Letters to the Editor: Entitlements, Women of the Wall, Mormons, Christians, Prager

Eshman on Entitlements

Rob Eshman correctly notes that tzedakah is not merely charity but is also a religious and community response about social justice (“Entitled,” Oct. 19). Nowadays, “entitlements” are frequently used as a synonym for charity. However, Eshman inadvertently undercuts his own argument by failing to point out an essential fact: For working Americans, Social Security and Medicare are earned benefits paid for by payroll deductions.  

Gene Rothman
Culver City

What Happened at the Wall?

In your article on “Kotel Arrest Galvanizes Jews” (Oct. 26), it would have been nice to read a comment from someone “on the other side” of the argument. The only dissenting line was that Hoffman’s report of her imprisonment was inaccurate. Was there no one to talk to who opposes what Hoffman is doing?

The article also gives the impression that women are forbidden to pray at the Wall, a fact we all know to be false. So what exactly were Hoffman and her group trying to do that prompted the wrath of the police? Unfortunately, the report seemed more interested in promoting a political agenda than it did in clarifying a sensational news story.

Rabbi Yitzchak Sapochkinsky
via e-mail

More on Mormonism

Is this the sixth thing Jews should know about Mormons (“Five Things About Mormonism,” Oct. 26)? Article of Faith 10: “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”

How about that the Book of Mormon is the word of God?  (Seventh thing?)

Mitch Paradise 
Los Angeles

Not All Churches Are the Same

David Suissa is correct in pointing out the outrage of certain Christian denominations’ views and the censure of Israel (“Christians Picking on Israel,” Oct. 19). Despite the moral repugnance and sheer idiocy of their views, Suissa neglects to cite the common link between these various anti-Israel Christian denominations: It is the churches on the far political left that share these biased views on Israel, from liberation theology in Latin America to the black liberation church’s anti-Semitic views as exemplified by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church, reaching back to Jimmy Carter’s Southern Baptist leftist church. Recently, the anti-Semitic views of the far left have begun to permeate the once-centrist American Presbyterian church.

Politically conservative American Protestant churches wholeheartedly support Israel. Yet the majority of American Jews fear the Christian right. Really?

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles

Prager and Politics

Dennis Prager attempts to make the case that Gov. Romney and the Republicans would be better for Israel than President Obama and the Democrats (“The Election and Israel,” Oct. 19). But in his article, Mr. Prager makes the following outrageous assertion: “The attitude of a party or candidate toward Israel tells you more than perhaps any other issue about that party or candidate. Treatment of and attitudes toward the Jews and Israel is an almost perfect indicator of a party’s, a country’s or a candidate’s values.” In other words, Mr. Prager believes that the Republicans’ love and support for Israel is the clearest indicator of their pure and superior moral character. 

If Mr. Prager believed that the Democrats were the better party for Israel, would he still make the same ridiculous, self-serving assertion? 

Michael Asher
Valley Village

Mr. Prager is wrong about which presidential candidate will be the strongest supporter of Israel. As I write this letter on Oct. 19, there are 3,000 U.S. troops in Israel conducting war games with Israeli troops. They are demonstrating their overwhelming power to Iran. The Israel defense minister said President Obama is the best friend of Israel of all the U.S. presidents, and without President Obama, Israel would not have been able to build the defense structure costing $300 million to defend itself against the deadly rockets Hezbollah had been firing into Israel from Lebanon.

President Obama has proven he has the character to do what is right and will stand by Israel no matter what happens.  

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles



An article about “Orchestra of Exiles,” a film about the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (“Rescuing Jewish Musicians,” Oct. 26), gave an incorrect name for its support organization. The correct name is American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

Letters to the Editor: Rachel Corrie, Mormons, Liberals

The Rachel Corrie Debate

Chip Bronson and Stephanie London’s response to the excellent JTA piece on Rachel Corrie saddened me deeply (Letters, Sept. 7). I read the article (“Rachel Corrie Suit Hinged on One Small Question,” Aug. 31) and had a different reaction. I wanted to believe it was all an accident and was relieved that Judge [Oded] Gershon ruled thus. Nevertheless, his choice to use this moment as a soapbox to denounce an admittedly ethically challenged organization reveals his own biases on the matter. I remain unsure whether it was an accident or whether the driver actually saw Corrie and deliberately buried her alive, though I am not yet ready to believe the assertions of Corrie’s parents or her lawyer. We simply don’t know what happened.  

I wonder if it’s possible or even safe to admit this in public in this toxic political environment we Jews find ourselves. Alas, fact takes a back seat to the narrative we want to believe. I love Israel deeply and defend her with zeal to those who would defame her, but I know she’s not perfect. And sometimes she makes some enormous mistakes, as those we love sometimes do.  Because I love her, I remain deeply pained that so many of us are so blinded by hate of the other that we are willing to dance on Corrie’s grave.

Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen

Spiritual Leader, Temple B’nai Hayim, Sherman Oaks

An Insult to Mormons

I disagree with actor Jared Gertner’s comment that “The Book of Mormon” doesn’t disrespect any religion (“Actor Feeds Off ‘Mormon’s’ Racy Humor,” Sept. 7). When a badly costumed Prophet Moroni gives the sacred text to a gormless Joseph Smith, it mocks the Mormon religion. I forgave the show when the two young Mormons set off on their mission — they are a charming duo — until they landed in a poor African village. Here was the worst stereotype of the vacuous black savages of that continent, and we were supposed to find them funny (e.g., Villager: “I have maggots in my scrotum.” Elder Price: “Maybe you should see a doctor about that.” Villager: “I am the doctor!”). 

Naomi Pfefferman writes, “One of the musical’s most hilarious (and scandalous) moments comes when a tribesman … declares that he’s off to copulate with an infant to cure his AIDS.” I also didn’t find the big musical number, “Hasa Diga Eebowai” (“F*** You, God”), amusing, even though the audience roared. 

If this is, to quote The New York Times, “the best musical of this century,” and is part of a plan to bring young audiences to Broadway, good luck to them. Gertner says, “People shriek and gasp and laugh because it’s affecting them in such a visceral way.  But there’s so much joy behind it.” Guess I missed the joy part as I fled at intermission. 

Morna Murphy Martell


Innovative Teaching

Amanda Gelb (“Breaking Down Classroom Walls With Resilience Theory,” Aug. 10) gets it right when she says “cross-pollination” is a key to effective education. In DeLeT (huc.edu/delet), our innovative program to prepare Jewish day school teachers, we call this “integration.” 

Mia Pardo, one of last year’s DeLeT fellows, who is teaching at Pressman Academy, developed an innovative approach to teaching first-graders about national symbols by comparing and contrasting America’s and Israel’s flags and symbols. The students became so passionate about the lesson that they began interacting with each other as if they were the symbols. They used songs and other aspects of what they were learning in dramatic renderings. The teacher recorded these improvisations, and later two of the students created a movie out of the videos. We look forward each year to seeing how the emerging DeLeT educators find new ways to make Gelb’s idea of cross-pollination a reality in day school classrooms.  

Dr. Michael Zeldin
Professor of Jewish Education
Senior National Director, Schools of Education
Director, Rhea Hirsch School of Education and DeLeT
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Liberals Unfairly Criticized

In an attempt to show that “liberals” are hypocrites because they feel free to criticize Israel for its own good but won’t ever criticize President Barack Obama, David Suissa creates a straw man and then knocks it down (“Where’s the Tough Love for Obama?” Aug. 24). The straw man is the undefined “liberal” who, in Suissa’s view, criticizes Israel but not Obama. But he doesn’t name even one such person, and prefers to generalize about “liberals.” He quotes from an Atlantic article, but that article attacks only liberals who fail to criticize Obama. Nowhere does that article say that those same liberals feel free to criticize Israel. If these “liberals” who criticize Israel but not Obama exist somewhere outside of Suissa’s mind, he has not shown us where to find them.

Joel Grossman

Los Angeles

Mormons remove Wiesenthal from ‘baptism’ registry; Philanthropist funds series on composers suppress

Mormons remove Wiesenthal from Registry

The Mormon Church has removed the name of the late Simon Wiesenthal from its international genealogical index, avoiding a new dispute over accusations that the Church conducts vicarious baptisms for the deceased of other faiths.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints took the action after a strong public protest by Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, named in honor of the famed Nazi hunter.

However, a Mormon spokesman expressed his surprise that the Wiesenthal Center had not contacted the church directly before issuing a press statement on the matter.

In his statement, Hier said that “We are astounded and dismayed that after assurances and promises by the Mormon Church, that Mr. Wiesenthal’s life and memory, along with so many other Jews, would be trampled and disregarded.

“Mr. Wiesenthal proudly lived as a Jew, died as a Jew … and at his request was buried in the state of Israel. It is sacrilegious for the Mormon faith to desecrate his memory by suggesting that Jews on their own are not worthy enough to receive God’s eternal blessing,” Hier added.

The issue has been a sore point with Jewish organizations, after it was learned in the early 1990s that some 380,000 Holocaust victims had been placed in the Mormon genealogical database as a step toward posthumous baptism.

Bruce Olsen, the Mormon Church’s chief spokesman as press secretary to the First Presidency, said Tuesday that following Hier’s request, “no Church ordinance was performed for Simon Wiesenthal and his name was immediately removed from the International Genealogical Index.”

In 1995, Church officials signed an agreement with Jewish organizations to remove the name of Holocaust victims from its database.

Olsen noted that since then, the Church has maintained excellent relations with the Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish institutions, and that he was surprised to first learn about Hier’s concern when contacted by journalists.

Mark Paredes, director of the Church’s Jewish Relations in Southern California, emphasized that Church policy provides that its members can submit only the names of their own ancestors for posthumous baptism.

“Those who submitted the name of Mr. Wiesenthal or Holocaust victims represented a few misguided members, who certainly do not represent the Church as a whole,” Paredes said.

Hier was traveling and could not be reached for comment at press time.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Philanthropist funds series on composers suppressed by Nazis

Marilyn Ziering, a Los Angeles Opera board member and a Los Angeles-based philanthropist, has announced that she will donate $3.25 million of her own money and an additional $750,000 she raised to fund the L.A. Opera’s multiyear series of concerts on composers whose works were suppressed by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The project, known as “Recovered Voices,” will kick off with two concerts in March at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, featuring the work of Alexander Zemlinsky, Kurt Weill, Viktor Ullmann, Franz Schreker, Walter Braunfels and Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

The Nazis created “a great breach in the continuity of music when this music was suppressed and denied,” Ziering said. So forgotten are a number of these composers that Ziering, who grew up listening to Verdi, Puccini and Mozart, admitted that “some of the composers I had never heard of nor heard their works before.”

The philanthropist’s late husband survived work camps, ghettoes and concentration camps, and she said she is making the donation at this time because L.A. Opera Music Director James Conlon “has a passion to do this.” Conlon, a Catholic, will conduct the concerts, which will continue through 2010.

— Robert David Jaffee, Contributing Writer

L.A. City Council approves declaration on immigrants rights

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved on Dec. 13 a pro-immigrants’ rights declaration conceived by the local Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

The so-called “Declaration of Los Angeles” calls for the humane treatment of undocumented immigrants; denounces xenophobia, especially against Latino immigrants; and encourages law enforcement agencies and courts to adhere to the highest ethical standards when dealing with issues surrounding the deportation and detention of immigrants. The document also criticizes vigilante citizen groups for creating an atmosphere of fear that raises the potential for violence against undocumented immigrants.

“At this particularly volatile time in our country’s history, we find it of the utmost importance to unite against hatred and victimization aimed at many people who migrate to this country,” said Amanda Susskind, director of the ADL’s Pacific Southwest Region, in a statement.

The ADL and 17 partner groups, including the Progressive Jewish Alliance, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, the ACLU of Southern California and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, plan to lobby the California Legislature to approve the declaration during its 2007 session.

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Publisher of planned O.J. book allegedly fired over anti-Semitic comments

The decision to fire Judith Regan, the Los Angeles-based publisher behind the controversial O.J. Simpson “If I Did It” book and television deal, came after News Corp. head Rupert Murdoch learned of comments she made to a company lawyer on Dec. 15 that were deemed anti-Semitic.

On Monday, a News Corp. spokesman released notes taken by attorney Mark Jackson to the Associated Press that detailed his conversation with the publisher of ReganBooks, an imprint of News Corp.’s HarperCollins. During the conversation, according to the AP report, Regan told Jackson, who is Jewish: “Of all people, Jews should know about ganging up, finding common enemies, and telling the big lie.”

Jackson’s notes describe Regan using the term “Jewish cabal,” to describe a group that included himself, literary agent Esther Newberg, HarperCollins executive editor David Hirshey, and Jane Friedman, HarperCollins president and chief executive, who reported details of the conversation to Murdoch.

Regan’s attorney, Bert Fields, plans to file a lawsuit against HarperCollins for dismissing Regan, claiming breach of contract, according to The New York Times. Referring to the alleged comments, Field reportedly said: “They were looking for an excuse to fire her, and they fired her, and called it anti-Semitic. It ain’t anti-Semitic.”


Inner Sanctum

Being a Mormon, I really liked your article “The Inner Sanctum” (Sept. 2), however, there is some information you received, that I am not sure you understood correctly. It’s the question of “literal truth.” While we do believe that the Book of Mormon is historically true (that is, it talks about events that really took place and people who really lived — we don’t take it as mythopoeia), we don’t think that it is inerrant true.

The title page of the Book itself says that there could be errors of men in it.

As Mormons, we do not believe that man can be infallible, and therefore we cannot understand something inerrant. As soon as God communicates with us, he has to speak in a way we understand. Hence, the church’s second prophet, Brigham Young, said that he doesn’t know of an inerrant revelation, nor does he believe that such could be possible.

René A. Krywult
Vienna, Austria

Armed and President

Let’s see … you rarely feature a woman in a Jewish Journal cover story, but this week you managed to do so and you pick one who is an NRA president (“She’s Armed and President,” Sept. 2). I presume none of the women in the community who work for positive, socially responsible, peaceful, meaningful and enriching causes were available for an interview. (The exception being, Roberta Schiller, quoted in the article in opposition to Sandra Froman’s advocacy of private gun ownership.) Maybe it’s just me; perhaps there just aren’t enough firearms lying around out there — or armed individuals, with or without a permit to carry.

J. Levitt
North Hollywood

Sandra Froman opposes restrictions on gun sales and makes a strong case for women’s need to have guns for protection against predatory men. OK, let’s require gun shops to demand every customer present an ID, plus a doctor’s certification that the applicant is female.

Macy Baum
via e-mail

In your cover story about Sandra Froman, your writers quote Roberta Shiller saying, “The idea that just because you have a gun, it will make you safe is just untrue.” Runyan and Ivri should check the validity of statements before allowing someone to use their story to misrepresent the truth.

According to The Department of Justice’s own National Institute of Justice study, titled “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,” it is estimated that 1.5 million Americans use guns for defensive purposes every year.

The article cites further misstatements by “gun control” advocates and presents a totally different perspective than Schiller.

Phil Blum
Los Angeles

Christian Zionists

In the Sept. 2 issue of The Jewish Journal, James D. Besser wrote a very negatively biased and short-sighted article regarding Christian Zionists (“Links to Christian Zionists Pose Peril”). Besser’s polarized commentary, replete with many unfounded statements, sought to influence the readers to view Christian Zionists as an element that threatens the life blood of Israel.

Christians who believe in a Jewish Israel have, many times, sacrificed their own livelihoods in the communities in which they lived/live and given of their own life blood to help Jews escape certain annihilation not only during the Holocaust, but during the times in which we now live, waiting the coming of Moshiach.

Chana Leah Mendelsohn
Los Angeles

The ‘Other’

David Myers exhorts us to have sympathy for various other people besides those whom we saw evicted from their homes in Gaza (“Show Gaza Sympathies to the Other,” Aug. 26).

Unfortunately, at this point in time, this goal is entirely unreachable and totally unrealistic. Judaism does not teach us to “Love your enemy” and until proven otherwise, the Arabs must be considered our enemies.

A neighbor is someone with whom you live, if not in harmony, then at least in civility. When will we be able to consider the possibility that that we can engage the “other” in the manner Myers would like?

Dr. George Lebovitz
Los Angeles

Honest Reporting

I was intrigued by the remark made by Walid Al-Saqaf in the Aug. 26 Jewish Journal editorial by Rob Eshman (“Honest Reporting”). The Yemeni journalist said that journalists can pressure Arab and Muslim leaders to “level with their people” and confront the region’s real problems — the lack of development and the dearth of democracy and accountability. What interested me was the idea that journalists had the power to influence leaders.

But journalism is no longer the proud profession that it was, dedicated to the truth. Just as in Nazi Germany, it has become the tool of a country’s leaders, whether the leader be a sheik or a Texas rancher, and I doubt any journalists today are ever going to try to pressure any leaders or even to devote themselves to the truth again.

Mal Cohen
Woodland Hills

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


Stroll Among the Scrolls

In 1947, a young Bedouin scrounging around some caves about 15 miles from Jerusalem came across some sealed clay urns and unearthed one of the most important archeological discoveries of the century — the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls are 2,000-year-old fragments of Hebrew manuscripts written on parchment, leather and copper. Some are transcriptions of Torah portions, others contain commentaries on the Torah, and still others contain records of a separatist Jewish sect in the mid-Second Temple era that established itself high on the hills of Qumran, where the scrolls were found.

A Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit is currently on display in Los Angeles, at the Visitors Center of the Mormon Church in Westwood. Mormons have a particular affinity for the Dead Sea Scrolls. They see parallels between themselves and the ascetic Qumran sect, and they believe that the history of a group of Jews who opposed the rulers in Jerusalem and went to live in the desert as described in The Book of Mormon is actually talking about the Qumran community.

For the past few years, Mormon scholars from Brigham Young University have been collaborating with scholars from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Israel Antiquities Authority to translate, study and electronically preserve the scrolls on CD- ROM.

The exhibit contains a model of the Qumran community, models of the urns that the scrolls were found in and facsimiles of the scrolls themselves, including 24-foot long replica of the Isaiah Scroll, the largest of all the Dead Sea Scrolls. On display are genuine artifacts from the era — a few coins from that were minted in Qumran and some clay oil lamps that were found near the scrolls themselves. It also has information about the process used to decipher the ancient scrolls, many of which were completely blackened with age when they were found.

While the exhibit is small, containing only five stations, it is enough to whet one’s appetite for the very big history contained in the scrolls themselves.

The Visitors Center is located on Temple Hill at 10777 Santa Monica Boulevard. To arrange for groups or for more information, call (310) 474-1549.