Young Jewish leaders voice opposition to Trump


Sixty-four local young Jewish leaders are denouncing what they call “Donald Trump’s discriminatory and insensitive comments” in an open letter to the community.

Signatories include Republicans, Democrats and independents. Among them are Bet Tzedek CEO and President Jessie Kornberg; California Sen. Ben Allen; Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Noah Farkas; and Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA.

Two attorneys — Sam Yebri, the president of 30 Years After, a group of Iranian-American Jewish community leaders, and Jesse Gabriel, a board member of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles — drafted and circulated the letter, which begins, “Our Generation Will Not Remain Silent.”

“We felt it was incumbent on the Jewish community, especially the self-described young Jewish leaders, to raise our voices in denouncing comments and actions that marginalized other minorities, and we felt we weren’t hearing enough from Jewish leaders,” Yebri told the Journal. “We felt as young leaders we could push the entire Jewish community to stand up to these types of comments.” 

Yebri and Gabriel were working independent of their board affiliations, they said in separate interviews.

The letter, which appears as an advertisement in this week’s Journal, states, “…the undersigned, representing the broad diversity of our Los Angeles Jewish community, feel compelled to speak out with one voice to denounce Donald Trump’s discriminatory and insensitive comments. We reject his efforts to marginalize other minority groups, and note with increasing concern the manner in which his campaign has encouraged and inflamed anti-Semitic bigotry.”

Since entering the presidential race last summer, Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, has angered several minority groups, including Hispanics, Muslims and Jews.

“In short,” the letter says, “Mr. Trump’s comments are contrary to both our American and our Jewish values.”

Republican Jewish Coalition communications director Fred Brown said Trump does not have a monopoly on offensive behavior during the current presidential election cycle. 

“While tone and rhetoric matter when discussing these issues, so does actual policy, which is why what we saw from the Democrat National Convention was so appalling,” Brown said in a phone interview.

In collecting signatures for the letter, Gabriel, 34, and Yebri, 35, attempted to reach out to influential people representing a broad cross-section of the community under the age of 40, Gabriel said. Both organizers are supporters of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee. 

 “We wanted to put together a list that reflects the diversity of our Jewish community — men and women, the Russian-Jewish community, the Persian-Jewish community, Israelis, the LGBT community, Democrats, Republicans, AIPAC, JStreet, Federation, AJU, people who serve on the boards of synagogues and Jewish summer camps,” Gabriel said. “If you look at the list of names, the signatories are prominent leaders in a whole range of important community organizations.”

The signatories of the letter include attorneys, rabbis and others who describe themselves as “young leaders from across Los Angeles … deeply committed to sustaining and strengthening our Jewish community.”

Attorney Alex Grager, 37, co-founder of RuJuLA, the Los Angeles Russian Jewish Network, signed the letter and explained his participation by telling the Journal, “Mr. Trump’s message is dividing not uniting, and in this day and age, or any day and age, that’s probably not a good thing.”

Norman Lamm’s letter announcing departure from Yeshiva University


Rabbi Norman Lamm, who serves as Yeshiva University’s president, chancellor and head of its rabbinical school, announced his departure on Monday in a letter acknowledging his failure to respond adequately to sexual abuse allegations against two rabbis at Y.U.’s high school for boys in the 1980s. [UPDATE: The school has issued a statement saying that “Rabbi Lamm's decision to retire is based on an agreement that was reached three years ago” and “his contract expired June 30.”]

The full text of his letter, which was sent to students, faculty, alumni and donors, according to a Y.U. spokesman, follows. He addresses the sexual allegations in paragraphs 6-9.

Dear Friends,

When we celebrated the ninetieth birthday of my dear father, zikhrono liverakhah, I cited the Mishnah in Avot 5:21, ben tish’im la-shu-ach. Despite the standard explanation that at ninety years old a person is stooped and decrepit, and there is much truth to that, I offered a more sensitive and profound interpretation. Without going into all of the details, I observed that hishtachavayah, the prostration of the attendee at the Jerusalem Temple, was the final ritual performed at the culmination of the divine service. Through prostration pilgrims stopped to reflect on their heavenly encounter and offered their gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity to serve God through the divine service. At ninety, I suggested, a person stops to reflect on a life well lived, a family raised, professional and personal achievements, spiritual growth, accomplishments, mistakes, successes and failures—and pauses for hishtachavayah, a moment of reflection, gratitude, and appreciation.

While I have yet to reach my father’s age, at this moment of transition in accordance with an agreement reached 3 years ago—as I step down from my positions as Chancellor of Yeshiva University and Rosh Hayeshivah, ending over sixty years of official affiliation with my beloved Yeshiva University as student, faculty member, Rosh Hayeshivah, President, and Chancellor—I use this moment for mishtachavim u-modim—pause, reflection, and expression of gratitude. Before beginning, I want to acknowledge that conditions have caused me to rely on help from my family in writing this letter.

Yeshiva nurtured me, challenged me, and formed me. Yeshiva took me in as a young, untested, and unproven boy and gave me opportunities for religious and intellectual growth, personal development, and professional achievement. For these sixty years I lived and breathed Yeshiva, its problems, its challenges, and its successes. I enjoyed opportunities that I never dreamed would be offered me: leadership, responsibility, the trust of a community, the affection and support of many from world leaders to drawers of water, and the pulpit of the Orthodox and Jewish world. The day I became President in 1976 I was humbled to occupy the offices of my rebbeim, mentors, and predecessors — Dr. Revel, Dr. Belkin, the Rav, zikhronam livrakhah – and a host of other rebbeim, professors, administrators, and lay leaders; I continue to be humbled and incredulous today as I step down. I would like to believe that I was a worthy custodian of their creation and leave the institution and the Torah u-Madda community more vital, vibrant, and effective religiously, academically, communally, and financially. Yeshiva University is not only an institution. It is a faith, a vision, a dream, a destiny. It has been my faith, my vision, my dream, and my destiny. It is the kind of faith that elicited from me, and from so many for over 125 years, work, dedication, and endless effort and endeavor.

It would be too easy at this moment in Yeshiva’s history, when fortune smiles on us and we are a top-ranked university and a thriving bet midrash, when things are largely going our way, to forget past adversities and difficulties and to think that our successes are part of the very fabric of our existence. We cannot assume that it is natural and normal that conditions be as favorable as they are today, nor should we imagine that they could not have been otherwise. We forget that the felicity of the present is actually the fulfillment of the promise of the past. The merciful quality of time causes us to forget the intensity of the anxiety of years past, when our ability to survive was in doubt. We are therefore obligated to an appreciation of our blessings as a special gift, as the keeping of God’s word, as the vindication of the covenant in which He promised us that Torah shall not depart from us or from our descendants. The experience of fulfillment lays upon us the obligation of humility, to realize that we are not necessarily deserving of what has come upon us, that we have not wrought our good fortune with our own hands and wisdom, that it is God in His goodness who keeps His Word to generations past and by virtue of which we now prosper. We must demand of ourselves the obligations that flow from our successes —the qualities of understanding, of perspective, of emunah, and above all, of a deep humility that the Higher Force has responded to our own initiative in molding Jewish history and keeping His promise, through us, to those who preceded us.

In the Aleinu, mishtachavim is followed by modim, modim as in thanks. But there is another meaning as well, one that holds the key to real leadership and one upon which I reflect at this important transition in my personal and professional life. Jacob’s blessing to his son Judah, Yehudah, attah yodukha achekha (Gen. 49:8) literally means “Judah, your brothers will recognize you (as their leader).” However, the word yodukha, they will recognize you, is etymologically related to the word vidui, confession and therefore teaches us that only those who can, like Judah, confess, are those who can be acknowledged as real leaders.

And it is to this I turn as I contemplate my response to allegations of abuse in the Yeshiva community. At the time that inappropriate actions by individuals at Yeshiva were brought to my attention, I acted in a way that I thought was correct, but which now seems ill conceived. I understand better today than I did then that sometimes, when you think you are doing good, your actions do not measure up. You think you are helping, but you are not. You submit to momentary compassion in according individuals the benefit of the doubt by not fully recognizing what is before you, and in the process you lose the Promised Land. I recognize now that when we make decisions we risk, however inadvertently, the tragedy of receiving that calamitous report: tarof toraf Yosef, “Joseph is devoured,” all our work is in vain, all we have put into our children has the risk of being undone because of a few well intentioned, but incorrect moves. And when that happens—one must do teshuvah. So, I too must do teshuvah.

True character requires of me the courage to admit that, despite my best intentions then, I now recognize that I was wrong. I am not perfect; none of us is perfect. Each of us has failed, in one way or another, in greater or lesser measure, to live by the highest standards and ideals of our tradition — ethically, morally, halakhically. We must never be so committed to justifying our past that we thereby threaten to destroy our future. It is not an easy task. On the contrary, it is one of the greatest trials of all, for it means sacrificing our very egos, our reputations, even our identities. But we can and must do it. I must do it, and having done so, contribute to the creation of a future that is safer for innocents, and more ethically and halakhically correct.

Biblical Judah was big enough to admit that he was small. He confesses a mistake. He can experience guilt and confront it creatively. After the incident with Tamar, he does not offer any tortured rationalizations to vindicate himself. He says simply and forthrightly: tzadkah mimmeni (Gen. 38:26), she was right and I was wrong. And with that statement Judah is transformed into a self-critical man of moral courage. He concedes guilt. He knows that he is guilty with regard to Joseph, and together with his brothers he says aval ashemim anachnu, “indeed, we are guilty.” Pushed to the limits of the endurance of his conscience, he rises to a new stature and achieves a moral greatness that is irrefrangible and pellucid.

This is what I am modeh as I reflect on my tenure. Tzadkah mimmeni. I hope that those who came forth and others who put their trust in me will feel that faith vindicated and justified. Modeh ani.

One might think it appropriate to mark the formal end of a career in avodat ha-kodesh with the recitation of Havdalah, the blessing which marks the end of the sacred period of holy days. Yet my whole career in avodat ha-kodeh has been one of havdalah.

Consider: When we recite this prayer, we bless God who distinguishes between sacred and profane, light and dark, Israel and the nations, Sabbath and weekday. Jewish practice calls for us to recite this havdalah on Saturday nights and at the end of holidays, not only over a cup of wine, but also during the Amidah of the evening prayer which marks the transition from holy-day to week-day. And the Talmud requires that the havdalah be recited specifically in the blessing which attah chonein la-adam da’at, in which we pray to the Almighty for the gift of wisdom and knowledge and understanding. What is the relevance of havdalah to this specific blessing? The Rabbis answer, “if there is no knowledge, whence the ability to distinguish?” In other words, the ability to discern between different values, to discriminate and to distinguish between competing claims, and therefore the ability to emerge whole from the confusions that reign in life, requires da’at— special insights and intellectual gifts.

And yet, if we examine the passage of the havdalah carefully, we remain with the question: why so? Apparently, it should be rather easy to make these distinctions. Any child can tell the difference between light and dark; reference to identity of the parents will tell us if one is Jewish or non-Jewish; the difference between the Sabbath and weekdays is nothing more complicated than consulting a calendar; and even the distinction between sacred and profane is not overly taxing — who cannot tell apart, for instance, a Sefer Torah from a novel? Why, then, the special requirement for da’at or knowledge, for intellectual graces, in order to perform havdalah?

The answer is that for those who are superficial or who dwell in only one realm, da’at is indeed unnecessary. If we associate only with kodesh (holiness), Israel, ore (light), and Sabbath, or only with hol (the profane), the nations, hoshekh (darkness), and weekday, it is easy to discern distinctions and life is much less confusing. The full atheist has few problems. There is little to confuse him. He swallows all of contemporary life, and therefore he has no difficulties in trying to tell apart its various strands. Similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, the Jew who does not step out of his self-imposed boundaries of the sacred, of Israel, of the light of Torah, rejects all that is new and secular and alien in the contemporary culture, and he too has little to confuse him.

However, da’at is needed and havdalah is vital for those of us who choose to live in both realms, Torah and Madda, and will reject neither —for those of us who opt both for light and darkness, for Israel and the nations, for Sabbath and weekdays, for the sacred and the profane.

This category describes most of us, who are known by the somewhat unfelicitous name “Modern Orthodox,” who will not succumb to the blandishments of the materialistic and hedonistic and atheist society, and yet refuse the easy comforts of intellectual ghettoization; who believe that the function and the mission of the Jew in the world is to illuminate the hoshekh (darkness); to sanctify the hol (profane); to bring the Jewish message to the nations; and to introduce the warmth and meaningfulness of the Sabbath to all the days of the week.

For us, who are involved in this great mission, that of Torah and that of Maddah, was the dictum of the Rabbis meant: im ein da’at, havdalah minayin. It is we, who straddle both worlds, who are therefore subject to the danger of confusion, and who therefore need the special divine gift of da’at or knowledge, insight, in order to be able to perform havdalah, always to distinguish between the light and the dark, even when we try to illuminate the shadows of life; to know what separates the holy and the profane, even when we try to consecrate the secular.

Educationally, the highest expression of this point of view is Yeshiva University. For Yeshiva is more than a university; it is truly a universe, a microcosm of the American Orthodox world — its vices and its virtues, its faults and its merits, its promises and its potentials, its currents and sub-currents. No other place in the world offers such a combination: a Yeshiva and a medical school, a Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and a Stern College for Women; a Talmudic Kollel and a school of education.

The ideal of Yeshiva is: kiddush ha-hol, the sanctification of the profane and the illumination of the dark and the Judaization of the general. It is Yeshiva, therefore, which strives most mightily for that da’at to keep havdalah, to be able at all times to discern and distinguish, to avoid confusion in a terribly confusing world.

This vast educational complex, this “Yeshiva Universe,” is the vision of some of the greatest Jewish scholars of our and of past generations — and it is one which, because of the implied risks, constantly requires da’at and increasing havdalah in order to save our generation, and future generations, from confusion. May Yeshiva’s future be both gracious and powerful as it is led by my distinguished successor, President Richard Joel. He deserves the loyalty of all segments of our beloved institution — students, faculty, board members, and amkha.

And finally, a prayer for my family, my students, my colleagues, and my friends: Learn from my experiences, both positive and negative, to achieve success with grace and to face failure with dignity, to be prepared for the extreme periods of life’s challenges without hubris or despair, and never to stop hoping and expecting better news and better times. Above all, learn the importance of commitment to great and noble ideals even when it hurts and disappoints, but to trust that ultimately it will all prove worthwhile. I pray that you will always strive to live morally upstanding and spiritually fulfilling lives, marked by abiding loyalty to the principles of Orthodox Judaism, to Torah Umadda, along with respect for all people who honestly follow the dictates of their own beliefs and conscience even when such do not accord with your own deepest commitments, and to combine your love of God and Torah with love of all humans created in the image of God.

If in any way my life’s experience can encourage in you the aspiration to attain a modicum of wisdom; a trust in the faith in our ancestors’ spiritual strivings from Abraham through Moses through the giants of the sacred Jewish tradition; a measure of the value of the sweetness and intellectual excitement in the study of Torah; a desire to excel in the practice of mitzvot; the reassurance that ultimately character and Godliness are infinitely more ennobling and valuable than any worldly goods or social approbation; and the strength to hold fast and persevere through a life of havdalah – why, then, my life—and yours—will have proven worthwhile. Halevai!

Norman Lamm

Letters to the Editor: Berman will be missed, Fight for life, Seeking survivors


Howard Berman Will Be Missed

Last week’s election was incredibly emotional for me. With the support of my community, a kid from Pacoima won a seat in the United States House of Representatives. But I, like many others, was also very saddened to see Congress lose one of its greatest unsung heroes, and my friend and mentor (“Sherman v. Berman: Counting the Wins, Losses,” Nov. 9). Howard Berman has been the epitome of a statesman over the course of his 30-year career. He has been a dedicated public servant for the San Fernando Valley, California, our country and the world. He helped ensure that the San Fernando Valley received the federal help it needed after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake rocked our community. In good times and bad, he brought resources to our neighborhoods to meet the growing needs of our communities. He has also been an advocate for business, helping to protect crucial job creators in our state, like the entertainment and high-tech industries. And he has been an indispensable voice on foreign affairs, helping to guide our country in the right direction when it comes to international relations and policy as well as protecting our strong bond with our oldest ally in the Middle East, Israel. To say he will be missed is a huge understatement. I would not be surprised though if someone with his exceptional skill set ends up working in some other capacity in this administration. I know that I, for one, will humbly ask for his guidance whenever possible.

Thank you Howard Berman, for your unparalleled commitment, your amazing dedication and your exemplary leadership.

Congressman-elect Tony Cardenas


Forget Vacation, Fight for Life

Dr. Albert Fuchs forgets several key principles in cancer or in any terminal disease — they are faith, hope, prayer and, most importantly, the inner strength of the individual (“Telling the Truth,” Nov. 2). My wife was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer in July 2009. If my family had followed the thinking and approach of Fuchs, our seven children would be without their most amazing mother. 

It is imperative that families pursue all avenues for life extension. My wife has undergone more than 120 rounds of chemotherapy; we are now four years later, we have seen our son finish his Army service and our daughter marry, and my wife plays with her granddaughter every day. Every member of the family has watched their mother fight and survive, through her inner strength, the force of communal prayer, hope for a cure and faith in our God. Fuchs’ suggestion that we end life with a vacation is very sad indeed; we end life only when God decides. In the meantime, each of us is responsible to go to the ends of the earth to help our loved ones fight another day.

David Rubin
Los Angeles


Support Moderate Muslim Women

It is refreshing to see a moderate Muslim in the Middle East advocating both women’s rights and peace between Israel and the Palestinians (“Palestinian Provokes Hamas,” Oct. 26). We should support Asma al-Ghoul as she is the type of person who will serve to improve our communications with the Palestinians. I applaud her courage as a woman in Gaza who stands up for women’s rights and nonviolent peace with the Israelis despite dangerous repercussions from Hamas. While she is not completely pro-Israel, we must continue to support moderate people like her if we are to hope for peace in the Middle East.

Eliana Kahan
Los Angeles 


Seeking Holocaust Train Survivors

On April 7, 1945, a train was released with 2,500 Jewish prisoners from the German concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, including some 700 children.

The train was liberated on April 13, 1945, by American soldiers from the 30th Infantry Division of the Ninth U.S. Army near the city of Magdeburg, Germany, at the town Farsleben. Most of the survivors were from Hungary, Poland, the Netherlands, Greece and elsewhere.

Two American soldiers were among the liberators of this train and now live in Florida. One of them was a tank commander and the other an infantry liaison officer who helped lead the survivors to safety and provided them with food and medical care.

Today we know of about 220 survivors who were children then, who are scattered throughout the world and who have been contacting their liberators to tell them thank you.

If you are one of these train survivors, please contact Frank Towers at towersfw@windstream.net or Varda Weisskopf at hila_64@inter.net.il.

Varda Weisskopf
Israel


Correction

A column about “Mating in Captivity” author Esther Perel reported that she attended Oxford University (“The Erotic Life,” Nov. 9). Perel holds degrees from Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass.

Letters to the Editor: Prager’s Politics, Bassoonist Has Storied Career


Prager’s Politics

Dennis Prager has again conveniently and simplistically divided his world into good and bad, conservative Republicans being good, liberal Democrats being bad (“A Jew Tours for Romney,” Nov. 2). He then uses this formulation to claim that the conservative Republicans more ardently favor Jews and Israel, than do the liberal Democrats.

What he refrains from stating is that liberal Democrats (Obama) are enemies of Israel and are anti-Semitic, but his implication is clear: His perverted vision of the world is that “virtually all the world’s anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred comes from the left, while virtually all of the greatest supporters of the Jews and Israel are conservatives.”

He is right about one thing: Prager’s warped view of the world will not “matter to most American Jews,” and neither will his attempt to indict liberal Jewish Democrats on the grounds that, in his opinion, they do not support Israel as ardently as one Academy Award winner and his beloved conservative Evangelists (whose social agenda is abhorrent to democratic principles).

Louis A. Lipofsky
Beverly Hills

 

Dennis Prager responds:

Mr. Lipofsky lies about what I wrote. I never implied, let alone wrote, anything about “conservative Republicans being good, liberal Democrats being bad.” In virtually every one of my columns and my broadcasts I emphasize that there are good and bad people in both parties and among both conservatives and liberals.

Mr. Lipofsky lies about my implying that “liberal Democrats (Obama) are enemies of Israel and are anti-Semitic.”

What I did write is an incontrovertible fact: “Virtually all the world’s anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel hatred comes from the left, while virtually all of the greatest supporters of the Jews and Israel are conservatives.”

If Mr. Lipofsky takes that to mean that I am saying that all those on the left are anti-Jewish or anti-Israel, he does not reason clearly: The fact that anti-Israel hatred emanates from the left does not mean that all those on the left hate Israel. 

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a liberal, has repeatedly asserted this truth about the left and its anti-Israel animus.

For the record, the Gallup poll in March asked American voters, “Are your sympathies more with the Israelis or more with the Palestinians?” Seventy-eight percent of Republicans chose Israel, 53 percent chose Israel.

Mr. Lipofsky is right, however, about America’s Evangelical Christians being beloved by this Jew. I wonder if there is any instance in modern history of a group of people so decent and so supportive of another group — in this case, Jews — so many of whose members, like Mr. Lipofsky, return that support with ingratitude and even calumny (Evangelicals are “abhorrent to democratic principles”).

 

For those who do not understand Dennis Prager, perhaps this will help. My son, a young lawyer who worked for a prominent Jewish law firm whose partners predominantly supported the Democratic Party, was once asked by the senior partner for whom would my son vote. My son said that he would vote Republican. The partner was astonished and exclaimed, “How could you vote for the Republicans when they oppose all Jewish values such as support for the poor, gay-lesbian rights, affirmative action for African-Americans and Chicanos, abortion rights and equal pay for women?” My son replied that he would vote Republican because they supported Israel. The senior partner sneered, “The only reason Republicans support Israel is because of the influence of the Christian Evangelicals who dominate the Republican Party, and the only reason the Christian Evangelicals support Israel is because they believe that the establishment of the State of Israel is a necessary precondition for the second coming of Christ.” My son replied, “That’s fine. For now I’ll vote Republican, but when and if Christ comes back to earth, I will vote Democratic.” 

Leib Orlanski
Beverly Hills


Bassoonist Has Storied Career 

The article “Israel Philharmonic’s Storied History” (Oct. 26), in describing the participation in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO) of Maurice Surovich, son of co-founder Jacob Surowicz, reported that he “filled in occasionally.” In fact, Gabriel Vole’s uncle Maurice, after a successful career with major British orchestras, joined the IPO as bassoonist in 1960, and continued actively as such until his retirement a few years ago. At 95, he resides with his wife, Fay, in Savyon.

Celia Raven
Los Angeles


Correction

The My Single Peeps column profile of Jered F. (Nov. 2) quoted him as saying “my parents cut me off” financially. In fact, Jered said in an e-mail following publication, “My father was in no position to help due to divorce fallout. He and my stepmother have always stood by me, and he is an incredible friend, parent and invaluable ally to me to this day.”

Opinion: Christians’ letter was reasonable, worded sensitively


There has long been an unwritten covenant between the Jewish establishment and Christian leaders when it comes to interfaith dialogue: “We can talk about any religious issues we like, but criticism of Israel’s human rights violations is off limits.”

Over the past few weeks, we’ve painfully witnessed what can happen when Christians break this covenant by speaking their religious conscience.

On Oct. 5, 15 prominent American Christian leaders released a letter that called on Congress to make military aid to Israel “contingent upon its government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.”

While most Americans wouldn’t consider it unreasonable for our nation to insist that an aid recipient abide by U.S. laws, some Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, lashed out at their Christian colleagues, eventually walking out on a scheduled Jewish-Christian roundtable. They are now requesting that the Christian leaders come to a “summit meeting” to discuss the situation.

Considering the vehemence of such a response, one might assume that the Christian leaders’ letter was filled with outrageous and incendiary anti-Israel rhetoric.

But in fact their letter is a sensitively worded and faithful call supporting “both Israelis and Palestinians in their desire to live in peace and well-being,” as well as acknowledging “the pain and suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions,” the “horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings,” and “the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had on Israeli society.”

Yes, the authors of the letter also expressed their concern over “widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians, including killing of civilians, home demolitions and forced displacement, and restrictions on Palestinian movement, among others.”

As painful as it might be for these Jewish groups to hear, however, these are not scurrilous or arguable “allegations.” They long have been documented by international human rights groups, including the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem. The letter points out that a 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices has detailed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.

Why has the Jewish establishment reacted so violently to a relatively balanced and religiously based call? Because by speaking their conscience, these Christian leaders had the audacity to break the unwritten covenant: If you want to have a dialogue with us, leave Israel alone.

A recent JTA Op-Ed by Rabbi Noam E. Marans, who serves as director of interreligious and intergroup relations for the American Jewish Committee, provided an interesting window into the mechanics of this covenant. In his Oct. 21 piece, “Christians’ letter is an unworthy tactic,” Marans said nothing about the substance of the letter itself, choosing instead to vehemently attack the Protestant leaders and reject the statement as nothing less than “the opening of a new anti-Israel front.”

Marans went on to surmise that this reasonable, religiously based call for justice was the product of “certain leaders” who are frustrated with “their own failure to convince denominations to use divestment as a club to pressure Israel.” Nowhere did he address the issue of Israeli human rights violations (except to refer to them as “allegations.”) In the end, he suggested that this letter represents “the anti-Israel sentiment of some Christian leaders and their small but vocal, energetic and well-funded following who are attempting to hijack the positive trajectory of Christian-Jewish relations.”

It is difficult to read such a statement without concluding that Marans’ definition of “postive Christian-Jewish relations” means anything other than “no criticism of Israel allowed.”

It is important to note that the letter to Congress was not written by a few angry church renegades; it was authored by 15 prominent church leaders representing a wide spectrum of the Protestant faith community, including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee.

While it is painful to read such accusations leveled at respected Christian leaders by a Jewish director of interreligious and intergroup relations, it is even more saddening that some Jewish organizations have chosen to walk away from a scheduled interfaith roundtable, then demand that the Christian leaders attend a “summit” on their own dictated terms.

It is not the role of Jewish organizations to dictate how their Christian partners can live out their conscience or their values, no matter how much they may disagree. Unpleasant realities cannot be discarded simply because these organizations regard such issues as off limits.

We can only hope that these Christian leaders will stand firm and that this sad episode will lead us to a new kind of interfaith covenant — one based on trust and respect, a willingness to face down our fear and suspicion of one another, and a readiness to discuss the painful, difficult issues that may divide us.

Will the American Jewish establishment be up to such a task?

Rabbi Brant Rosen is the co-chair of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace and a congregational rabbi in Evanston, Ill.

Editorial Cartoon: Interfaith Roundtable


Roundtable

Letters to the Editor: Iranian Jews, Netanyahu, New Print Design


Valuable Lesson From Jews
 
Your cover stories about the history of Iranian Jews were eye-opening and inspiring (“A History of Iranian Jews,” Oct. 12). Although I am not Jewish, I have had many Jewish friends over the years tell me stories of great religious traditions and faith mixed with the anguish of hatred, unjust prosecution and persecution that came with being Jewish.
 
No matter if it meant hiding phylacteries under headdresses in Iran or praying in the confines of Auschwitz, Dachau or other concentration camps, nothing could ever stop the faith of the Jewish people.
If we non-Jews could look more closely at why the Jewish people have endured over time and how faith can overcome anything, then maybe we all could take the first real steps toward true world peace. 
 
George Vreeland Hill
Beverly Hills
 
A Personalized Treasure
 
We thank Rob Eshman for making a purchase from our NCJW/LA Council Thrift booth at the Celebrate Israel Festival in April and thoroughly enjoyed his narrative of the journey that the painting took him on (“The Appraisal,” Sept. 28). Although we can’t promise that every item in our Council Thrift Shops turns out to be a work of art from a pedigreed artist, we can promise that many of our items are treasures to the people who purchase them.
 
We feel privileged to be able to help someone afford to buy that first menorah or first pair of Shabbat candlesticks. And for that matter, it is a privilege to bring second life to gently used furniture and clothing. We know that these kinds of treasures are going to someone’s first new apartment or an important job interview.
 
But the real treasure that these purchases and Eshman’s painting help us provide is the plethora of amazing services to women, children and families throughout our city. Can you imagine how many books we were able to purchase for an underfunded elementary school library with the proceeds of a painting that had been neglected and forgotten?
 
We encourage everyone to give a second life to those things that they no longer need by donating to our Council Thrift Shops. Who knows what adventure awaits the next owner!
 
Amy Straus, Board President
Hillary Selvin, Executive Director
National Council of Jewish Women/
Los Angeles
 
When Conflict’s Fuse Was Lit
 
Rob Eshman is right about one thing: The Middle East conflict involving Palestinians and Israelis has been going on for decades, and can be compared to a “ticking bomb” (“Netanyahu’s Other Bomb,” Oct. 5). I disagree with him when he claims, “That fuse has been lit since June 1967, when Israel captured Palestinian territories during the Six-Day War.”
 
Not exactly. In 1967, Israel captured Jordanian territories that would have been Palestinian, but the Arabs rejected the Partition Plan proposed by the United Nations in 1947. That is when the “fuse” was lit. 
One idea to defuse the “ticking bomb” is the two-state solution. But a two-state solution will be viable only when Palestinians cease hostilities against the Jewish state and are ready to negotiate in good faith.
 
Jay Zingmond
Tustin
 
Ruth’s Conversion
 
Louis Richter is mistaken in identifying Ruth’s marriage to Boaz as “intermarriage” (Letters, Oct. 12).  Ruth was clearly already a convert to Judaism. When she insisted on following Naomi back to the land of Judah, Ruth famously said, “Whither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16). A clearer declaration of conversion to Judaism would be hard to construct.
 
Solomon W. Golomb
Distinguished University Professor
University of Southern California
 
The New-Look Journal
 
Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help and wonder why on Earth the Jewish Journal decided to put the name of columnists at the top of an article, in some character size that seems to beat out 24 or 36 [point]. As I’m skimming through my Jewish Journal, I’m actually searching for the title of articles. Maybe you gentlemen thought that putting the title in parenthesis will help us readers identity the subject that much easier. 
I just want to say: It hasn’t been working for me.
 
Kinga Dobos
via e-mail

Corrections

An article about Fairfax High School and musician Herb Alpert (Alumni Celebrate Fairfax High’s Rich Legacy,” Oct. 5) misidentified the instruments played by two members of the Colonial Trio, the band Alpert played with in high school. Norm Shapiro played drums, and Fred Santos played piano.

An essay on writing about the local Iranian-Jewish community, “A Journalist’s Perspective” (Oct. 12), included an incorrect byline. The writer is Karmel Melamed.

Christians picking on Israel


With Christians being persecuted and threatened across much of the Middle East, guess which country the leaders of several major U.S. Christian denominations have decided to pick on?

That’s right, the country where Christians are safest: Israel.

In case you missed it, in a letter dated Oct. 5, leaders of 15 Christian denominations — including Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans and Methodists — asked members of Congress to reconsider U.S. aid to Israel in light of “widespread Israeli human rights violations.”

The signatories say “unconditional U.S. military assistance” to Israel is a factor in “deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories” that threaten the “realization of a just peace.”

The letter makes no mention of reconsidering U.S. aid to countries such as Egypt, where many Christians fear for their lives and where Coptic Christian families have fled their homes in the Sinai Peninsula after receiving death threats.

As Elliott Abrams writes in National Review Online, the letter is utterly silent on the “deteriorating and truly dangerous conditions for Christians in Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.”

Meanwhile, in contrast to the dramatic dwindling of the Christian population in the Arab world, in Israel the number of Christians has grown from 34,000 in 1948 to 155,000 today.

The initiative reeks of hypocrisy: Although they purport to care for Palestinian rights, the Christian leaders ignore the misery of Palestinian refugees being oppressed in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. 

Although they attack the “restrictions on movement” in the West Bank, they fail to mention, as Abrams notes, “the many ways in which the Netanyahu government in recent years has loosened those restrictions … [or] the recent steps by the government of Israel to assist the Palestinian Authority as it faces a financial crisis.”

And, of course, the signatories ignore all context. They say nothing of Israel’s many attempts over the years to make peace with the Palestinians and end the occupation, or of the teaching of Jew-hatred and incitement in Palestinian society, or of Israel’s evacuation of Gaza seven years ago that was rewarded with thousands of terror rockets still raining down today on Israeli civilians.

Even if you count yourself as an unabashed critic of Israel and its policies toward the Palestinians, it’s hard not to see this single-minded invective against the Jewish state as unfair and hypocritical.

Ironically (or stupidly), the letter was sent a few weeks before a scheduled interfaith conference that included many of the signatories, prompting the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to pull out. 

“It is outrageous that mere days after the Iranian president repeated his call for Israel’s elimination,” ADL director Abraham Foxman said in a press release, “these American Protestant leaders would launch a biased attack against the Jewish state. … It is striking that their letter fails to also call for an investigation of Palestinian use of U.S. foreign aid, thus once again placing the blame entirely on Israel.”

Many other Jewish groups, such as the American Jewish Committee (AJC), have expressed outrage.

“When religious liberty and safety of Christians across the Middle East are threatened by the repercussions of the Arab Spring,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations, “these Christian leaders have chosen to initiate a polemic against Israel, a country that protects religious freedom and expression for Christians, Muslims and others.”

Why would Christian leaders initiate such an obviously biased attack against Israel, a country that already has more than its fair share of internal criticism and dissent?

Who knows, maybe they’re trying to boost declining attendance at their churches. It’s always a safe bet to follow the global herd and pick on Israel, one of the world’s favorite punching bags.

But it’s possible there’s something deeper going on — like an irrational obsession with the Jews.

Maybe it all goes back to that fateful moment at Sinai some 3,300 years ago, when Jews received God’s Torah and became His first witnesses. Ever since, it seems as if the “chosen people” have attracted an inordinate amount of attention — mostly for the worse — as they have stubbornly refused to abandon their faith. The rebirth of Israel after centuries of exile seems only to have amplified this attention.

This phenomenon of irrational obsession is complex and can be studied at length, but it’s worth noting here that in the case of Israel and Christian America, the obsession has two sides.

Just as you have Christian denominations that are obsessed with rebuking the Jewish state, there are plenty of other Christian groups — such as Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel — that are emotionally bonded with Israel and are obsessed with defending the Jewish state.

I won’t lie to you: I have a decided preference for the latter groups.

As far as those 15 church leaders who’d rather pick on Israel than on the intolerant regimes that are oppressing their Christian brethren, all I can say is: Are you sure this is what Jesus would do?


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com

Albert Einstein’s ‘God Letter’ to be auctioned online


A letter handwritten by physicist Albert Einstein a year before his death, expressing his views on religion, will be sold on eBay this month with an opening bid of $3 million, an auction agency said on Tuesday.

Known as the “God Letter,” the correspondence offers insights into the private thoughts about religion, God and tribalism of one of the world's most brilliant minds.

“This letter, in my opinion, is really of historical and cultural significance as these are the personal and private thoughts of arguably the smartest man of the 20th century,” said Eric Gazin, the president of Auction Cause, a Los Angeles-based premier auction agency, which will handle the sale on eBay.

“The letter was written near the end of his life, after a lifetime of learning and thought,” he added.

Einstein wrote the letter in German on January 3, 1954, on Princeton University letterhead to philosopher Erik Gutkind after he read Gutkind's book “Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt.”

“…The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation, no matter how subtle, can (for me) change this,” wrote the German-born scientist, who in 1921 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.

The anonymous seller of the letter, which will be auctioned with the original envelope, stamp and postmark, purchased it from Bloomsbury Auctions in London in 2008 for $404,000.

Since that time the letter has been stored in a temperature-controlled vault at a public institution.

Although the opening bid of the eBay auction is $3 million, Gazin, who handled previous high-profile online auctions, said he expects it will fetch double or triple that amount during the Oct. 8-18 auction at www.einsteinletter.com

“eBay has the widest possible audience and it is so global and so accessible,” he explained, adding that 10 years ago the last major Einstein letter sold for more than $2 million.

“We feel this is a reasonable starting price given the historic importance and the interest in Einstein,” Gazin added. (Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Christine Kearney and Gunna Dickson)

Egypt denies Morsi letter sent to Israel


Israel said on Tuesday it had received a letter from Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi indicating he wanted to work for peace in the Middle East, but Morsi’s office later denied sending it.

An Israeli official, who asked to remain anonymous, said the denial was to be expected, due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Israeli President Shimon Peres’s office said earlier on Tuesday he had received a letter from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi, in the first such missive to Israel since Morsi took office at the end of last month.

The letter, distributed by Peres’s office, said: “I am looking forward to exerting our best efforts to get the Middle East peace process back to its right track in order to achieve security and stability for all peoples of the region, including (the) Israeli people.”

Hours later, Morsi’s spokesman branded the letter a fake.

“The letter that the media reported to have been sent from President Morsi to Israel was fake. President Morsi has not sent anything to Israel,” spokesman Yasser Ali told Reuters.

An official from Peres’s office said the letter was authentic.

“It was received by the Egyptian ambassador and handed over (to Peres’s office). The denial was to be expected, given the letter’s high publicity in Israeli and Egyptian media,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

Peres’s office had distributed a copy of the letter to media, as well as a copy of an Egyptian embassy message sent along with it. The official spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The Egyptian embassy in Israel could not be reached for comment.

Last June, an Iranian news agency reported it spoke to Morsi a few hours before the announcement of the election results, but his spokesman then also denied that the interview took place.

A second Israeli official who spoke on condition of anonymity, described Morsi’s letter as being one that gave “a general message with a positive spirit, but did not indicate any new direction” in bilateral relations.

ALARM IN ISRAEL OVER MORSI ELECTION

Politicians in Israel had expressed alarm in private over the election of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi in June’s presidential vote and fear that over time their country’s peace treaty with Egypt could be eroded.

Egypt’s ousted President Hosni Mubarak had guaranteed the 1979 peace treaty with Israel for decades.

The Muslim Brotherhood is ideologically hostile to the Jewish state and linked to Hamas Islamists who run the Gaza Strip. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

The presidency in Israel is a largely ceremonial post. Nobel peace-prize-winner Peres had sent Morsi two letters, his office said, one congratulating him for winning the vote and a second letter of greetings to mark the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also sent Morsi a letter congratulating him on his electoral victory. He has not yet received a reply.

The Middle East peace process has stalled, with U.S.-brokered negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians breaking down in 2010, with no prospects of any swift resumption of talks.

Reporting and writing by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Yasmine Saleh in Cairo, editing by Michael Roddy

Palestinian leaders reject Netanyahu letter to Abbas


Palestinian leaders reportedly have rejected the contents of a letter delivered by Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal envoy Isaac Molho to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

“The content of [Netanyahu’s] letter did not represent grounds for returning to negotiations,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters.

The letter delivered Saturday night was in response to a letter sent to Netanyahu last month from Abbas in which the PA chief blamed Netanyahu for the stalled peace process. The Abbas letter said the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table only if Israel accepts a two-state solution based on 1967 borders with “limited” land swaps, halts all settlement building and releases Palestinian prisoners.

Molho and Abbas issued a joint statement following the meeting saying that “Israel and the Palestinian Authority are committed to achieving peace, and the sides hope that the exchange of letters between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu will further this goal.”

A statement issued Saturday night from the Prime Minister’s Office did not divulge the contents of the letter. But Palestinian leaders said Sunday afternoon that Netanyahu’s letter rejected the Palestinian’s requirement for a halt to building in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem and called for a return to stalled peace talks without preconditions.

During the meeting with Molcho, Abbas reportedly brought up the plight of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and asked Israel to accede to their demands, including no solitary confinement and family visits for prisoners whose families live in Gaza.

Obama letter to Peres: U.S. commitment to Israel ‘strong’


President Obama said the United States “remains steadfast in its commitment to Israel’s security and a comprehensive peace in the region” in an Independence Day message to Israeli President Shimon Peres.

The letter, sent April 18 to mark Israel’s Independence Day, which falls on Thursday, said that “based on shared values and interests, the bonds between our two countries are deep and strong.”

“In a time of momentous change, the United States remains steadfast in its commitment to Israel’s security and a comprehensive peace in the region,” the letter reportedly said.

Obama concluded: “As we work together to pursue common goals and meet shared challenges, I wish the State of Israel continued prosperity and a peaceful future.”

In an address Monday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the president said in a speech that he would “always be there for Israel.” He also cited the steps he has taken to isolate Iran because of its suspected nuclear weapons program.

PA’s Fayyad is no-show at scheduled meeting with Netanyahu


Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad refused to attend a scheduled meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu met Tuesday in Jerusalem with two PA leaders—chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and security official Majed Faraj—according to reports.

Fayyad likely canceled his participation because he did not want to be seen meeting with Israeli officials on Palestinian Prisoners’ Day, which honors Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli jails, Palestinian officials told the Palestinian Maan news service. At least 1,200 Palestinian prisoners launched an open-ended hunger strike to protest prison conditions and administrative detention.

Fayyad was to have delivered a letter to Netanyahu from PA President Mahmoud Abbas laying out Palestinian conditions for restarting peace negotiations. It is not clear if Erekat delivered the letter.

Netanyahu has called for the restarting of peace talks without preconditions.

Clinton: Iran letter ‘important step’


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed Iran’s stated willingness to restart negotiations and called it an “important step.”

In comments to reporters after a meeting Friday at the State Department with Catherine Ashton, the European Union policy chief, Clinton said any resumption of negotiations with Iran would require sustained effort.

“We must be assured that if we make a decision to go forward, we see a sustained effort by Iran to come to the table to work until we have reached an outcome that has Iran coming back into compliance with their international obligations,” Clinton said. “We’re evaluating all of these factors. But I think it’s fair to say … that we think this is an important step and we welcome the letter.”

The letter in question was sent to Ashton on Tuesday by Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, which proposed new discussions between Iran and the West.

Tensions over Iran’s suspected nuclear weaspons program have been increasing steadily in recent weeks as increasing sanctions are imposed on the Islamic Republic and speculation persists of a possible Israeli military strike.

Obama administration: No ‘direct talks’ letter to Iran


The Obama administration said an Iranian lawmaker had mischaracterized its message warning against blocking the Strait of Hormuz and reiterating its commitment to dialogue.

Ali Mothari was quoted Wednesday by The Associated Press as saying that “In the letter, Obama called for direct talks with Iran.”

The AP said Motahari described the first part of the letter as warning of retaliation if Iran blocks the Strait of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil supply passes, and that the second part proposes dialogue.

There already have been reports that the United States has warned Iran against shutting down the strait.

Yahoo News on Wednesday quoted White House officials as saying that what had been conveyed was a “standard diplomatic message,” which included routine language seeking a diplomatic resolution of tensions with Iran.

Separately on the same day, a senior administration official told Israeli and Jewish media that the Obama administration routinely communicates with Iran, through third parties, its willingness to resume talks on making more transparent Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Iran’s agreement to such an offer was not forthcoming, the official said, adding that even if Iran were to join talks, it would not mitigate the intensified sanctions initiated by the Obama administration in recent weeks.

NYPD checks out letter bomb


New York police are investigating a possible letter bomb sent to an Israeli bank branch.

The letter was sent to the Bank Hapoalim branch at Sixth Avenue and 46th street, CNN reported on Wednesday.

Shalits reveal content of 2006 letter from Gilad


The family of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit has allowed public access to a letter he wrote just months after being taken captive by Palestinian militants in 2006.

The letter was handed over to Israel by Egyptian mediators in October 2006, four months after Shalit was seized in a cross-border raid.

Read the full story at HAARETZ.com.

Never Too Old to Write a Letter … of Torah


The Jewish Home for the Aging has never had a Torah it could call its own. Since the home first opened in 1912, synagogues or individuals have donated Siferei Torah to the senior-living community, but the scrolls were often old and tarnished, with faded letters or finger smudges on the parchment. These Torahs are considered pasul, or unfit for public reading, but they were the only ones available to the home for religious services.

Now the Reseda-based home, which provides care to about 2,200 seniors through its in-residence housing and community-based programs, is in the process of creating its own kosher Torah — a “Torah for the Ages,” as the project is being called.

“It’s upsetting to this point we haven’t had our own Torah,” said Corey Slavin, vice president of fund development, who with home CEO Molly Forrest conceived the project.

Slavin said the $200,000 raised for the project more than covers its costs, and remaining funds will be dedicated to various programs and services at the home. The home expects its Torah, begun April 13, 2008, to be completed sometime in 2010.

Rabbi Shmuel Miller, who has worked locally as a sofer (Torah scribe) for 15 years, was commissioned to write the Torah, which will rotate between the home’s synagogues at the Eisenberg Village and Grancell Village campuses when finished. Officials hope the Torah will inspire its residents and their families to remain or become connected to their faith and community.

The Torah’s production is quite a community effort. In keeping with the 613th and final commandment mentioned in the Torah — “Now write this song for yourself and teach it to the Children of Israel” (Deuteronomy 31:19) — residents, family members, sponsors and anyone else who wants to may write a letter in the home’s Torah. Thus far about 100 people have written in the scroll.

Rabbi Sheldon Pennes, the home’s spiritual life director, said that writing in the Torah is considered the responsibility of each Jew.

During a writing session on Feb. 22, 101-year-old Cedelle Weiner found herself up close and personal with the Torah for only the second time in her life.

The first time was a year ago.

She said she did not feel very Jewish until coming to the home and found she was inspired to study with Rabbi Anthony Elman, who works at the home’s Grancell Village campus.

“This is a completely new life for me,” Weiner said as she underwent the ritual hand washing and said the appropriate blessings.

After sitting down next to Rabbi Miller, the scribe, Weiner put her hand on his and watched as he filled in a silhouetted letter from the word hamoftim (“wonders”) from the Torah’s penultimate sentence: “He had no equal for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh and all his servants….” (Deuteronomy 34:11).

“The home is fantastic,” Weiner said when she was done. “I have been entertained, and now I’m getting a Jewish religion I have never had. At 101, I’m doing something different, and I am now writing [in the Torah], which I never did before.”

Rose Bentow, 86, almost couldn’t contain her excitement as she fulfilled the commandment. She was one of several Holocaust survivors who were sponsored by family members, community members or total strangers to come and write a letter in the scroll.

The moment harkened her back to her small Polish town, circa 1928. Her grandfather told her to stay out of a particular room because a man was writing the Torah and couldn’t be bothered.

Little Rose’s curiosity got the better of her, so she quietly opened the door.

“I said, ‘He’s playing with a feather. He’s not writing,’” she recalled. “I asked my grandparents, ‘Why can’t I go in?’ They said, ‘This is how you write the Torah.’”

Pennes, the home’s spiritual life director, said everyone experiences the moment differently.

“It looks like just someone writing letters on a piece of parchment,” he said. “But it’s a spiritual event. People feel it spiritually, emotionally. It’s hard to put into words.

“Children see it simply. But when you’re older, you appreciate it differently, especially when we recite the Shehecheyanu. The idea of living to this point is amazing. That process heightens sensitivity to the mitzvah that’s about to happen.”

For more information about the Torah for the Ages, visit http://www.jha.org.

McCain, Obama, cancer and cows


20 Questions With McCain

It’s too bad Rob Eshman didn’t ask the “man with the plan” for Iraq the most important question: What his definition of “victory” in Iraq is, and how he plans to achieve it (“20 Questions With John McCain,” April 4).

Lawrence Weinman
Los Angeles

Letter to Obama

The Barack Obama that David Suissa describes in his editorial this past month definitely sounds like the ideal candidate for the Jewish people (“Letter to Obama,” April 4). He’s sharp. He has street smarts. And most importantly, he’s “a human being first, and second a politician.”

Well, as just the tiniest bit of research will show, Obama went from state legislator, to the Senate, to a fancy book deal/tour, to becoming the front-runner in the Democratic presidential race. Sounds a lot like a politician to me.

I have also come across nothing that hints Obama won’t try and force Israel into strategically stupid land-for-peace deals, as Suissa suggests. I did, however, come across some nice clips of Obama’s mentor and pastor spewing anti-Jewish and anti-American rhetoric.

And I did hear Obama say he’s in favor of sitting down and meeting with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a leader who seems to decorate his every speech with promises for the destruction of the State of Israel.

So Suissa, tell me, are we talking about the same Obama?

Isaac Himmelman
Santa Monica

Your article on Obama is brilliant and not just because you agree with me.

Although I am politically liberal, Israel’s safety is of prime importance to me. I believe that only when someone without an agenda decides to take a stand will anything get done.

We can only pray the political machine doesn’t get to Obama. I really hope, somehow, he gets to read your letter.

Linda Rohatiner
via e-mail

For several years I read your [David Suissa’s] columns (“Live in the Hood”) and found them worthwhile. You came across in Olam and in The Journal as a creative and thoughtful writer, a responsible citizen and a concerned Jew — until this month. Did you write that insanity (“Letter to Obama)? Were you sober? Do you really favor turning this country into an “Obama”-nation?

Suissa, say it isn’t so.

Rabbi Baruch Cohon
via e-mail

Fortunately, Mel Levine’s article was published in The Jewish Journal (“Obama’s Record on Israel Repudiates Critics,” March 21). It was the only feature concerning Barack Obama that was truly informed, nonspeculative and supported its statements with facts rather than innuendo.

Proclaimed Hillary Clinton supporter Daphne Ziman stated, “I for one need to know the truth” (“Sen. Obama, Answer My Questions on Your Past,” March 21). If this was actually the case, why didn’t she call The Jewish Journal and inquire about contacts within Chicago’s Jewish community who know Sen. Obama in an attempt to secure those answers?

Masquerading as call for truth, Ziman’s article was nothing more than an obvious attempt to create suspicions around the candidate she opposes.

Utilizing his well-honed research skills, Edwin Black presented old information meant to discredit Obama through guilt by association, a technique similarly employed by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in his 1950s witch hunt for communists in America (“Obama Ties to ‘Separatist’ Pastor Raise Big Questions,” March 21).

Black’s Web site reveals journalistic ties to Chicago, yet he apparently interviewed no one there or anywhere else in support of his thesis that Obama was less than truthful with his recent explanations concerning the Rev. Wright or Louis Farrakhan. His article was as disingenuous as Ziman’s, just presented in a more sophisticated manner.

Roy M. Rosenbluth
Sherman Oaks


Click here for MP3 audio of the 15-minute phone interview Obama gave JTA’s Ron Kampeas on Wednesday


Cancer’s Worst Enemy

Remove healthy breasts? Jewish women please take the time to read and research further before you do such a radical act as a radical mastectomy and/or removal of your healthy ovaries.

The article, “Combating Breast Cancer Before It Hits,” March 28, is very misleading. It shows a happy woman with her happy kids after her surgery. Then the article states that this surgery “reduces the risk of breast cancer by 90 percent,” however no medical study was cited.

Common sense makes me want to read this study to ascertain how many and what group of women were tested, and what were their ages. But most importantly, over what period of time was this test done? Remember that genetic testing is fairly new, and it takes many years for even a tiny cancerous mass to appear on a mammogram.

Dr. Susan Love has groundbreaking research on early detection screening, and Dr. Matt Lederman has remarkable results with the RAVE diet. Their Web sites will lead you to hundreds of alternatives and useful information. So go Google. It’s your body.

Sharon Asher
Los Angeles

Thank you for educating readers about testing for genetic mutations, but you left out an important piece of information. In addition to Israel, genetic screening of embryos is also regularly done in the United States. It’s a process called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and is performed at virtually every fertility center in Los Angeles. It has also been accepted by Jews of all stripes, including the most traditional and Orthodox groups.

The reasons cited for not getting tested — potentially higher insurance rates and a social stigma that could affect their families — cannot possibly outweigh the benefits of PGD. A woman can eliminate the BRCA gene (as well as scores of other inherited diseases), ensuring that her children and her children’s children will not be affected by it.

Furthermore, PGD is entirely confidential, so there is no stigma attached. Aside from the patient, her husband and her doctor, nobody needs to know. And though PGD can be costly, you can’t put a price on your children’s health.

Books: Wartime memoir a lesson in finding family treasures


“Every Day Lasts A Year: A Jewish Family’s Correspondence From Poland,” edited by Christopher R. Browing, Richard S. Hollander and Nechama Tec (Cambridge University Press, $28).

Over the past several years, a new genre of original Jewish documentation has emerged in closets and attics of Holocaust survivors. The documentation has all the authority of the diaries and notes that were written in situ, within the ghettos, within hiding, even within concentration camps and elsewhere during the Holocaust.

It is imperative that we understand the situation in which this new source of documentation has emerged, because we can do something important to facilitate new discoveries.

Children cleaning out their parents’ homes or apartments, on the occasion of their moving to warmer climates, into assisted living, downsizing or shortly after their deaths have come across a hidden pile of letters in a shoe box or a jewelry box or on a top shelf. Written in a language they do not understand, the collection is probably most often discarded as somehow unimportant, part of the clutter of a long life in which much was collected and too little discarded. But from time to time children have an inkling that something important is before them, something precious to their parents, but something too difficult to read and to share.

I remember one such moment in my own life. My sister and I were sitting shiva for our 92-year-old mother, and no one was in the house visiting, so we started to go through some things; we began to think as to how we would dismantle a lifetime. By chance, we started with a top shelf and discovered my parents’ correspondence when they were first married and my father was off in World War II. My mother had saved the letters she received from her new husband, and he in turn had saved the letters he had received from his bride. After the war, their letters were joined and saved; and thus we had a treasure trove of material giving us insights into our parents, their relationship, the war and the home front. The material is of great importance to their children, their grandchildren and, someday, will be of importance to their great-grandchildren, most too young to read, let alone to understand. But my parents were not survivors; their intimate correspondence was not the stuff of history.

Twice in the past couple of years, this newly revealed documentation has consisted of letters written during the war by Jews living in ghettos and even in slave labor camps and has resulted in important books and exhibitions.

“Sala’s Story,” a collection of letters written by friends and family to Sala Garncarz while she was in prison camps, where she could receive mail and where she dared to hide them and preserve them, was made into an exhibition and a marvelous book. This correspondence depicts the life of Garncarz’s parents and sister in the Sosnowiec ghetto and provides original letters by Alina Gartner, one of four women hung at Auschwitz in January 1945 for smuggling dynamite to the Sonderkommando — the men who worked in the vicinity of the gas chambers at Birkenau. Believing that she was about to die, at the age of 67, Sala told her daughter about these letters, and Ann Kirschner had them translated and wrote an extensive commentary that makes disparate letters into a coherent picture of life in the ghettos — daily life, the type of details that parents share with children and sisters share with sisters. The result is an extraordinary portrait. One feels invited into the privacy of a family, into the anguish of their daily existence.

A second collection of letters has just now emerged. Richard Hollander has published the letters sent by his grandmother and aunts to his father, Joseph, who after a harrowing escape from Europe was in legal limbo in the United States. Richard discovered these letters shortly after both his parents were killed in a car crash. They were bound carefully together in a leather case and stored in an attic where suitcases were kept. He not only discovered the letters but encountered his father’s story. Joseph was not admitted to the United States as a refugee and was considered an enemy alien. His case was a cause celebre of American policy and the gates of refuge that were closed to those Jews fleeing Hitler’s conquest. Unaware of his most compromised circumstances and believing that he was the successful and confident worldly man in the United States that he had been in Poland, Joseph’s sisters and mother pleaded with him to save them as their situation was deteriorating day by day. He, in turn, could not burden them with his problems, which were minor in comparison. The letters are a poignant portrait of daily life in Cracow, of unique authority and power, which describe conditions almost week by week and the initiative taken by Jews seeking to ameliorate their situation.

David Marwell has commented that “just because Jews were powerless does not mean that they were passive.”

And the Hollanders were hardly passive. They understood the extraordinary danger of their situation and pleaded with their brother to get them out before it was too late. They did not understand what was about to happen, but they did understand that their situation was desperate and bound to get worse.

Hollander’s work is preceded by two marvelous essays by two of the most distinguished Holocaust scholars of this generation.

Christopher Browning, the brilliant historian who is the natural heir to Raul Hilberg as a student of the perpetrators and their documents, has used his formidable interpretive skills to understand the conditions of their victims. The result not only contextualizes the letters, but is an original essay on life within the ghetto. He understands so well that there were at least two perspectives, two histories that need be understood and juxtaposed: the history of the killers and what they did to their victims, how they shaped the situation in which the Jews had to live, try to survive, endure and/or die; and the situation of the Jews who tried to make do and continue life in a situation not of their creation and committed to their destruction. In the intersection between these two histories, the most complete history of the Holocaust is to be found. Browning brings his skill for understanding documents and his flair for understanding the human situation that gave rise to these documents to both the introduction and the annotation of the letters.

Also included is a second, but certainly not secondary, introduction, “Through the Eyes of the Oppressed,” by Nechma Tec, an outstanding scholar of resistance whose work will soon be seen in the forthcoming film on the Bielski brothers. Tec, a survivor and a student of women’s experience during the Holocaust, enables the reader to grasp the situation that gave rise to these precious letters.

Lauder letter to Olmert urging Disapora role in Jerusalem negotiations stirs passions


The president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) has roiled the organization’s branch in Israel by writing to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert with a plea to allow Diaspora Jews a voice in any decisions on Jerusalem’s future.

Ronald Lauder, in his Jan. 8 letter on WJC letterhead, wished Olmert success during President Bush’s visit to the region and expressed the hope of world Jewry that Israel can attain peace.

Lauder closed the letter urging Olmert to take into consideration “the prayers, the hopes and the views of Jews around the world when you discuss the future” of Jerusalem.

“While recognizing Israel’s inherent prerogatives as a sovereign state,” Lauder wrote, “it is inconceivable that any changes in the status of our holy city will be implemented without giving the Jewish people, as a whole, a voice in the decision.”

Among those complaining about the letter was Shai Hermesh, chairman of the WJC’s Israel branch, which was listed at the top of the letterhead, along with the WJC’s world headquarters in New York. Hermesh said the letter was sent without any consultation with the Israeli branch and contradicts the WJC’s longstanding policy of keeping out of Israel’s political affairs.

“Ronald Lauder is allowed to print a letter or do whatever he wants, but he should take into consideration that never, never, never in the past did Jews in the Diaspora make decisions for Israel,” Hermesh said last week.

“We feel that Jews around the world are our brothers, and their support is very important to us, but political decisions should be taken only by the Knesset and no one else, including the Israeli branch of the World Jewish Congress,” he said. “That is totally unacceptable by us. Decisions should be taken only by the elected government and no one else.”

The flap over Lauder’s letter comes as right-wing and Orthodox groups in the United States are waging a campaign to keep Israel from sharing or dividing Jerusalem in any future deal with the Palestinians. The effort has reignited the argument over what role, if any, Diaspora Jews should have in deciding Israeli policy.

Lauder said he sent the letter without consulting the WJC’s governing body, though he did run it by the WJC’s secretary-general, Michael Schneider. Schneider said he approved of the letter, as long as Lauder made it clear that Israel is a sovereign state with the ultimate right to make its own decisions.

The goal of the letter, Lauder said, was not to pressure Olmert or Israel into taking a hard-line stand on Jerusalem but to foster debate on what he sees as the most important decision facing the country. Lauder added that he would not have taken a similar step regarding other territory up for discussion, including the Gaza Strip, West Bank or Golan Heights.

“The letter simply states that it was important to discuss Jerusalem with the Jews of the Diaspora, because we all play a role and Jerusalem is a key factor,” Lauder said.

The WJC was not going to take an official position on Jerusalem, he added.

“I was speaking for both the World Jewish Congress and the Jews of the Diaspora, and saying please listen to the Jews of the Diaspora,” Lauder said.

Lauder said he was unaware of any protocol for sending out such a letter on WJC letterhead but believed he had to act quickly.

“That is the job of the World Jewish Congress,” he said.

The spat could signify a clash of personal political differences among WJC officials. Lauder has been a longtime supporter of hawkish factions and leaders in Israel, including Knesset opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Hermesh is a member of Olmert’s Kadima Party.

The feud that ultimately led to years of scandal and turmoil at the WJC began with a fight over the decision by Edgar Bronfman, Lauder’s predecessor and a supporter of left-wing Israeli politicians, to send a letter on his own stationery to Bush urging him to pressure Israel to cease settlement construction.

Hermesh and Lauder dismissed any suggestion that a political fight was brewing, saying that the WJC’s policy is to avoid jumping into Israel’s political fray as an organization.

Lauder, who took over in June as WJC president after a contentious battle with Bronfman’s son, Matthew, has long been an outspoken critic of any plan to divide Jerusalem.

In 2001, when he was the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Lauder sought permission from the umbrella body to speak at a rally in Jerusalem that was organized to head off the reported willingness of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to make concessions on the city’s status in talks with the Palestinians.

After failing to secure approval, Lauder proceeded to speak at the rally anyway, saying he was doing so as a private individual. His decision to speak at that event pushed the Presidents Conference to adopt a policy forbidding its chairman from speaking publicly, unless he or she has a clear mandate from its member organizations.

Matthew Bronfman, who ultimately became chairman of the WJC’s governing board after deciding last spring to run on a joint ticket with Lauder, was in Latin America and unavailable for comment, Schneider said.

Contacted about the issue, Mendel Kaplan, chairman of the WJC’s executive, a separate body from the governing board, was vacationing in Cape Town, South Africa, and said he was unaware of the letter. Kaplan, a South African steel magnate, was the primary opponent of Lauder and Bronfman in the leadership election last year.

Lauder’s letter comes after Olmert took heat in November for telling reporters that Diaspora Jews should not have a say in what Israel does regarding Jerusalem. Those remarks came as right-wing groups tried to put pressure on the prime minister in the lead-up to the peace gathering in Annapolis, Md.

Olmert later clarified that he welcomed comments from Diaspora Jews but never rescinded his position that Israel alone is sovereign in conducting negotiations.

Spinker? I just met her!


Spinka Money Trails

Sadly missing from Amy Klein’s thorough investigation from “Boro Park to L.A. (Dirty Laundry)” was the question that seems to be embedded in every news article when reporting on a perpetrated evil. Why? (“Following the Spinka Money Trail,” Jan. 11).

We are enjoined to search for the deeper meaning behind those who riot in the streets of Los Angeles or blow themselves up in Israeli pizzerias. Evil does not happen on its own, we are assured; there must be a “justification” or “rationalization” that explains it all.

So why would an otherwise holy and pious Jew — a leader of Chassidic sect — allegedly succumb to the temptation of being an accomplice to a crime just to help some greedy businessmen achieve an unearned tax write-off?

I can’t be sure of the reason but I do submit a challenge to the Jewish community at large. Have we done our part in helping our brethren — be they Chassidic schools in New York or any of our local Jewish day schools — maintain their bastions of Torah scholarship and Jewish culture? There are no yachts in Brooklyn as Amy Klein points out, but there are thousands of Jewish kinderlach that need a quality education.

Michael Steinhardt, the famed Jewish philanthropist wrote in the pages of this newspaper on July 28, 2006: “We are donors to universities, museums, orchestras and hospitals, but when it comes to Jewish philanthropy, we fall short. Today, perhaps 20 percent or less of Jewish giving goes to Jewish causes…. Of the $5.3 billion in megagifts given by America’s wealthiest Jews between 1995 and 2000, a mere 6 percent went to Jewish institutions……. Only 11 percent of Jews donate over $1,000 to Jewish causes.”

No one I know is condoning the crime or the chilul Hashem that the article speaks of. But is it perhaps a wake-up call to all of us — since a shande impacts all Jews, regardless of religious persuasion — to prioritize our tzedakah by first and foremost helping our struggling schools and yeshivas? Wouldn’t it be nice if a Chassidic rebbe could teach Torah and shepherd his flock without having to worry about covering an overwhelming daily budget?

Name Withheld Upon Request

In Amy Klein’s piece about allegations of corruption against Rabbi Naftali Tzi Weisz and other members of a segment of the Spinka Chasidic community, she writes, “Weisz is just one of a number of Grand Rebbes of Spinka, a Chasidic sect.”

I can’t help but wonder what makes Chasidim members of sects.

Yes, I know that many dictionaries define sect as a subdivision of a larger religious group but the truth is, that is not really how the word is used today.

For example, in recent years a number of articles have appeared in The Jewish Journal and other publication about the “Satmar Chasidic Sect.” There are approximately twice as many Satmar Chasidim in the world (100,000 to 150,000) as there are Reconstructionist Jews (50,000 to 75,000), yet when was the last time you read any left-wing Jewish journalist writing about “the Reconstructionist Sect.”

The simple truth is we know that the “nod/wink” meaning of people who belong to a sect is that they are weird, unenlightened, lack individuality and don’t think for themselves. The word sect robs people of their humanity. It is often used interchangeably with the word cult.

Let the case against Rabbi Weisz and other Spinka Chasidim play itself out, but treat individual Chasidim with the respect they deserve.

If sex discrimination is bad how can “sects” discrimination be good?

Rafael Guber
New York, N.Y.

The circumstances and substance of the accusations involving the Spinka Rabbi and the Spinka institutions are quite troubling to this tax lawyer whose son now learns in a yeshiva in Israel.

Without jumping to judgment, and maintaining the presumption of innocence accorded to all of the accused under American law, the following matters are noted:

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the leading halachic authority of his generation, issued a responsum allowing a Jew to be an IRS agent, even where the audit assignments might uncover criminal tax evasion by Jews and lead to prosecution and imprisonment of the Jewish tax evaders.

The Talmud (Baba Kama 113a) specifically requires that taxes imposed by a legitimate and just secular government be paid. Maimonides further expounded on this rule.

The very first paragraph of the first chapter of Pirkei Avot admonishes us to “erect a fence for the Torah,” meaning that we must impose stringencies beyond the letter of the law so that we do not inadvertently transgress it.

Kenneth H. Ryesky, Esq.
East Northport, N.Y.
The author formerly served as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service, Manhattan District.

I read the Journal article, “Following the Spinka Money Trail” with embarrassment and shock.

My greatest shock is in observing that I hear little from those who revere the Spinka rabbi about the enormous illegal inflow of money to those laundering it without shame for donors who are scofflaws. Rather is the anger directed against the informant, and the misguided self-righteousness that defrauding the government is justified?

A strong principle in Jewish law, stated in Baba Batra and Gittin, is Dina d’Malchuta Dina: the law of the government is the law, (binding upon the Jewish people.) This is stressed by leading authorities from the Rambam to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. He wrote in Igrot Moshe: We are certainly forbidden by God, may He be blessed, who commanded us in his holy Torah from taking more funds or assets than is permitted by the laws and regulations of the government. This is true even if we can somehow get more from certain functionaries who would like to help our institutions not in accordance with established governmental guidelines … so that they should not cause stealing and losses to the government, even inadvertently, in violation of the laws of the Torah and laws of the government.”

My hope is that this current public exposure will lead to a complete sanitizing of the treatment of monies donated to all our Jewish institutions. Let the Jewish name be identified with honesty and integrity. Let us demonstrate that the Jewish community will keep its promise to Peter Stuyvesant that we will always assume responsibility for maintaining our Jewish life in this land, which has given us the opportunity to conduct it in peace.

An open letter to the rabbis at the Jewish Theological Seminary


I want to share with you an email I wrote to Chancellor Elect Eisen as well as Rabbi Joel Roth on the JTS board to support allowing gays to marry and become rabbis:

Dear Mr. Eisen,

I am a 46-year-old woman born and raised in Los Angeles. I am writing to ask that the Conservative movement support gay marriage. As a child, my family was members of the Conservative Temple Beth Am with Rabbi Jacob Pressman at the helm. I am a private person but I wanted to share a bit of my story with you as I know mine is the story of many.

In elementary school I realized I was different. I had no vocabulary for it, but all the books, movies and relationships I saw led me to believe that my feelings were not normal and needed to be suppressed.

I began hiding what was to me a dark and terrible secret that I could not admit even to myself until my 20s. I did not want to be different. In fact, I went to sleep every night for years and years praying that I would wake up and be straight. Of course, that never happened. The thought of coming out and hurting my beloved parents or having them feel ashamed of me was more than I could bear and I thought my only options were either to commit suicide, which gay teens do three times more than their straight counterparts, or move to another city and hide my true self from my family forever.

I stayed in the closet until I was 28-years-old, dating men and sacrificing my youth and happiness trying in vain to fit in. I started having terrible panic attacks and actually thought I was going crazy. I realized one day that it was suddenly more painful to hide who I was than to admit the truth. I tried to prepare myself to lose my family. There were hints all my life that I was gay that my parents either ignored or denied hoping, like myself it wasn’t true or it would simply go away, or perhaps I would grow out of it. Their reactions let me know this would break their hearts.

Mr. Eisen, how different my life would have been had in my early years my temple and temple community openly welcomed gay people or if there were openly gay rabbis to demonstrate that everyone has value.

As Jews we especially understand the pain of being an outsider and of doors being closed to us simply because we were born Jewish. How terrible to think that we ourselves would ever make a fellow Jew an outsider.

By locking gay people out of the rabbinate or of the sacrament of marriage is to send a very strong message that gay people are flawed and not entitled to the same rights and responsibilities as those who happen to be straight.

The reality is that 10 percent of society is gay. With an estimated 14 million Jews worldwide, that’s 1.4 million Jews that happen to be gay. With our numbers dwindling, we cannot afford to lose even one person or make any Jew feel not welcome. I have always felt great pride in being Jewish.

This year I became a bat mitzvah after two years of study. I love Jews and Israel as much as anybody. I do not think it is fair that I am excluded from being a full member of the community I love so much because of the way I was born. It’s like saying people with blue eyes can never marry.

Mr. Eisen, whether we have blue or brown eyes, straight or gay most of us grow up dreaming of the day we will stand beneath a chuppah with our family and friends surrounding us with a rabbi to bless our union.

It is my deep hope that the Conservative movement will make a strong and courageous decision to embrace all of our members so that someday no Jew will ever again feel like an outsider in our own community.

Sincerely,
Pamela Witt

Pamela Witt is a business owner in Los Angeles. She can be reached at pamwittla@aol.com.

Letters to Mom


Dear Mother,

Here we are again on the plains of Bethel. We’re in the 10th month of our 10th year in Canaan. Sorry I haven’t written. There were
so many things happening, but none of them so important to justify my negligence. The famine, Pharaoh, Avimelech, the war — they all came and went and I remained the same. I wanted to believe that this move to Canaan would open a new chapter in my life, but boy was I disappointed.

You remember the day of my wedding? Such joy! Such innocence! I thought it would be only a matter of time before I became a mother. But with every year that passed, the dream seemed more remote and unreachable. Everyone was celebrating motherhood and parenthood, the little voices of children filling their homes with joy and happiness. And me? Nothing. I felt alienated and rejected. I felt their furtive glances as I was passing by, as if I was carrying a curse, a terrible disease.

You were the only one who understood, but there was nothing you could do. God alone can count the tears I shed, day after day, year after year, praying, yearning for a child that will redeem me from my solitude, from my agony and my shame. Oh, was I glad to go when the Divine order came to leave Haran. Just go away and leave behind me all the pitying, mercy filled, hypocrite faces. Yes, it was difficult to go and leave you and Dad behind, but I did it not just to fulfill the Divine commandment and follow my husband, but also because I secretly hoped that the move will bring a change, a blessing. But this was not what God wanted.

Abram says that I am a righteous woman and that God enjoys my prayers and supplications. I appreciate that, but enough is enough, we’ve spent 10 years in Canaan and nada. I want to have a child. I want to have a child!

Love,
Sarai

Dear Mother,

Sorry it’s been a couple months since I last wrote you. We’re at the Oaks of Mamre, and I’ve figured out a solution. It’s painful, but I can live with it. I will have Abram marry my maidservant Hagar (remember, the Egyptian girl?). She will be the surrogate mother of my child. Don’t try to dissuade me. I’ve made up my mind, and I know of several respectful families who have gone through this process successfully.

Love,
Sarai

Dear Mother,

It’s over; she’s gone. We don’t know where or when, but she has disappeared from Be’er Sheva. I should be happy, I should be celebrating, but I’m not. I feel terrible. I didn’t mean it to happen like that. All I wanted was to have a child we could call our own, but things got out of hand.

This tricky, treacherous, no-good maid knew very well how to rub it in. “I’m tired,” “I’m nauseated,” “I feel so hungry,” “I crave this” and “Sorry, I can’t bend down to bring you that, Sarai.” All very subtle; not the kind of things a man would notice.

Don’t get me wrong, Ma, I love and respect Abram. But why is his quest of justice reserved only for foreigners? Sodom and Gomorra deserve justice, with all their sins. Meanwhile, I’m abused daily by this Hagar. Do I not deserve justice? These things pass right over his head.

That’s why I blew up. Justice is all I want! He should give me the same treatment he gave Sodom. He stood up to defend those sinners, why not me? And all he said to me was: “Well, what do you want from me? She is your maid. Do whatever you want with her.” And, believe me, I did just that; I didn’t give her a free moment.

But now she’s gone, and I feel miserable. It all swelled up in me — all the anger and frustration, years of sterility, endless nights of crying and, worst of all, the notion that my husband doesn’t understand me. So I took it all on her and I am not so sure I did the right thing.

Love,
Sarai

P.S.: Last night I had a terrible dream, my descendants were persecuted by hers, tortured and expelled, and that voice kept echoing in my mind: “See what you’ve done. See what you’ve done!”

These letters were not unearthed in the hills of Canaan, but they offer a possible interpretation of the events in this week’s parsha.

Rabbi Moshe Ben Nahman, however, does suggest that Sarah should not have tortured Hagar, and that the persecution of Jews by Muslims in the 11th and 12th century is a direct consequence of that behavior. The message that no action goes unnoticed or unaccounted for and that communication is essential to a healthy family and society reverberates to this day.

We can only imagine how different things would be if the protagonists in the story would talk with one another, try to define the problems and solve them, instead of being swept away by emotions. How often do we channel anger and frustration at the wrong people? Did you ever interpret someone’s action in a certain way and gave them no chance to explain before attacking?
By telling us the story with all its intricate human relationships and the tragic outcome, the Torah teaches us an important lesson about our daily interaction with the people surrounding us. And this lesson is as applicable in American suburbia as it was at the hilltops of Canaan.


Haim Ovadia is rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation, a Sephardic congregation in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at haimovadia@hotmail.com.

Letters


John Fishel

Quite frankly, in my opinion, John Fishel is responsible for the “JCC crisis” (“Views Differ on Role in Centers Crisis,” May 26). But he is not alone in this case. All those who were then involved in establishing policy and direction for The Jewish Federation should be held accountable. With a salary of over $300,000 per year, we have a right to expect much more from him.

How does a major philanthropic organization give out millions of dollars — in this case to the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles — without any oversight!

George Epstein
Los Angeles

As one who has been actively involved in relief efforts and legal and political advocacy on behalf of Ethiopian Jewry since 1988, I would like to say a few words about John Fishel (“A Private Man,” May 26).

John has the rare gift of being one of the few high level Jewish officials who understands that the raison d’etre of The Federation system is substance and not process, that at the end of the day, we will be judged by our accomplishments, by the suffering alleviated, by the lives that have been saved.

Motivated by a deep sense of compassion, he articulated a clear and compelling case for Ethiopian Jewish refugees who could not speak for themselves and lacked a powerful advocate who could speak on their behalf. He spoke up with a clear moral voice whose authority could not be ignored.

May his tribe increase.

Joseph J. Feit
New York

How fortunate we of the Jewish community of greater Los Angeles are to have such an intelligent and compassionate president of our Jewish Federation Council as John Fishel (“Visit to Ethiopia Changes His Life,” May 26). We support his Jewish worldview. We support his leadership on the issue of Ethiopian Jews through Operation Promise. His determination to advance the rescue of the remaining Jews in Ethiopia who are living in squalor, waiting for years to make aliyah and reuniting with their families in Israel speaks to his menschlicheit. For John, “It’s the right thing to do.”

Peachy Levy
Middie and Dick Giesberg
Founding Members
North American Conference on Ethiopian Jewry

John Fishel accompanied me on a trip to refugee camps to Chad. It is in those camps that one sees the truly dispossessed and I was moved by John’s compassion. I learned a lot about this man who clearly has a profound commitment to strengthening Jewish life and also to making life better for all human beings.

Rabbi Lee Bycel
Senior Adviser
Global Strategy
International Medical Corps

In addition to the well-deserved accolades John Fishel received in last week’s Jewish Journal, allow me to add one. He has effectively reached out to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the only major Jewish Organization to be headquartered on the West Coast. For too many years and for inexplicable reasons, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. and 9760 W. Pico Blvd. (now 1399 S. Roxbury) operated as if we were a continent apart, not two miles apart. With few exceptions, we rarely communicated or shared visions. John Fishel has singularly breached that gap. My colleagues and I regularly exchange ideas with him and have availed ourselves of his big picture view and his creative heart. He is an unselfish gift and all of us in the greater Los Angeles community are the richer for his service.

Rabbi Meyer H. May
Executive Director
Simon Wiesenthal Center

Marc Ballon has done a wonderful job in his series of articles on John Fishel and L.A. Jewish Federation. Something which Ballon said regarding the disconnect (underappreciated feeling) many “small” donors feel with Federation struck a chord with me. During the L.A. Jewish Community Centers’ (JCC) crisis a few years ago, we were at a meeting at Federation trying to obtain additional funding for our JCC. The distinct message we received was that since the majority of people at the JCCs were not a good source of money during Federation fundraising, they were somehow less deserving of monetary support from Federation. What seemed to have been forgotten in the exchange was that the JCCs served as an entry point for many Jews into organized L.A. Jewry. They also serve as a support group and meeting place for the entire Jewish community. One other important point was that the JCCs as a whole were hamstrung in their ability to do their own fundraising if it interfered with money going to Federation (JCCs were not able to raise money during “primacy periods” when Federation was involved in it’s own quest for funds) and donors were jealously guarded if large donations to the centers would impact their donations to Federation.

While Fishel has had numerous accomplishments in his tenure at Federation, both domestically and internationally, and has at times helped us at the JCCs, the overall support from Federation to the local JCCs leaves much room for improvement.

Bill Bender
President
North Valley Jewish Community Center
Granada Hills

JCRC’s History

As one who twice was an executive of the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation Council — once in the 1960s, and again in the 1970s — I feel that the article was wrong on so many areas, that I must respond (“Federation Support of Civic Group Wanes,” May 26).

The JCRC came into existence in the ’30s, as a result of overt anti-Semitism in Los Angeles, including regular Sunday marches by the local Nazi Bund, whose National headquarters was in Los Angeles. Wilshire Boulevard Temple was defaced and a rock thrown through one of the windows during the High Holidays. At that time, the leaders of The Federation created what was then called the Community Committee to fight anti-Semitism here.

Shortly thereafter, they hired a newspaper reporter who originally had come from Germany at the beginning of the Hitler period. His name was Joe Roos, who in Chicago had been researching the Nazis there. Roos, eventually, became the executive director of what became the JCRC.

As a matter of fact, he created the term “community relations” and that became a national idea. The philosophy of the CRC, with its high power Hollywood figures and Rabbi Edgar Magnin, decided that the way to fight the Nazis was to create relationships with other minorities and church people, and soon the JCRC helped to create a major organization of some 65 major groups in the black, Japanese, Chicano and church communities. That group was called the Los Angeles Community Relations Conference, which brought their leaders once a month to 590 N. Vermont for its meetings. Great interfaith and intergroup connections were developed there, which changed Los Angeles.

The JCRC was led by people such as Mendel Silverberg, a leader of the Republican Party; Dore Schary, Judge Bob Weil; Dr. Max Bay, and Sid Levine, Mel’s father, and so many leaders of The Federation — there was collegiality not only with Federation board but also at the staff level. As a result the role of the Jewish community was held high all over the county. The major contributors to the JCRC were also major contributors of The Federation, all the way into the 1970s when I returned as the director of the Middle East Commission.

It was about that time that Roos was unceremoniously removed from his 37-year position as executive director at age 60. From that time on, the JCRC has gone downhill. It became an ineffective tool of the Federation directors, with little freedom to do what it did best. Mel Levine’s disappointment was expected.

There is no connection between the Jewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) and the power structures of the L.A. community.

Instead it has become a place for KOREH L.A., an important program, but not community relations. Whereas, in the past the JCRC was the community instrument for so many remarkable ideas and programs, it is hard to find the JCRC taking a stance on things important, and then if they do, they are censored by a Federation board, who worry about the major contributors, none of whom is involved with the rest of the community’s parallels. The JCRC was the center of religious social action committees in the synagogues. I know, because I ran three successive social action conferences, co-sponsored by the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements.

It was the JCRC that convened the first Soviet Jewry Rally in the World at Sinai Temple back in 1963. It was the CRC that jointly with the West Valley Jewish Center (before the Milken) that held the first Israel Day at Pierce College when 30,000 people came out.

I could go on, but if anybody can show me where the current JCRC has had any effect either on the Jewish community or the rest of the Los Angeles community, I would be astounded. The JCRC is almost unknown now.

By the way, it was at the JCRC where Dick and Middie Giesberg became active with the Falasha Community in Ethiopia. Where are the Giesbergs of today?

Al Mellman
Los Angeles

Code Schmode

Great cover!

I laughed out loud when I saw your clever cover, “Code Schmode” (May 19) with Mona Lisa rolling her eyes! Thanks for a good chuckle, and for the poignant articles on the film that followed.

Beth Fiance
Westlake Village

Green Party

The Green Party’s sneaky infusion of Resolution 190 into its policy, calling for the boycott and divestment from Israel, is just another example of anti-Semitism disguised as concern for human rights (Seeing Red Over Green’s Israel Policy,” May 19).

If their intentions were purely motivated, they would stop filling their tanks with gas, most of which comes from intolerant and brutal Muslim theocracies. They would also give up much of their wardrobe, which was probably manufactured in China by children earning slave wages in unsanitary conditions.

Of course, these sacrifices would be too great to endure just to protest human rights violations. It’s much easier to instruct companies and universities to avoid doing business with Israel. After all, they reason, it’s not going to adversely affect them.

In their ignorance, however, these hypocrites are unaware of the contributions that Israeli products have made to every aspect of our lives here and around the world. According to Newsweek, for example, “Israel holds the most medical-device patents per capita in the world.”

I wonder how firm these champions of human rights would stand if they knew one of these devices could save their life or that of a loved one.

P. Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

Cover Choice

Why isn’t the ordination of 14 Reform rabbis not on the cover The Jewish Journal?

This is much more important than the latest movie release. Movies are released everyday in someone’s life, becoming a rabbi is once in a person’s lifetime.

There has been a change in the content that The Journal prints — especially toward the Reform movement. Can anyone at The Journal explain why?

Richard Hoffman
Santa Clarita

Dysfunctional Relationships

I noticed the recent column urging young women to get out of dysfunctional relationships (“Walk Out the Door,” May 19). I think it is even more useful to discuss how to keep from getting into such relationships to begin with.

The principles of staying out of dysfunctional relationships are the principles of forming good relationships, and they are pretty simple and straightforward: First of all, every normal young adult has a set of fundamental values and purposes, based on his or her feelings about what is worthwhile to accomplish in life. When a person is on track toward achieving these purposes, he/she will very likely be drawn to others who are sympathetic and supportive.

But if one looks instead to “just having fun,” or achieving wealth and power as ends in themselves, then one will be drawn to those he/she regards as useful to her or him in such pursuits. Since these motives are basically selfish, whatever relationships that initially develop out of them will wither and fail in the long run.

Durable relationships are built on feelings of shared moral purposes. This is the underlying basis of all real love and friendship — between man and man, between woman and woman and between man and woman.

Larry Selk
Los Angeles

 

Letters


Ugly Neighborhood

Without reading a word of the inside article, I write because I am distressed about the depiction on the front page (“An Ugly Day in the Neighborhood,” March 3).

I am all too familiar with many issues that cause divisiveness among Jews, secular, religious, somewhat religious, etc. Those issues merit addressing and solving. But the image on the front page of physical violence gives us Jews a face we do not want or deserve.

I grew up in the neighborhood and have always known the problems of the shul on Highland Avenue and the neighbors…. They are serious and need to be solved.

No one I know who is involved is violent and abusive in the manner your cover depicts. We divide ourselves quite well, thank you…. We don’t need false images like this to add to the problem.

Pearl Taylor
Sherman Oaks

Your March 3 edition was superb. Many very interesting stories and an excellent in-depth, seemingly unbiased article on “An Ugly Day in the Neighborhood” that even an Orthodox Jew like myself found very informative. Keep on writing more detailed articles.

Robert Rosenberg
Los Angeles

Ilan Halimi

Time after time we hear and say, “Never again,” when referring to World War II and the Holocaust (“French Rally Against Jew’s Torture Death,” March 3). As the warning signals around the world multiply and Jews continue to leave France in droves, we have reached the breaking point.

What does it mean when Muslims gather around the world, create havoc and receive in-depth media coverage over a newspaper cartoon? We, on the other hand, witness for the first time in decades the cold-blooded, brutal slaying of a Jew in a modern democracy, simply because he is a Jew, and nobody seems to care. Rather chilling, wouldn’t you say?

Tyla Hamburg Bohbot
Via e-mail

As the associate director of the American Jewish Congress, Western Region, and a former program director of Standwithus.com, none of what is happening in France today regarding anti-Semitism surprises me.

When the burning of the synagogues started more than three years ago in France, I and other members of the community picketed outside of the French consulate. We spoke to the consulate general, who at that time told us “there is no anti-Semitism in France,” repeatedly.

Had he or the French government acknowledged our concerns, perhaps Ilan Halimi would still be alive. I only hope that the French government realizes the depth of its problems, addresses them and corrects them immediately.

We can not allow any more of our Jewish family to die burned, tortured and dumped out like garbage. No more excuses; no more blaming “hooligans,” and no more capitulation to being politically correct.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Associate Director
American Jewish Congress

Off Key

I am writing in response to Erin Aubry Kaplan’s article, “A.M.E., Rhythm and Jews” (Feb. 24). I am a member of the Temple Emanuel Choir and participated in the evening in question, where our choir and that of Bryant Temple A.M.E. Church joined to sing in a Shabbat service. I am very glad Kaplan took the time to attend, but I differ from her on several points.

She suggests that the Bryant choir felt awkward about the way “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” was performed. I certainly did not detect that, either in the performance or rehearsal.

She objects when an usher assumes she is with the visiting choir simply because she is black. This is a valid point.

However, it is undermined when she goes on to stereotype what the response should be by a cantor to a powerful gospel number. Apparently for cantors, no physical expression of emotion is allowed.

I am glad to be participating in a dialogue between two congregations and communities in Los Angeles, and I am proud to be part of a choir where the uplifting power of music can be freely expressed. I look forward to being able to welcome Erin Aubry Kaplan to a future event.

Patric Kuh
Los Angeles

A Dying Language

I would like to applaud Hannah Pollin, who is doing a terrific job teaching Yiddish to high school students (“A Dying Language Comes to Life,” Feb. 24). I have visited one of her classes at the New Community Jewish High School and was enormously impressed with this remarkable young teacher and her eager, dedicated students.

However, I must point out that The Journal is not doing enough to assist in the revival of Yiddish as the living, vibrant language it should be. I’d like to offer a couple of suggestions.

First, that The Journal periodically list the various locations where groups of people come together regularly just to speak Yiddish. I belong to three such groups, and we all have lots of fun, and our command of the language, which ranges from paltry to fluent, improves steadily.

Also, that it introduce a regular column, written in transliterated Yiddish. I am confident that many Angelenos would like to contribute stories of recollection, either dramatic or hilarious. Other readers would probably like to write notes, commenting on the stories or correcting somebody’s grammar or simply adding stories of their own.

The Jewish Journal is an excellent periodical, and here is an opportunity to make it even better. Ich hof az ihr vett meine forschlagen oifnemmen.

Lou Charloff
Encino

Ugly Day

As a Chicagoan with L.A. ties (my daughter lives in Hancock Park), I could not help but be disgusted with the anti-Orthodox slanted piece written by Julie Gruenbaum Fax (“Ugly Day in the Neighborhood,” March 3).

I call it an anti-Orthodox piece because of not only the digs interspersed throughout the piece (“those Orthodox sure have lousy aesthetic taste”) but also because of the seeming equivalency of disparate claims (for example, anti-Semitism, fraudulent organizations created on the day of voting, etc., to “line jumping” and holding parking spaces for allies).

And how the writer praises a particular zoning proponent as being “blunt,” “resolute” and “doesn’t mince words” and yet leaves unchallenged highly illogical and farfetched explanations of her blunt words, calling the other side “bad guys” and “bogeymen” or disparate treatment of the writer explaining the pain felt by Jews on one side being called anti-Semitic and failing to explore the pain or anger felt by the other side being called bad guys and bogeymen.

However, another major deficiency of the article is its further failure to inform the reader about the genesis of the dispute, as well as of the details of some of the actual disputes themselves.

No explanation is given as to why the Orthodox may feel a shul might be necessary in an area where the nearest shuls are a 20-25-minute walk away. Or what is so terrible about the synagogue’s architecture, where just across the street a house sits that looks abandoned or, frankly, how it could not take away from the suburban look of the neighborhood, when both Third Street and Highland Avenue are major vehicular thoroughfares to the extent that children have to be very careful crossing the street, and that it is almost impossible to either park on the street (for fear of being hit by other racing cars) or to back into it.

Or what is the objection to an eight-foot security fence around a parochial school in this age of AMBER alerts, when there is another school on the very next corner that seems to have a 10-15-foot chain-link security fence covered with eyesore green tarpaulin? Or what is the background for Yavneh having a limited-use permit on a site where there has always been a school and where another public school is next door?

Maybe if the writer had spent more time in outlining the source of the problem — or at least the Orthodox perception to the problem that these questions answer — then the readers could better understand the dispute.

Harold Moskowitz
Chicago

Hamas Victory

Are Bushra Jawabri and Michael Bergman that naive as to think a Hamas-run government will be any different than the Hamas terror organization? (“Opportunities Exist in Hamas Victory,” Feb. 24)

Hamas is only maintaining its temporary truce with Israel to buy enough time to solidify its power, build and import weapons and ally itself with like-minded neighboring countries. When they feel the time is ripe and Israel has increased its vulnerability by giving away more land, Hamas will drop the truce like a bomb, literally, and will probably be accompanied by the full military force of its allies, Iran and Syria.

Remember, Hitler laid out his intentions in “Mein Kampf” long before he was democratically elected. It took several years after he took office, however, before the Nazis implemented The Final Solution.

Like Hitler, Hamas made their intentions clear early on and have backed them up with deadly actions. Pie-in-the-sky liberals who sang the praises of Oslo, while Yasser Arafat was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, think they can eliminate evil by offering land, a la Neville Chamberlain.

They need to learn from history and face the grim truth. Truces and land giveaways just delay the inevitable. Evil neither civilizes nor fades away. It must be defeated.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

 

Letters


Singles Solutions

Your article on “A Single Problem” described my sitation as an intellgient single woman very accurately (Dec. 9). However, you only begin to touch upon the problem with Jewish men. In my experience, men say they would like a smart woman, but, in reality, do not. I find most men don’t really know what do to with an intelligent woman. I can tell you endless stories of dates where the lawyers, accountants, doctors, etc. did not have one intelligent word come out of their mouths. I am also very Jewish — I cannot wait until I have a family I can make Shabbat dinner for. Men don’t seem to be very interested in that either. I am not tall; I am not blonde. But, if I have to go on what the e-mails in my JDate account tell me, I am attractive. I am independent, make more money than most of the men I date, have my priorities straight and can fix things around the house (another skill I find most Jewish men lacking in). Did I mention I cook, too? I am all of the things men say they want, and then, when I am standing in front of them, they don’t know what do to.

I am 34, and yes, I feel my biological clock ticking. It absolutely pains me to say this, but I am starting to think I might have to have a child on my own or look for someone outside of my faith. I still have hope of finding my beshert, but that hope is dwindling.

Name Withheld by Request
Sherman Oaks

The problem is, I know far more wonderful Jewish single women than men,” you wrote in your Dec. 9 editorial. “And this is all they want: a nice, eligible Jewish guy in his late 30s or 40s…. Such a creature is as rare as a Narnian Efreet.”

Hah! I’m such a creature, and I’m right here. Successful in my business, good sense of humor and not too bad to look at (my face doesn’t frighten small animals or anything). Raised Conservative, not terribly observant at the moment. Likes books, bicycling and Beatles. Not bad at smooching, or so I’ve been told. Faults? A few, but not anything I’d discuss in a family newspaper.

Narnian Efreet, my eye. (Both of which are blue, by the way.)

David Seidman
West Hollywood

Scary Sign

High praise should be given to Elizabeth Chase, “The Swastika in My Binder,” for her understanding of the urgent need never to forget the Holocaust from 60 years ago.

Recently, as a physician seeing patients, I experienced a similar incident observing a swastika on the wall at one of the hospitals. Immediately after notifying the CEO, it was removed. However, the revolting disgust of this “hate crime” yes, even 60 years later, is very relevant and very real. It is said — if history is forgotten then we are doomed to repeat it.

Never again.

Dr. Martin Hauptschein
Los Angeles

Thank You

Seldom have I read a more relevant essay regarding “holidays” than your article, “Thanks for Everything” (Nov. 25).

Not many of us have the courage and the erudition to reflect on all the historical facts surrounding a holiday or celebration. It is time that we recognize that no nation, ethnic group, or religious body can boast of an unblemished past. Invariably, it comes down to the survival of the group — whoever has the greater power, wealth, weapons or knowledge is going to outlast and celebrate.

How helpful it would be to teach our future generations the many aspects of historical events. It would certainly promote open-mindedness, and possibly even humility. Acceptance of our own wrongdoings might enable us to tolerate the shortcomings of others.

Going one step further, if we as teachers, parents or other significant adults would openly share and admit our past failures to our children, we would help them to better deal with their own defeats. As human beings, we are fallible, even more so as a community. How refreshing it would be if children all over the world were taught to examine history from many points of view. It would help to alleviate chauvinism, and finally bring about the peace for which we all so fervently pray.

Edith Ehrenreich
Torrance

Above the ‘Bodice’

While I appreciate the positive review of my novel, “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell,” by Keren Engelberg, I must set the record straight (“No Religious Bias in Racy “Bodice Ripper,” Nov. 25). I don’t write romance novels unless by the term you include all love stories. I don’t know much about “bodice rippers,” but my impression is the designation implies books written fast and to formula. William Morow/HarperCollins calls my books literary fiction. My first novel, “The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc,” was a 2002 Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection, along with “Lovely Bones” and “Life of Pi.” However, because I work hard to make my books easy to read, witty, and page-turners — OK, they’re pretty steamy, too — romance readers snap them up. “Sissy” was a national best seller.

I grew up Jewish in the Bible Belt. Our house had white columns out front and bullet holes in my bedroom wall courtesy of a vigilante gang who tired to run the family out of town. Far from writing to a formula, I wrote “The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell” about the life of the only Jewish family in a small town (my family) during the rise of the Ku Klux Klan.

Loraine Despres
Beverly Hills

Clarification

I am thankful for your having chosen to publish my opinion column titled, “Orthodoxy Has Chance to Reshape Role” (Dec. 9).

I implore you however, to clarify for your readers that the omission of the title “Rabbi” in the references to Rabbi Soloveitchik, was your editorial decision. Neither I, nor any student of Yeshiva University, would ever refer to our teacher Rabbi Soloveitchik without his proper title. In fact, we usually simply refer to him with the super-honorific, “the Rov.” Thank you for publishing this clarification.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky
B’nai David-Judea
Los Angeles

No Comparison

As a longtime reader of the Jewish Journal, I was very disappointed to find such a biased cover article as Joel Kotkin’s “Hol(l)ywood — L.A. Undergoes a Religious Renaissance” (Dec. 9).

For example, he writes that “liberal commitment to secularism is reflected in the anti-religious jihads conducted by groups like the ACLU.” Comparing the ACLU’s legal struggle for a separation of state and church (according to the principles of the U.S. Constitution) to a jihad, i.e. religious warfare that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, is nothing short of chutzpah.

In sum, Kotkin might have had the best of intentions, but even in the City of Angels, they often lead straight to hell.

Benjamin Rosendahl
Los Angeles

Singles Solutions

Could it be that the separation of Jews into different religions creates the problem? If as Rob Eshman claims that Reform/Conservative women are very eager to live a true Jewish life then it might help to place the following ad in the newspaper: “Jewish woman, 20 years old, raised Reform/Conservative seeks opportunity to learn more about authentic Torah Judaism for the purpose of marrying a Jewish young man compatible with my goals.”

Bernard Lindner
Via e-mail

Scary Sign

I was very impressed with “The Swastika in My Binder” article written in the Tribe section of The Journal (Dec. 2) by Elizabeth Chase.

It goes without saying that I would agree with Chase. All too unfortunately, hate exists everywhere — in all its ugliness — and it should never go unremembered.

Andrea Russel
Pasadena

A Bris Is Bad

Caleb Ben-David’s article, “Snip Judgment,” understandably attempts to defuse the growing trend, making headway even among Jews, to not circumcise (Dec. 9). After all, what self-identified Jew wants to see a practice so associated with Judaism rejected. Unfortunately, the reality is that circumcision has negative consequences.

The foreskin serves a function. It protects the head of the penis, keeping it more sensitive. The circumcised penis has more layers of skin to protect it since it has no foreskin, thus reducing its sensitivity. More important, circumcisions result in the amputation of much or even all of the frenulum. The frenulum is sensual, nerve-rich tissue. The parent who has his son circumcised deprives his child of many very pleasurable sexual sensations that can never be recovered.

It is time for Jews to rethink circumcision. While tradition is important, tradition for its own sake is meaningless. Outside of the Orthodox, few Jews today really believe that God commanded Jews to circumcise. Most Jews do not practice the other rituals. It makes no sense to reject most other practices, yet insist on cutting one’s son’s’ genitals (thereby reducing his capacity for sexual pleasure) simply because it is a Jewish practice.

Stephen D. Jerome
Ft. Lauderdale

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: letters@jewishjournal.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684

 

Letters to the Editor


 

Shalhevet’s Future

Let’s look 20 years into the future. Who will be our community leaders (“What’s Next for Shalhevet?” Feb. 4)? They will, by and large, be students from schools like Shalhevet High School and Middle School, because there they learn that when a community paper prints a four-letter word supposedly spoken about them by some misguided, anonymous person, the students are to work with their school’s external relations committee to address the problem.

They learn through weekly town hall meetings that having a voice means taking responsibility and leading a group can be hard work.

Their school is constantly under attack by misguided community members that occupy themselves with how to destroy another’s vision, rather than building for the future.

These students are in training for adulthood, and they will thank Jerry Friedman for creating a positive environment that nurtures their growth.

Had there been such schools in Europe 80 years ago, there may have been many more survivors. Sure, the school has challenges, as does every institution, and the administration is actively working through them.

But the editors who reviewed this article also have problems. They have no idea that there are educational consequences to repeating cruel words about young adults in print.

Name withheld
Ph.D program,
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education
UCSB

Your recent article was a real eye-opener. Since when are unattributed quotes, name calling and gossip allowed into print? As a journalist, my editor requires I only quote sources willing to share their name. Doing any less is irresponsible to the reader and potentially slanderous to the topic.

It was amazing that the wrongdoing purportedly done by another school was put into print, let alone anonymous parents quoted. In my opinion, an apology should be printed.

Helene Lesel
Los Angeles

As parents of two current Shalhevet students, we were disappointed with the lack of balance in Julie Gruenbaum Fax’s article. She implied that all families she had spoken to believed that despite Shalhevet’s wonderful vision, the school’s problems forced families to leave.

That certainly is not the case with us, nor with most other families we know. Yes the school has weaknesses. Name one that doesn’t.

But the school’s values and dedicated and gifted teachers easily outweigh whatever problems are present. Our children not only are learning at a high level, they are participating in such enriching activities as Model U.N., high-end drama, playwriting and film studies. Unlike other Orthodox high schools, Shalhevet encourages seniors to join with the broader Jewish community in going on the March of the Living.

We love the school; our kids love the school, and your article implies that families like us simply don’t exist. We do, and we refuse to be marginalized or forgotten.

Fran and Joel Grossman
Los Angeles

This is my 11th year as a teacher at Shalhevet. I am appalled by your article, “What’s Next for Shalhevet?” Ever since I came here, I have been amazed at the supposedly religious people who commit such lashon harah against our school.

I vociferiously protest that you printed a third party’s hurtful slander on our wonderful girls. Despite a nine-and-a-half hour school day, our girls perform hours of community service in synagogues and other organizations.

Recently, two girls started a committee to aid people in Darfur. In town meeting, they made a presentation that emphasized that as Jews, we cannot [ignore] others who are persecuted. Shalhevet girls are bright, articulate and concerned with the world around them. I cherish them all.

Your writer’s heavy dependence on anonymous sources is unprofessional and biased. Who is the “prominent community leader” quoted at such length? What is this person afraid of? The implication that there would be some sort of reprisal is another form of lashon harah.

In over 25 years of teaching, I have never worked with a better faculty, staff or student body than those at Shalhevet. I am honored to work here.

Jill Beerman
Social Studies Chair
Shalhevet High School

Mating Game

As a single Jewish woman over 40 years old, I want to express my frustration, concern and disgust regarding the lack of outreach support on the part of Rabbi David Wolpe, The Los Angeles Jewish Federation, the University of Judaism, etc., in helping singles over 40 years old find spouses (“The Mating Game: What Is the Jewish Community Doing About the Singles Problem?” Feb. 11).

I began to experience this discrimination in my late 30s, when the Los Angeles singles events cut off at age 42. The problem with the arbitrary age limit is that a 45-year-old guy wants to meet women in their 20s to 40s but can’t if you cut off the age limit. A woman in her late 30s wants to meet men in their late 30s to 50s but can’t if you cut off the age limit. And a single woman in her 40s is open to meeting men in their 30s to 50s but can’t if you cut off the age limit.

Organizations such as Stephen S. Wise offer singles programs for 40s-60s. But why would a single 42-year-old woman or man want to attend? There won’t be any people in their early or mid-40s at the event.

You are all unknowingly contributing to the abundance of Jewish singles in Los Angeles, and it’s not right. Other cities don’t discriminate. Who are you to decide what age range is right for us? All singles organization should have activities for the 30-55-year-old age range.

Frustrated SJF
Los Angeles

I liked your article on the “L.A. Lonely Hearts Club” (“The Mating Game: What Is the Jewish Community Doing About the Singles Problem?”).

What about single people who are in their 50s and 60s?

Besides myself, a single female who is 61 years old, I know of several others who are around 60 who can’t seem to meet anybody.

I did the Friday night services thing and found mainly families at the services (and nobody seems to want to associate with single people); went to singles (Jewish) dances, etc. and finally gave up even dating.

It’s been quite a few years since I have gone out on a date. I live by myself, have never married, don’t have many friends, don’t go to places at night since I don’t like going out at night by myself and I will not drive freeways (I live in the San Fernando Valley).

Where are the singles groups that have people who are about 60 years old? I am not an old person or think old or even look 61.

A few years ago, I even signed up through The Jewish Journal and put an ad in the singles section of the newspaper. I met two men; both turned out to be not what they said in their ads.

At this point, I am completely out of the loop for meeting any decent, single and sincere men who are really interested in dating.

JoAnne
Sherman Oaks

Condemn Violence

Rabbi ReuvenFirestone is correct when he points out that Muslim groups have condemned acts of violence (“Rabbis, Imams Find Common Ground,” Feb. 4). Many Muslim-American groups have done so (cair-net.org/html/911statements.html).

In addition, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Web site contains a petition (Not in the Name of Islam) vigorously condemning terrorism and violence. So far, more than 687,000 Muslims have signed the petition.

Stephen Krashen Malibu Is France Hopeless?

Two recent books argue that France is not our ally (“Is France Hopeless?” Feb. 4). “The French Betrayal of America” and “Our Oldest Enemy” both explain that France sees itself as a neutral third pole (at best) between radical Islamism and the USA.

Fortunately, Jacques Chirac is now being confidently challenged as pathetic by Britain’s Tony Blair and as a failed anti-American by likely electoral challenger Nicolas Sarkozy.

Choose carefully, France. French citizens did once inspire and donate to the Statue of Liberty. They were the kind of liberty-loving fans of the United States whose ideological heirs today disdain and emigrate from a declining French nation of socialists and anti-Semites.

Larry Greenfield
Southern California Director
Republican Jewish Coalition

Rob Eshman’s article is a fairly comprehensive report on the situation in France. However it leaves out many salient points about what certain American Jewish organizations have done and continue to do to alleviate the situation.

It was the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) call for a boycott of the Cannes Film Festival to protest the rise in anti-Semitic attacks in May 2002 that really concerned the French government and initiated a change in their policies.

Even before the election which brought a new conservative government to power, President Chirac called Ariel Sharon to enlist his efforts to get the AJCongress to back off their pressure. Interesting twist where Israelis are used to pressure American Jews – the opposite of what normally happens.

Eshman is right when he reports that disaffected and nonintegrated Muslim youths have used the streets of France to play out the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Union des Patrons et Professionnels Juifs de France has made contacts with moderate Muslims, especially the Kabils, non-Arab Muslims who number more than 1 million in France who are integrated and resist violence and radical Islam.

He also is right that it is questionable whether Jews will ever be fully welcome in France. However, it is through efforts and initiatives such as the AJCongress has undertaken that will make it more possible.

Gary P. Ratner
Western Region Executive Director
American Jewish Congress

Overall, Rob Eshman’s column, “Is France Hopeless,” was quite informative. Irrespective of the premise of the article, I did disagree with the labeling of Barghouti as an activist, when in fact, he was proven guilty of multiple murders in an Israeli court of law.

Jacques Lubliner
Encino

Sour Note

In the feature by Kelly Hartog (“Project’s Tunes Hit Multicultural Notes,” Feb. 11), the article incorrectly states that Idan Raichel was of Ethiopian descent.

 

Is There Room For Politics in Shul?


Eight years ago, when President Bill Clinton was running for a second term, he sent out letters to L.A. synagogues wishing them a happy Rosh Hashanah with a spiritual message for Yom Kippur.

"I liked what the letter had to say for Yom Kippur, so I read it at the opening to a sermon that I gave," said Rabbi Daniel Bouskila of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel. "At the end of the night one of the members came up and said, ‘Why’d you read a letter from a Democrat? I’m a Republican.’"

"It was all in good spirits," Bouskila said, "But he said, ‘You should read something from a Republican, too.’ I told him I [simply] read a letter from the president of the United States. Then he tells me, what about if I get you a letter from the speaker of the House, who at the time was Newt Gingrich. ‘Would you read that?’ he asked. I said, ‘Maybe in our auxiliary service.’"

In the fall of 2004, the High Holidays are coinciding with a hard-fought U.S. presidential election at home and the beginning of a fifth year of the intifada in Israel. Rabbis writing their holiday sermons will soon be making the inevitable decision about whether to incorporate talk of these events, or not.

What’s at stake is control over the influence that rabbis wield over Los Angeles congregations, and, in a way, what type of control congregations have over their leaders. Rabbis who avoid the subject completely might be seen as irrelevant; but rabbis who push their own views too stridently might risk turning off those who don’t think the same way.

Without exception, all the rabbis who spoke with The Journal noted that they never endorse particular candidates for public office. Besides their personal objections, doing so would endanger a synagogue’s nonprofit status.

But beyond that point, clear differences emerged. "I will not talk about politics per se, I’ll not recommend a political position," said Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, an Orthodox congregation.

"I don’t think that my membership needs to hear a regurgitation of the op-ed page of the Los Angles Times," Muskin said.

Although Muskin has led seven missions to Israel and the West Bank during the intifada, he flatly refuses to define his concern for Israel as a political issue.

"I know some colleagues from the East Coast who took [politically] diametrically opposing positions on Israel, and they both got burned," Muskin said. "A rabbi has a tremendous ability to influence, but he has to choose it wisely, and to be very careful what he says."

Rabbi David Wolpe of the Conservative Sinai Temple in Westwood echoed Muskin’s sentiments.

"My general principle is that being a rabbi gives me no special political insight," he said, "not into Israel and not into America, [so] using the pulpit to announce my political positions is illegitimate."

Both Wolpe and Muskin say that they lead congregations both politically sophisticated and diverse, and that it would be unwise to underestimate congregants who may have better informed ideological stances than their rabbis.

"What I can do is enunciate values and hope that those values will inform other people’s political decisions," said Wolpe, who added that he is pleased that many in his congregation probably don’t know his personal political leanings.

Muskin and Elazar’s stance on politics from the pulpit reflects a similar hesitancy from congregants who lay down clear guidelines about when they would — and would not — like to hear about politics on Friday night.

"Rabbis are entitled to express their opinions freely from the [pulpit], but they should restrict [those] opinions to areas of their expertise and to where it is relevant to clear Judaic principles," said Arthur Jablon, a congregant at Temple Judea, a Reform synagogue based in Tarzana with a campus in West Hills.

That position holds the politically minded rabbi to a significant burden of proof to demonstrate that his discussion relates to Jewish tradition. The variable is how broad one defines what "Jewish tradition" actually is.

Generally speaking, rabbis seem to enjoy more freedom with political issues perceived as having severe or obvious ethical consequences, especially to Jewish communities, such as laws against anti-Semitism or terrorism. Similarly, in those situations, the rabbis are also likely to give themselves more leeway.

"The only time I believe a rabbi has the right to speak on those issues is when he feels there’s injustice on an issue. As far as an ideology, he has no right to talk about [that]," said Ray Mallel, president of the congregation at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, summing up the caveat he imposes.

"I believe a rabbi should try to be as nonpartisan as possible unless there’s an overt right versus wrong that he could speak about," Sephardic Temple’s Bouskila said.

Bouskila pointed to clear warning signs along the path to rabbinical over-politicization visible in Israel "where you find rabbis and spiritual leaders who, rather than seeking to enhance the spiritual life of Judaism, are more concerned with the borders of Israel, and are now once again entering the arena of potentially assassinating the prime minister based on the Gaza pullout."

In domestic politics, Bouskila walks a fine line of political openness and limitations.

"[The congregants] don’t want to come to the synagogue and watch ‘Crossfire,’ but in obvious cases like four years ago where you had [Connecticut Sen. Joseph] Lieberman running, they wanted to know, ‘Is that good for the Jews?’" he said.

This year, Bouskila has composed letters to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry and President Bush, asking to summarize their positions on weapons of mass destruction, the economy, the Middle East and — appropriately — the relationship between religion and the state.

"I plan on using that as the basis for one of my sermons on the High Holidays under the theme, ‘We have choices to make, this is the year of decision,’" said Bouskila, although he also plans to apply the theme of "choices" to congregants’ personal lives.

For those who seek it, however, there are clear alternatives in the Los Angeles Jewish community to the limited view of rabbinical discussion of politics. Arguments for more political openness range from those who desire to see Judaism as a truly universal force in ethics to those who simply want it to remain relevant in world affairs.

"If people’s minds are going to go to contemporary events, and I ignore them in my sermon, it makes my sermon almost irrelevant to the world," Temple Judea’s Rabbi Donald Goor said. "I once had a professor in seminary who taught me that if you don’t address their questions, they won’t hear yours."

But even with those sentiments, Goor takes issue with providing political "guidance," which, in his view, would be inappropriately crossing a subtle political line.

Rabbi Lisa Edwards at Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) doesn’t use the word "guidance" either. In her Reform congregation, which is supportive of all sexual orientations, she’s more likely to provide political "validation."

"We do make attempts on Shabbat to keep things not very political, but we’re really up against being relegated to second-class citizenship and we’re facing politicians that have blurred the lines between church and state," Edwards told The Journal. "I will talk quite a bit about that over the holidays."

At BCC, political issues weighing heavily on the congregants’ personal lives, especially same-gender marriage, has eliminated most — although not all — of the political discordance in the congregation.

"I would say ideologically, most of them agree — except around the subject of Israel, [where] they’re all over the map," Edwards said.

It’s wide discordance within the congregation that reminds most rabbis to tread lightly in political matters, lest they offend part of the group. The consensus within BCC allows more highly focused political action.

"It’s not just a [political] opinion that we hold, but actually tasks in front of us that we need to be doing. I’ve already reminding people in my letter that went out with High Holiday ticket information, ‘Are you registered to vote?’" Edwards admitted that was an unusual step, but that this year, it is particularly important to her.

Even in synagogues without BCC’s wide consensus, there are rabbis who consider it essential to take stances on public policy.

"I do take public stands on propositions and other pressing issues where I believe Jewish tradition has something to say," said Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, who will be speaking at a congregation over the High Holidays.

He pointed to his public stands on more stringent gun control legislation and his work to improve the lives of Jewish prison inmates and others who need help.

For Diamond, the justification for that sort of political action is clear: "I think God judges us by what we do for the poor, the homeless, the disenfranchised in our society. This is very much in my mind as we approach the High Holidays."

Taking political action during this year of election and war, however, need not be antithetical to appreciating political disagreements.

"Now more than ever it is incumbent upon rabbis to speak out, and it is also equally incumbent on rabbis to recognize that the political landscape of American Jewry is changing," Diamond said of the increasing political conservatism among Jews.

"The contrarian culture of having different [political] perspectives is very Jewish and I’m very comfortable with that," said Janice Kamenir-Reznik, a congregant at Conservative Valley Beth Shalom, who is also an ardent supporter of rabbis speaking politically, regardless of whether she agrees with them.

"I think that if their [political] point of view is based on their ethical perspective, then speaking, for example, on homosexuality or workers’ rights or war is the very definition of their job. I totally disagree with those critics who have said that rabbis are only informed on halachic issues," she added, referring to Jewish law.

She, along with several other congregants and rabbis, referenced the current situation in the Sudan as an example where a broad perspective on what is a "Jewish issue" politically is needed to direct more attention to help those in need. They defined Darfur as a political issue begging for Jewish attention.

In fact, for some who advocate broader rabbinical attention to political matters, the very connotation of the word ‘political’ is different.

"I have no problem interchanging the word ethical and political," said Mark Novak, a member of Temple Judea.

"I think it’s always appropriate [for a rabbi to discuss politics], because every political issue has an ethical aspect, whether it’s our taxation system, capital punishment, a woman’s right to choose or what we do about the environment as it relates to health," Novak said.

But there is always the chance, given that sort of discussion, that some in the congregation will go astray. When Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Harold Schulweis fought for gay inclusion at the synagogue about 11 years ago, he and disagreeing congregants sat in a committee on the issue for nine months. Some threatened to leave. But Schulweis held his ground.

"I don’t think he really cared whether the congregation was or was not going to rally behind him," Kamenir-Reznik said. "I think he did because he thought it was the right thing to do."

"It’s a deeper question than politics," Schulweis said. "I talk about the need in an age of globalization for Judaism to respond, to be aware of the fact that there is an agenda out there much larger than just the Jewish people."

Schulweis said he believes Judaism must take its place as a religion of the world, consulted widely for moral guidance.

"[When] genocide happens, people have always said ‘Where’s the church, where’s the pope?’ I don’t hear anybody asking ‘Where’s the synagogue, where’s the rabbi?’" Schulweis said.

He plans to raise precisely these concerns during the High Holidays. Schulweis said he will propose creation of a Jewish World Watch to his congregation, bringing statespeople, politicians and academicians to the synagogue because, in his words, "provinciality is counter to my understanding of Judaism."

Schulweis said rabbis supporting specific candidates plays into exactly the sort of narrowness he tries to avoid.

"What I have in mind is something grander, the elevation of the synagogue as what it was I think meant to be," Schulweis said. "Giving the world conscience."

Open Debate Preferable to Blind Support


A recent report in The New York Times captured almost perfectly the thorny questions that stand at the center of relations between the American Jewish community and Israel. Should one be permitted to criticize the government of a foreign country with which one feels a deep affinity, or is it a moral and political imperative to support the policies of that government, right or wrong?

What was so striking about The Times article was that it raised these questions not about the American Jewish community and Israel, but rather about the African American community and Zimbabwe.

The parallels between the two cases couldn’t be more intriguing. Just as a number of American Jews, usually of the progressive persuasion, have asserted their right and responsibility to criticize Israeli government policy, so, too, a group of African American intellectuals and activists recently abandoned their posture of strong support and advocacy for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe by issuing a stinging condemnation of his policies, including appropriation of white-owned farmland.

In a letter of June 3, 2003, they recalled their “strong historical ties to the liberation movements in Zimbabwe, which included material and political support, as well as opposition to U.S. government policies that supported white minority rule.” But they quickly moved on to denounce “the political repression under way in Zimbabwe as intolerable and in complete contradiction of the values and principles that were both the foundation of your liberation struggle and of our solidarity with that struggle.”

This public letter provoked a torrent of responses from African Americans, many of whom were critical of the signatories. According to The Times account, the letter writers have been cast as “politically naive, sellouts and misguided betrayers of liberation struggle.”

Among the more serious critics, professor Ronald Walters of the University of Maryland justified his opposition to the letter by stating that “I am on the side of the people who claim there’s a justice issue in terms of the land. You can’t escape the racial dynamic, and you can’t escape the political history.”

Another critic, Mark Fancher, questioned the legitimacy of the letter writers. “This is an African problem, a Zimbabwean problem” — beyond the ken of “people who are really disconnected from the day-to-day lives of people in Zimbabwe.”

It is hard not to hear in those words echoes of a refrain frequently uttered in the American Jewish community — the gist of which is that it is the responsibility of American Jews to express enthusiastic and unequivocal support for the government of Israel.

The underlying logic is that American Jews are themselves “disconnected from the day-to-day lives” of Israelis. It is not they who fight the wars or suffer from the scourge of terrorism; consequently, they have no standing to criticize. Indeed, to express criticism of Israeli policies is to abet the enemy — and thereby come dangerously close to treason.

I am familiar with these arguments, because I have often been on the wrong end of them. Those of us American Jews who have felt compelled to condemn the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as immoral, self-destructive and a violation of Israel’s own best ideals have often faced the wrath of fellow community members. How could a Jew attack Israel in a time of need? Hadn’t the Palestinians surrendered any right to a state? Weren’t they better off now than before 1967?

A similar set of justifications now issues from the mouths of the opponents of Mugabe’s African American critics. How can one attack an African leader, a heroic figure, in time of need? After all, as Fancher asserts, “The one thing nobody disputes is that, whether he won or not, Mugabe got a lot of votes.” Such statements reveal the absurdity — and moral bankruptcy — of blind support.

Curiously, the tables have turned in the case of American Jews and Israel. Not too long ago, it was taboo to criticize Israel’s occupation. Israel’s government had to be supported, regardless of its policies.

But will the same people who insisted on these principles now be able to reverse course? After all, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a speech to his own party, used the “O” word — occupation — to refer to Israel’s hold on the West Bank and Gaza. All of the extraordinary Israeli and Jewish public relations efforts that went into claiming that the territories were “administered” rather than “occupied” went out the door after that speech.

Even more significantly, Sharon has adopted the “road map” for peace. The logic of blind support would dictate that American Jews line up in warm embrace of this Israeli government policy.

It is tempting to argue that those who demanded in an earlier period that American Jewish progressives hold their criticism do the same as Israel enters a new and more promising phase, even if they have reservations about the road map. Tempting perhaps, but not beneficial in the long run.

The recent case of African Americans and Zimbabwe reveals that the stifling of dissent not only reinforces a dangerous status quo but replicates the very policies of repression that one might want to criticize. Open debate, with all its messiness, is preferable to blind support.

This is an important principle to keep in mind — now and in the future — as Jews and African Americans debate the policies of, and demonstrate their bonds to, the countries of their dreams.


David N. Myers is professor of Jewish history and vice chair of the history department at UCLA.

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