Briefs: L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea;


L.A. Koreans and Jews protest anti-Semitic cartoons published in South Korea

Leaders of the Korean and Jewish communities in Los Angeles have joined forces to vigorously protest anti-Semitic cartoons in a book published in South Korea and translated into English.

A typical cartoon depicts a newspaper, magazine, radio and TV set with the caption: “In a word, American public debate belongs to the Jews, and it is no exaggeration to say that [U.S. media] are the voice of the Jews.”

The publication in question, which is in comic book format, is one in a series titled, “Distant Countries and Neighboring Countries,” and is designed to teach young Korean students about other nations.

It was written by Lee Won-bok, a popular South Korean university professor and author, and the book’s English translation has reportedly sold more than 10 million copies.

“I don’t have words to describe the outrage I feel,” Yohngsohk Choe, co-chairman of the Korean Patriotic Action Movement in the U.S.A., told the Los Angeles Times.

Choe was among leaders of the large local Korean American community who met last Friday with Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Choe added, “The depictions are explosive. They have the potential to harm good relationships with our Jewish American neighbors in Los Angeles.”

Cooper said he had written the publisher of the book, asking her “to carefully review the slanders in this book that historically have led to anti-Semitic violence and genocide,” and “consider providing facts about the Jewish people, our religion and values to young South Koreans.”

The publisher, Eun-Ju Park, answered by e-mail that she would check into the matter “more closely and correct what needs to be corrected,” a response Cooper considered unsatisfactory.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish liaisons for Bush and Clinton outline work in ‘the real West Wing’

Noam Neusner, who served as Jewish liaison and special assistant to President George W. Bush, said last Thursday that while the president welcomes comments from major Jewish organizations on matters of national policy, “it was kind of crazy” for the Union of Reform Judaism to pass a resolution condemning the Iraq War.

Neusner and Jay K. Footlik, who was President Bill Clinton’s Jewish liaison, spoke at Sinai Temple at the 2007 Rabbi Samuel N. Sherman Memorial Lecture. Titled, “The Real West Wing,” the event was co-sponsored by StandWithUs and moderated by Rabbi David Wolpe.

It is the job of the Jewish liaison to advise the president on a wide range of issues, including such things as lives of Jews in the military, allegations of proselytizing or arranging the annual White House Chanukah party. Footlik said some people believe that the Jewish liaison works for Jewish community, rather than for the president. He pointed out that American Jews are “not shy” about telling the White House their feelings.

In response to a question about anti-Semitism in America, both men said that in spite of the impact of President Jimmy Carter’s recent book, support for Israel remains solid, but they stressed “you can’t take it for granted.”

Each cited examples of their administration’s commitment to Israel and the Jewish people and expressed confidence that regardless who wins the 2008 elections, American support for Israel will remain strong.

— Peter L. Rothholz, Contributing Writer

Milken schools chief announces retirement

Stephen S. Wise Schools went into high gear to find a successor for Dr. Rennie Wrubel, who last week announced her intention to retire from the position of head of school of Milken Community High School and Stephen S. Wise Middle School on June 30, 2008.

Wrubel, 62, has headed the schools for 10 years, during which time she has increased enrollment, made both the academics and Judaic studies more rigorous and built up the Jewish culture of the school, according to Metuka Benjamin, director of education for Stephen S. Wise Schools.

“She has been a great asset to Milken and really helped develop and build Milken,” Benjamin said. “She brought it to the next level.”

On Feb. 22, Wrubel sent a letter to Benjamin, explaining that she and her husband, who is 10 years her senior, longed to spend more time with each other and with family. Her daughter and son-in-law live in Israel with three children — a 4-year-old and twin 10-month-olds.

“Leading Milken for these past 10 years has been the highlight of my 41 years in education. It has been far more than a job to me; it has been an act of love,” Wrubel wrote, saying the decision to retire was one filled with emotion.

Milken is planning an international search for the position in the 16 months before Wrubel retires. With its $30 million campus, challenging academics and robust programming, the school aims to compete with L.A.’s best prep schools.

A search committee is already in formation, and administrators have hired Littleford & Associates, a consulting and executive search firm that has worked with the synagogue and its schools in the past and understands the culture and needs of the school, Benjamin told parents in a letter. John C. Littleford has already visited the school to conduct focus groups to develop a leadership profile for the position.

Once candidates have been identified and narrowed down, small groups of parents, teachers, alumni, students and administrators will have a chance to interview semifinalists and give input to the search committee. The committee aims to make a final recommendation by February 2008.

— Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Education Editor

Police Chief Bratton warns terrorism will be threat for the rest of our lives

“Terrorism, like crime, is going to be with us the rest of our lives” LAPD Chief William Bratton told Rabbi David Woznica at an open forum at Stephen S. Wise Temple Monday night.

“Since we are a likely target, we share intelligence with the FBI and the governments of Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Israel. We know we must trust one another and learn from each other.”He went on to reassure his audience, however, stating that “we are highly regarded for our capability and creativity, and there’s no place as well prepared as this place.”

L.A.’s Jews, Koreans Work to Build Ties


 

Shema Educational Institute’s Web site shows photos of typical Orthodox Jews: a father studying with his sons, a frum mother holding her infant and a man unrolling a Torah scroll. But in that last photo, the Orthodox man is standing next to a Korean man in traditional Korean dress.

Koreatown’s Shema Educational Institute advocates Orthodox ideals as guideposts for Korean families. With its home page declaring, “Shema, O’ Israel!” amid otherwise Korean-only Web pages, the institute brings together Koreans and Jews in the historically barren plain of interethnic relations between the two groups in Los Angeles.

“Jews are very successful in passing on their history, from Abraham up until now,” said the Rev. Yong-Soo Hyun, Shema Institute creator.

Los Angeles’ Jews comprise America’s second-largest Jewish community, and the city’s Koreans are the largest Korean diaspora outside of Asia. Despite many cultural similarities, they know little of each of other.

“This is a community we need to understand and appreciate; I would like to see this more on our Jewish radar screen,” said Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Southern California Board of Rabbis.

The Rev. Jim Bob-Park is the pastor of Young Nak Presbyterian Church, one of the Korean community’s largest, most influential congregations. He readily admits that Koreans and Jews don’t get together much socially or in any clergy-community relations settings.

“Actually, I haven’t had any interaction with the Jewish community,” Park said. “My seminary Hebrew language learning … was the last interaction I had with the Jewish community. That was about 15 years ago. I run into Jewish leaders here and there, not that I’m working with them or anything.”

Yet like many Korean Americans, Park talks admiringly of Jewish culture’s emphasis on family, education and professional careers, especially law, medicine and finance. And like Jewish immigrants in past decades, Korean Americans are trying to engage the growing divide between the older, more conservative first-generation immigrants who built Koreatown and the younger, more Americanized, more liberal second generation.

“Koreans are starting to learn from Jewish people,” said Paul Kim, 28, a program coordinator at the Korean American Coalition, the Korean communitity’s version of The Jewish Federation. “High emphasis on education, high emphasis on marrying one’s own and strong history of oppression. Koreans were very oppressed by Japanese and Chinese, because for thousands of years, Koreans were the chess piece, the pawn for all the surrounding countries.”

His description of his first days as an Occidental College freshman sounds like something that Jewish students might say about life on campus.

“Within five minutes, all the Koreans were hanging out together,” he said. “Instantaneously, when I see another Korean, I just bond with him.”

Kim oversaw a small Korean-Jewish “Talking Tolerance” gathering earlier this month. “The Second Generation: Preserving Our Culture,” sponsored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Project Next Step and funded by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles on Dec. 8, attracted a couple of dozen people, evenly split between Jews over 35 and Koreans under 30.

What the Jewish community looks like to insiders is certainly not the same as how it appears to outsiders.

“I feel that your community is much more unified,” said one young Korean American business executive, prompting several Jews to hold back their laughter among knowing glances. One of the evening’s organizers explained that not all Jewish organizations are exactly embracing each other.

Marrying outside one’s own culture remains as controversial among Koreans as it does among Jews. After dating Caucasian women, Kim said he will someday marry a Korean American.

“There’s so many ways we can relate to each other,” he said. “I used to always get upset at my parents because they’d say I have to marry a Korean, but I realized they’re just looking out for me.”

Both communities share an interest in a place outside the United States. For the Jews, it’s Israel, and for the Korean Americans, it’s human rights in North Korea. (Although Korean Americans are a large, theologically conservative presence in the Presbyterian Church (USA), they have not allied themselves with activists calling for divestment of Presbyterian funds from companies doing business with Israel.)

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of Project Next Step for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who led the “Talking Tolerance” discussion, often hosts Hyun’s Shema Institute students for Shabbat in his home. The rabbi said he is fascinated at how Korean American parents enroll in Hyun’s Orthodox-fueled family values seminars.

“They pay their own way and come to Los Angeles and study Judaism,” he said.

Koreans here were impressed with the Wiesenthal Center and its one-day, Sept. 13 conference on North Korea, which attracted many local Korean Americans and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

“That was almost a watershed experience for the Korean community,” Adlerstein said. “And we wound up as a facilitator of the different views of the Koreans.”

Also important, Adlerstein said, is how the Wiesenthal Center has been training Korean Americans opposing North Korea’s dictatorship, teaching them the tactics used by Jewish Americans who spent years speaking out for Soviet Jews.

“Something we had developed decades ago as a Jewish response to a Jewish problem,” he said, “was something that created a paradigm that we’re now able to share with people from an entirely different culture.”

 

Why Is This Seder Different?


Every year, the retelling of the story of Passover sparks the same intergenerational debate around our family’s seder table. Like singing "Dayenu" or eating charoset, we look forward to our traditional discussion of the nature and extent of anti-Semitism. My father, with my grandmother cheering on, argues that anti-Semitism is alive and, alas, well.

My two sisters and I disagree. Raised in liberal, heterogeneous communities, we describe a time and place where ethnic differences are celebrated, where they are taken in stride, and where surely no one is persecuted on their account.

We proudly tell him about the Korean American who gave an oral presentation on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in our public high school history class. He rolls his eyes and cites litanies of anti-Jewish actions in places like Los Angeles and Paris. We accuse my father of clinging to an obsolete ghetto mentality of victimization; he accuses us of making generalizations based on the distinct liberal bubble in the northeast where we grew up. We are naive, he warns, to think that the world has come to terms with religious difference.

My sisters and I have come to look forward to this Pesach time debate; it is part of our holiday ritual. In arguing for the demise of anti-Semitism in America, we feel downright patriotic, celebrants of tolerant, multicultural America. We are also lauding our success as a generation. As a post-religious cohort, our generation has moved such differences past their potential to divide and to instigate hatred since these were experienced by our parents and even more by our grandparents.

This year, the seder will be different. For the first time in our generation’s memory, we have confronted a period of world history rife with blatant anti-Semitism. For sure, the anti-Jewish sentiment is not coming from next door. But the media has brought the accusations and hate against Jews expressed daily in Gaza City, Islamabad and Riyadh to our living rooms.

Young American Jews, who have long considered the Arab-Israeli conflict as a battle between two nations thousands of miles away, this year might be wondering why the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a anti-Semite’s must-read, is a best-seller among young Egyptians, citizens of the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state. Even the most assimilated, unaffiliated American Jew, who still clings to the concept of a post-religious age, can no longer be deaf or blind to the hate directed against him. For example, even those American Jews who have long ceased to celebrate Purim could not help but react to a headline published in early March in a Saudi government daily, "Jews Use Teenagers Blood for Purim Pastries."

As a generation of American Jews raised on freedom of choice, Judaism was a part of our identity that we willingly embraced or rejected. We are a generation that treats Judaism as one component of our complex identities, one that we can elect to change and accommodate to the demands of the modern world.

We are, all of us — or so we have believed — Jews by choice. And thus we are shocked by this wave of anti-Semitism, because it does not differentiate between the temple-goer and the unobservant, between Reform and Orthodox, between Israel supporter and anti-Zionist.

Our generation of American Jews does not fit one prototype.

The simple son will come to the seder seeking information. With his parents he will discuss the intifada, the Saudi peace plan, the world views held by Islamic fundamentalists and the nature of U.S. foreign policy responses. The daughter who does not know how to ask might be so removed from Jewish practice that she chooses to absent herself and, perhaps, to spare embarrassment and hurt, is no longer invited to the seder. But if she does attend, she will need to be encouraged before she can begin to ask questions. But she will probably not connect Daniel Pearl’s last words — "I am a Jew , my mother is a Jew" — to her own life.

The evil son will come to the seder table angrily, maybe against his will. He will flippantly disassociate himself from the seder rituals, hurting his parents and grandparents. He will question the need for a Jewish state, though, unlike the simple son, he is fully aware of Jewish history and suffering.

The smart, respectful daughter and son will come to the seder with emotional reactions and questions prompted by their careful reading of current events. If it’s a good seder, they will probably leave more confused and upset about Israel and the war on terrorism than when they arrived.

This year, a new intergenerational discussion will dominate our seder. This year, my sisters and I will come to the table, respectfully conceding to our father that anti-Semitism has not perished. But we will also come to answer and provide comfort to our parents.

We will try to persuade them that, while they may be right, after all, that anti-Semitism is our condition, we may also be right when we insist that it is not our immutable destiny.



Dafna Hochman conducts research on terrorism and national security at a foreign policy think tank in Washigton, D.C. Her prior work includes Seeds of Peace International Camp in Maine and the Center for Jewish-Arab Economic Development in Herzliyah, Israel.