Sholem Aleichem, Gogol Show Two Views of Shtetl Jews


Russians, Jews and literature scholars get excited about jubilee years, and for those who fit any of these categories, 2009 is a big year. One hundred and fifty years ago this month, a writer who would immortalize the Russian Jew in literature, Solomon Rabinovich (1859-1916) — better known by his literary persona, Sholem Aleichem — was born in the town of Pereyaslav, near Kyiv. This spring also marks the 200th birthday of Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852), who was born about 100 miles to the east of Kyiv, in the town of Sorochintsy. Gogol, too, helped to immortalize the Russian Jew in literature, but in a more problematic way: the Jews who crop up around the margins of his stories, most of them crafty market vendors, money-lenders and tavern keepers, are anti-Semitic stereotypes, an unsettling detail in the work of one of the greatest comic writers of modern literature.

Literary history rarely moves in a straight line. Gogol and Sholem Aleichem may have written in different languages and represented different cultures, but their lives, remembered together, offer a vivid picture of the interplay of Russian and Jewish cultural history, and their stories, read side by side, appear as if in conversation. Both writers were obsessed with the dangers of commerce and capital, a theme that renders them all the more current in 2009. Both hail from what is now Ukraine, and each came to be viewed as a literary ambassador from an ethnic group within Russian culture. Gogol knew Russian and Ukrainian, attended a Russian school, moved to Petersburg to become a writer and spent years traveling in Western Europe. Sholem Aleichem attended both a Jewish cheder and a Russian secondary school, a marker of assimilation in a Jewish family. He began writing in Russian and Hebrew, but found success in Yiddish. Like Gogol’s tales of Ukraine, which sounded quaint to the Russian elite, Sholem Aleichem exported tales of the Jewish Pale of Settlement to cosmopolitan readers via publications in Warsaw and Petersburg, and visits to the United States.

Best known in the United States for his Tevye character, who became a symbol of the Jewish departure from Eastern Europe thanks to the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” Sholem Aleichem was canonized in the Soviet Union as the representative Yiddish writer, and an abridged six-volume Soviet edition of his works, in Russian translation, was as expected a collection in any Soviet Jewish household (and in many non-Jewish households) as the collected works of Lenin or Tolstoy.

Gogol, now best known for his later works, like “Dead Souls,” “The Overcoat” and “The Inspector General,” first became famous for his tales of provincial Ukraine, which he peopled with an amalgam of Ukrainians, Russians, Jews, Poles and Gypsies. In his first successful story, “The Sorochintsy Fair” (1830), we marvel at how “a gypsy and peasant smacked hands then squealed from pain; how a drunken Jew slapped a woman on the backside; how vendors who had been arguing hurled profanities … and crayfish; how a Russian stroked his goatish beard with one hand, while with his other … “ In this story, a Jew buys and sells a demon’s coat, infecting an entire fair with evil. Gogol’s Jewish characters increase the sensation of a tale told from the margins of the Czarist Empire and often provide a moral lesson about overzealous trade.

Jewish stock characters later appear in Gogol’s epic novel, “Taras Bulba” (1835 and 1842), based loosely on Bohdan Chmielnicki’s Cossack uprising against Polish Magnates in 1648, an event in which thousands of Jews were killed. “‘Hang all the Jews!’ rang out from the crowd, ‘don’t let their Jewesses sew skirts out of our priests’ garments!’” In this story, a Jew, Yankel, escapes a pogrom in his shtetl but eagerly betrays his community by offering products and services to the Cossack warriors for the right price. “Taras saw that his protégé Yankel had already managed to erect a stall with an awning for himself and was selling flints, handfuls of gunpowder in paper cones, and other military items — even bread rolls and dumplings.”

Little surprise, given the stereotypes sprinkled throughout his work, that Gogol has been dismissed by Jewish readers, from the Russian historian Dubnow to the Soviet critic Mashinsky, as one of Russia’s many literary anti-Semites. But Sholem Aleichem chose to model much of his writing, and even his appearance, on Gogol. Ruth Wisse, in “The Modern Jewish Canon” (University of Chicago Press, 2003), has called Sholem Aleichem “the Jewish Gogol.” David Roskies, in “A Bridge of Longing: The Lost Art of Yiddish Storytelling” (Harvard University Press, 1995), reminds us, “Rabinovich kept a box marked ‘Gogol’ on his desk for work in progress, often quoted Gogol in private correspondence, and even wore his hair as Gogol did.” Had the two writers, with their dandyish bobs and whiskers, lived at the same time, they might have been mistaken for one another.

What Sholem Aleichem was borrowing from Gogol was a rural East European landscape that may have been dangerous, but could unite readers through the power of collective memory. He also learned from Gogol to soften this danger through laughter, and he often rewrites Gogol’s Jewish characters, correcting anti-Semitic stereotypes and narrating history from a Jewish perspective. Gogol’s heavily caricatured Jew tends to profit against all odds at Ukrainians’ expense, but Sholem Aleichem’s characters (like the author, who lost his inheritance in the Kiev Stock Exchange in 1890) are usually failures at trade, and their living conditions are squalid.

Sholem Aleichem devotes numerous stories and two full volumes to “Kasrilevka,” a fictional shtetl based, in part, on his childhood village, Voronka. The first, “Old-New Kasrilevka,” is a parodic Baedeker: “They turn out ‘A Guide to Moscow,’ ‘A Guide to Berlin,’ ‘A Guide to Paris,’ so why shouldn’t we have ‘A Guide to Kasrilevka?’ The guidebook includes seven sections, decreasing in appeal: “Transportation,” “Hotels,” “Restaurants,” “Liquor,” “Theater,” “Fires,” and “Bandits.” Eastern Europe was increasingly threatening to Jews, and Sholem Aleichem subtly expresses this by depicting the most despicable elements of the shtetl. Sholem Aleichem’s popular Menachem-Mendl stories (written between 1896-1913) find the title character traveling the world inventing get-rich-quick schemes. His adventures begin when he is given, in place of a promised dowry, a small sum of cash, two promissory notes and an illegitimate “draft” on bad credit (to be redeemed in Odessa). Menachem-Mendl’s wife, Sheyne-Sheyndl, remains at home in Kasrilevka, alternately scolding her husband for his bad investments and sending him money when his ventures fail. Gogolian characters occasionally appear in her shtetl. In one letter, she writes that a government inspector has arrived in town to ascertain what has become of certain sums of money meant for charity, an echo of Gogol’s “Inspector General,” whose anticipated arrival shakes a town to its core, unearthing the illegitimate finances of its provincial elite.

Sholem Aleichem’s 1900 “The Haunted Tailor” begins with a mock-biblical description of a community’s poverty:

And it came to pass that Tsippa-Beyla-Rayza was returning one summer day with her basket from the market, she threw down her bundle of garlic with a little parsley and potatoes that she had bought, and cried angrily, “This can all go to hell! Enough of thinking up what to cook for dinner. You have to have the head of a prime minister! Dumplings with beans and again dumplings with beans. May God not punish me for these words! But even Nekhame-Bruchkhe, who is destitute, miserable, a charity case, she has a goat!

For all their apparent misery, Sholem Aleichem’s hapless characters inspire the Yiddish reader to imagine a world that is not limited to the confines of the shtetl. This incitement to imagination looks something like the conversation, in Sholem Aleichem’s 1902 story set in Kasrilevka, “Seventy-Five Thousand,” between Yankev-Yosl and his wife, Ziporah, when the former has (erroneously) decided he has won a jackpot of 75,000 rubles:

“How much have we won?” she says, gazing right into my eyes, as if saying: “Aha! You’re lying, but you’re not gonna get away with it!”

“Gimme a for instance — how much do you figure we’ve won?”

“I have no idea,” she says. “Maybe a few hundred rubles?”

“Why not,” I say, “a few thousand rubles?”

“What do you mean by a few thousand?” she says. “Five? Six? Maybe as much as seven?”

“You can’t,” I say, “imagine more?”

(Translation by J. Neugroschel in “No Star Too Beautiful: A Treasury of Jewish Stories,” W. W. Norton & Company, 2004).

Sholem Aleichem wants his readers to imagine more, even if the ticket to get there proves to be one number off. His fiction, borrowed in part from Jewish literary sources and in part from Russian writers like Gogol, was, in its own way, revolutionary.

On May 15, 1916, when Sholem Aleichem was buried in the Mount Neboh Cemetery in Cypress Hills, Queens, his headstone was inscribed with his original epitaph, which ends with the following lines:

“And just as the public was

Laughing, chortling, and making merry

He suffered — this only God knows —

In secret, so that no one should see.

(Un davke demolt ven der oylem hot

gelakht, geklatsht, un fleg zikh freyen,

hot er gekrenkt — dos veys nor got —

besod, az keyner zol nit zeyen.)

The epitaph echoes Gogol’s famous “laughter through tears” passage from “Dead Souls,” which Sholem Aleichem used to keep, in a Yiddish translation, on his desk:

And for a long time still I am destined by a wondrous power to walk hand in hand with my strange heroes, to view the whole of hugely rushing life, to view it through laughter visible to the world and tears invisible and unknown to it! (translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, Everyman’s Library, 2004).

As a writer, Gogol struggled with his simultaneous terror of a changing world and desire to entertain his readers through comedy. According to Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997: what did I tell you about 2009?), Gogol’s world vision was as single-minded as Tolstoy’s was. Sholem Aleichem was not nearly so single-minded. Rather than worrying about the dangers of foreign influence on the Russian Empire, he worried about the dangers in Russia for Jews, its perennial foreigners. But he did share Gogol’s struggle between tradition and creativity. The fine line separating Yiddish literature as a means of inciting social change, and social change as a force destroying Yiddish, gave Sholem Aleichem the fear of loss that he would take with him, quite literally, to the grave.

Sholem Aleichem enclosed his epitaph in his Last Will and Testament, written a few months before his death. In the first of 10 points outlined in his will, the Yiddish writer specified that:

Wherever I die, I wish to be buried not among aristocrats, big shots, or wealthy people, but precisely among ordinary folk, workers, the real Jewish people, so that the gravestone which will be placed on my grave will beautify the simple graves around me, and the simple graves will beautify my grave, just as the simple, honest folk during my life beautified their folk-writer. (Translation by Zuckerman and Herbst in “Three Great Classic Writers of Modern Jewish Literature, V. II,” Joseph Simon Pangloss Press, 1994.)

With this final wish, Sholem Aleichem promises to remain near those readers whose spirit he sought to evoke through the shtetls of his fiction, and, of course, in a more subtle way, he also remains with the memory of Nikolai Gogol.

 

Amelia Glaser is assistant professor of Russian and comparative literature at UC San Diego. She is currently completing a book about rural commerce in Russian, Ukrainian and Yiddish literature. She also translates poetry and prose from Russian and Yiddish; her translations include an anthology of Yiddish poetry, “Proletpen: America’s Rebel Yiddish Poets” (U. Wisconsin Press, 2005).

 

The Lichtenstein Formula for a Jewish Paper


“The role of a Jewish newspaper is to connect the Jewish community, not to unify it,” said Gene Lichtenstein, founding editor of The Journal.

During his nearly 15-year tenure, which ended in 2000, Lichtenstein’s formula was to hire good, independent writers and columnists who could produce articles that raised the interest, and frequently the hackles, of both professional and peripheral Jews.

“I wanted stories that people would discuss and argue about the following day,” Lichtenstein said during a lengthy interview at his home near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

This concept doesn’t seem so revolutionary now, but it went counter to the tradition of most American Jewish weeklies in decades past.

The purpose of those publications was precisely to unify their communities in material and moral support of their federations, which usually financed the papers, and other Jewish and Israeli causes. A basic rule was to avoid criticism and controversy.

In that sense, Lichtenstein was an odd, even risky, choice as editor, and his selection split the then Jewish Federation Council, he recalls.

When Lichtenstein visited Los Angeles in 1985 to court his future wife, Jocelyn, the city’s Jews had the unusual choice of three competing weeklies.

They were the venerable B’nai B’rith Messenger, the maverick Heritage, both independently owned, and the Jewish Community Bulletin, the official Federation organ.

Much of The Federation’s leadership was dissatisfied with the coverage of all three papers and decided to explore a new format with a new editor to replace its own Bulletin.

At this point, Lichtenstein remembers, he was contacted by Ethel Narvid, a key player in Democratic and city politics, on behalf of a Federation committee appointed to find a new editor to shape a new paper.

Lichtenstein, the grandson of Russian immigrants, had a resume combining experience as psychologist, journalist and academic.

He had worked for The New York Times, Fortune, London Economist and as literary editor at Esquire, where his contributors included the likes of Saul Bellow and Philip Roth.

On the academic side, he had served as chairman of the journalism department at the University of Rhode Island and taught courses in mass communications at USC and UC Berkeley.

Perhaps equally important for the position at hand, he had started a newspaper in the Boston area, the Jewish Journal of the Northshore.

As he recalls it, in his first interview with The Federation committee, chaired by attorney Richard Volpert, Lichtenstein outlined his concept for the new paper.

“I wanted an American newspaper, Jewish but connected to the larger world,” he said. “It wouldn’t just reflect the viewpoint of The Federation or be mainly about fundraising. It wouldn’t print only favorable stories about the Jewish community and Israel.”

In addition, he would insist on good writing, and the contributions of columnists would be central to the paper.

After that presentation, Lichtenstein thought that his chances of getting the job were pretty slim, and he and Jocelyn went on a vacation trip to London.

To his surprise, “I got a midnight call from Volpert and he offered me the editorship,” Lichtenstein said.

Shortly afterward, Narvid gave a lunch at her home for some old friends, including Los Angeles Times labor editor Harry Bernstein and this reporter, to introduce Lichtenstein.

“Harry told me that I was kidding myself if I thought The Federation would let me put out an independent paper, and you backed him up,” Lichtenstein reminded me.

Despite the prediction, The Federation committee and larger Federation board of directors agreed, in the face of considerable internal opposition, to establish an independent Journal, to advance a $660,000 loan for its operation, and to pay a subsidy to mail the paper to each of its 52,000 donors.

There had been two other finalists for the editor’s job, Yehuda Lev, an outspoken, liberal journalist, and Marlene Adler Marks, a talented writer active in politics and feminist issues.

Lev and Marks were the first editor/reporters hired, soon joined by such early staffers as Tom Waldman, Sheldon Teitelbaum, Joe Domanick and Naomi Pfefferman.

The first slim issue of The Jewish Journal appeared on Feb. 28, 1986, with Volpert, whom the often-critical Lichtenstein praised for “a real standout job,” as the first publisher.

Early issues won kudos for lively writing, outraged criticism by some Federation leaders and Jewish organizations, and a weak response from advertisers.

Within one year, the paper was hemorrhaging money, and some influential Federation leaders demanded that in the future they approve all major stories and editorials. Lichtenstein refused and, in a committee vote, carried the day by a narrow margin.

However, there was enough dissatisfaction with the editorial and business performance of The Journal that The Federation invited Charles Buerger, publisher of six successful East Coast Jewish papers, to buy out The Journal.

Buerger made a “low- ball” offer, then raised the stakes, but “to my astonishment,” The Federation decided not to sell, Lichtenstein said.

Nevertheless, by June 1987, the paper had run through the $660,000 lent by The Federation and faced an early demise.

At his point, major Federation leaders, with Edward Brennglass, Stanley Hirsh and Osiah Goren in the lead, rode to the rescue, putting up their own money to repay the loan. The Journal lived to fight another day.

Brennglass took over as publisher for the next 11 years, the paper established a solid reputation and actually started to make a profit. After Brennglass’ death, Hirsh, an influential businessman and Democratic heavyweight, became publisher in 1997.

However, by the year 2000, strong editorial and personality differences between publisher and editor-in-chief led to a parting point. Lichtenstein resigned and was succeeded by the managing editor, Rob Eshman.

Looking back on his 15-year tenure, Lichtenstein said he had “a wonderful time,” which included reporting trips to Israel, Germany, Hungary and Croatia.

“I think we put out a pretty good paper, though not as good as it could have been,” he reminisced. Part of the problem was a running conflict between himself and Federation leaders, which, he acknowledged, were partly his fault.

“I was really always an outsider, with one foot in the community, and one foot outside,” he said. In addition, “I believe that a Jewish weekly belongs to the editor and staff, and it is the editor’s job to make the staff realize that the paper belongs to them.

“That is hard for some organizational leaders to accept,” Lichtenstein added in an understatement.

His major contributions, Lichtenstein said, were to publish as many diverse viewpoints as possible, recruit talented writers and columnists and insist, at all times, on good writing.

True to his initial inspiration, “I tried to put out a paper that was part of America and the world,” he said.

“I’ve met some Jews, very wealthy and powerful Jews, who embrace Jewish victimhood, who told me that you can never trust a gentile,” Lichtenstein said. “I don’t champion that. I believe that the walls we build around ourselves are only in our minds.”

The “victim” mindset is encouraged by many Jewish organizations, Lichtenstein said, “which wave the flag of anti-Semitism to keep their members loyal and to raise funds.”

For Lichtenstein, there is a busy life after journalism. While he still writes, he has returned to his first profession as psychologist and is the director of mental health and social services for 26 clinics of the Aegis Institute, which specializes in the treatment of opiate addicts.

In addition, he has established a private practice, which includes family and marriage counseling.

He draws a distinction between core committed Jews, who go to synagogue and contribute to Jewish causes, and the “integrated” Jew on the periphery of the organized community.

“It is not the job of the American Jewish press to ‘convert’ the integrated Jew,” he said. “Our job is to open a dialogue with him.”

 

That’s What I Do


If you’re a single 24-year-old gal looking to meet a preferably Jewish single guy in Los Angeles, you’d think a good pick-up line might include the words “I work for The Jewish Journal.” After all, what better way to convey to the guy-of-interest that you’re a fellow MOT? But you’d be wrong. That line’s great for when you meet his parents, and probably exactly why it’s not great for meeting him. The immediate thought bubble above his head reads something like, “Hmmm nice Jewish girl,” basically the Catholic equivalent of dating a nun.

So, when I started at The Journal four years ago, back when I was still single, in addition to the skills associated with my new job duties, there were conversational hurdles I had to learn to jump when meeting eligible guys. I had to be especially agile, since the most likely opening conversation with a new person usually centers on one’s career. To the question of “What do you do?” I came up with the following response strategy:

1. Be intentionally vague
“I’m a writer.” (If he presses for details, ask him about himself. See No. 2.)

2. Deflect
“What do you do?” (Appear fascinated, turn the conversation in another direction, move on to No. 3.)

3. Hook
(Insert clever comment to draw him in. He’ll remember now that you’re a writer. But now you’ve got him. The perfect time for No. 4.)

4. Make the bold statement
“I’m a writer for The Jewish Journal.” (Let it sink in for a second, two, three. “Wow,” he’ll say. “You must be really Jewish.” Quickly move in for step No. 5, or all is lost.)

5. Shame
(Insert clever retort to shame him and make him love you all at the same time. This will take skill to master, but you’re Keren Engelberg, Jewish Girl Reporter. The guilt force is strong within you. You are up to the task.)

 

Love, Journal Style?


Did you meet the love of your life through The Jewish Journal’s personals? Was it lasting devotion or did it crash and burn? We’re compiling the best stories of people who met through The Journal to run as part of our 20th anniversary edition. Send your stories — happy or horrid — to letters@jewishjournal.com with the subject line: JJ Love. Be sure to include your name, since we will not run anonymous submissions.

Deadline is May 31.

 

Federation to End Donor Subscriptions


Starting next year, Jewish Journal readers who received their weekly newspaper by donating to The Jewish Federation will still be able to get it, but not as part of their Federation donation.

Readers will be able to subscribe directly to The Journal for home delivery, or pick it up for free at distribution sites around Los Angeles.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2005, The Federation will no longer purchase 20,000 annual Journal subscriptions for its donors.

The change in this 18-year relationship comes as The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles launches a unique and unprecedented plan to distribute some 110,000 copies of its weekly newspaper in the greater Los Angeles area.

"By 2006, we intend to be the largest circulation Jewish community weekly in North America," Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman said.

As part of its plan, The Journal will rely largely on free distribution and paid private subscriptions. Until now, The Journal has been able to pay cheap third-class postage rates, allowing it to charge $30 per subscription. Under U.S. Postal Service regulations, a company must pay first-class postage if it distributes a majority of papers for free. First- class postage for weekly delivery is $60 per year.

The Jewish Journal will be running a series of ads to alert readers to its new distribution system.

The distribution plan is unique among North America’s 135 Jewish community papers. But Eshman says it suits a community that is in itself unique. "L.A. Jewry is dispersed, diverse and at the cutting edge of American Jewish life," Eshman said, "and we want our paper to reach and reflect all parts of it."

Journal Chief Operating Officer Kimber Sax said the change could initially cost the Journal, a nonprofit, "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in lost revenue.

On the upside, she said, giving away The Journal is expected to double the paper’s circulation to 110,000 by 2006. Sax and Eshman are confident the increased penetration will make the paper more attractive to advertisers hungry to reach the affluent Jewish community.

"Our vision is that everywhere you go in greater Los Angeles County, whether you’re in Arcadia, Conejo, Encino, San Gabriel or Torrance, you’re going to see The Jewish Journal," Sax said.

Eshman said the new goal challenges the paper to improve the quality to grow readership. Toward that end, The Journal has hired new writers and launched editions in Orange County and Conejo Valley. The paper just hired an in-house Web director to overhaul its Web site, which should be unveiled by October.

"Our goal is to be the largest Jewish newspaper in the country and among the best," Eshman said.

The Journal will become one of only a handful of Jewish papers nationwide neither owned by nor selling thousands of subscriptions to federations, said Neil Rubin, senior editor of the Baltimore Jewish Times and former president of the American Jewish Press Association. He estimated that about 85 percent of Jewish papers have formal financial ties with the philanthropic bodies, including the Cleveland Jewish News and the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, which are federation-owned. Such arrangements help keep some publications afloat by guaranteeing paid circulation, he said.

However, Rubin said at the very least these relationships create the appearance of conflicts of interest.

With federation papers, "you’re not really doing journalism. You’re self-censoring or you’re being censured, which isn’t healthy for the Jewish community," said Rubin, whose Baltimore Jewish Times is independent.

Relations between the Los Angeles Federation and Journal occasionally became frosty after stories critical of the organization ran in the paper. Both Federation President John Fishel and Journal Editor Eshman deny these occasional conflicts played any role in the impending separation.

Eshman said the philanthropic organization no longer could afford subscriptions at a time of dramatically increasing operating costs and only slightly higher fund raising. He said the split might have been driven by cost-cutting recommendations made by an internal Federation task force.

Fishel said The Journal’s decision to give away most of its papers necessitated the separation. With The Journal’s decision to giveaway most copies, subscriptions will cost more than The Federation wants to spend, Fishel said.

Still, he said he hoped Federation members would continue to pick up The Journal, which has served the community well.

"I think The Journal has improved dramatically over the last decade," he said.

Fed Campaign Ends on High Note


Propelled by a tide of last-minute contributions in the final weeks of its annual campaign, the Jewish Federation of Orange County raised a record $2.3 million, a 9 percent gain over last year, outpacing national results by the United Jewish Communities.

“We attribute the increase in the campaign to deliberate relationship building,” said Bunnie Mauldin, Federation executive director.

Each of the Federation’s various support groups increased its giving, though the 39 percent increase by the young professionals’ network was the largest. Gifts ranged from $5,000 to $100,000 or more.

Nearly 90 percent of the Federation’s contributors gave $500 or less, or 16 percent of the total.

“That is pretty much in step with what most philanthropy’s experience: 90 percent of the money comes from 10 percent of the donors,” Mauldin said.

In June, the Journal incorrectly reported the 2003 results as slightly down based on incomplete figures that did not reflect the final campaign push.

The Federation fell short of an ambitious $3.2 million target, but should be considered a success since other communities experienced meaningful declines, Federation President Lou Weiss, noted in the group’s annual report.

This year’s campaign exceeded last year’s level by $235,000, Mauldin said.

Stanley Hirsh


I first met Stanley Hirsh in 1984 when he stopped by tovisit an after-school program in Jerusalem where I was working as a counselor.The kids and I were playing a game of basketball on a cracked blacktop court.

After watching from the fence for a while, Stanley called meover and introduced himself. I assumed he was going to congratulate me forhelping the indigent immigrant children of Israel.

“How can someone as tall as you,” he asked, “stink so bad atbasketball?”

Hirsh was several handfuls of human being. He belonged to avanishing generation of Jewish philanthropists, self-made men (they were mostlymen) whose drive, talent, luck and brazenness made them rich. They were tough,sometimes even gruff, and yet exceedingly generous. Their philanthropy arosefrom the same impulse as their wealth. They wanted to make the most, and givethe most.

Stanley’s involvement with The Journal came toward the endof a long life of achievement and giving. But he showed great, youthfulenthusiasm for this paper. He shared a vision of a newspaper that could serveas a kind of hub for an increasingly diverse and far-flung community. Hesupported decisions that greatly increased The Journal’s size and distribution.He supported editorial content that was tough, fair and compassionate.

We at The Jewish Journal mourn his loss, and extend our deepestcondolences to his family. 

Letters


Just to clarify Tom Tugend’s “Strain in the Relationship” (Aug.22):

Hollywood’s power brokers of Jewish ancestry met on Tisha B’Av atthe Hillcrest Country Club (over shrimp cocktails, perhaps?) todiscuss their “genuine quest for a ‘new identity’ in theirrelationship to Israel.”

Are we all comforted to know that Israel’s American support liesdisproportionately in the hands of such people so profoundly capableof deep introspection on this most somber day in the Jewish calendar?

Can we say that their need for self-deification will never bereconciled with the survival of Israel as a Jewish state?

As for Billy Crystal or any other celebrity of Jewish ancestry:Their interest or participation in anything Jewish is directlyproportional to the impact on their showbiz careers.

Howard Winter

Beverly Hills

Jewish Masochism

We non-Orthodox Jews should face up to this fact: We daily bemoanassimilation and the predicted disappearance of the Jewish peoplebecause of this. But we cannot argue the fact that wherever thenon-observant or semi-observant Jew dominates Jewish life,assimilation thrives and Jews flock to the Moonies and other cults.

We’ve done a lousy job of preserving Jewish identity. So, where dowe get the arrogance to force this miserable record upon a Jewishnation, from afar yet? Making donations to Israel should not give usthe right to force our way of life on the Jews who live there. Suchan attitude is hardly in keeping with the Jewish tradition oftzedakah. The recipients of our charity should not be beholdento us.

Our masochism truly shines bright when we consider how stupid itis for us, non-Orthodox Jews, to push the wrong buttons at thisextremely volatile time in our history. Our very survival is at stakebecause of the devotion towards our destruction, displayed by theArab enemy. We could at least have the common sense to put offinternal fighting until we have neutralized the danger from theoutside enemy.

By the way, has any one of us seen a published comment by even oneArab that attacks the Arabs in a manner that is equal to the flood ofanti-Israel articles by Jews? Talk about masochism!

Leon Perlsweig

Los Angeles

Unequal Treatment

I was shocked and saddened to read two reports from Israel(“Caught In a Maelstrom,” “Another Melee Erupts as Women Pray withMen at Western Wall,” Aug. 15). How can we anguish over the seriousdisturbances in Israel between the Israelis and the Arabs when wehave such nasty and hateful disturbances within our own people? Howcan we rightfully accuse others when we seemingly have no controlover our own actions?

I am sick and tired of those who claim to be so devout that theycannot follow the basic tenets of the Torah; we are bidden to takeresponsibility for our own actions and not to blame others.

I have found that shame, blame and regret are not satisfactoryconditions with which to live life. Is this the way to love yourneighbor as yourself? Of course, if you do not love yourself, then itbecomes easier to lay the blame on another.

The shameful way that the women were treated when they attemptedto pray is disgusting behavior and I can find no reasonableexplanation for it. How can we justify the male attitude whichdemeans women in these ways? This is 1997, and I have not found anyjustification which says that women are to be given unequal rights.

If we can not live in peace with each other then how in the nameof G-d can we ever expect to live peacefully with any other people?Let us pray that we will be able to treat each other with respect andtrue understanding, not just tolerance. Then perhaps the rest of theworld may be better able to treat us that way, too.

Polly Hertz

Los Angeles

South Bay Greetings

In case you have forgotten, we too live in the South Bay and havedone so for the past 23 years. We have been active in building aschool, mikvah, day care center, adult center and have an affiliationof 500 friends.

Surprisingly, your cover story “Wave of the Future,”(Aug. 22)forgot a main Jewish group. Hopefully, this is not a common practice.

Rabbi Eli Hecht

Director

Chabad of South Bay

Lomita

*

It was wonderful to see that the South Bay Jewish community is notforgotten. We certainly are alive and well. I believe people have toknow that there are Jews living in other neighborhoods other thanjust the Valley, the Farifax area and the Westside.

But, my disappointment came when I saw that the synagogue myfamily belongs to was relegated to less than one line. B’nai TikvahCongregation is also a member of the South Bay Council of theFederation. We are 51 years young and have the motto of “Not justanother shul!” Our credo is we are small enough to encourage personalrelationships but large enough to offer a variety of programs.

We joined the synagogue when our oldest child was ready for Sundayschool and have remained members for over 44 years. To our delight,our son and daughter-in-law have joined and nothing gives us morepleasure than sitting next to them and our grandchildren at services.

And now we are very excited about our new and dynamic spiritualleader, Rabbi Michael Beals. We were delighted as he conducted hisfirst Shabbat service last Friday night. The sanctuary was crowedwith adults and children who were anxious to welcome him and hislovely wife, Dr. Elissa Green-Beals, to Westchester and B’nai TikvahCongregation.

We believe that the Jewish Journal left our a very important partof South Bay Judaism when they choose to omit any significant mentionof B’nai Tikvah Congregation.

Ileene Morris

Westchester

*

After reading your article “Wave of the Future,” (Aug. 15) I wasstruck with the similarity of our own experience in starting a shulin Oxnard, a city that is considered bamidbar, “in thedesert,” as regarding Jewish matters, by the Los Angeles Jewishcommunity.

Our synagogue, Congregation Am HaYam, “People of the sea,” is theonly Conservative synagogue between Thousand Oaks and San LuisObispo. We had our first service last May, starting out in members’homes, and now in a rented hall. We hold Shabbat services on thefirst and third weekends of each month at the Oxnard Monday Clubwhere we will also be holding our first High Holy Day services. Weare affiliated with the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism andnow have a membership of almost 50 families. Everyone who attendsservices, besides remarking about how warm and friendly they are,says the same thing: “I didn’t know there were this many Jews in thearea!”

There is no kosher butcher or baker in our area so that when wehave a Shabbat dinner we have to bring the food from the San FernandoValley.

Our services are warm and inspiring due to our rabbi/cantor, RabbiGerald Hanig, who was the cantor at Temple Ramat Zion in Northridgefor over 20 years. His intellect, devotion to Judaism and truly warmpersonality are our major asset. We also have none of the politicalinfighting and divisiveness or more established Jewish synagogues andother institutions. Due to the popularity of our area as a vacationresort, we also have a number of visitors to our synagogue. Indeed, alarge percentage of our members live in Los Angeles and have weekendhomes here.

So you see, you can find a synagogue in the most unlikely city.Even in the strawberry capital of the world, Oxnard, Calif.

Morton H. Resnick

President

Congregation Am HaYam

Oxnard

The Journal Critiqued

I would like to share some thoughts that have been brewing in mymind for some time now:

It might be unprofessional of me to question the value of theTorah interpretations which distinguished colleagues of mine arewriting. To my mind they add little understanding concerning theweekly parsha that is read in the synagogue. Some may think that thisan appropriate application of the midrash technique hallowedby our tradition but the Journal columns miss the mark. Usually about75 percent of the writing deals with a personal anecdote or a generalobservation on the peccadilloes of life and then a few verses fromthe weekly portion are dragged in give these ruminations some We havea right to know what the Torah portion is all about.

In my view the Journal is overloaded with material about thepolitical merry-go-round in Israel. The L.A. Times already gives ussufficient coverage of the scene there. What we need from a Jewishweekly are articles in depth, exploring the background of thecultural and religious events percolating over there.

I now notice stacks of copies of the Journal for freedistribution. Where did I get the notion that it is available only toFederation contributors? Besides, it upsets my aesthetic taste to seecopies of the Journal roll in the gutter along with the L.A. Weekly.

And finally your writers should have some sensitivity to thenuances of the Yiddish and Hebrew languages. I bite my tongue whenthe L.A. Times and non-Jewish writers commit these linguisticindiscretions. But Jews, certainly those whose aim is to make theirreaders more literate, should know that the plural of chasid ischasidim and the plural of mensch is menschen. Maybe your writersshould take some basic courses to appreciate the soul of Yiddishkeit.Let’s not bowdlerize our heritage.

Harry Essrig

West Hills

The Latest Crisis

Gary Rosenblatt citing Egon Mayer, recently wrote, “the organizedJewish community is obsessed with the sense of crisis that fuelsvirtually every Jewish cause (“‘Vanishing’ Jews Are Still Here,”Aug.8). It appears that our local Messianic synagogue has provided thelatest crisis (“Who Is Not a Jew?” Aug. 22). Marlene Adler Marksstates that Conejo Valley leaders have all mobilized around this newcause. No doubt they have pulled off a fund raising coup in theprocess. Apparently Messianic Jews are not the only Jews that lovepublicity.

Marks refers to a “besieged Jewish community.” Messianic Jews, inthe U.S. and in Israel, have been the victims of death threats,arson, physical violence, and vandalism because of our beliefs. Who,I ask, is besieging whom?

There is good reason that the phrase, “Who is a Jew?” is alwaysleft unanswered in our age of Jewish diversity. Marks celebrates thenotion that Rabbinic Jews can at least rally around their fear ofMessianic Jews. But if fear and paranoia against a small andrelatively powerless Jewish group is the only thing that can uniteRabbinic Jews today, then they of all people, are to be most pitied.

Murray Silberling

Messianic Rabbi

Beth Emunah

Woodland Hills

Correction

In Marlene Adler Marks’ column last week, Debbie Pine wasidentified as working with Cult Awareness Network. In fact, Pine isthe director of the Maynard Bernstein Resource Center on Cults. TheCult Awareness Network was purchased by the Church of Scientology.

The Journal regrets the error.


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In this, the Jewish Journal’s seventh annual honor roll of high-school graduates, we find that our f


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