideal to which he clearly subscribes is tolerance. And that should include tolerance of others who choose to subscribe to Torah, not Cohen.

Just imagine The Ethicist’s ideal society. Men and women who, out of religious principle, eschew physical contact with members of the opposite sex would effectively be barred from pursuing their livelihoods. But society would be purged of sexism, real or imagined, and all would be well with the world — at least in Cohen’s eyes.

And so we are left with the irony of an intolerant Ethicist. And one, in fact, who embraces decidedly unethical behavior.

For in his quest for some illusory absolute egalitarianism, Cohen did, after all, counsel a questioner to tear up a contract she and her business partner had just signed.


Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America .

Fair Weight


Honesty, morality and ethical behavior — these are the calling cards of Leviticus, and they are the centerpieces of Jewish behavior and identity. Amongst the mitzvot enumerated in Leviticus 19 (known by some scholars as the "Holiness Code") are respect for parents, charity for the poor, prohibitions against stealing and lying, a reminder to pay an employee’s wages on time, the moral obligation not to take advantage of the deaf or blind, honesty and fairness in justice, prohibitions against holding grudges or exacting revenge, and the famous mitzvah to "love your neighbor as yourself."

This impressive list of ethical mitzvot concludes with an injunction to treat the stranger in our midst with fairness, and that when we conduct our business, our "weights and measures shall be accurate."

Throughout this "Holiness Code" — so-called because the section begins with "Kedoshim Tiheyu" ("You shall be holy") — the Torah reminds us that it is every Jewish person’s obligation and responsibility to behave according to these ethical norms and standards because God has asked this of us.

Every few verses, one finds the conclusion "I am the Lord Your God" (seven times) or the abbreviated "I am the Lord" (seven times). A total of 14 different reminders that these mitzvot are not simply ethical norms of human behavior, but they are the basis of a religious code of conduct originating from God.

For the last mitzvah in this section, the obligation to maintain fair weights and measures in business (a technical term for "honesty in business"), the Torah also reminds us that the reason why we must observe this mitzvah is because it is God’s will. But instead of using the same formulations it did the previous 14 times, the Torah chooses a specific reasoning: "I am the Lord your God who brought you forth from the land of Egypt."

The commentaries notice this peculiarity, wondering what specific connection exists between honesty in business and the Exodus from Egypt. Rashi, the most famous of Biblical commentators, comments that God took us out of Egypt on the condition that we would behave fairly and honestly in our business dealings.

The modern Israeli "Da’at Mikra" commentary expands on Rashi’s teaching by saying that the commandment to be fair in business comes to protect the most vulnerable members of society — the elderly, the proselyte and the foreigner. Because of their weak status in society, all of these individuals are vulnerable to being cheated in business. The Jewish people, who were slaves in Egypt and whose status in society as slaves was similar to that of elderly, proselytes and foreigners, should have the highest sensitivity towards these individuals, because we know what it was like to be mistreated by society. It is the specific experience of slavery in Egypt that strengthens our understanding of the importance of justice, righteous and ethical behavior and having mercy on others. Therefore, the Torah commands us to behave honestly in business and reminds us that the reason we as Jews must especially behave honestly in our business dealings is because we experienced the bitterness of slavery in Egypt, and God then took us out from slavery to freedom so that we might live ethically.

I wonder what modern archaeologists have to say about that?

Your Letters


Presidential Pardon

Rob Eshman’s attack on supposed Jewish hypocrisy is really an attack on Jewish ethics and morals (“Shocked, Shocked,” March 2). He confuses the ordinary human frailties of people and organizations with the position of the president of the United States. The president, because of the office he occupies, embodies the highest ideals and aspirations of this country. Fortunately, in the United States those ideals and aspirations coincide with Jewish ethics and morals.

Eshman excuses those who sought a pardon for Marc Rich on the grounds that in his view everyone would have taken Rich’s money. Even assuming the dubious proposition that everybody does it does not make it right. The Jews who took tainted money and urged the president to pardon Rich and other Jews with questionable backgrounds taints all Jews. More important, it affects the hard-earned respect and esteem with which Jews are held by our fellow citizens. Those who urged the president to pardon undeserving Jews must beg the pardon of the entire Jewish community.

Ann Hayman Young, Los Angeles

During the last eight years of the Clinton presidency, politically conservative Jews watched helplessly as the organized Jewish community supported and extolled the virtues of a corrupt administration and a morally bankrupt Democratic party.

The Democratic party and the Clinton administration have been characterized by its illegal campaign financing, the sale of the Lincoln bedroom, the sale of citizenship, the highly suspect vanishment of nuclear data to China, China’s illegal campaign contributions, and its consistent polarization of American citizens along race and class warfare.

Jewish leaders and many of our rabbis led our community astray. Although the Jewish community touted diversity and tolerance, it failed to tolerate diversity of opinion within its midst. The Jewish community became synonymous with the Democratic party. In the light of current events, we are perceived by many to be a community without a moral foundation.

Shari Goodman, via e-mail

Fifteenth Anniversary

Thank you for the article by Michael Aushenker (“News Machers,” March 2).When I started my 41-year career with the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles in 1952, Joe Cummins of the B’nai B’rith Messenger, Sam Gach of the California Jewish Voice, and Herb Brin of Heritage were an important part of my work and career. The papers they published and edited were the only vehicles for reaching Jewish readers in Los Angeles with numerous stories about the Jewish communities around the world, as well as Los Angeles, in the 1950s and 1960s.

They were a feisty bunch. Unlike today’s corporate publishers and editors, they were crusading “gunslingers” fighting for the Jewish people. Sometimes they enraged some of us in the “Jewish Establishment,” but their hearts were always in the right place.

Aushenker mentioned the Valley Jewish News but did not indicate that Jess Nathan was its fiery publisher and editor, and was the first one to really appreciate the importance of Jewish life in the San Fernando Valley, which was on the verge of exploding in numbers and activities. Today’s Valley Jewish community is a sight to behold.

Thank you again for an excellent piece of journalistic history.

Harvey B. Schechter, Western States Director EmeritusAnti-Defamation League

Messianic Park

Thank you for running the article (“Messianic Experience,” March 2). The Jewish Federation in Orlando recently joined forces with Jews for Judaism to combat this problem. Two Jews for Judaism staff members presented a variety of educational programs in Florida and went on an investigative mission to the Holy Land Experience. They concluded that this $16-million theme park in Orlando, Fla., is a virtual training ground to teach Christians how to evangelize Jews using techniques that present the message that a Jew can convert to Christianity and still remain Jewish.

This is part of the new-and-improved methods that evangelicals are employing to evangelize the Jewish community. Missionaries may not be as visible on street corners as they once were, but the problem is more acute then ever. The Holy Land Experience is just the tip of the messianic iceberg.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, DirectorJews for Judaism

Kudos

I am a 15-year-old Presbyterian living on the Westside with a Jewish sister (she converted) and her Jewish family (husband and three children). Between living with my Conservative Jewish family and on the Westside, where there is a large Jewish population, I have learned a lot about Judaism through osmosis. Some people even say that I know more about Judaism than most Jews do. But that is not the point of this letter.

Even though I keep my Protestant faith, I find myself reading The Journal on a regular basis and enjoy it, much to my the amusement of my peers. In short, I’d like to commend you on being able to reach all religions, all ages and all people by presenting universal themes in a Jewish light and vice-versa. Good show!

Chandra R. Howard, via e-mail

Cover Complaint

My family and I enjoy The Jewish Journal every week; however, upon receiving the March 2 edition, we all felt a bit troubled by the picture on the cover.The “Nordic” Esther juxtaposed against the more realistic Persian representation makes an intriguing image,but since when has The Jewish Journal stood for fuchsia lipstick and necklines so low they can’t even fit on the page?The Journal has always been a community and family newspaper, and I hope that more thought is given to what type of images are sent out by the paper to the community in the future.

Lauren Raab, Beverly Hills

Sexual Orientation

Thank you for the article about Sandi Simcha DuBowski’s film “Trembling Before G-d” (“Opening the Closet,” Jan. 19).

The Jewish Journal has been instrumental and of tremendous help during my ordeal of learning about my son’s sexual orientation. Even prior to the time when he broke the news to me, his mother, your articles and letters to the editor on this subject provided tremendous educational material to understand and view this subject with an open mind. I have clipped and saved the articles to help my husband and other relatives when my son decides to come out to them.

The importance of the articles in The Jewish Journal is enhanced since it expresses the opinions of Jewish people, writers, rabbis and lay people. I can relate to them much easier.

Name withheld by request

Letter of Appreciation

I’m writing this letter to show my appreciation to all those people who thought about me and many other people who are sick.

While in the hospital as a cancer patient, I was staring through the window with sadness and disappointment. I didn’t eat for days, my morale was down and I didn’t want to live. All I did was read from Tehilim (Psalms). The doctor told me if I didn’t eat they would have to give me a feeding tube. I was crying, and suddenly I saw Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky from B’nai David-Judea. He spoke to me, told me not to give up and he changed my mind. He told me how a person dear to him was depressed like me and beat the odds.

Rabbi Kanefsky is a tzaddik (righteous person). He came every day to visit me for one hour and to visit other sick people. He made me and all of the others a “Mi Sheberach” (prayer for the sick). He sent in doctors he knew to come and talk to us. On Friday people came to light candles for us for Shabbos.I was in the hospital for a almost a year and now I am feeling, thank Hashem, better, thanks to the support I got from Rabbi Kanefsky. Thank you, rabbi, for your dedication to Hashem and to the Jewish people. You made me proud of being a Jew.

Magi Levin, Los Angeles

Teresa Strasser

I just got home from my writing class and read Teresa Strasser’s column (“Cereal Killer,” Feb. 16). This is such good writing. It is witty, intelligent, ironic.

Frank Matcha, via e-mail

What is the purpose of publishing this useless, senseless inane column (“Plush Reminders,” Feb. 2), or for that matter anything Teresa Strasser writes? Is the information she imparts so fascinating that you think we cannot live without it? Do yourselves and us a favor and publish something more meaningful.

Sydell Sigel, Los Angeles

Correction

In the March 2 story, “Purim in the Land of Esther,” the events of Purim probably occurred some time in the fifth or sixth century BCE, not the mid-300s BCE.

Right at the Start


It’s not only that children are killing children. There’s also the fact, chronicled in such publications as U.S. News & World Report, that cheating is up in classrooms across the nation. No wonder educators of all stripes are pondering what it takes to teach ethics to their students.

Because children’s behavior is molded at an early age, it was fitting that the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), in planning its 20th annual Early Childhood Spring Institute, chose as its theme “Educating An Ethical Child in the 21st Century.” On March 6, nearly 1,100 Jewish preschool teachers joined 80 parents of young children to explore the Jewish side of moral education.

Is Cloning Good?


Looking for a scenario that’s chock full of ethical problems? Imagine this: Alexander Schwartz, a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician, is severely ill and depressed and has asked his doctor to terminate his life. Schwartz’s wife wants to genetically alter an embryo the couple implanted in a surrogate mother so that the child will have brown eyes and not suffer her husband’s disease and depression. She also wants to clone her brilliant husband.

Panelists at a Jan. 13 discussion on Jewish medical ethics, hosted by the American Jewish Committee, wrestled with the multiple dilemmas presented by Schwartz’s imaginary death.

Dr. Irving Lebovics, chief of staff of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s dental division, said that there was no support in halachic liturgy to justify active euthanasia, and the other panelists agreed.

But the legal interpretation of genetic engineering is more problematic. When viewed from an Orthodox perspective, cloning is “the single-most uncharted area of moral and ethical law,” Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarey Zedek Congregation said. Cloning may be legally permissible, but Tendler questioned its moral implications. “God made us human, with limitations. We have to disengage our emotions and desires and engage in the intellectual process of determining exactly what God wants from us.”

Rabbi Levi Meier, the chaplain at Cedars-Sinai, maintained that genetic engineering to cure an illness is “100 percent OK and mandated” by halachic law. But the law prohibits genetic alteration to give a baby brown eyes or for other “non-health” reasons. And cloning an individual, argued Levi Meier, defies the Torah’s requirement that a child be born with a mother, father and the presence of God. — Rebecca Kuzins, Contributing Writer

Is Cloning Good?

Many of the medical profession’s greatest Jewish minds are scheduled to convene at the 10th annual International Conference on Jewish Medical Ethics, which will take place at the Park Plaza Hotel, a stone’s throw from San Francisco International Airport.

Hosted by the Institute for Jewish Medical Ethics of the Hebrew Academy of San Francisco Physicians, the Presidents’ Day Weekend event, which will run from Friday, Feb. 12 – Monday, Feb. 15, will be jointly sponsored by the Stanford University School of Medicine and Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, in association with National Council of Young Israel. The weekend symposium will honor Lord Immanuel Jakobovits — the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth of Nations who is known in the Jewish medical community as “the father of modern Jewish medical ethics.” Among the conference lecturers scheduled to appear: 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner Roald Hoffman; Harvard Medical School Prof. Carol Nadelson; and AIPAC President Lionel A. Kaplan.

For further information, call (800) 258-4427, e-mail olorin@sirius.com, or access the Institute’s web page at http://www.ijme.org. — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor