Who you calling rebbetzin, why you dissing Palin, what college anti-Semitism?

The Rabbi’s Spouse

In her recent story, Danielle Berrin contemplates the role of the clergy’s spouse (“Who You Calling Rebbetzin?” Sept. 12).

It seems that one of the downsides is being misunderstood.  
I repeatedly emphasized to Danielle that my voluntary role in our community is one which I gladly fill both at our synagogue and in our children’s school, because these are the communities where our family belongs, and I feel a personal responsibility to help.  Never at any time did I or will I expect any financial compensation for the work I volunteer to do in my community. 

I created the position that I fill because I care about the community and am proud to help build our congregation along with my husband.  

I wish there would have been some way for that positive message to have been better expressed in the article.

Pnina Bouskila
Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel

We would like to thank Danielle Berrin for her article on the contemporary rebbetzin.

We were subjects in this piece, and we could not be more pleased. Within the Jewish world so many of us seek connection — with God, with community, with mitzvot, and yes — with the rabbi’s family!? Through her article Ms. Berrin gave our community a chance to get to know us a little better, with the hope of strengthening those connections — that is indeed a holy pursuit, a true mitzvah.

As rabbis who are also rebbetzins, we are grateful for Ms. Berrin’s attention to the value of the rabbinic spouse.

Rabbis Deborah and Brian Schuldenfrei
via e-mail

The Iranian Vote

Iranian American Jews are mostly wary and distrustful of the Obama-Biden ticket.
In your Aug. 11 Iranian American Jews blog report on my debate with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Judge Bruce Einhorn on the U.S. presidential elections, you mistakenly mentioned that I had emphasized the issue of Sen. John McCain’s experience.

In fact, my main and repeated emphasis was on the lack of understanding by Sen. Barack Obama of the nature and the threat of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the worldwide jihadist movement, as well as Sen. Joe Biden’s long-time record of encouraging appeasement and giving one-sided concessions to the Iranian theocratic dictatorship.

I mentioned that as a Democrat, I would strongly suggest putting aside our differences and voting for McCain, due to the overwhelming urgency of the worldwide threats facing us all.

I, like most Iranian Jews, fear that the Obama-Biden administration will fail to stand up to this worldwide threat.

Frank Nikbakht
Committee for
Religious Minority Rights in Iran

Post-Palin Depression

I wanted you to know that I ran across your piece as I scoured the Internet looking for my minute-by-minute updates on the election (“Post-Palin Depression” Sept. 12).

I am just an average person that fits the person you describe in “Post-Palin Depression.” I do not have a therapist, but I have been in depression for almost two weeks now.

But your article inspired me to go nearly cold turkey on election news (I didn’t think about limiting to C-SPAN and, of course, I just can’t go without “The Daily Show”). One question, before I go into detox, can I finish out my obsession until I fall asleep tonight?

Thanks for the great piece. I can’t wait for my blood pressure to resume to normal levels.

Catherine Devericks
Via e-mail

Fields of Dreams

I would like to thank David Suissa and The Jewish Journal for the moving article comparing/contrasting Trochenbrod and Camp Ramah (“Fields of Dreams,” Sept. 12).

Filmmaker Jeremy Goldscheider is doing a big mitzvah in producing a film that will preserve a part of European Jewish History, which would otherwise be lost forever.

I would like to support this project and would like more information on how to get involved. I am writing as a representative of the Blitstein family of Trochenbrod.

Paula Verbit
Trochenbrod Descendant
Second Generation

Strange Love

In his recent letter to David Suissa, Jeff Kramer stated “The truth is that they (missionaries) don’t want your soul, what they want is to help you draw closer to God and in so doing, enjoy a fuller and more complete life now and in eternity.”

This statement is written more like a true believer in Jesus than a faithful Jew who understands that the roots of Christianity originate from Roman and Hellenistic paganism and belief in the trinity and bodily incarnation of God is considered idolatrous for Jews? (“Strange Love,” Aug. 22).

This is something all denominations of Judaism agree represents the spiritual destruction of the Jewish soul.

So yes, regardless of their intention, the end result is that missionaries, who seek to convert Jews, want our soul and in doing so perpetuate a long history of anti-Judaism that disrespects and invalidates the spiritual integrity of Jews and Judaism.

Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
Founder and Executive Director

Sleight of Hand

The directors of Stand With Us have engaged in a bit of sleight of hand (Letters, Sept. 12).

Rather than confront the fact that anti-Semitism is a negligible presence on college campuses today, they engage in name-calling. We are “elitists,” a common epithet in today’s political discourse.

If by characterizing our response as elitist, Roz Rothstein and Roberta Seid mean that we actually know what we are talking about, since we work on various college campuses (not just UCLA), then we plead guilty. Actually knowing what one is talking about is something that is very helpful in political discussions — both this one and larger national ones.

Professor Aryeh Cohen
Rabbi Susan Laemmle
Professor David N. Myers
Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
Professor Roger Waldinger

Sarah Palin

There are issues pertaining to Gov. Sarah Palin’s judgment privately that should be judged publicly (“Sarah Palin and the Jews,” Sept. 5).

First, why is it not immoral to have a baby when you know that the baby has Down syndrome and the baby is your fifth?

Second, why is it not immoral to get pregnant at age 42 with your fifth child when you know or should know that the odds of having a baby with Down syndrome is increased exponentially when a women reaches 40?

According to the March of Dimes Web site, at 25, a woman has about one chance in 1,250 of having a baby with Down syndrome; at age 30, a one in 1,000 chance; at age 35, a one in 400 chance; at age 40, a one in 100 chance; at 45, a one in 30 chance.

Lastly, why is it not immoral to have a fifth baby when given our current world environment. Zero population growth should be a goal for all of us? Why not adopt instead?

The above questions should all be asked of this person, but our media just won’t go there.

Martin H. Kodish
Woodland Hills

Yes, it was nice to know that Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has good relationships with Alaska’s Jewish population, although it was hardly surprising that she is strongly pro-Israel, given that she is an evangelical Christian.

However, to describe her simply as a social conservative is a gross understatement. From all we know of her, insufficient as that is as yet, she is a rabid, right-wing ideologue.

In her acceptance speech at the Republican convention, with its clever one- and two-line zingers written by a group of the best-paid communications professionals in the business and rehearsed by Gov. Palin for at least five hours prior to its presentation, with a mixture of homey references to her family and herself, she likened her small-town roots to those of President Harry S. Truman (a senator from Missouri for 10 years before becoming vice president in January 1945).

It remains the challenge of the media to break through the blockade surrounding their access to her — talk about protectionism run amok — to ask penetrating questions about her positions on policy issues, among them: the kinds of justices she would appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court; whether she believes in multilateral, rather than unilateral, approaches to international affairs; given her opposition to government intervention into our private lives, why a woman should not have the right to make her own reproductive choices without big brother dictating her decisions.

Also, how she intends to protect the guarantees of our Bill of Rights and their erosion in the name of fighting terror; why, if she is so staunchly pro-life, she does not support federal funding of embryonic stem cell research — using embryos that will be discarded or destroyed — to improve the quality of life of those living with terrible diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, AIDs, etc.; why she opposes sex education in the schools, including teaching even kindergartners — as Barack Obama has proposed — about what they need to know, at the most primary level, in order to protect themselves from sexual predators.

In addition, where she stands on our constitutionally guaranteed separation of church and state, in general, and the teaching of creationism, along with the theory of evolution, in particular; regulating gun ownership; outlawing hate crimes; drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and on and on.

With less than two months remaining before Election Day on Nov. 4, it is urgent that the media reveal what the new kid on the political block — who would be a heartbeat away from the presidency — believes about many of the most urgent issues facing our country.

Rachel Galperin

I am not a supporter of the Republican ticket. However, let’s be fair to Sarah Palin on Jewish issues. First of all, most gentiles are probably not familiar with Pat Buchanan’s views on matters of Jewish concern, particularly people such as Palin, who are not known for their deep knowledge of such things. So her wearing of a Buchanan button does not signify anti-Jewish feelings.

Second, whatever one’s views may be on abortion rights, it is not a Jewish issue. The Orthodox Jewish view on abortion is similar to that of most Christian religious groups. The only pertinent Jewish issue in today’s political world is support for Israel.

Marshall Giller

The disclosure that last month Gov. Sarah Palin’s church hosted the executive director of Jews for Jesus, who told congregants that violence against Israeli Jews is God’s punishment for their failure to accept Jesus, is going to be the next club that Palin’s leftist critics pick up against her.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency quotes Palin’s pastor at Wasilla Bible Church, the Rev. Larry Kroon, as saying that he doesn’t believe Jews for Jesus are deceptive.

“Look at Paul and Peter and the others, they were Jews and believed in Jesus as the messiah,” he told JTA. “There’s gentile believers and there’s Jewish believers that acknowledge Jesus as messiah. There’re Swedish believers.”

Mainstream Judaism today rejects the idea that one can believe in Jesus and still be a practicing Jew. Anyone who maintains that the two beliefs are compatible is a pariah in the Jewish community.

But these columns have been cautioning against the idea that politicians need to be held accountable for every thing that is said from the pulpits of their congregations. In an editorial of March 18, 2008, “Obama’s Moment,” we said that religion by its nature calls forth great passion, and that religious institutions, churches, synagogues, mosques, are places where things are often said that strike the congregation in a way that they might not strike the wider public.

None of this is to excuse the errors of Sen. Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or Kroon. But it is Obama and Palin who are running for office, not the clergymen.

To make a big issue of these kinds of things in respect of the candidates, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, would be to impose a religious test for office of the sort that the framers of the Constitution forbade right in Article VI, when they wrote, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

No, ever, any. They couldn’t have been more emphatic and not even in an amendment but right there in the original body of the Constitution.

Reyna Oro
via e-mail

Campus Envy

I am not a big fan of Jewish unity when it’s ideological. A room full of informed

and opinionated Jews, arguing their ideas back and forth, is a sign of a healthy people.

But I do support Jewish physical unity. Life is with people, and Jewish life flourishes when we learn, play, pray and — of course — argue together.

That’s why I stood on a hill in Irvine last Sunday, suffering — as an L.A. Jew — from a case of campus envy.

The occasion was the dedication of the Tarbut v’Torah Jewish Community Upper School and a tour of the building site of the Samueli Jewish Campus. The school itself is state-of-the-art, spacious, with a professional-quality performance and lecture hall, and even a rock climbing wall in the playground.

We do have good Jewish high schools here, with nice buildings, and I’m certain there will be more of them as the years go by. But that Samueli Campus beside the school, that’s another story.

Last Sunday, a crowd of about 1,000 Orange County Jews came for a "virtual tour" of what will be a $63 million, 120,000-square-foot Jewish community campus. On that breezy hilltop overlooking Orange County, tantalizing, full-color renderings of the future laid propped up beside what is now a dusty building pad. The new campus will house the Orange County Jewish Federation and its affiliated agencies, as well as a full-service Jewish Community Center (JCC). The new JCC will include two massive swimming pools, a 50,000-square-foot fitness center, a 500-seat theater, classrooms and facilities for children from infancy through the teen years, kosher kitchens and space for weddings and celebrations for more than 300 people.

Construction on the site is expected to begin once a $20 million capital campaign is completed. Already, 72 families have pledged $11 million. "This is the catalyst for the center of Jewish life in Orange County," said Henry Samueli, the Broadcom Corp. co-founder who, along with his wife, Susan, donated the land for the campus. "So, 20 years from now, you could open a travel book and look up ‘Jewish center’ and you will find this. This is a place for everybody in the Jewish community to come."

The Samueli Jewish Campus will serve an estimated 2,500 people per day, according to Orange County JCC president Mary Ann Malkoff. "This is our future and it’s all about to happen," she said.

What, I wondered, about L.A.’s future? When is that going to happen? Orange County is a much smaller Jewish community — 100,000 souls at most — more homogenous than ours. But it is also spread out across 700 square miles, and filled with its share of the disinterested and marginally involved. Now all these Jews will have a true central address, a place for all denominations, all political persuasions, all ages. As our JCCs either remain closed or struggle to exist, as we cast about for both leadership and togetherness, we can look south for some valuable lessons:

One person with the right vision can make a huge difference.

There were numerous people involved in the Orange County campus, but one crucial element revolved around one family’s vision, and pocketbook. Henry Samueli is a resident of Orange County who, along with an anonymous donor, funded most of Tarbut v’Torah. ("We are very selfish in doing this," joked Susan Samueli during the dedication ceremony. "We have daughters who will be graduating from this school.") When school officials informed the Samuelis that the school might lose its option to buy valuable adjoining acreage, the couple helped envision the kind of Jewish center of life and learning that Henry Samueli had experienced first-hand as a child growing up — in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district.

Big visions generate big excitement.

In the beginning, as Susan Samueli said, all her transplanted family was looking for was a Jewish school. They could have written a building fund check and called it a day. Instead, they and other Orange County leaders stepped back and imagined the best possible scenario for their community’s Jewish future. That not only inspired large donors to give even more, it galvanized a community that many had written off as dispersed and apathetic.

Real leadership builds real community.

Perhaps most striking thing about the Sunday event was the cooperation and excitement shared by staff and lay leaders of all the Orange County Jewish agencies and organizations. Of course they have had their conflicts, and they will have more, but the project only worked because people worked together. "What makes this special is the relationship between the JCC and Tarbut, between JCC and Federation and between Tarbut and Federation," said Malkoff, echoing the day’s spirit. "Having a campus where we can all work together is extremely meaningful."

No one needs reminding that these are uncertain, perilous times, and we certainly have enough life-and-death causes — terror, Iraq, Israel, the economy, Argentina, anti-Semitism — that demand our money and attention.

Coming together to deal with these crises, as we have in Los Angeles, is an important achievement. This community has always responded to emergencies well. But how much better off would we be if along with our ability to demonstrate unity with Jews in crisis abroad, we brought ourselves together as well, in a big, bold way, as they’ve done in Orange County.

‘United We Flourish’

Putting his own twist on a frequently invoked slogan, Lou Weiss, the newly elected president of Orange County’s

Jewish Federation, intends to make inclusiveness a priority during his tenure.

Rather than "united we stand," Weiss is adopting the motto, "united we flourish." His other goals are to demonstrate solidarity with Israel, support a soon-to-break- ground Jewish campus in Irvine and better the organization’s fund raising.

"I love being a Jew here in Orange County," says Weiss, 54, a marketing consultant and 18-year Federation board member who outlined his aims for the coming year recently from the ocean-view deck of his Laguna Beach home. Over two decades, he has played a role developing many of the county’s Jewish organizations, including the Orthodox shul in a former bank branch that is walking distance from his own home. "Anyone who is a clear thinker can rise to where ever they want to here," he says. "You don’t have to be rich."

While other regions have a more concentrated Jewish population and more established institutions, Weiss sees a benefit in the area’s relative immaturity. "There is amazing growth potential. Where there is a large Jewish population, you can’t stand out. This is the ideal critical mass."

Weiss assumes leadership of the county’s highest-profile Jewish organization as its annual campaign, which supports Jewish schools and services, grew by 12 percent to a record $2.06 million, even as the community contributed another $457,000 to an Israel emergency fund. Any improvement runs counter to a national survey of annual giving released in June, which shows a 2.3 percent drop in charity last year, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. That marks the first time in seven years that contributions have dropped in inflation-adjusted terms and shows the affects of the recession and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The campaign gains by the Costa Mesa-based Federation permit budget increases of 15 percent to the Bureau of Jewish Education and Jewish Family Services, a counseling agency, which both rely on Federation fundraising for a portion of their operations. Among the other Federation-supported groups, financial support of college and high school social clubs declined and support for a teen task force and community chaplain eliminated, according to the group’s annual report.

"Our goal was to meet $2 million and we exceeded it," says Bunnie Mauldin, the executive director, describing the year as "unusual" due to the Sept. 11 attacks, a stock market downturn and increased financial needs by Israel.

Even so, the Federation set aside funds to recognize special needs in the local Jewish community, such as the national Hillel Foundation, for its Birthright Israel trips for college students; the Jeremiah Society, for people with developmental disabilities; the Jewish Educators’ Association, for ongoing professional development of religious school teachers and principals, and the Community Scholar Program, for countywide Jewish adult education programs.

Weiss, a former member of the allocations committee that divvies up Federation funds, describes the process as "wrenching" decision-making. The results, though, reflect the organization’s efforts to distribute funds equitably while closely examining the recipients’ operations, he says.

While raising a dollar may take twice as much effort as it did when the economy was booming, Israel’s crises opened hearts and wallets here more swiftly than experimenting with new approaches to appeals. "Five-hundred-dollar checks came from people who were small givers to the [Federation] campaign," points out former Federation President Charles Karp.

Karp, a retired businessman from Newport Beach who served three years as Federation president, concedes he fell short of his own fundraising goal. It took longer than anticipated, he says, to overcome hard feelings he encountered in people who previously responded to Federation appeals. "I thought we would get to $3 million. I’m glad we got as far as we did, but I’m sorry it didn’t go further."

Weiss believes the success of his own aspirations – — particularly at unifying the community — will get a boost from the visibility of a spacious new campus for Jewish agencies on Irvine’s outskirts adjacent to Tarbut V’Torah Day School. Construction is expected to start this fall. "I want it to be the blessing it should be," he says.